Social media and intercultural education
06 Aug 2008

Social media and intercultural education

Ruth Marie Sylte tweeted: I just got

06 Aug 2008

Ruth Marie Sylte tweeted:

I just got an email from an intl ed colleague that made my day! I have inspired someone in the field to explore social media/networking. 🙂 [elaborated here]

This got me thinking. In international and intercultural education programs, most practitioners are entirely missing opportunities with social media –the blending of technology, social interaction, and the co-construction of new knowledge (crowdsourcing). Blending innovative technologies with these programs seems to be the exception and not the norm. Popular social media technologies today are largely centered around the “Web 2.0” universe: Blogs (i.e., Education Futures), microblogs (i.e., Twitter and Jaiku), social networks (i.e., MySpace and Facebook), instant messaging with audio/video conferencing (i.e., Skype), virtual reality (i.e., Second Life), and a growing list of other innovations.

What social media means for…

  • Students: The ability to interact across cultures, virtually and directly, means that students may not need the massive study abroad infrastructure built up by universities, non-profits and for-profit organizations to guide them in their intercultural experiences. They can do it themselves, perhaps glean more meaningful experiences, and do it cheaper! Maya Frost is writing a book on this, and argues that students who want “an outrageously relevant global education” don’t even need universities.
  • Study abroad programs: Start innovating now or risk obsolescence. The market for study abroad is already competitive. Study abroad programs need to consider how they might integrate social media and crowdsourcing into their business models. Since most college-aged students are social media natives, these programs will have a lot of work to do to interface meaningfully with students.
  • Study abroad advisors: How much formal advising is done via Twitter or Facebook? Not much. The reality is that students can advise each other through social media. Study abroad advisors either get up to speed with social media or start looking for new careers. Social media provides new pathways to international and intercultural education, and, if you’re not on that path, you will be left behind.
  • Intercultural researchers: This is exciting stuff! We can create new forms of study abroad (i.e., “virtual study abroad” through co-seminars), create and/or analyze new culture creation through new social technologies, and radically transform our approaches to international and intercultural education.

What’s next?

Social media will not be the last innovations to pressure the transformation of international and intercultural education programs. To survive, these programs need to incorporate a new culture that allows continuous transformation toward opening themselves –and embracing– new, transformative technologies.  Culture change is difficult thing to do.  At least interculturalists are experts at it!

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