Our students live in an online world....do you?










One of the greater challenges in the classroom today is bridging the widening gap to students who are more connected than any generation in history. Students are using technologies that many faculty and instructors do not use, much less understand. While the work of faculty is demanding enough, failure to understand these dynamics may place them at a severe disadvantage.

Michael Crow, President of Arizona State University, recently stated that the greatest challenge we face in higher education is the explosive evolution of technologies juxtaposed to stagnant pedagogy.

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, they are the generation of online social networking. 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.

Most students have social networking web pages. Maybe on www.mySpace.com, maybe on www.facebook.com. 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. While some are getting press on irresponsible postings, there is a far greater story about how youth today are presenting themselves, their interests and their skills online. These sophomoric beginnings will evolve to emerging electronic portfolios.

I know. Our two daughters, 17 and 13, and all their friends, live for this. They take pictures, post them online, write and chat with others. They record videos, edit and integrate with sound and special effects, then post to youtube.com and link to their pages. As parents, we emphasize safety and etiquette, and share stories about how some people make big mistakes, but mostly we allow them their rites of passage.

These tools and skills will become increasingly important as they enter a complex, networked employment world.

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 Face.book. A few of your colleagues are already there. Check out this one: http://plymouth.facebook.com/profile.php?id=44603719

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.