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Art Esposito, Virginia Commonwealth University

Art Esposito.jpgOur relevance assures student engagement, and engagement assures student success. Therefore, our relevancy will ensure successful students (Prentiss, 2007). Are we, as advisors, acting irresponsibly by avoiding FacebookTM? Building on Julie Traxler’s (2007) article, Advising Without Walls: An Introduction to Facebook as an Advising Tool, which focuses on the benefits of using this social networking Web site, I hope to show that, with proper care and an eye toward maintaining relevance, Facebook could be one of our most valuable tools for student engagement.

Generational Expectations

Many authors have published survey results indicating generalized characteristics of the Millennial Generation (Jonas-Dwyer and Pospisil, 2004). These characteristics help us understand the expectations of students who, in many cases, comprise the majority of our advising population; likewise, this understanding better enables us to engage them. In short, they are an on-line generation and highly “connected” to Web-based applications. An estimated 93% of college students are using social networking sites with over 60% logging in daily (Krieglstein 2007). This connectedness has always been a part of their reality—many typed their name into emails before they signed it on sheets of paper. The “always on” aspect of their lives leads to a self-evident expectation that their educational experience should also be “connected” (Jonas-Dwyer and Pospisil, 2004).

Benefits for the Institution

Research suggests a relationship between student engagement and achievement. Astin (1985) emphasized that students learn and develop when they become active in the collegiate experience. Upcraft (1995) expanded on this, stating that “the greater the quantity and quality of involvement, the more likely…student(s) will succeed” (p.18). In a more recent discussion on the topic, Kevin Prentiss identified the importance of the institution’s relevance to student engagement. The argument is that students have become “spam filters” and automatically discard institution generated emails, given their perception that “most of it is junk.” This disengagement results in lost opportunities for the institution. Alternatively, if we reach students on their terms, we can engage them with a greater perceived relevancy (Prentiss, 2007).

Benefits for the Students

Facebook is a tool for student self-discovery and social development—two important aspects of students’ college years. As readily as a student can change her/his profile picture, a new “personality” is defined. The site allows students to befriend each other and organize into groups of like-minded individuals—“virtual socialization.” Finally, offering a population as diverse as the world around them, unlimited browsing potential affords students exposure to new ideas and encourages critical assessment of who they are and how they relate to the world around them (Educause, 2006).

The nearly limitless “browse-ability” of Facebook allows students to acquire or sharpen informational literacy skills. Consider the amount of critical thinking that takes place when students assess the many interest groups and organizations they are invited to join. Students develop a heightened sense of the information’s meaning and value, both to themselves and to the world community. Isn’t this similar to how we encourage students to assess sources used for research purposes? With an ever-expanding network of friends, an equally intensifying level of creativity is required to collect and share information (Educause, 2006). A handful of my students have become active in groups with philanthropic and socially conscious goals—Students Against Self Harm, for example, and an organization connecting International Students with American Students to better facilitate intercultural exchange. Students are becoming more aware and more mature. They have read articles citing the dangers of sharing sensitive information and have already begun using security features in a self-educated and protective manner—accepting the importance of responsible computing.

Practical Observations and Results

As an advisor, I maintain a Facebook profile and an Advising Group with over 300 friends and 262 advisees in my Group. I engage them in conversation about responsible computing and help them understand reasonable behavior—primarily by modeling it for them. I useFacebookto deliver informational advising, appointment reminders, and programming invitations and publicity. With 75% of my caseload onFacebook, I would be foolish to ignore this opportunity. But there is more to student engagement than this.

At VCU, we believe that advisors’ three main responsibilities are informing students, relating to them, and enriching their undergraduate experiences. It’s the middle component—relating to students—that is most important to engagement and where Facebook can be most beneficial in advising. I engage my students on personal and “friendly” levels that secure my role as an advisor/friend; this strengthens the trust-based relationship we share, assures my relevance, and increases their level of engagement (see Rawlins and Rawlins, 2005 for an understanding of “advising as friendship”).

The most important thing to observe concerning Facebook is that it does not represent “college” to our students—this is where they socialize. We are the outsiders—the visitors—and must appreciate that when we try to encourage reasonable and responsible behavior. We will gain nothing by policing these sites with an aim toward listing prohibited behavior. If we engage students on their terms, we can better affect the change in behavior we desire and strengthen their engagement. In the two years I have used Facebook, I have seen students change their behavior simply because they know I can access their profile. I have commented to some, confidentially, encouraging more reasonable and responsible choices in things they have posted. Response to these “interventions” has always been positive and followed by voluntary behavioral modification. I have over 300 student 'friends' on Facebook and very few have blocked me from viewing their content.

A recent survey of my Facebook students revealed that 88% of them appreciate access to me on the network with only 18% feeling uncomfortable with my presence. Furthermore, when comparing my caseload on Facebook to VCU’s First-year population, my students showed a higher level of academic success with 86% achieving good academic standing at the end of their first term, versus the 81% overall average for the VCU class of 2010. By embracing Facebook appropriately and appreciating the possibilities, academic advisors can maintain relevance, increase student engagement and success, while affecting change through trust-based dialogue to better results than afforded by a punitive approach.

Art Esposito
Academic Advisor, Discovery Program
The University College
Virginia Commonwealth University
ajesposito@vcu.edu

References

Astin, A..W. (1985). Achieving educational excellence: A critical assessment of priorities and practice in higher education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Bigger, J.J. (2005). Improving the Odds for Freshman Success. Retrieved January 7, 2007 fromNACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site:http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/Clearinghouse/AdvisingIssues/First-Year.htm

EDUCAUSE Learning Institute (2006).Seven Things You Should Know About Facebook. Retrieved from http://www.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7017.pdf

Jonas-Dwyer, D. & Pospisil, R. (2004). The Millennial Effect: Implications for Academic Development. Retrieved January 7, 2007, fromhttp://www.herdsa.org.au/conference2004/Contributions/RPapers/P050-jt.pdf .

Krieglstein, T (2007, April 6). [Weblog] A Guide to Facebook for School Faculty, Administration and Staff.Swift Kick Technology: Increasing Engagement in Education Through Technology, Community, Leadership and Training. Retrieved April 7, 200 , from http://swiftkick.typepad.com/activities_technology/2007/04/facebook_guide_.html

Prentiss, K (2007, April 5). [Weblog] When the Content is Crappy, the Pipe Doesn't Matter: Colleges and Facebook.Swift Kick Technology: Increasing Engagement in Education Through Technology, Community, Leadership and Training. Retrieved April 7, 2007, from http://swiftkick.typepad.com/activities_technology/2007/04/when_the_conten.html

Rawlins, W. K., & Rawlins, S. (2005). Academic Advising as Friendship. NACADA Journal. 25(2), 10-19.

Traxler , J. (2007, March). An Introduction to Facebook as an Advising Tool. Academic Advising Today, 30 (1).

Upcraft, M. Lee. (1995). Insights From Theory: Understanding First-Year Student Development.First-Year Academic Advising: Patterns in the Present, Pathways to the Future, (15-24). (Monograph # 18). Columbia , SC : University of South Carolina, The National Resource Center for The First-Year Experience and Students in Transition.

Cite this article using APA style as: Esposito, A. (2007, September). Saving face(book): Engage through Facebook and retain relevance.. Academic Advising Today, 30(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]

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