Does the use of social media within universities promote employability?

This blog discusses whether the inclusion of social media within university courses is supportive of higher education’s employability agenda, and if so how can it be assessed?

The Department for Education forecasts a professional and technical skill gap which will rank the UK in the lowest quartile of Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development countries by 2020.  The demand for graduates in the workplace remains high and is forecast to increase in the professional sector despite employers being dissatisfied with graduate employability skills, particularly in literacy, problem solving and work experience. The issues of graduate employability are further pronounced within the financial professional sector with nearly a third of employers requiring subject specific degrees. Conversely one fifth of graduates remain in long term nonprofessional employment.

So if the skill gap presents the largest challenge for Higher Education, how does the integration of social media within teaching help our students?

The increasing use of social media in all walks of life has clearly also impacted on the lives of academics and  students alike. The term ‘social media’ is often used to describe the variety of technology based platforms (online and offline) used to communicate and collaborate.  It is sometimes also used when discussing technology in general terms.

There is an assumed duty within higher education that students should be exposed to the technology which is in use in the workplace but this presents problems in that such technologies are cyclical and often become unpopular over time.  Given the planning timescale for course and module design within universities, it is therefore important that the teaching and assessment of social media should be generic in nature with the focus on the functionality and benefits of such technology.

In order to make an informed decision as to the arguments for the inclusion of social media for the assessment of students from an employability perspective, we need to understand the value of this medium to industry.  Communication, Collaboration, Problem Solving, Social interaction and networking are often regarded as work based competences which are highly valued by employers and therefore it is important that these are incorporated into the design of social media teaching and assessment, methods of testing, regardless of what technology is used.  In the modern workplace, the practical use and familiarly with technologies such as online conferencing and collaboration, webinars and Microsoft and Google packages is equally important and there is a case for assessing these skills alongside academic competences.

Although often impractical in large universities, a flexible course design to accommodate a variety of industry sectors will unquestionably benefit the student.  For example the successful launch of the BA (Hons) Esports degree at Staffordshire University has resulted in a tailored programme of study specifically including the use of social media for marketing and event design in the gaming sector

The Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (CIMA) adapts a real time problem based approach to their assessment to ensure that students have sufficient depth of knowledge to apply to real industry problems. The technology itself is inherently part of the assessed activity in that if students are not familiar with the technology then they will be unable to complete the assessment. This has the potential to be expanded through the use of social media itself as a method of assessment.

So the ultimate question is whether the use of technology is appropriate and beneficial both to the student and the employer.

Mark Wordley is Lecturer and Course Leader for the Accounting & Finance Courses at Staffordshire University and is responsible for work placements within the Business School.

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