As a Residence Hall Director, one of my greatest goals is “being there” for my staff. So, when it comes to finding the best way to connect with my student staff members, who seem to permanently have a telephone attached to their hands, I tend to rely on e-communication, specifically through social media applications. When I first started supervising students four years ago, Facebook was still in its prime and creating a closed Facebook group for my staff was an effective addition to text messages and e-mail. As the years have passed, application after application has been introduced, and different telephone operating systems have made group messaging incredibly frustrating (seriously, have you tried group messaging folks who are on Android, iPhone, and Windows devices? Someone ALWAYS gets shut out for some reason). In the end, I have found that my students have very little patience for Facebook and want something more “instant” – enter GroupMe, the application that keeps me connected and “there” for my staff, and them to each other.
GroupMe works on every device whether your’re still rocking a flip phone and rely on (gasp) SMS, or if you have the latest tech. You can connect through your computer and go from device to device without interruption. You can use GroupMe to keep a private group chat going – or – you can connect on an individual level if you need to take a conversation outside of the group. In both avenues, you can share photos, videos, and your location. My favorite feature, though, is the ability to “like” a message. I often use this feature to poll my staff when we need to figure out where everyone wants to eat, or to ensure that they’ve read a message (e.g. make sure you “heart” this message if you’ve read it!). My guess is that some of my staff’s favorite feature is the “mute” option, where you can shut off notifications for certain groups – important for test taking, visiting the family, or just wanting to get away when you’re not on duty.
Another reason I love GroupMe so much is because it works on WIFI without any need to have a phone plan. As we know, students are not always financially stable and this ability came in handy for me specifically when I had a student who was out of a contract during the school year. They were able to stay connected and never had to disclose that they couldn’t afford a plan. GroupMe has been so helpful for me as a supervisor and I tend to believe that my staff would say the same thing. I encourage my staff to create their own group that does not include myself or my Community Coordinator so that they can have discussions about their lives privately, make plans for duty swaps, etc. without the “prying eyes” of their supervisors. Conversations that start in the GroupMe often flow into face to face conversation and I’m excited to see how the staff is able to make connections through their ability to instantly be in touch. Specifically, some of my more timid staff members can start conversations in GroupMe that they may not feel comfortable starting in person – and this helps them gain the courage to speak up in person.
I can’t, in good faith, submit this piece without telling you that there have been some pretty big hiccups. Sometimes the staff have a hard time deciding what should go in the GroupMe and what should be a telephone call (e.g. the sprinklers are going off in the building and we get a GroupMe message rather than a call to the duty phone). I’ve had to have a couple of conversations about what is appropriate in terms of professionalism and what could be perceived as inappropriate discussion through the app. Of course, there’s also been incidents where a staff member has muted the group and missed something important.
Truthfully, I see these “hiccups” as great opportunities to have conversations with students to help them develop. The other thing we all need to consider as we’re looking to engage students through mobile applications that the very real possibility that not all students have access to a mobile device. Flexibility is one of the most important skills we can have as Student Affairs professionals, and this area is no exception.
In preparation for students to tell me that no one uses GroupMe anymore, I am now investigating “Slack” – anyone have any advice?
This post is part of our #App2Campus series, which aims to share ideas for using mobile to drive student engagement on campus. We will hear from all kinds of #SApros who have used phone technology to foster a sense of community and connection between the students, face to face. For more information, please see Sabina’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series.