Campus Blog

Social Networks and Higher Education

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Throughout the time of covid, social media has seen a surge of activity. With people hungry to communicate, feel connected to the outside world, and push content despite 60% of the country being largely unavailable (through self-quarantine), it has been an unprecedented time of posts, tweets, grams, videos, and more.

(We hope you don’t feel that we are ignoring an elephant in the room by not discussing the upside and downside of this surge across social media. If you are interested in our particular point of view, please take a look at our Chief Academic Officer’s thoughts on the Institute for Inter-Connected Education’s blog.)

If your household is like ours, YouTube went from up-and-comer to prevailing in only a few short weeks. According to several sources, YouTube is now the dominant screen in our lives for viewing just about everything. From shows to vlogs to clips to 30-second videos about (literally) everything including funny pets, lifelong learning, conspiracy theories, and beyond, YouTube sees 400 hours of video uploaded every minute.

But in addition to the increase in viewers throughout the pandemic, you may have also noticed another, less pleasant trend. The ads have been slowly increasing throughout the pandemic too.

In fact, YouTube’s monetization group made the following announcement last Summer: “Starting in late July, videos that are longer than eight minutes will be eligible for mid-roll ads. As part of this change, mid-roll ads will be turned on for all eligible existing videos and future video uploads, including those videos where you may have previously opted out of mid-roll ads. Videos that already have mid-roll ads turned on will not be impacted.”

Ugh.

While we are certain YouTube will see a bump in advertising dollars during the short-term, it is unclear if this strategy will be good or bad for the platform when it is all said and done. After all, one of the reasons people flocked to the video streaming service in the first place was that commercial television was annoying and tiresome. While the invention of the DVR did allow us to pause or record live tv and then skip forward through the commercials, it was not always plausible. (Have you tried waiting for an NFL game to load so you can watch it commercial free while avoiding any / all updates about the game on your phone???)

But now, the streaming platform sees far, far more commercial interruptions for consumers than non-streamed television ever did. The 24 out of 30-minute sitcom saw 3-4 commercial “breaks” whereas watching 30 minutes of 2-minute videos now would push at least 15 advertisements, although a viewer would more likely be forced to watch all or part of 25-30, total ads.

And don’t forget that the ads are pushed based on algorithms other than theme. So, in the 90’s when America was watching FRIENDS, the commercials were designed for that 20-45-year-old demographic showing cars, razors, and other things those people purchased. Now though, you might be watching a Funny Vines episode with your young child only to be interrupted by a truly frightening and nightmare-inducing horror movie trailer. Nice….

Without belaboring the point much more, YouTube might want to note the concept of semantic assimilation. When a person is exposed to the same concept over and over again (like the current Skechers commercial or the TIAA ad that runs 20 times in a row as we watch these days) people go from anger at the product to pure repression. They start to tune it out altogether.

Okay. So, you might be wondering why Campus, a connective platform to help schools with everything from student success to integration of tools to mobile access and beyond would be writing about a commercial platform? Why would we lament the practices of Silicon Valley’s streaming decisions?

For two important reasons!

First, it is not in a vacuum that social media has seen such an uptick in usage. People are lonely! People are longing for communication! People are seeking ways to connect to others, even when at a distance!

This is one of the bigger reasons social media is ubiquitous today. People who are busier than ever still want ways to connect to the little as well as the big. People want to stay up on friend’s activities and lives, while also having instant access to information and updates.

Higher Education is no different. College and university people (students, staff, faculty, administrators, etc) want to stay connected too. They want the opportunity to talk one-on-one with a peer, they hope to find that just-in-time information to help them get past a problem, and they desire to align with something “bigger” than themselves. And on top of that, there are non-cognitive issues that need as much support as possible. 7% of students dropout, transfer out, or fail out because they are lonely (Early Warning Systems and Targeted Interventions for Student Success in Online Courses, 2020). It is estimated that 15-25% of students are depressed (International Perspectives on the Role of Technology in Humanizing Higher Education, 2020). Well more than half of students struggle to succeed because information is not readily available or easy to find. Higher Education needs the same benefits of social media while mitigating the difficulties. Which brings us to the second point.

YouTube’s ad play is obvious. More money and showing you only content they feel leads to more monetization. Facebook or Twitter’s downsides are the same and just as obvious. Filter bubbles, conspiracy theories, bot-driven posts seeking to create misinformation, etc. And while Instagram or Pinterest are also connection vehicles, the mundane triviality of those platforms are not necessarily helpful to Higher Ed. But aside from the negative aspects, the upside of these platforms (and beyond) could be potential game changers for our schools and our students.

Which is exactly why we built Campus. Campus connects people to people. No anonymous posts; no data being mined to see how to sell you users a product; no outsiders to the school spreading disinformation. Just the benefits of both functionality and community. New kinds of data for student success administrators showing affective connection; keyword / key-phrase triggers to not only prevent things like hate speech (while still alerting administrators to its potential usage) but to let staff know that a student can’t register or a student know they have a hold on their account; and community tools allowing students to join (or even build) communities around things that matter to them. It’s mobile, it’s notification-based, it’s functional, but most of all it’s connective.

Schools can see what matters to students. Universities can be alerted to problems while letting all students see how they react and help. Colleges can automatically group students by meaningful cohorts like majors, sports teams, clubs, at-risk, honors, and more, pushing communities of practice appropriate for each group through discussion tools and mobile alerts.

In other words, we built Campus so that Higher Ed could get the best parts of social media AND the best parts of integrated / interoperable ecosystems without the distraction of the other stuff. The ‘walled garden’ that is Campus is how schools are connecting during this pandemic in ways they never imagined while setting themselves up for a tapestry of support and communication efficacy after this is all over.

As we prepare to end the Fall term and go into this break so as to rest, rejuvenate, and reconnect with friends and family, let’s remember that our students need that too. Not just during breaks, but always.

Let us talk you through it all so you can see how schools are benefiting from the mobile, social, integrated, connected experiences that Campus provides.

Good luck and good learning.

Dr. Jeff D. Borden
Posted by  Dr. Jeff D. Borden  on Jan 11, 2021 10:38:21 AM

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