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“Educators, students, alumni, and the general public routinely use social media to share news about scientific and other developments. The impact of these changes in scholarly communication and on the credibility of information remains to be seen, but it is clear that social media has found significant traction in almost every education sector.”

These are words from the annual Horizon Report: Higher Education Edition 2014, out this month, exploring the six big trends in technology for HE institutions in the short and long-term and the six challenges the sector faces in relation to these technologies.


This 56 page in-depth report covers a wide range of subjects and is well-worth a read. We’ll be pulling bits out of it for discussion over the next few weeks.

Today we look at one of the first sections ‘Key Trends’ and one of these trends, deemed a ‘fast trend: driving changes in HE over the next one to two years’. Of course, you’ve guessed it, its social media.

The report highlights in its introduction to this section, some statistics and forecasts you are probably already familiar with; that students are accessing, uploading and consuming content from social media more than any other form of media out there, and that the rise in the popularity of social networks is vast.

More than 1.2 billion people use Facebook regularly according to numbers released in October 2013; a recent report by Business Insider reported 2.7 billion people — almost 40% of the world population — regularly use social media and the top 25 social media platforms worldwide share 6.3 billion accounts among them.

The report notes: “Today’s web users are prolific creators of content, and they upload photographs, audio, and video to the cloud by the billions. Producing, commenting, and classifying these media have become just as important as the more passive tasks of searching, reading, watching, and listening. Sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, and many others make it easy to share and find stories and media.”

But the question we are sure HE institutions are asking is how will this affect them in the short, medium and long term, and what should they be doing in response to this fast shift in attitudes to content?

In essence those that will thrive in this new environment will be open to the two-way dialogue that can be created on social networks between students, prospective students and educators.

The report points out, in particular, that as social media flourishes educators are using the networks as ‘professional communities of practice’, ‘learning communities’ and ‘platforms to share stories and topics.’

One example is the Vanderbilt University’s YouTube channel, which give students, faculty, and the general public a glimpse into important work happening on campus

Once upon a time the world was flat – then we discovered it was in fact round and we could sail around it. But actually the world is now like a piece of elastic, stretching and moving in whichever way we want, thanks to modern technology.

Universities from different countries around the world can, and should, be more connected, and the easiest way to do this is via social platforms. The most obvious example is the area of medicine and scientific research, in which universities can now collaborate closely with such ease on research projects and breakthroughs in medicine – sharing and publishing work online in real time, whether that be on forums, videos on YouTube or blogs distributed on Twitter.

The additional benefit is, not only can their counter-parts in the research project see this information, but the whole world can, allowing fantastic access to their work – and ultimately doubling up as a marketing tool to showcase the university as an institution of top expertise.

Of course with all these fantastic benefits to social media, come challenges for those who work within the Higher Education sector. Next week we look at the second part of the report which looks at training for HE professionals in digital technologies.

We’d welcome your comments on the Horizon report, tweet us on @ElephantCreate or leave a comment on the blog.