How students and faculty can build their social capital


Social capital is an intangible asset derived from social relationships and networks. Individuals and groups, including universities, network and develop personal and professional relationships to work together. They strive to work collaboratively with others because they can achieve personal and group goals in ways they could not achieve alone.

In higher education, the benefits of these social networks include the sharing of intellectual resources, the joint development of knowledge, and joint research. Like any other human motivation, people form networks because it serves their own interests, and when people’s interests align, the relationship becomes mutually beneficial.

The development of social networks

It is helpful to first understand how social networks have evolved over time. Social networking and relationship building have been part of the human experience since humans decided to form social communities in the Neolithic period. As these communities grew, the quality of these interpersonal relationships became more important and more complex.

And as communities became more complex, the division of labor increased, and the family unit became more structured and dominant, people assumed more and more roles (e.g., daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, aunt, friend). , teachers, potters, food and clothing makers). Communities required people to interact with other people in ways never before imagined or demanded.

Out of these first communities emerged the concept of private ownership of land, livestock, crops, dwellings, tools, and the like. The concept of governance also evolved as nomadic tribal societies transformed into sedentary societies led by community leaders (military, religious, or monarch).

In these first agricultural societies, new technologies and techniques were invented to aid their development, such as B. the taming of crops and animals, writing, the wheel, timekeeping devices and better tools to clear and cultivate the land for farming and animal husbandry. All of these developments allowed people to have more and more control over their environment, rather than always being at the mercy of the natural environment.

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In modern times, however, the social roles people play have become increasingly fluid and complex. With the emergence of human rights and justice as major concerns over the past century, greater expectations have been placed on social institutions such as colleges and universities to address these concerns through initiatives such as diversity, equity and inclusion. As a result, social networks in higher education continue to be more diverse and inclusive.

Technological Changes

In the last 20 years, social networks have expanded through the use of digital technology. With the advent of the internet and digital communication platforms (e.g., websites, blogs, webinars, podcasts, social media sites, and smartphones), people have been able to connect in ways never before imagined.

With these technologies, traditional time and space boundaries are no longer an obstacle for many people. With the emergence of Industry 5.0 and Society 5.0, industrial capitalism is giving way to post-industrial capitalism, which is mainly based on a service economy driven by knowledge, innovation and social capital.

In the past, the productivity of farmers and factories has increased many times over as a result of the implementation of technological innovations. The results of many of these innovations have led to an increase in economic growth around the world.

Similarly, recent technological innovations have had a significant impact on higher education. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an exponential increase in online learning, which in turn has significantly impacted traditional pedagogical approaches to teaching and learning. The next step is to build a solution that bridges the digital divide to enable education for all.

The COVID-19 crisis prompted many schools and universities around the world to use digital learning management systems (such as Zoom, Google Classroom, Blackboard, and Canvas) to deliver most or all of their courses and programs.

Universities are now making huge investments to implement a wide range of online teaching and learning technologies, including making them more social. In addition, innovative technologies such as blockchain, virtual reality and artificial intelligence are becoming a crucial part of the future of higher education.

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Additionally, changes in technology can happen very quickly, and responding to these changes is often a challenge for organizations. Change often requires significant resources such as training facilities, operational changes and transformation management, among others.

Organizations are also relying more on automation and artificial intelligence. In this context, students need to learn the right skills to improve both employment and employability prospects.

Enable innovation through social networks

Cooperation is an important factor to enable innovations through social networks. In higher education, community projects between different groups have been seen as a way of spreading ideas and knowledge.

Through online tools, many governments, universities and industries have collaborated using their expertise and technical or research skills. This was also evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, when institutions and laboratories worked together to increase research-based productivity in healthcare and medicine, for example.

The connectedness also correlates with the increasing use of social networks. With recent advances in technological tools such as discussion forums and social networking platforms, geographic distance and demographic factors have become less important. Social networks have played an important role in spreading knowledge across countries.

However, there is a dilemma in choosing whether ties to social media contacts should be strong or weak. Strong bonds typically consist of close family and friends. On the other hand, people who choose to form “weak bonds” with people can more easily spread new information with people outside of their close network, thereby increasing their social capital.

Cohesiveness is another factor to consider when setting up a social media learning environment. More and more researchers tend to share their ideas and research results through social networking sites because they can reach a wider audience instantly. Such an attitude towards knowledge dissemination can bring knowledge holders together and increase trust and reliability between them.

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This allows technology-enabled researchers to have a greater impact, which accelerates the development of innovative ideas.

Finally, conciseness is a factor in enabling innovation through social networks. The degree of heterogeneity among network partners is crucial to the effectiveness of the network, allowing for different voices to be heard. To pool like-minded voices, discussion groups and online forums can be set up to encourage shared ideas.

Build social capital

“Invest in community-led networks; they make a difference,” says Margaux Jacquemin, alumni leader at Enseña por México/Teach for All Network.

“When networks are at their strongest, they make people happier and more inspired at work, and the impact can be really powerful. Networks contribute very effectively to systemic change in education.”

Social networking technologies have become ubiquitous in student life. Students today are very tech-savvy. The social identity of the students is important. Digitally networked learning communities have great innovation potential and contribute to a more people-oriented economy. Therefore, social network technologies have the potential to advance the common good.

The success of social networks depends on diversity, equity and inclusion. As are human tendencies, we tend to connect with those who are like us and reflect on our own thoughts and perspectives. However, social networks allow people to look at problems from different perspectives, which in turn tends to lead to better outcomes.

A network built on a foundation of shared values ​​empowers its members through diverse perspectives and collaborative approaches, which is particularly important in higher education. As such, social networks are now one of the most important mechanisms through which teachers and students can build their social capital.

Patrick Blessinger is President and Chief Scholar of the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning (HETL) Association, USA; Enakshi Sengupta is a writer and independent scholar, India; and Serpil Meri-Yilan is Assistant Professor of Languages ​​at AICU, Turkey.