Larry Abramson writes in NPR.org about the difficulty that many Colleges have in getting 1st year students to stay on in College. He asks the question: Can Social Networking Keep Students In School? Colleges have tried everything to prevent high drop-out rates in the 1st year - extra services, special events, more support, communicating directly with students, and even giving free iPods to 1st years. So can social networking work?
|Graphic from the Social Networking in Education Wiki.|
First - there is a plethora of SN services to choose from. In my own classes Facebook dominates by far, but it can be confusing to have so many different networks all inter-linked. Abramson writes about a "School-Based Facebook" and suggests that Inigral (funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation) is the tool to do this. "Only students can gain entry to these sites, and they're invited in the moment they are accepted to a school" - the site is for students only, not administrators or academics. Crucially, the effect of SN for students is still hard to measure, and as one Columbia College student puts it "So, the Facebook app can be there. But unless you're being proactive and you want to go out and look for things like that — it's really on the student". Will-power and effort required.
Me - I think this is worth pursuing. So many students have laptops, smartphones, and use SN regularly (by that I mean several times an hour, sometimes even in class!) - they really are the so-called "digital natives" (as stated by Marc Prensky). Why not exploit and encourage students to use SN - instead of blocking and controlling it. If this is how the late teens and early twenty-somethings communicate - well how tough can it be for College authorities to figure out that this is the way to go? I wish there was something like this to help me in 1978 when I first went to College, instead of ending up trying to figure out everything for myself ("grow up" I hear some of you say?).
Thankfully - Colleges are starting to reach out to students with social networking. I am delighted to report that my own College, NCI, has an excellent presence on SN sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube (links are to relevant NCI pages). Networking is vital to success - let's embrace it on-line.