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[Link title]]LIBR559M Final Project - Group 2

Project Outline

How to improve the SLAIS website by incorporating social media tools


The SLAIS website is still grounded in the 1.0 web and affords faculty, staff and students with few opportunities for two-way interactivity or largescale participation. Employing selected social media tools could potentially increase a sense of community at SLAIS as well as providing postive marketing for the school.

Background information

- focus group information from a LIBR 504 project that includes student feedback on where the website should be going

- a sample of best practices and worst practices of higher education websites incorporating social media

- discussions in 559M about the disconnect between archival students and library students


- Are contributions made at a library and information science (LIS) website necessary to moderate - what do other LIS schools do?

- Is a link out to a separate site from the "official site" preferable or should interactive tools be incorporated into the SLAIS site?

Tools & Recommendations

We will provide recommendations for the SLAIS site to increase communication among the SLAIS community as a mechanism to build the digital presence of the School and enhance its image.

Scope and motivation for project

This is a period of considerable change for the School of Library, Archival and Information Studies at UBC. Six new faculty members have joined the School in the past three years and the search committee has been struck to find a new director; a number of PhD candidates have also joined the School. This term, the Director's Task Force on Joint Initiatives aimed to capture and synthesize student opinions on ways to improve collaboration and communication between the MAS, MLIS, and Joint programs. Given this environment, we chose to look at ways that social media could be used to support this growing interest in collaboration and integration.

We focused on the SLAIS website for several reasons. First, it is an obvious central communication hub for all in the SLAIS community. For example, although many communications are made through listservs, the instructions for joining the lists is all found on the website. In addition, information about courses, current news, admissions, and other administrative business can be found on the website. It is an important reference tool for prospective students, current students, faculty, and staff. Although students use the site regularly, it is a one way communication medium and -- there are no ways to interact with the materials on the site, or with others using the site. Considering its central place in communication for the School, the website is a natural point to incorporate social media to facilitate collaboration. Although there are some indications of web 2.0 on the existing site (including a Google Calendar events page:, there is plenty of room to add social features. In an effort to ground this project in the literature, we conducted a search about encouraging student participation through websites, social networking, and educational tools; we also examined the use of social media at various Canadian and American universities, with a focus on LIS schools. In conclusion, we make some recommendations for possible improvements to the SLAIS website.

Literature Review

Research in the area of student participation in social media is still new, and there are many questions are still unanswered as to what constitutes best practice for educators and librarians alike. Teachers, scholars and academics are continuing to seek ways to incorporate these learning tools into their teaching. For many researchers this is an exciting prospect with enormous potential to bring students closer together in academic contexts. For others, social media is a risky and unproven area with a list of variables that potentially disrupt or diminish students’ learning experiences. Diversion of students’ attention and the questionable authority of information at social media sites are among the major issues which academics believe must be closely examined when universities want to adopt social media effectively. This literature review summarizes the prevalent themes in the ongoing discussion of social media in higher education and provides context for this project as we evaluate introducing new methods of student participation within the academic community both locally and abroad.

How can social networks function as a medium for learning, and what will they mean to students who use them in academic settings? To understand these questions it is important to take into account the role social networks play in the daily lives of students. Currently, univerity students are developing their social and digital media skills within their peer groups to a greater extent than facuulty(Greenhow, Robelia, Hughes, 251). This situation is easily explained by the growth of online social networks to sustain personal and social-cultural ties, which students create with their peers more than they do with academic institutions. The divide between students and academics in the social media world is very real, and in many ways the cultures of social networks and academia are incompatible (Greenhow, Robelia, Hughes, 251). Facebook is an interesting example of this incompatibility. As a social network that began in an academic setting and emerged as a massive, mainstream social network it exemplifies the impact of the culture of peer groups and the direction of social networks(boyd, 2007). The culture and usage patterns of social networks appear outside the influence of everyone except for those actively participating. To many academics a network full of twenty-somethings gossiping and sharing club photos is too chaotic an atmosphere to be a promising environment for pedagogy.

Another significant force driving the division of social networks and academia is the contrast between formal and informal learning settings (Bull et al., 4). At university, students engage in a highly formalized and regulated learning environment. Hierarchical relationships that dictate authority and social role are created between students and their professors. This hierarchical relationship extends to the information circulated within these formal learning environments, and the way the information is transmitted. Social networks are a vastly different cultural and informational environment where students are surrounded by their peers in more casual and informal settings. Information is exchanged in an open fashion and through a set of channels students can choose for themselves. On these networks social relationships are flat, dispersed and inclusive. The emphasis on information is “equal to or replaced by an emphasis on creating, developing, and sustaining human relationships” (Katz, 2008; New Media Consortium [NMC], 2008).

While many large social networks resemble informal learning environments and stand in contrast to the formality of academic institutions this should not exclude academics and educators from participating. The challenge is how to navigate new digital learning environments when they are used to interacting in physical classrooms and to connect formal and informal learning as a hybrid approach to bring out the best in both(Bull et al., 3).

To explore a combination of formal and informal learning styles, Greenbow, Robelia and Hughes offer some questions to consider when assessing the behaviour of students within social networks (Greenhow, Robelia, Hughes, 251):

  • How and why do learners participate and create digital content in various learning spaces, including both formal and informal learning settings?
  • What is the nature and depth of individual and distributed learning through participation and content creation in these Web 2.0 contexts?
  • How do learners engage with others through artifact creation and sharing processes, and what is the nature of their interconnections?

The social nature of these networks requires educators to be immersed in students' learning process. Shirky describes a “cognitive surplus” that students display when they engage in creative media online (Shirky, 2008). Within online environments they tap into “extra thoughts” and may be unable to develop in formal learning environments such as the classroom, or when engaged in passive media such as television. Sterling (2008) suggests that the creative energy displayed outside of the classroom should be “harnessed and linked to the academic enterprise within schools.” This seems to be a promising idea and complement to the formal environment of the classroom.

In the web 2.0 era adopting less formal methods of teaching and learning is a challenge for educators. Currently, formal and informal learning environments are separated by distinct social, institutional and technogical barriers. In such circumstances there is little communication between representatives of the respective approaches. Bull et al. suggest that the "inclusion of some of the leaders from informal learning settings will provide an opportunity to begin a dialog with teacher educators representing core content areas" (Bull, et al., 4). Indeed there is a lot of common ground between leaders within both approaches, and it must be acknowledged that educators in formal settings can and do step out of that role and engage in other learning environments. Despite an apparent lack of connection, the inclusion of less formal approaches inspired by social networks has already begun in academia, but it needs assessment as it develops. Bull et al. state that “a crucial element of this dialog will be a consideration of how communities of academics value the content of informal learning experiences and visa versa", and that it “requires a compromise between existing academic sensibilities and the pop culture sensibilities that social media and SNS grew out of” (Bull, et al., 5).

There is certainly an important role for educators who hope to engage with students in social network spaces. Coiro, et al. describe modern literacy as a social, multimedial and “situationally specific” phenomenon (2008, 5). Literacy is expanding and changing through social media, creating an ecology in which students are active. While actively participating in and shaping the emerging social media landscape, students do not necessarily have the full understanding of its context, its potential as a platform for social and cultural development, or its limitations and risks. For academics and information professionals the need to educate and guide students is critically important. An investigation of how teachers are currently facilitating social media reveals what might be called a mostly passive approach. While notable exceptions such as Dr. Wesch have used social media in the classroom, many educators prefer to stand back and observe students as they engage with social technologies. Generational concerns have also been voiced in the literature (Bull, et al., 5; Alexander, 1), as many educators understandably feel at odds with the social and cultural norms of social networks that their students participate in and others feel that they cannot catch up to the students in terms of understanding this technology. Wesch, however, claims that “we are all natives” to this technology (Wesch, The Future of Education, 2008). As it is new to everyone, we all have questions, concerns and important knowledge to gain.

The most significant benefit of integrating social networking in higher education may be the emergence of a more inclusive community of scholarship. The New Media Consortium’s 2009 Horizon Report puts the role of most students in context with scholarship in general, revealing that students devote a large portion of their time to their own research, but have a distinct absence of community-centred activities such as interacting with peers and colleagues and presenting at conferences. The NMC says that: “Every idea, paper, experiment, and artifact is, in reality, attached to a person or group of people who helped bring it about. Imagine the impact of tools that place those people and relationships at the center of any research inquiry” (NMC, 2008, 26). This impact may be especially powerful for students as they gain an understanding of how large, diverse and highly skilled the academic community is. An earlier start with these experiences may help students to understand the role of scholars in society and encourage them to develop and share their ideas in open settings accordingly.

With these issues in mind, what kinds of social networking platforms are ideal for educators and students to engage in together and blend formal and informal learning? Teachers like Wesch have found success recently with customizable and open platforms such as Netvibes and Ning ( While generalized networks like Facebook are popular among schools and libraries, their catch-all approach and closed platforms result in poor adaptability to the academic community. Smaller social networking sites such as Netvibes give teachers the ability to consider their communities and create customized networks suited to the needs of both themselves and their students. This model gives students visibility on the web and an opportunity for wider participation.

Yue et al. published a recent computer information systems study in which students were given an opportunity to design a social networking site for a swimming team (Yue et al., 2009). While the study is written from the perspective of systems design, it describes the many benefits of what the authors identify as “domain-specific social network sites” and how they can apply to all kinds of schools. The term “domain-specific” is interesting for a few reasons. The word ‘domain’ is often used to describe an area of expertise, such as Digital Ethnography in the case of Dr. Wesch. ‘Domain’ also means territories and spaces, and especially to the Web, specific sites with a unique name and purpose. In information systems, domains group together users of various kinds and provide certain access rights depending on need. Social networks can involve all these meanings simultaneously, establishing place and context for members. Domain-specific social networks may offer a unique venue to combine formal and informal learning in a way that is open and inclusive to both students and academics.

Domain-specific social networking is currently a highly under-utilized approach, as many schools opt out of establishing domains as active and collaborative social networks for their communities. Yue et al. list some characteristics of these networks in comparison to generalized social networks:

 1.   The active community may be significantly smaller. 
 2.   The visibility and access structures may be more hierarchical and restrictive ... and have many types of users (such as faculty, staff and students in varying degree programs).
 3.   There may be tighter integration of back end enterprise data and service to create contents catering to the domain-specific applications. (For example, integration with an open journal system).
 4.   Different design and composition of social network features may be chosen to satisfy the domain requirements.
 5.   The site may need to support offline activities and connections. There may be more users with offline connections, known as "latent ties" (Haythornthwaite, 2005).

These characteristics demonstrate the compromise between formal and informal settings required for learning in a social network, and suggest that these systems are able to strike such a balance. The authors also discussed potential affordances for their swim team, which can be adapted with students in mind:

  • Students can announce their research interests to the broader community.
  • Students can post media to the social network which facilitates group work and collaboration.
  • Visitors from both within and outside the academic community can view and perhaps participate in the network.
  • Faculty, staff and students can perform administrative tasks such as announcing events, awards, courses and other news.
  • Students and faculty can contribute links to the network and connect themselves to other communities.

A few development options exist for this social networking model, but of particular interest to library and information schools is use of open source content management systems such as Drupal (Yue et al., 2009, 4). As these systems are commonplace in information organizations, a chance to develop for them would provide useful experience for students. Some benefits include (Yue et al., 2009, 7):

  • Working on a trendy and exciting application area.
  • Mastering leading-edge industrial strength technologies.
  • Integrating technologies to satisfy real- world business needs.

Open source content management systems also incorporate a number of specially-designed widgets and applications which can provide the essential functions a specialized social network needs. Made available in summer 2009, Department 2.0 is an open source software platform based on Drupal for hosting academic websites that incorporate social media services. Dr. Doug Holton at Utah State University, was motivated to create Department 2.0 to improve his department's web presence and increase students sense of community and belonging (Holton, 2009, Department 2.0: Re-envisioning the School Website as a Platform for Developing Professional Identities). As well as connecting students with the department, the platform has the potential to connect parents and alumni with faculty and students.

The combination of customizability, features and affordances of domain-specific social networking sites offers a promising platform to build a rich, specialized social network in which all members of the academic community can participate. The design and presentation of these networks can deeply impact participation and inclusivity. While many LIS schools offer links to external-domain social networks, few have sought to integrate social networks into their own domains, especially on their front pages. Returning to the idea of domain as a social, physical and information space, positioning the social network functionality at the first point of internaction digitally, visitors arrive at the domain where participants see the importance of their participation to the institution. It also lends its dynamic elements to the overall feel of the domain. From an architectural point of view this is analogous to walking into a building and immediately seeing people actively at work and in conversation. It creates a feeling of community and activity which can draw in new visitors. While this area is still very new it appears to be a promising way to experiment with social networks and education, to blend different styles of learning and to engage both students and teachers in the collaborative world of social networking.

Best Practices - social media on higher education websites

Powerpoint presentation of screenshots from university websites:

University of Alberta -

    every student posts an example of their best work in digital format - under student showcase.

University of Washington iSchool -

    RSS feed buttons for headlines and events 
    changing photos and stories 
    under people/student groups links to current student groups, such as iYouth ; iPeer     
    student directory online 

University of Toronto ischool-

    ability to comment on news stories on front page
    recent blogposts in right column
    8 RSS feed buttons on bottom of page
    searchable directory of current students, faculty and staff 
    ability to join groups online

Pratt Institute Twitter account for Asist 09-

    a communal twitter account for the conference. 

Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio U-

  Two widgets on the bottom right of the page aggregate faculty, student and alumni blogs. The aggregator has its own rss feed, making it even easier to subscribe to news from the school. 
  a Featured Video section which includes videos from students.

Rutgers University -

    Faculty blogs are aggregated at the bottom of the homepage. 
    RSS feeds available.

San Jose State University -

    Googlemaps widget shows where people are visiting the site from. 
    Links at the bottom of the homepage connect to blogs, RSS feeds, and the Second Life wiki.

UC Irvine -

    Facebook page featured on front page. Good site, quite active
    not a native platform built right on the website, but still a good service

Open University, Platform site -

    This isn't the University's homepage, but is a special site built to create community through web 2.0. Open University is a distance education university in the UK. 
    Thoughtful blog post by Tony Hirst about why the site was launched, intentions for its use:

Recommendations for improving the SLAIS website

Considering the literature about student participation online, and our brief survey of existing departmental and university websites, we have compiled the following recommendations for the SLAIS website. Most of the effective use of social media by LIS schools has involved external-domain sites, either social networking sites like Facebook, virtual worlds such as Second Life, and blogs hosted elsewhere on the university website. Sticking with this trend, SLAIS could incorporate some relatively simple tools, including:

  • establishing a hashtag (e.g. #SLAIS) and aggregating Tweets using the tag to display on the homepage
  • including links to student and faculty blogs
  • creating an official SLAIS facebook page -- there is currently a group called, "SLAIS: It's Alright" created by students
  • providing RSS feeds for student or faculty blogs, news updates, or other site updates
  • permitting comments, for example on the news section
  • adding a protected section of the site to include a student directory

Recognizing possible administrative limitations to the website, alternatives include adding these tools to the LASSA website (The site already incorporates feeds from Twitter and Students could also create independent tools such as Twitter lists ( or a Ning network ( However, although these initiatives could encourage participation, collaboration, and community-building, their longterm sustainability would be greatly improved with support from the department administration. That is, students come and go, while staff and faculty stick around longer.

Alternatively, an additional website could be established, like the Open University Platform site or the "Department 2.0" site at Utah State. This kind of initiative could be incorporated into a course or a student directed study. Because there may be limitations to what can be used on the website due to university policy, launching an independent site offers some flexibility. However, it also requires a great deal of effort both to create and to maintain. A content management tool such as Doug Holton's Department 2.0 could be a great choice -- nonetheless, it would need to be customized for SLAIS. Buy-in from students, faculty, and staff would be mandatory for such a site to succeed. Trying out some of the easier, external-domain tools, could demonstrate to the administration that students will take advantage of social networking, paving the way for more extensive and innovative tools.

References and Further Reading

Alexander, B. (2008). Social Networking in Higher Education. The Tower and the Cloud. Retrieved from

Bocchi, J., Eastman, J. and Owens Swift, C.(2004)Retaining the Online Learner: Profile of Students in an Online MBA Program and Implications for Teaching Them. Journal of Edcuation for Business Vol. 79(4), p.245-

boyd, danah. 2007. "Viewing American class divisions through Facebook and MySpace ." Apophenia Blog Essay. June 24 .

Coiro, J. & Fogleman, J. (2009). A Conceptual Analysis of How Multimodal Content-Area Websites Align with Emerging Theories of New Literacies and Technology Use in Classrooms. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Diego, CA.

Deng, L. and Yuen, A.H.K. (2007). Connecting adult learners with an online community: challenges and opportunities. Research and Practice in Technology Enhanced Learning. Vol 2(3): p. 192-212.

Greenhow, C., Robelia, B. and Hughes, E. (2009). Learning, Teaching, and Scholarship in a Digital Age: Web 2.0 and Classroom Research: What Path Should We Take Now?. Educational Researcher. 2009; 38; 246

Haythornthwaite, C. (2005), "Social networks and Internet connectivity effects." Information. Communication. & Society. Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 125-147.

Holton, D.L. (2009) Department 2.0: re-envisioning the school website as a platform for developing professional identities. Unpublished manuscript. Retrieved using Google Scholar,

Holton, D.L. (2009) Blended learning with Drupal. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching. 52. Retrieved from

Glahn, C., Specht, M. & Kepler, R. (2009) Visualization of interaction footprints for engagement in online communities. Journal of Edcuational Technology & Society. Vol 12(3), p.44-57.

Liu, S. (2008)Engaging users: the future of academic library websites. College & Research Libraries. Vol. 69(1), p. 6-27.

Mandernach, J. (2009) Three ways to imporve student engagement in the online classroom. Online Classroom. March 2009, p.1-2.

Mupinga, D., Nora, R & Yaw, D. (2006)The learning styles, expectations, and needs of online students. College Teaching. Vol. 54(1), p.185-189.

New Media Consortium. (2008). The horizon report. Austin, TX: Author. Retrieved September 24, 2008, from

Shirky, C. (2008). Gin, Television, and Social Surplus.

Sterling, R. (2008, April 29). Writing, technology, and teenagers. Kojo Nnamdi Show. Retrieved from the WAMU Public Radio Web site:

Wesch, M. The Future of Education. University of Manitoba. Retrieved from

Wong, H. (2009) Engage Online Learners with Technology. Online Classroom. March 2009, p.7-8.

Yue, K-B. & DeSilva,D. (2009) Building Real World Domain-Specific Social Network Websites on a Capstone Project. Journal fo Information Systems Education. Vol 20(1) p. 67-

Student feedback from the focus group

Topic: SLAIS website redesign - what do you want to see on it? Content-wise, front page especially (emphasis is for LIBR559M project)

Major Observations/Findings, Challenges/Issues discovered, Stakeholders – discussion leading

Layout: L: get rid of long menu on right-hand side of front page -- too much info (K and E concur)

K: for an info studies program, our webpage sucks

E: changing the font (our own font)

L: listserv is stacking like the mid-90s

K: need to develop a better aesthetic

L: UBC common look and feel problem

K: that's fine, but all the other stuff can be changed maybe

R: how far can they go within that style, though?

K: Sauder school of business has a great webpage, though!

R: MIT barely has a common feel in theirs

E: Sauder - great webpage, all the important stuff is in a menu on the top of the page - we need to do that too, rather than all that stuff on the right side of the page

K: this is not transparent to our listserv, or our courses

E: info about LASSA hard to find (the student union does not look connected to the school)

E: what is SLAIS is right at the bottom

L: and that section is too text-heavy.

L: U of A not much better.

Dynamic – the website is too static. Never changes

L: wasting space with the big image in the middle - doesn't say anything about the school, students shouldn't choose the school based on the view

K: maybe change picture to a couple different photos, showing events (create a platform for students to contribute images?)

L: not dynamic enough

Interaction , Participation – allow students to contribute to the website and to the school – communicate with each other:

E: more interactive, social media integrated like other schools maybe, blog for student communication, One page for students so everything is there -- we don't know where things are

E: U of T ischool, events right on the front page -- our school depends too much on email

L: too static, not interactive-only interactive thing is important is importing th google calendar - should allow me to important my course timetable, let me build my portfolio, be a portal for submitting my work

E: at SFU we had our own server for us to storage stuff rather than doing ftp, which is really hard to work with

L: should be able to mould this site to my needs, which I can't

L: for LWB, we're responsible ourselves for putting up our stuff

E: would be nice to have a link to that, though

R: You want movement, what can we do to have students feel like they can contribute?

L: make it a course, make it a contest

J: Susie was talking about people creating and maintaining index for SLAIS site... People would be willing to do this! Both creating and maintaining, people could volunteer to maintain for a year

R: Barber is getting students to submit photos of UBC and putting them up on monitors in the centre. What specific things can we try to promote?

L: student showcase of work, showcase of extracurriculars (ACRL, etc. - we should have been blogging from there!)

E: if I go to a conference for w2, i have someone blogging, twittering, and posting photos on the site. If we had that [for ACRL], we're all on twitter, I would know about that!

L: two things in the paper this morning that i thoguht students would find interesting

Engagement – this may foster a sense of engagement with the school and give students opportunities:

K: none of the stuff they're teaching us is implemented on the website.

E: let students be able to post content, videos, etc. Problem of moderation, but it would be good for students to be able to have a voice and be able to interact with other people. We're content creators, we should be creating content, and we're not. We should be using the tools we're being taught about and putting that in there, or at least linking to it.

E: we can build our own content! And learn how to do it!

E: more interactive and engaging

E: just more engaging, we have a greater role now as content creators

E: i don't feel engaged, and this stuff does contribute to that

K: yeah, and some people don't want to be here because they don't feel engaged

New systems – library 2.0 systems: twitter, blog, rss (job postings):

D: Use CSS!

K: no link to job blog

L: no rss feed for blog

L: it is there! Just buried. For LWB, our URL is crazy long and it can't be crawled - search engine is only going to go so deep, site won't be found by Google, unfindable by those who don't know exactly where to go

R: could provide different domains, or put LWB meta tags in SLAIS website

L: Even a ticker would be great!

K: we could post things on there. If slais had a twitter feed...

L: even if it was just "hey, check this out..."

L: web 2.0

Challenging, boundaries – the website will need to address challenges in the information world. Transparency, publication, censorship, etc:

L: probbaly a myriad of UBC policies on what we can put on the site, but if that is the case, WE should be the ones butting up against this and teaching people about open access and (stuff)

K: we should be pioneering this

L: this would be a perfect example of needing to let go when there's a paradigm shift