WASHINGTON (CNS) — It’s probably no surprise to anyone in academia that their students are very comfortable navigating their way around social media.

What they may not have seriously considered is taking a page, online of course, from their students’ use of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

During a Feb. 2 workshop at the annual conference of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, there was some uncomfortable shuffling in seats, as Catholic college presidents — many of whom already use Twitter, Facebook and even blog — were told that they will never really be able to keep up with the explosion of social media use and they also could potentially learn something from what their students are doing online.

Ana Martinez Aleman, chair of Lynch School of Education at Boston College, initially put school leaders at ease, stressing that students primarily use social media as a form of self-expression. “It’s not rocket science to figure this out,” she added.

It’s what happens through all this shared self-expression that school leaders and development directors were urged not to dismiss. Martinez Aleman pointed out that students are building weak and strong ties on social media — making connections with people they barely know and maintaining connections with those they have deep connections with such as family members and old friends.

“We care about this because we want both those conditions to be happening,” she said, emphasizing that college communities want to build strong ties off campus with alumni and college friends but also need to establish ties with people not directly connected with the campus, particularly as they look for new donors.

Martinez Aleman noted that college officials who initially viewed social media solely as student space still have a lot of catching up to do in maintaining their online presence, figuring out how professors should interact online with students and how to use these tools to engage students in the classroom.

Elliot King, communication chair at Loyola University Maryland, similarly noted that social media platforms provide an entirely new way of reaching students that changes the teacher’s role of merely broadcasting information to sharing it on more of a peer level.

And just because it might engage students more to use Twitter or Facebook in class doesn’t mean that these platforms are trouble free. King noted that these tools bring up issues of how much information teachers want to share with students and conversely how much they want to hear in online conversations with student groups.

King said he knows there is skepticism about using social media, which he said is nothing new since people are always somewhat uncomfortable with new technology and were even afraid of the printing press back in the day.

He urged school leaders not to let their discomfort with these new ways of teaching and communicating or even controlling conversations to “prevent us from the effort” of joining in and moving ahead with the ever-ubiquitous social media.

“We have to work this out,” he said in closing, leaving school leaders with plenty of homework.