Living in an online world

I took some time off blogging this past month. It felt good. Blogging is new for me and I’ve grown to like it, but not the obligatory part. I spent time disconnecting last month. That's what summer should be.

We’re now looking at the start of a new academic year. One of the thoughts I’ve pondered on this summer was how to better engage faculty members in understanding and using some of the new tools that are second nature to our students. More and more, our students navigate within a real and virtual world of vast amounts of information, media and stimuli. Some of it is very real, such as blogs from war zones, and other parts are more surreal, like gamers. But more than anything else, there is community online. While we sit back and observe, maybe pass judgment on the folly of it all, they are running in information circles around us. They communicate and network like most of us have never known. You need to be prepared.

Many of your students this year will have web pages. Maybe on, maybe on If you want to get to know them, this is where they hang out. Avoid a critical eye; use a listening eye. To know these places and how interaction works is to gain understanding of your students. Casey Bisson noted this, too, in a recent blog post.

I know. Our two daughters, 16 and 13, and all their friends, live for this. They take pictures, post them online, write and chat with others. We teach them safety and etiquette, and share stories about how some people make big mistakes, but then monitor their pages and then let them go.

Funny thing is, these are probably more like the tools they will need as they enter an increasingly complex, networked employment world. And won’t it be something when we, as we age, revel at how natural they make it seem.

How can you use this information to reach out in new ways, to incorporate some of your coursework into an online experience? First, spend some time online. Get into Facebook and find your way to Plymouth University. Look up some of your students. You might even ask them for their facebook addressees.

You might want to create your own page in A few of your colleagues are already there. Check out this one:

You don't need to be a convert, but if you know your students better, this information can be useful in connecting with them in class and helping them better understand the material you teach.

You can also use some of the more dynamic tools in WebCT to strike up some conversations in ways you never dreamed.
I'm not saying whether this is good or bad. In fact, there are elements of both in this new world. I am saying, however, that any tendency to shrug this off as a passing fad is to miss a key ingredient in understanding students of today. They are the employees of tomorrow. Those who will be successful will be those who exploit their online networking and community.