Trender Research™

Technology meets people.

As faculty members scramble to adopt 2.0 technology their students have already mastered, questions crop up surrounding how faculty should integrate the new mediums into their traditional three roles of teaching, research and service.

First off, it should be noted that all faculty are not equal. Some have managed LinkedIn and Facebook accounts as long as their students. Some of the first adopters have kept a finger on the pulse of modifications and updates as they've come down the pipe. Others are just now straying into the world of online communication beyond email. There is a digital divide as students and faculty try and find middle ground where social networking meets academic function. Below are some of my thoughts from a course I teach and some of the dilemmas facing faculty on today's campuses.

Most colleges and universities have a platform they run allowing faculty to upload course content and manage their classes. Whether it is Blackboard, Angel, or WebCT, I have found none of these systems to work as smoothly as marketed, and besides, it's not where the students live. Students now arrive on campus without emails, relying solely on Facebook, texting and now Twitter to quickly interact and connect with peers. In turn, faculty members, student affairs staff and academic administrators are seeking to adopt 2.0 technology to reach out to students. Below are four technologies I have tried adopting into my course.

Googledocs- From my experience, I have found Googledocs a convenient tool, albeit it requires students to have a Gmail account. It allows for groups of students to collaborate on Powerpoint projects, it allows for me to work with them on their resumes, and it does it all in the cloud without multiple versions getting mixed up in email.
Facebook- It would be as rare for a student to show up on campus without a Facebook account as it would for them to show up without shoes. As an instructor, I have struggled with the appropriate way to leverage this technology in an academic way. I do not need to see my student's photos from Cancun, so I avoid befriending altogether. A page for the course, with students as fans, seems to be the safest and most appropriate path to take. I am still not convinced of the added value of using Facebook for the course, but I also don't see drawbacks as I update it rarely, and it serves primarily as a conduit to my course website.
LinkedIn- This social networking site is primarily a digital resume, allowing for my students to network among each other, among each other's contacts, and to see, in my humble opinion, how social networking can occur in a mature function. Not based on photo albums and music tastes, LinkedIn offers students a way to connect with future employers. However, they rarely find their peers on LinkedIn, and without my prodding would most likely steer away from the site altogether.
Twitter- How much can be said in 140 characters? A lot apparently. Twitter allows for job announcements, course changes, and up to the minute blasts to reach students quickly... if they're paying attention. The perk of Twitter, is that it is a fast, engaging tool that allows information to reach students quickly. The downside is that they have to root through all of the other benign, nonsensical "tweets" people they follow post to find the gems that might be coming through. Students have to sift through a lot of static to find the best information.

Does all of this help in my connection with students, and make me a better instructor? I think so. If for no other purpose than it sends an acknowledgment to my students that I am trying to meet them halfway, and in turn, motivates them to meet me in the middle. In the end, it's about making a connection with each of my students, and supporting them in their academic endeavors. All of these technological tools help to facilitate my connection with students, their learning, and to open doors to building relationships with them as they find their way through college.

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