As many of us sat in a classroom reading that lovely green book on student development theory, it constantly reminded us to “meet the students where they are.” I find it interesting that the place where I need to meet my students is usually through some type of screen i.e. smartphone, tablet, etc. With all of the different apps on a mobile device, I see no excuse for many of my students that have access to a smartphone to not be able to communicate. Luckily enough, I’ve had more positive experiences with certain apps creating student engagement that we’ve usually heard bad things about.
Yes, I’ve had to deal with students subtweeting each other and throwing shade at staff/faculty through vague posts, but I’ve also have had experiences where students would use Twitter to come together and raise awareness about campus issues. Not too long ago, a group of students I advised went to the state capitol to talk to the senate about concerns they had about racial injustice. Anyone who did not physically join these students followed what was happening via Twitter and would create spaces back on campus for others to come together and dialogue about how this situation affected them.
I’m pretty sure not too many people are fond of this app, but that doesn’t mean it still can’t be used for good. Since everything posted through this app is anonymous, it’s difficult to ever know who is saying what, but some students I’ve worked with have actually taken a liking to the anonymity; they see it as an opportunity to potentially meet someone they don’t know and make a new friend. From previous experiences, I have seen posts from students venting about not having the motivation to write a paper for one of their classes. Then I would see other folks comment and offer to come together and create a safe study space. What started out as one student expressing their frustrations resulted in 6 students who didn’t know each other coming together to study, write, and complete their assignments.
I found this to be interesting because I know two of the students personally, but they didn’t realize they were in the same class together. (The entire class only had 15 students total, and apparently no one ever talked to each other…really?!). Nonetheless, these two students became the best of friends based on an interaction they had through an app where everything is anonymous. Honestly I find it somewhat funny, and also concerning, that these two students supposedly didn’t even acknowledge each other for half a semester, yet were basically sitting 10 feet away from each other, three times a week, for an hour (seriously?!).
For the longest time, I was anti-Snapchat! Then one day, a few of my students provided an hour-long spiel before I caved. I created the account, sent my first snap, and before I knew it, I was hooked! Having worked in Student Activities this past year, Snapchat was a very effective tool for me, both socially and professionally. Let’s be honest, many students don’t read their e-mails or flyers around campus. But the moment I post snaps on my story of an awesome event happening on campus, the attendance has usually doubled within the hour. Call it what you will, but it works; I proudly use Snapchat to bring students together, to show them that I’m a human too (some forget that), and to show them what is happening around them outside of their smartphones.
I won’t lie, this hasn’t been easy for me. I’m very traditional, i.e. I actually like talking on the phone, I still hand-write letters to people, and when I hang out with people, I do my best for it to be a “no-phone” zone, even though I get caught up sometimes myself. However, with the concept of communication changing almost at the same pace as how fast our technology is advancing, I try to do all that I can to adapt, and keep up. Although many of my initial interactions with students has been through a screen, the end result is still the same: they eventually come together, in person, face to face.