As educators we understand that communicating with students is paramount; this is even more so in the online environment where physical communication is not a possibility (Haigh, 2007). As educators we have the tendency to believe (or hope) that students are reading our every email and course announcements. But alas, when reality does finally sink in, and we realize they aren’t, and may never read what we post, we are then faced with some choices. As a former higher ed administrator and current psychology instructor, I know students are particular about what e-mail accounts they check, what social media threads they follow etc. And if you are lucky enough to make the cut, then you will be able to communicate with them. But wait; shouldn’t the students be the ones who are trying to communicate with us? Yes in a perfect world that is the case, but in our imperfect world; faculty, staff, and administrators must be agile enough to meet their students where they are. This can be accomplished by using the appropriate technology and communication routes favored by their students (Ratliff, 2011).
The first hurdle to cover is the digital divide between the digital natives and the digital immigrants (Prensky, 2010). And if you’re anything like me, delusional and unaware of your lack of technological prowess, i.e. I think everyone communicates like I do. Then you are in for a rude awakening, students do not communicate like we do. Odds are you are a digital immigrant and this colors your lens on how you communicate and interact with the digital natives (Costello, 2011). What is a digital immigrant, you ask. According to Ratliff, “Digital immigrants did not grow up in an Internet household, and may look to the Internet as a secondary source of information as opposed to the first and primary source” (2011). Digital natives are classified as, individuals who grew up with computers, cell phones, and a constant connection to technology (Ratliff, 2011). Prensky (2001) noted that even though digital immigrants accept new technology and implement it, they will continue to revert back to and use previous methods and strategies they felt worked. As any tourist knows, it is better to try to communicate with the locals in their native tongue than to just yell your way through their country. The same goes for communicating with students, you can hold out or you can meet them where they are (Ratliff, 2011).
There was an interesting article last week in The Chronicle titled, “As Students Scatter Online, Colleges Try to Keep Up”. In this article they discuss Kenneth Elmore’s (he is the dean of students at Boston University) attempts to meet his students where they “live”. He has implemented a site call Kenn 2.0 (http://www.bu.edu/dos/kenn-20/) where he shares his social media pages such as: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and blog pages with students (Mangan, 2012). The impetus behind this was his need to meet students where they are comfortable and where they actually interact with others (Mangan, 2012). Kenn uses these sites to inform students about important events, to rant and rave, and to encourage students to become involved on campus and in the community (Mangan, 2012). According to Amy Ratliff;
Communication with students on campuses of higher education continues to drastically change. The social media phenomenon sweeping across the world creates a picturesque environment for the technologically savvy student, but often an intimidating outlook for administrators and faculty. While some higher education professionals embrace this opportunity to engage students through a new outlet, others struggle to adapt to new demands of the constantly connected, digital college student. Understanding social media and preferences of today’s college student are inherent to identifying the best practices to encourage student engagement and foster student development on college campuses (2011).
With this reality, colleges and universities need to supplement their communication attempts via in-course communication & through school sponsored emails with additional resources. I am not saying that we cannot use the course content page or the schools email system, but we need to add some variety to our courses and meet students where they are (Ratliff, 2011). I have a question for you, how many of you would, in good conscience refuse to compromise. By not reaching out to students we are in fact doing this. Based upon the literature here are some best practices of ways to supplement our courses or our institutions communication systems are listed below:
- Course/ Professor/ Institutional Departmental blogs
- Course/ Professor Twitter accounts
- Course/ Professor Facebook pages
- Course/ Professor YouTube channel
- Encourage students to use school sponsored email, but be a realist and teach them how to forward to accounts they actually use so they get your emails
- Don’t “SPAM” students with too much information or you will become white noise and negate all of your outreach attempts.
Through the utilization of mediums that students actually use, we can as educators communicate with our students in their native language (Ratliff, 2011). As indicated by Amy Ratliff, “Current research shows students are online, engaged, and desire to be connected to their campus. They are listening, but choosing the appropriate message and outlet depends on the commitment to success” (2011). We just need to reach out and meet them where they are and at least try to speak the same digital language.
Costello, R. (2011). Uses and Perceptions of E-mail for Course-Related Communication
Between Business Faculty and Undergraduates. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from ERIC.
Haigh, M. (2007). Divided by a common degree program? Profiling online
and face-to-face information science students. Education for Information, 25, 93-110.
Mangan, K. (2012). As students scatter online, colleges try to keep up. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from http://chronicle.com/article/Digitally-Savvy-Students-Play/134224/
Prensky, M. (2010). Teaching digital natives: Partnering for real learning.
Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5).
Ratliff, A. (2011). Are they listening? Social media on campuses of higher education. Journal of Technology in Student Affairs, Summer 2011. Retrieved from http://studentaffairs.com/ejournal/Summer_2011/AreTheyListening.html
Anthony Rivas | Assessment and Analytics Group | Pearson eCollege