#Digitalfaith: Using Social Media for Professional Development


The purpose of this special issue is to share the best research, theory, practice, and perspectives from presenters at the 2017 Religious, Secular, and Spiritual Identities Convergence conference, alongside the new writing of scholars and practitioners who were inspired by the themes of the conference. Readers will have access both to the best of what they might have missed from this unique conference experience and to ongoing work in the area of college students’ religious, secular, and spiritual identities. The special issue offers a curated collection of articles in the categories of research and theory, opinions and perspectives, and best practices. 

Professional Engagement With Religion, Secularism, and Spirituality in Higher Education

Although scholars acknowledge the importance of spirituality in the educational and vocational experience, it has been deemphasized within some professional settings (Chickering, Dalton, & Stamm, 2006). This spiritual pruning is often due to unspoken taboos concerning the intimate nature of religious and spiritual matters that can inhibit personal and professional development for student affairs professionals (Burchell, Lee, & Olson, 2010; Rogers & Love, 2007). This lack of engagement in higher education compels educators to look elsewhere for answers to life’s big questions about meaning, faith, values, and beliefs (Astin, Astin, & Lindholm, 2011; Parks, 2000). There is a need to identify spaces where professionals can engage spiritual topics and practice interfaith dialogue, particularly in ways that are inclusive of diverse pathways to meaning and life purpose (Burchell et al., 2010; Stewart, 2015). Furthermore, in discussing competencies related to the promotion of religious pluralism and interfaith cooperation within higher education, Kocet and Stewart (2011) recommended, “Student affairs professionals are knowledgeable regarding world religions, humanistic worldviews, and diverse spiritual perspectives and, when lacking information, actively seek out resources [emphasis added] and professionals with such expertise” (p. 5). Spiritual and religious literacy is rarely addressed within certain preparation programs and professional settings, inhibiting some student affairs professionals and leaving them unprepared to address religious and spiritual matters (Burchell et al., 2010; Rogers & Love, 2007). At the same time, there has been greater examination of how best to serve the evolving religious, secular, and spiritual needs of today’s college student (Astin et al., 2011; Rockenbach & Mayhew, 2013). If higher education and student affairs professionals are not prepared to engage with these topics, they may be unable to adequately support their students. This hesitancy or inability to professionally engage in issues of meaning making can also potentially limit important interactions with colleagues around issues of professional purpose and vocation (Dalton, 2006).

Beyond professional preparation, many student affairs professionals also desire an environment in which they feel comfortable incorporating spirituality into their work (Burchell et al., 2010). Some educators admit they shy away from vulnerability and spirituality in the workplace because these topics are perceived at worst as a weakness or at best purely individual matters (Burchell et al., 2010; Chickering et al., 2006). Other educators say that they feel uncomfortable discussing their own spiritual lives or beliefs because they have not had professional opportunities to reflect on these personal subjects (Burchell et al., 2010; Dalton, 2006). However, the exploration of meaning and purpose can allow student affairs admin- istrators an opportunity to reflect upon their own personal professional journey (Kocet & Stewart, 2011). Educators need professional activities that help strengthen their own sense of purpose and engagement with issues of meaning (Chickering et al., 2006). Without these opportunities to engage relevant religious, philosophical, and spiritual topics, educators may be missing important venues for reflection, which can have professional implications.

#Digitalfaith—Online Spaces for Religious, Secular, and Spiritual Development

Educational technology has offered a new digital landscape for academic learning, exemplified by the increased growth of online courses and the use of social media in higher education (Ahlquist, 2016; Parker, Lenhart, & Moore, 2011). Social media technology is also transforming the way we communicate, collaborate, and learn (Dalton & Crosby, 2013; Rowan-Kenyon et al., 2016). These technological advances in new media platforms have increased interactions across national and global boundaries, providing access to more information about a variety of cultures, beliefs, and ideas than ever before (Campbell, 2013). Online communities can provide opportunities to explore diverse spiritual and religious perspectives through participatory practices as well as offer alternative spaces for spiritual discovery, growth, and expression (Campbell, 2013; Manson, 2016).

Unfortunately, few educators understand the potential for religious and spiritual development within the current online landscape or how to best engage professional development opportunities on social media platforms (Cabellon & Junco, 2015; Burchell et al., 2010). While there are a number of online communities and social media technologies, #DigitalFaith resources focus on the specific digital tools, platforms, and spaces that support religious, secular, and spiritual identity development (Manson, 2016). We suggest utilizing #DigitalFaith resources to help student affairs professionals better understand relevant religious, secular, and spiritual issues and support their own professional development around these topics (Manson, 2016; Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011). For example, a #DigitalFaith resource can be educational, such as a website that offers training focused on developing religious literacy. A #Digitalfaith platform can also be a communal digital space where one engages various belief systems and worldviews through research or online discussions with others.

Using Social Media for Professional Development

Social media platforms offer new ways of conceptualizing identity, creative expression, and meaningful discourse among online educational communities (Dalton & Crosby, 2013; Rowan-Kenyon et al., 2016). Additionally, social media’s pervasiveness is aided by quick and efficient access on mobile devices, which makes this technology particularly suitable for educational communities (Moran et al., 2011; Rowan- Kenyon et al., 2016). Social media platforms offer untapped educational and professional potential. We, as student affair professionals, have a responsibility as educators to engage this technology for our own personal and professional development (Kruger, 2013; Rowan-Kenyon et al., 2016).

While social media may intimidate some educators, prominent scholars and professional organiza- tions have acknowledged the necessity for all higher education practitioners to leverage social media to remain relevant and innovative in their positions (Cabellon & Junco, 2015; Ahlquist, 2016). NASPA and ACPA’s creation of stand-alone professional competencies related to technology demonstrates the impor- tance of technological innovation, such as social media, in student affairs work (Ahlquist, 2016). Many student affairs departments have already begun intentionally incorporating social media into their daily operations, often to enrich relationships with individual students, promote community development, assess students’ sentiments, encourage networking, and demonstrate appropriate online behavior (Junco, 2014; Moran et al., 2011).

Additionally, social media can be used strategically as a professional development tool for relation- ship building and digital leadership within student affairs (Ahlquist, 2016). A survey studying faculty members’ use of technology in and outside the classroom revealed many use social media for professional purposes and in support of career activities (Moran et al., 2011). These findings suggest the potential of social media platforms to assist other education professionals in connecting with colleagues and with students (Dalton & Crosby, 2013; Rowan-Kenyon et al., 2016). The remainder of this article highlights examples of how two higher education organizations were able to utilize social media platforms to create #DigitalFaith spaces to support student affairs administrators’ professional development.

Read the full article here.