Helping Entrepreneurs and Educators STEP Up to Social Media

Heidi Larson has extensive experience in virtual education, online collaboration, educational technology, and professional development. As a technical assistance specialist for the Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund TA program, she is working to sustain an education technology community of practice that provides i3 grantees with ongoing learning, peer networking, and support. For EDC’s Social Technology Enabled Professional (STEP) program, Heidi has contributed to the development of online instructional modules and rich multimedia materials targeted to guide current and future entrepreneurs in effectively using social media to grow their businesses. With STEP co-PIs Joyce Malyn-Smith and Joe Ippolito, Heidi presented findings from this work on December 18 at the Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference in Sheffield, England. In this post, she shares resources from STEP and discusses a new project that builds upon STEP.

Social media is a powerful tool for sustaining active, engaged communities of all kinds. Today, social media is an especially essential tool for entrepreneurs to network and brand their businesses. Online “word-of-mouth” and connections play pivotal roles in growing a business, and entrepreneurs need to be “social-technology enabled” to compete and keep their customers. Yet not all entrepreneurs know how to incorporate social media into strategic, soundly-constructed business plans. This can be especially true for the many aspiring entrepreneurs who attend community colleges.

In a two-year, National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded initiative, led by Joyce Malyn-Smith and Joe Ippolito, our team of EDC workforce development and education technology specialists engaged social technology experts in developing a profile of what “Social Technology-Enabled Professionals” need to know and be able to do. Over the years, Joyce and Joe have refined a modified DACUM (Developing a Curriculum) process that they use to document the skills, competencies, and knowledge that professionals need to succeed. From this process, they develop profiles that are used to guide the design of career and technical education (CTE), workforce training, and college programs. For example, in their work for EDC’s Oceans of Data Institute—an initiative that is dedicated to transforming education to help people succeed in school, work, and life in a data-intensive world—they used the DACUM process to engage a panel of big data experts in developing the first ever profile of a Big Data-Enabled Professional. You can learn more about the modified DACUM process in the Oceans of Data Institute's Executive Summary of the Big Data-Enabled Professional.

In the STEP program, we drew upon the profile we developed to create resources that guide CTE educators, community college technical program faculty, and adult educators in designing curricula or programs that help learners become social media-savvy. These resources—including lessons, a series of webinars, videos, and examples of real businesses’ use of social media—are also appropriate for entrepreneurs and students to use as self-guided learning experiences. The lessons include:

  • Using Social Media to Establish and Grow an Online Presence for Your Business
  • Establish a Social Media Network within Your Field
  • Knowledge Sharing in Your Organization

Check out this brief STEP video clip by social media consultant Laura Nicholas, who describes how she researched the competition for her adult education client.

Next, we pilot tested the suite of STEP resources with community colleges. One of our major findings from these pilot tests was that educators found a wide range of ways to use our STEP problem-based learning (PBL) materials to engage their students and build their expertise in the strategic use of social media. You can use the step-by-step activities, workplace scenarios, assessment materials, and other tools with many kinds of learners—from career counseling initiatives and English classes in high school to computer and technical classes in colleges to adult education programs. After the pilot test, we were delighted to have five of the educators who piloted the resources keynote a webinar in which they shared their experiences.

On December 18, Joyce, Joe, and I will be traveling to Sheffield England to present our work at the 2015 Social Media for Learning in Higher Education Conference. When we come back, we’ll be publishing a comprehensive STEP ebook for educators or entrepreneurs to use to build their knowledge in strategic use of social technology (bookmark our site and check back late in December for the ebook).

Moving forward, our team will be kicking off a new NSF-funded project that is an outgrowth of STEP: Building Social Media Capacity of Advanced Technology Education (ATE) Centers and Programs. With partners from the National Convergence Technology Center, we will investigate how technical colleges can use social media strategies and best practices drawn from business and research to recruit students into advanced technological fields in STEM—with a focus on broadening participation of students who have been traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers. From this work, we’ll be developing a manual to support widespread use of effective practices. Feel free to contact me with questions about our work.