Academic institutions cannot ignore social media

Written by Uma Ganesh | Updated: Sep 23 2013, 07:52am hrs
The number of social media subscribers in India has touched approximately 66 million, according to a study conducted by Internet and Mobile Association of India (IMAI) and Indian Market Research Bureau (IMRB). Out of the estimated 80 million active internet users in urban India, around 70% are active on social media. Corporates and others are taking cognizance of this new phenomenon and are rethinking about how the businesses could take advantage of it.

Social media offers an immense potential for the educational institutions too in various dimensions of their functioning and for transforming the process of education. In schools, we find parents actively forming groups and keep in touch with each other and the teachers on a variety of subjects. Some of the faculties have started using videos extensively to supplement their teaching sessions. Although as individuals, a significant number of them are part of the social media, barring marketing activities to some extent; social media is yet to occupy the centre stage in higher educational institutions.

Social media is a force that academic institutions cannot afford to ignore. If planned well, it can impact positively various aspects of the academic system. We now finally have the opportunity for students, corporates and academia professionals to work in the same space, bridging the gap that exists in meeting each others expectations and collaborate for achieving the common goals. We already have several successful examples of social media based models overcoming the constraints of customisation, time, cost, relevance of content and time sensitivities which collectively enable the institutions to be better prepared to address the new realities.

MOOCS and Courseera have demonstrated that it is feasible to access the world class courses and content to supplement students learning from a university and thereby equip them with the cutting edge capabilities in niche areas as required by the industry. is a great example of connecting students with the alumni of the same almamater or with the corporate mentors based on matching profiles and interests. Webex, Google Hangout and Skype have been recognised as excellent tools for facilitating not only sharing of expertise from remote locations and showcasing the profiles of students but also for helping promote projects and internships with corporations. Innovation, research and entrepreneurship in academic institutions would also get a better thrust with the use of collaborative and crowd sourcing techniques.

Following important opinion makers and Gurus on the Twitter and encouraging students to express their views also contributes to the efforts in making the learning process up to date and contemporary. Faculty could also consider ring-fencing twitter groups to the students enrolled in a particular subject and the invited industry experts to ensure the interactions remain focused on the subject and the pathways of conversations do not go awry. Social networking amongst the academic fraternity has picked up momentum through sited dedication to support their interests. Pinterest is one such fastest growing website with 10 million users where faculty can freely share content of mutual interest and enable users pin together videos, links, slides and notes to use them as part of their sessions.

With institutions finding it harder to find employment opportunities for the graduating students, smart use of social media networking can help identify new possibilities hereto untapped by the training and placement officers (TPOs) at the campuses. In order to provide adequate exposure of the real life environment of the industry and nurture networks, students are often encouraged to take up apprentices or internships with companies. Due to the demand far outstripping the actual internships available and the practical issues of cost and feasibility of such opportunities in specific locations, often campuses and students are unsuccessful in sourcing such opportunities.

With social media, a variety of ways of connecting with employers and engaging with them with the objective of not just familiarising them with the candidates but giving them an opportunity to understand their competencies becomes feasible. The era of creating the directories with student profiles at the end of the term to seek placement is outdated. The ground rules for identifying placement and internship opportunities have changed substantially. Placement and employment should not be viewed any longer as an activity to be pursued at the end of the term of education.

Social media provides the academic institutions with an opportunity to relate to the corporate problems and opportunities right from the time the programme is conceived and the students register and from thereon to collaborating on an ongoing basis to learn, share and improve. Employers are interested in interacting with those with niche skills and who have taken the initiative to relate to their business needs. TPOs need to proactively identify professionals who could be potential mentors or employers for their students and identify industry-academia partnered projects that could be carried out remotely through frequent reviews and interactions using social media.

Thus with social media, academic institutions have a great opportunity to remodel their interactions with companies and position themselves in the sweet spots for collaboration at various levels by smart integration of different tools. Despite the availability of several useful tools and social media sites, educational institutions still face constraints in freely using social media in education. Grading and assessment of students, individual performance and progression, establishing identity of the individuals learning and contributing, in-depth analytics of the various aspects of engaging with the social media, security and protection of individual contribution are some of the areas that would continue to require more attention and solutions in order to make the industry-academia collaborations bear rich dividends.

The writer is CEO, Global Talent Track, a corporate training solutions company