Recently, I have had many conversations with others in our Student Affairs division here at Plattsburgh, about how sad it is that this newest generation of students has essentially always been connected to technology and social media. People complain about the evident decline in social competence for this newest batch of first-year students, which is immediately attributed to their addiction to screens. Computer, phone, and television screens that is. We blame the parents; we blame the students, but what about us? Are we just helpless observers in the seeming destruction of interpersonal connection as we know it? Or are we potential agents of change, to use a student affairs buzz phrase. Of course, I believe we are the latter or else I wouldn’t be writing this article. From my perspective, here’s how we can do it:
- Get Acquainted with the “Problems”: At this point, it seems safe to make the assumption that technology, and all things associated with it, is here to stay. Avoiding technological updates (i.e. using smartphones, social media, other digital media, etc.) won’t make the problem disappear. When we have problematic students or groups on our campuses we (hopefully) don’t ignore them and hope they go away. Instead we start asking questions and give ourselves every opportunity to positively affect change. The same should apply in this situation. If you aren’t quite tech or social media literate, feel free to ask colleagues or students questions. Not only can this help you better understand these platforms, it can also potentially aid your relationship with the students you asked. Students (like anyone) enjoy it when we take an interest in the things they do, or the things they are interested in. This is a win/win situation. Also, if you feel uncomfortable asking those around you, certainly utilize the amazing network established by the Student Affairs Collective!
- Upgrade: This isn’t always possible due to strapping financial situations, however if at all possible; join the next generation with the newest smartphone, tablet, iPad, or laptop. A friend of mine in the tech industry once told me, “These days technology advances exponentially, we can’t even imagine what’s coming next.” Don’t get left farther behind than you already are.
- Connect: Today, social media is such a pervasive part of our society it is nearly impossible for us to avoid being a part of it. I have written an article extolling the virtues of social media and all the good it can do for our relationships with students, but for the purposes of this article, my challenge is that if you haven’t already, checkout some apps that are hot on campuses these days. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are the barebones of social media competency. To truly understand what’s happening on our campuses I believe we need to dig deeper and look at apps such as Snapchat, Yik Yak, Kik, Vine, Tinder, etc. I’m not saying you need to necessarily actively participate in all of these apps or social media venues, however, I do believe developing a comprehensive understanding of these apps will help you understand how students are connecting/interacting today.
These are a few concrete steps that we can all take to catch up to the newest generation of college students in the realm of technology and social media. I believe as responsible leaders it is our task to understand current student culture and to actively engage that culture. We have the opportunity to stop being complacent and to make strides towards modeling effective interpersonal relationships. However, if we keep turning a blind-eye to the culture of students today, and relegating ourselves to a place of ignorance, we don’t stand a chance in this exponentially growing field. With that said, go download the new iOS update, update your Instagram, and checkout the app store!