In articles by Wayne Myles for the Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, and Kristine Murray and Rhonda Waller for the International Educator, the pros and cons of the Internet and social media use by study abroad providers are debated.
Source of information/opportunities to interact and learn. Social media is an incredible opportunity for study abroad offices and program providers to communicate with students. Henry Jenkins’ theory of “participatory culture” is present because both parties (students and providers) are creating and consuming content rather than playing separate roles. The growth from this interaction creates a community and in this case, ideally, a study abroad community. Study abroad offices benefit by increasing connections with students to platforms they are familiar with, instead of only face-to-face communication.
Ability to edit/censor/approve content. On certain platforms, such as Facebook, a study abroad provider or individual adviser would have the ability to maintain the content in the groups. They can select the audience who can join or view the group and its members, send messages to the members, and edit any member-posted content. This is helpful in cases where students attempt to change or lead the conversations in inappropriate directions. This keeps the group and the content professional. Study abroad office benefit by leading and controlling the conversation.
Gain better understanding of students’ needs/opinions. Because social media platforms and the Internet are environments in which students were raised beginning at young ages, they are, in many ways, “student’s turf”. Students feel comfortable sharing opinions, ideas, and questions, and the information they share with each other is information that advisers and study abroad program offices might not otherwise receive. Study abroad offices benefit by using this student feedback to develop their programs.
Publicity/marketing. Having program information online makes a study abroad office or provider more convenient and focused on the needs of the students. Engaging students online by posting facts, pictures, videos, or event information on websites like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, etc., exposes study abroad offices to a greater public audience. They benefit by increasing their student reach and focusing on targeting the desired audience.
Discovery of inappropriate student behavior/Privacy invasion. Many professionals approach social media and the Internet carefully because they are weary of coming across inappropriate content related to students. Additionally, some students feel as though being connected to professionals or university departments online is an invasion of their privacy. Information discovered on social media or on the Internet about students can affect their academics and relationship with the study abroad office.
No guarantee of student participation. The Uses and Gratifications theory assumes users to be selective in their media choices, and that the purpose of each media use varies for each person. While a study abroad office or program provider might utilize social media platforms for a specific reason, the students might not reciprocate. Some students might not even have social media accounts or be active on the Internet enough to have an equal online representation of the student body. This can skew or bias a study abroad office or provider in opportunity offers or information sharing.
Potentially decreased quality of service. Student needs are the first priority for most study abroad offices and providers. As a result, it is crucial that they are always available for students to contact, whether it is online or offline. Furthermore, many individual student needs are best addressed in person and with face-to-fact interaction. The moving of services and demand to an online environment potentially decreases study abroad advisers’ ability to meet these in-person needs.
In conclusion, the Internet and social media platforms serve undeniable benefits to study abroad offices, program providers, and individual advisers across the world. In many ways, this type of communication is faster, less formal, and helpful to students. However, it is also argued that other students are not getting the attention they need in order to make the process of study abroad convenient. It is important for providers and higher education professionals to recognize that maintaining a balance between online and offline services is met.
Murray, K. E. and Waller, R. (2007). Social Networking Goes Abroad. International Educator, Vol. 16 (56-59). Retrieved from http://www.cobses.info/Oenbring/engl282/downloads/article2.pdf
Myles, W. (1996). Quality of Service Through the Strategic Use of Technology. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, Vol. 2. Retrieved from http://www.frontiersjournal.com/issues/vol2/vol2-06_Myles.htm