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By Paul Bradley  /  
2009 November 16 - 12:00 am

CCSSE Finds Increasing Use of Social Networking Tools

Community colleges are increasingly using social networking tools to reach out to students, but gaps persist between older students and their younger peers in using the technology.

That is one of the findings of the 2009 cohort of the Community College Survey of Student Engagement (CCSSE).The report found that colleges are seeing significant growth in the use of online courses and support services, including online developmental education classes, orientation and tutoring.

Entitled “Making Connections: Dimensions of Student Engagement,” the report describes how institutions across the country are striving to connect with students online, in the classroom, on campus and beyond.

Each year, CCSSE assesses the degree of students’ engagement in education through questions about the effort students invest in their studies, the ways they interact with faculty and other students, the degree of academic challenge they experience, and the kinds of support they receive from their colleges.The 2009 CCSSE cohort included more than 400,000 students from 663 institutions in 48 states as well as British Columbia, the Marshall Islands, Nova Scotia, and Ontario.

The 2009 survey included a special focus on students’ use of Web 2.0 social networking tools. Respondents have reported steady increases in use of computers, the Internet and e-mail each year since 2004.

The 2009 CCSSE indicate that age gaps remain for some types of technology, notably the newer social networking tools such as Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter.

For example:

Traditional-age students — those 18 to 24 years of age, 68 percent of community college students nationwide — are more likely to use social networking tools multiple times per day “for any purpose.” Among respondents, just 5 percent of traditional-age students versus 22 percent of nontraditional-age students never do so.

Traditional-age students are more likely to use social networking tools to communicate with other students, instructors, or college staff about their college coursework; 27 percent of traditional-age students versus 49 percent of nontraditional-age students never do so.

The report also found that many of the most important connections are formed not online, but in the classroom.Making connections elsewhere on campus and beyond the campus requires intentional effort and planning on the part of colleges. The report observes that “the potential for creating on-campus connections is largely untapped” and notes that connections beyond the campus are most likely to happen when colleges incorporate them into mandatory learning activities.

The report notes that community colleges face difficult challenges. The institutions typically serve an exceptionally diverse student population.

The report provides data depicting the competing priorities and challenges in community college students’ lives. For example, 60 percent attend college part-time, 54 percent work more than 20 hours per week, and well over a third are first-generation college students. More than 22 percent are uncertain about their educational plans after the current semester.

Still, the report says, “Colleges focused on helping more students succeed acknowledge these challenges, but don’t use them as justification for low levels of student success. Instead, they use the data to understand students’ needs, to connect with students where they are in their lives, and to purposefully create relationships that help students stay in college and succeed.”

Part-time enrollment is an acknowledged risk factor for low student engagement and dropping out of college. The report suggests that part-time status of faculty also plays a role: “The 67 percent of community college faculty members who teach part-time typically teach half to two-thirds of all course sections. They play a large role in shaping students’ experiences, yet in far too many colleges they are minimally involved with students beyond the hours they are teaching.”

The report can be downloaded free of charge at www.ccsse.org. CCSSE is a research and service initiative of the Community College Leadership Program in the College of Education at The University of Texas at Austin.

Comments: editor@ccweek.com

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