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Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World

reviewed by Ericka Roland & Fallan Frank - April 29, 2021

coverTitle: Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World
Author(s): Josie Ahlquist
Publisher: Stylus Publishing, Sterling, VA
ISBN: 1620367521, Pages: 312, Year: 2020
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Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World, by Josie Ahlquist, is a timely and relevant book given the global pandemic’s impact on the necessity of leaders to have an online presence. The purpose of this book is to serve as a resource for leaders in higher education who want to purposefully engage with social media platforms as part of their leadership approach. In the introductory chapter, the author draws readers in with the story of Dr. Dalpes, a vice president of student affairs at a community college, and how she uses Twitter as a value-laden community builder. This sets the stage for Ahlquist to skillfully walk readers through the tensions that reside at the intersection of the purpose of social media within the context of higher education, the theory of digital leadership, and the practice of digital leadership by higher education leaders.

The book is divided into three sections and 11 chapters, during which the author weaves together research, stories from leaders and other social media influencers, and an application exercise to apply each chapter’s lesson to practice. Furthermore, the chapters’ organization moves beyond theoretical ideals and social media jargon to engage higher education leaders who are cautious and/or skeptical of the use of social media, making this book highly readable and engaging.

In the first section, “Primer for Digital Leadership,” there are three chapters in which Ahlquist draws attention to the various social media platforms, higher education in the digital age, and the use of digital leadership for higher education professionals. These chapters serve as the philosophical foundation for this book by providing discussion about social media, higher education, and an introduction to digital leadership. It is important to note that Ahlquist does not offer digital leadership as part of institutional marketing but emphasizes relationships, community builders, and ethical discernment. As higher education professionals who have grown up in the digital age, we wondered how the author differentiated between a “social media influencer” and “digital leadership” throughout this section.

The second section, “A Purpose Driven Digital Leadership Presence,” is focused on situating leadership in digital leadership. In Chapters 4–7, Ahlquist provides leadership theories with an emphasis on value-laden approaches. However, there are missed opportunities in this section. Given the importance of definitional clarity to understand particular leadership theories and practices, the approach to leadership theory in this section could have been more focused. It was not clear how Ahlquist is situating digital leadership in relation to the other value-laden leadership approaches. Furthermore, the author moves back and forth between the leader (person) and leadership (practice). We would argue that “leader” and “leadership” are different concepts given the leadership theory; therefore, we wondered if this book was centered on leader development and/or leadership development. A clear understanding of leader and leadership development would deepen the stories used throughout the book. For example, the few times where digital leadership is blatantly calling out oppression (racism, sexism) were in stories that centered minoritized leaders. Consequently, we are left to assume that when enacting digital leadership from a value-laden approach, there must be attention given to leaders’ social locations. However, the multiple stories of higher education leaders using social media platforms for counter-narratives or joining in student activism is a timely and relevant topic given how social media has assisted in exposing inequities, especially in higher education.

The final section, “Digital Leadership in Practice,” brings together the philosophical foundation from Section 1 and the theoretical framing from Section 2 and puts both into practice. Ahlquist skillfully creates a social media community of higher education leaders who engage in digital leadership practices for those who are inspired to do the same, demonstrating an emphasis on relationships and community building. For readers who are not ready to go “live” on social media platforms, Chapters 9–10 help readers build content in real time.  

Finally, Chapter 11 provides a thought-provoking discussion on the future of digital leadership in higher education. This is the first chapter in the book we felt was appropriate for any reader regardless of where they are on the technology adoption curve or their social media knowledge. The chapter brought us back to the beginning of the book, where Ahlquist stated that “An educational leader’s approach must not only consider their position, power, and purpose alongside available platforms but also continuously evolve because the rules and roles of leadership change, just as the students who enter our institution change each year.” In this chapter, the author made a compelling call to action that rejects traditional leadership methods for innovative leadership approaches. As students and institutions are becoming more diversified (race, ethnicity, class, ability, etc.), we agree with Ahlquist that higher education leadership practices must change not merely for change’s sake, but for leadership that creates online and offline environments that humanize all students.

The book seems to be targeted to an audience of higher education professionals who are cautious, skeptical, late, or laggard adopters of social media and technology. Although addressed towards senior administrators, the book could be valuable for faculty professional developments to offer training on connecting with students in online environments. This book is not intended to be used as a pedagogical case. Still, student affairs/ higher education graduate preparation programs should use this book in leadership courses to grapple with digital leadership in practice. In summary, Digital Leadership in Higher Education: Purposeful Social Media in a Connected World is a timely and relevant book to prompt a reimagining of leadership in the digital age of connection.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 29, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23683, Date Accessed: 5/14/2021 10:39:00 PM

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About the Author
  • Ericka Roland
    University of Texas at Arlington
    E-mail Author
    ERICKA ROLAND, Ph.D., is an assistant professor in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her research interests focus on critical leadership development in postsecondary education.
  • Fallan Frank
    University of Texas at Arlington
    E-mail Author
    FALLAN FRANK is a graduate student in educational leadership and policy studies at the University of Texas at Arlington. Her research interests focus on the experiences of minoritized students across postsecondary educational settings.
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