Social Media in the College Space: How Student Space Has Moved to Social Space

Posted by Leif Martinez - November 8, 2011 - College, Facebook, social media, UCLA - No Comments
Social Media in the College Space: How Student Space Has Moved to Social Space

A Little Nostalgia

If you’ve seen the movie “The Social Network,” you know that Facebook started out as a website exclusively for college students. When I was 16, it broke from requiring a .edu email address, and became available to all users. My friends and I quickly jumped on the social networking bandwagon. We were MySpace junkies aching for a fix of something new, and Facebook was just the place to find it.

As our familiarity with the website expanded, the site itself did as well. Soon, not only were we using Facebook to leave each other random comments or tag each other in embarrassing pictures, but we were using it to ask each other questions about our homework, get in touch with our teachers (the ones that were daring enough to friend their students anyway), and when the chat function was introduced and we could do all of the above while talking simultaneously, our minds were blown.

Time passed and high school came to a close, with our major milestones validated by the new photos and friends we had on Facebook. The site had proved itself to be more than just a newer, cooler MySpace; it was clear that, like a modern day hope chest, Facebook would be taken with us and used throughout college. Nearly four years later, the presence of social media in my life has exploded tenfold. Not only do I use it to keep in touch with friends and family scattered across the world, but the introduction of websites like YouTube, Twitter, Yelp, blogs, and others have revolutionized the college experience.

Social Media and the Student Body

Colleges seem to have caught on to the fact that social media seems to power my generation. The social space grew right alongside us, and we are now as reliant upon it to make our lives continue smoothly as it is on our patronage to keep the sites up and running. The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) uses Facebook to notify its followers of the campus’s history, the groundbreaking research occurring, the status of its sports teams, and campus happenings, among other things. The Undergraduate Student Association Council uses its Facebook and Twitter pages to make students aware of what is going on behind the scenes on campus and in the state’s academic affairs. Countless Facebook profile pictures have been changed to messages advocating specific causes; YouTube videos have been posted as an interactive way to rally supporters. Social media provides a means to reach out to the students about current affairs and gives them a platform to voice their opinions on important topics to masses at a time.

Social Media in the Lecture Hall

While the student body is using social media as a means to promote its agenda and maintain social connections, teachers also have embraced its potential as a means to communicate with and engage students. I took a class once that was largely discussion oriented, and the professor created a Facebook page for the class, encouraging us to post questions and discuss topics that we didn’t have time to get to in the allotted time on campus.

UCLA gives each course its own web page that comes with sections for discussion and announcements already, but it has been my experience that these are rarely used – except when required for grades. Normally when a professor announces that discussion in these forums is required, the lecture hall filled with 200 people erupts in groans detesting the inconvenience that has just been thrust upon them. But in this class, it was different. Many of us were intrigued by the fact a professor had embraced our Facebook addictions, and was asking us to use social media in this new context. Sure we had all seen and used YouTube videos in class presentations to illustrate topics, but never had we used a Facebook page as a discussion forum.

My professor’s idea seemed to work! As I’m on Facebook multiple times a day (I’m both ashamed and proud of my addiction), I found myself regularly perusing on over to the class site and commenting on scintillating pieces posted by my classmates. Professor Gresser seemed to be onto something, and I’ve heard that other professors around campus are following suit!

Social Media and the University

On a larger scale, many schools are beginning to incorporate the social space into their disaster plans. Most universities send out mass texts and emails whenever an incident occurs on campus, e.g. a fire, lockdown, or assault, but now students are finding status updates and Tweets alerting them to the fact that a disaster has occurred on campus. In early October, Sacramento State students were notified of a campus fire via status postings on the school’s Facebook and Twitter pages, as well as on the school’s homepage.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” 

Of course, the intertwining of the social space, the college campus, and the student body also comes with a price. Students must be increasingly aware of their Internet presence. Comments regarding cheating or other unacceptable behavior can spread like wildfire through the social space, and if brought to the wrong person’s attention (or right person, as the case may be), it can have detrimental consequences. Admittance to cheating on exams on Facebook comments have led to referrals to the Dean of Students and expulsions from campuses, and offensive YouTube videos can turn an entire community against a single person.

Last year, a UCLA student posted a controversial YouTube video that instantly went viral. Although she claimed to have posted it as a light humored method of procrastinating for finals, the video consisted of mocking commentary about the Asian community, specifically targeting those affected by the Japanese tsunami. The consequences of her actions were dire: death threats, angry calls, and vicious name calling erupted from the Los Angeles community; her video was brought to the attention of the Dean as students begged for her dismissal. She was escorted to her finals in fear of being attacked, and ultimately dropped out of UCLA. Her story illustrates the power of social media, and the life altering outcomes that can result from its use and abuse.

College campuses are known for spearheading movements and inspiring innovation. Social media provides a space for this to continue in a modernized fashion. While once students took to their college quads and student unions to hang out, study, and rally, students today are abandoning their picket lines, throwing away their protest signs, and picking up their laptops in favor of heading online to let their voices be heard.

About the Author: Tyler Peterson

A UCLA senior, Tyler is gearing up for life in the “real world.” When she’s not writing for Jigsaw Social Media or hitting the books, she can be found gallivanting around Los Angeles searching for new sights, sounds, and tastes to try.


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