Social media research aims to help teens get ready for college

MSU News, Sep 12 2011

As universities open their doors to new students this fall, a group of researchers at Michigan State University is looking at social media to make sure even more teens have access to higher education in the future.

With a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Associate Professor Nicole Ellison in the MSU Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media and colleagues will be conducting research to find out how low-income middle school and high school students are using new media and how they might use social networks to get ready for college.

Through this $253,482 grant, Ellison and the research team are gathering data from multiple sources and will be producing a white paper to share the ways in which social media might be used to shape low-income teens’ access to higher education. They will also be conducting an investigation of how youth are using new media and its implications for social capital, social relationships, psychological well-being and college-readiness.

Social capital is defined as a network of social connections that exist between people which encourage social cooperation.

Ellison also is working on two online games being developed by the University of Southern California’s Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis to help students hone their college knowledge, also being funded by the Gates Foundation. One will be aimed at middle schoolers and another will focus on educating students in high school and beyond about financial literacy and college choice.

The suite of games – called “Collegeology” – seeks to increase college-going rates among underserved students who may be the first in their families thinking about going to college. The games are being developed by the Center for Higher Education Policy Analysis and the Game Innovation Lab, both at USC. 

“We are interested in strategies for increasing access to college for youth from underserved populations, who might not have considered the option or might be the first in their family to think about college as a possibility,” Ellison said. “We know there are barriers to being college ready, and some of these may be issues that can be addressed through social media interventions. Are there specific ways we can encourage even more teens to succeed using social media? We intend to find out.”

This project is an extension of work Ellison is already working on in regards to youth and social media, including her work on a National Science Foundation project to study how social network sites such as Facebook are used to connect and collaborate with others, including college students.

“This new project will significantly advance our understanding of the use of social media among teens, especially in respect to social capital processes,” she said.

Work by professors in MSU’s Department of Telecommunication, Information Studies and Media has shown that there are social capital benefits associated with Facebook use, for example.