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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  1. Zoey Chant August 6th, 2008 3:53PM

    I utterly agree that social media is now pretty much the most important presence on the internet. Looking at my own online behaviour, not to mention that of students and ‘study abroaders’ I deal , I can see that things have changed radically. I now read blogs, and user generated content at least as much, if not more than I do other ‘official’ sources. I use social networks to diarize, to arrange my social life, and to keep in touch, forums and review sites like trip advisor to find hotels, blogs for music news and current affairs. I am less and less reliant on big search engines and increasingly find my way through the internet via a cluster of favourite social media sites. Cross-cultural exchange has never had a better opportunity to become widespread and open to all – I welcome the increased presence of social media wholeheartedly!

  2. Maya Frost August 7th, 2008 2:18PM

    Thanks for the nod about the book I’m writing!

    And yes, things really are changing radically, thanks to social media and a number of other factors. Thousands of students around the world have already figured out that they can have a fantastic study abroad experience–and can afford to stay for a year instead of just a few weeks–by going directly instead of through a heavily-padded university program. Average cost for an indie study abroad semester with FULL credit: less than $5,000, including airfare, visa, housing, food, excursions, tuition and everything else.

    It’s a crying shame that scarcely two percent of all US higher ed students study abroad, and it’s outrageous that many universities are refusing to offer credit to their students who are looking at putting together their own study abroad plan. This will change as more students learn about their options–including using social media to connect directly with those who can help them in every facet of arranging their own wonderful experience abroad.

    Study abroad coordinators in it for the money should be shaking in their boots, but those who really do care about getting more US students to experience life abroad should celebrate: once students understand the freedom they have, those study abroad numbers are likely to soar. There is certainly plenty of room for improvement.