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Conference Followup – How to Engage Today’s Students

July 24th, 2008 by Erick Beck

Today’s potential students are what can be described as digital natives – they were born with the basics of today’s technology and don’t know what life was like without it. Most web developers and university administrators, however, are digital immigrants – they might be technologically literate or even have been instrumental in creating today’s technology, but they understand life without it.

You can often distinguish the two groups just by their “accent.” A digital immigrant for example will talk about a “digital camera” while for the native it is simply a “camera.” The differences, however, go beyond vocabulary; there have been shown to be fundamental differences in the way these two groups think.

Profile of digital natives:

  1. They expect to be able to give and receive instantaneous feedback
  2. They want to personalize and create
  3. They expect active and complex collaboration with peer-to-peer interaction
  4. They desire instant, prolific, and overlapping channels of communication
  5. They have a “hypertext mind.” This has often been labeled as short attention spans, but is actually a new way of thinking – the ability to randomly access content rather than thinking in linear, sequential format.

The acceptance of this population difference means that we have to actively strive to reach prospective students before they get here, or even before they start actively looking for a college to attend. Current students, faculty, and the administration are no longer your target audiences, it must be the prospect student. When they begin looking for a school to attend they will look for as much information as they can find — and very often not through “traditional” channels — and will share that information among one another via social media.

One campus has attempted to give students an idea of campus life by extending Google maps not only to the street level but into the classrooms. They can look at what a classroom auditorium looks like and even watch a lecture via You-Tube video, giving them an example of the depth of content discussed, how professors maintain their class, the ability for student interaction, etc.

Texas State has created a campus tour on Second Life virtual world. They have staff manning portal areas where users can ask questions about athletics, academics, etc. and get personalized answers. Users can also click-through to view You-Tube video tour content.

Course selection is an important part of the student experience, so we should provide multiple avenues for feeding them information. This goes well beyond simply handing out paper catalogs, or even putting these catalogs online. Possible content to add: course information, course reviews, ratemyprof.com, browsable and searchable syllabi, videos of actually classes, faculty profiles.

While it might seem “dangerous” to post some of the content on this list, students want it and will be able to find it somehow whether you provide it or not. Better to be completely open and honest; the more information you give prospective students the more likely they are to find something that makes them want to attend your school.

Resource: Educause’s Educating the Net Generation

Thursday, July 24th, 2008 Miscellaneous
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