Friday, September 30, 2011

Connecting with Students: It's a Whole New World

"If I had asked our students, faculty, and staff before all of this if they thought social media was a huge part of their lives and work, the answer would have been no. But now, many are seeing that it is a really big part of how we behave and what we do." (Eric Darr, Provost at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology)
Last week, Harrisburg University of Science and Technology imposed a ban on social media sites: students' access to Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and AOL Instant Messenger. The idea, according to Eric Darr (quoted above), was that " the set of technology we call “social media” has a big impact on the way students, faculty, and staff here at the university live their lives and do their work. It’s not just a peripheral time-waster. But posing this to students in an academic setting didn’t seem to quite get to it; habits are very hard to talk about and articulate because we’re not aware that we’re doing them. Imagine a world without social media! " Darr claims that several students reported less stress, better concentration, and improved sleep once the ban was enacted. He also acknowledges that the ban didn't really work:  the proportion of students who actually went "cold turkey" was probably around 10% or 15%.
Also last week, the second Education Nation summit was held at Rockefeller Center in New York City. This summit brought together some of the nation's most prominent education reformers, policymakers, and funders to discuss important and emerging educational trends and policies. Ann Curry of NBC also convened a very important panel of - students (!!!) to provide insights and suggestions about what's important to them about education. They suggested 20 things, but I'll highlight a few that stand in sharp contrast to the Harrisburg experiment:
  •  I can't learn from you if you are not willing to connect with me.
  • Us youth love all the new technologies that come out. When you acknowledge this and use technology in your teaching it makes learning much more interesting.
  • We appreciate when you connect with us in our worlds such as the teacher who provided us with extra help using Xbox and Skype.
  • You need to use tools in the classroom that we use in the real world like Facebook, email, and other tools we use to connect and communicate.
Finally, I've included in this entry a snapshot of a Facebook conversation I had this week with a young woman from India (I've intentionally protected her privacy by smearing her name and profile picture) who posted on CCC Confer's Facebook page. At first I thought she was asking for training materials related to using the technology, which would have been fine and even a bit flattering. But it became clear in the conversation that she had an interest in the archived lectures of a particular instructor at a particular college in California who teaches high-tech computer classes. Here's an illustration of how dramatically the technologies of lecture capture, synchronous online education, and social networking combined to make international connections and learning possible. (I checked yesterday: the instructor and the student are now Facebook friends.)

Ironically, this week was Banned Books week: libraries around the country held programs and readings to discuss the evils of censorship and content restrictions. Ban (Face)book? Not in my world!

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