I recently attended the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) National Conference, and not surprisingly there were a lot of education sessions on the use of social media and its impact on our student leaders. Considering that 99% of college students have a Facebook profile, and 43% have a smart phone, it is not hard to see that as professionals who work with students every day, we need to meet them “where they are”. Which leads me back to our campus and one of the biggest questions plaguing us as professionals; how we do, or do we at all, change our communication style to more effectively reach our students?
As a young professional in the field, I fell that I have a bit of an advantage when it comes to communicating with students vie text, or Twitter, or event Facebook. But what about those who are a little bit more reluctant to embrace all this new and emerging technology? What about those don’t think it is appropriate to create a Facebook profile just to speak with their students? There is no one clear answer, but one thing I can suggest is to have a conversation with your students (face to face) regarding your expectations for electronic communication. It is important to recognize that your preferred style of communication may not be the same as your students, and when you spend 90% of your day communicating with students, you learn quickly that one method is no longer good enough. I know it seems funny to have a face to face conversation regarding how you will communicate with your students electronically, but believe me it is worth it. Because of the accelerated expedition of modern technology and how we communicate with each other, one form of communication that may seem completely rude to one generation is perfectly acceptable to another. Time, location, and the manner of which communication, and communication devices are used thus becomes the corner stone for your conversation with your students.
Within the past five years it has become increasingly easier for our student organizations to create a digital face/brand for their organization. Thus changing how leaders operate and managing their organizations. As the structures of our organizations are changing, some argue that the behaviors needed to be a leader of a student organization in the digital age are changing too. Dan Ashlock, Jr. at Arizona State University suggests that along with a standard set of leadership behaviors our digital age students need, the following behaviors as well:
(Review a detailed description of the digital age leadership behaviors)
Does this mean we have to start training a new type of leader? Should we expect them to adapt to these changes on their own? I sometimes wonder, by the time we figure these questions out new and modern forms of communication will surpass even this conversation.
As we continue to define our relationship with our tech savvy student leaders, let me share a few tips I picked up that might guide our digital practice:
• Develop special training for virtual leaders
• Enhance leadership development programs with virtual skills
• Define whether campus policies extend into the virtual world
• Establish effective advisor/student leader relationships with technology.
• Social media and technology should be critical in establishing identity and brand of student organizations.
• Be sure to establish boundaries for social networks – advisor vs. friend vs. student.
• Set up technology expectation with student leaders – when/how often will you and the student check email, Facebook, texts, etc.
• Don’t try to manage difficult situations on-line – some advising challenges still require face to face time.
So whether you warmly embrace new technology, or you feel like it is just one more thing you have to try to figure out, in my opinion, it’s here to stay. The conversations will continue and as professionals we will continue to incorporate these new behaviors into our practice in an effort to use them not only as a “time waster,” but as a learning tool as well. To close, let me pose this question, is technology hurting our helping?
The following books are great resources if you choose to learn more about this topic:
The Virtual Student: A Profile and Guide to Working with Online Learners, by Rena M. Palloff and Keith Pratt
Open Leadership: How Social Technology Can Transform the Way You Lead, by Charlene Li
Online Social Networking on Campus: Understanding What Matters in Student Culture, by Ana M. Martinez Aleman and Katherine Lynk Wartman
Ashlock Jr., D, Heisermna, J. (2011, February 20). Advising the Virtual Student Leader, National Association for Campus Activities National Conference, St. Louis, MO.