Becca Ramspott is a writer and social media specialist at Frostburg State University.
It’s a new year, and hopefully by now, most colleges and universities have a good grasp of the marketing side of social media. We’ve colonized Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, created content and organized contests.
The time has come to explore a new frontier; one that can no longer be ignored: making social media a part of an educational experience that benefits and is relevant to our students. This idea falls under digital identity development, a school of thought increasingly circulated among thought leaders in education.
I was relieved when I first came across the term “digital identity development” in a compelling blog post by Eric Stoller because it gave me an umbrella term for a variety of issues that dominate the conversations my Frostbug State University colleagues and I have about social media: cyberbullying, personal branding, unplugging and balancing the personal with the professional.
Digital identity development, Stoller writes, may be the new kid on the the core curricula block. “The manner in which we engage, share, promote, and present ourselves online has become a major facet in many of our lives. No longer seen as being separate from ‘real life,’ an individual’s digital identity is intricately connected to their overall identity.”
I’m in full agreement with Stoller on this as it dovetails with my philosophy that social media cannot be relegated to a parlor-trick component of marketing and instead should be integrated throughout print, web and other communications. Following that train of thought, teaching our students how to manage their digital identities cannot be something we assume we’re comprehensively addressing through a new major in social media that we establish in business and communication colleges. Digital identity development is bigger than that. It’s helping students know how to apply for jobs, form and positively participate in online communities and lead authentic lives that aren’t overwhelmingly and constantly dominated by social sharing and looking down at their iPhones. These are skills that can help students of any discipline do well not just during college, but long after they graduate.
So the next question is how do we incorporate digital identity development into our educational offerings? Frostburg State’s Social Media Group is beginning to answer this question by examining programs we provide first-year students where digital identity development may already be a part of the material or could be better emphasized and expanded. We’re meeting with and talking to the educators who create the curriculum for our first-year students’ orientation classes, and inviting those instructors to introduce a stronger emphasis on digital identity development. In other words, rather than reinventing the wheel, we’re taking inventory of what’s already in place and seeing if there is interest and support for incorporating digital identity development in programs where it may be relevant but currently lacking. Other ideas on the table: continuing to support faculty interest in teaching with social media (which encourages students to use social media positively and effectively to articulate their ideas) and bringing speakers to campus who can shed light on topics like personal branding and cyberbullying.
Another critical part of this entire process: we want students to take a leadership role in how digital identity development grows at Frostburg and encourage them to organize workshops, discussions and events that grow knowledge in this area—in other words, to teach us as much as we teach them.
We want our students to be successful so they become dedicated alumni who give back to their alma maters. What better way to do that than to ensure they have the skills they need to create and navigate an increasingly complicated and connected world?