Article in Companies, Social Media, Social Networking, Programmable Web, Origins categories.

Leveraging Social Media, ConnectYard Seeks to Redefine Academic Interaction  The “Age of Social Media” has arrived and many people are now dependent on various web 2.0 tools: Facebook, Twitter, Blackboard, and Skype, to…

 The “Age of Social Media” has arrived and many people are now dependent on various web 2.0 tools: Facebook, Twitter, Blackboard, and Skype, to name only a few.  But colleges and universities have failed to keep up so far, limiting their online interaction with students to email notices, emergency system text messages, and course management systems. Now, the founders of a new social media tool, ConnectYard, are looking to fill that void and create a system that promotes more efficient, private, and effective communication between university administrators, professors, and students.

ConnectYard, which was founded in 2007, seeks to leverage existing social media technologies to create a new online community that institutions can use to communicate with students.  Its unique value is in creating a platform that allows educators to use social media to communicate with students in a centralized, monitored way, which could prevent misuse and inappropriate behavior while simultaneously streamlining the communication process.

ConnectYard partners with institutions, among them Cornell and Georgia State University, by offering them direct access to the service, which they then provide to their students. Each student creates his or her own profile on ConnectYard, puts personal information and posts on that profile, and links it to their Blackboard account. Professors can then respond directly to student questions using ConnectYard, post assignments and explanations to it through Blackboard, and even monitor student Facebook groups or Twitter posts without having to friend or follow them and engage in potentially inappropriate online contact, which is becoming an increasingly problematic issue at the high school level and has been in the news several times this year.

But, despite its unique value proposition and substantial upside, ConnectYard also faces potential pitfalls. It is inherently limited by problems with its partners, particularly Blackboard, which many college students regard as a rather clunky, hard to use academic platform.  Because it partners with institutions that use the Blackboard system, ConnectYard integrates with Blackboard rather than replaces it, which means that students may see it as another thing they have to check for school every day.  Students may also have trouble seeing the value in setting up a “social” profile on ConnectYard that they use primarily for academic purposes; with Facebook, Twitter, and Skype already used constantly, it may feel like overkill.  That is especially true for ConnectYard because its unique value is geared towards institutions and it partners directly with schools, which means that students may feel required to use it and see it as a constantly monitored tool of their school rather than a more open, vibrant, academically-oriented social media network.

ConnectYard will also face ongoing privacy concerns as it grows. The new tool’s value is in its privacy; it gives schools a controlled way to leverage social media without having to deal with messy individual communication between individuals and professors.  But, to do that, ConnectYard allows professors to monitor students’ facebook pages, questions, and posted comments without friending or following them, which raises a problematic concern of its own: as this technology grows, how much access will professors and educators have to students’ other social media profiles without having to friend or follow them? If that access grows too pervasive, will students continue to use it?

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