I am an avid observer of outliers. In a society that appreciates, even encourages, categorization and labeling, I like to take notice of that which defies classification. Last week’s #sachat, about mobile tech in student affairs, was a great example of this. As the conversation swirled about mobile solutions to common problems in our departments, I couldn’t help but think about those for whom this is not the everyday state of affairs.
Please don’t misunderstand me- I do not wish to take away the image of the “digital native”, or deny that any of the ubiquity that has come with increasing technology use and familiarity. But I do wish to highlight that the image of a digital native is a metric of generation, not of socioeconomic status or family values. I do wish to challenge the assumption that ALL students are comfortable with it, or even have access to it. (By comfort, I refer not only to the ease of use, but the purpose of use.) And I do wish to advocate for an environment where we can meet students at their economic and associated technological level, educating them without an appearance of being intimidating.
I’ll give a few examples. First, I will shine a spotlight on the service GroupMe. GroupMe is a wonderful service that allows texts to groups of people (commonly students, in my application of it) without the need for a full exchange of phone numbers. As long as they’re all inputted in the system, everyone can participate. That is, everyone with a phone that supports the technology.
Last year, when taking a delegation of students to a conference, I found myself making the assumption that all students would benefit from this use of technology to solve a problem! But one student couldn’t participate, given the nature of the phone he owned. As such, while we found a way for him to communicate with the advisors on the trip, there were social elements of the already created GroupMe that he missed out on. In depending on not-yet-ubiquitous allure of mobile technology, are we considering who will inevitably missing out?
Another related example is the rise of texting services as a means to inform students, with non-emergency communications. While schools are rushing in droves to find ways to let students know about events and deadlines via text message, I balk at the idea. It strikes me as invasive, and I’m not sure that it would be an effective use of resources, when considering the tradeoff of privacy that it represents. Please feel free to disagree with me, I welcome debate on the matter.
Ultimately, what I hope for in all of this, is an understanding that using mobile technology, any technology, is a conduit to communication. It shouldn’t be the only way that information is disseminated. Be open to change, and be open to innovation. I would never fight that. But be equally open to communication and adaptation. All of those parts are necessary for success.