meeting them where they are

Today, I am thinking a lot about Web 2.0 and the journey we take with technology, especially as educators.  Hopefully, I can “theoretically” come to a place where we meet students where they are and provide them “good company” for their journey through Web 2.0…but there’s a lot I think we need to do to get there.

I had the pleasure of attending a reunion conference for my graduate program in student affairs over the weekend.  The conference theme was “the future of student affairs.”  One of the topics that came up over the course of the day was technology and how to provide the same kind of support to students, especially online learners who never set foot on campus.  As someone whose current functional area is residence life, I don’t really work much with online learners; “my” students live on campus!  At the same time, I recognize that there are some significant gaps in how we implement student success online vs. on campus.

As an older member of the millennial generation, I consider myself somewhat tech savvy.  At the same time, I discovered facebook in graduate school, not junior high, so I’m a little behind the curve in many ways.  Nonetheless, I have to ask what seems to be a constant question when it comes to students and technology: is easier access to communication technologies keeping our students from being able to communicate effectively?

I’ve heard a lot of examples that suggest the answer to this question is a resounding “yes!”  I’ve personally seen students’ poorly written emails and etiquette in the online world.

My follow up question needs to be: so what are we doing about it?  I’ve been doing some digging, both online and in some personal favorite articles for some background to help me answer my questions.  Two articles came to the forefront of what I believe I’m advocating for in this post.  The first is “Helping Students Make Their Way to Adulthood: Good Company for the Journey” by Marcia B. Baxter Magolda, originally printed in About Campus in 2002.  The second is from Marcia’s husband, Peter M. Magolda, and Glenn J. Platt, also printed in About Campus, but in 2009.

Marcia’s article calls for us as educators, both in and out of the classroom, to facilitate opportunities for students to achieve self-authorship.  She quotes a book by Robert Kegan (In over Our Heads), and goes on to describe what she considers self-authorship:

… self-authorship (is) the capacity to author, or invent, one’s own beliefs, values, sense of self, and relationships with others.  Self-authorship encompasses the multitude of expectation educators have of college students.  Educators strive to promote critical thinking, appreciation of diversity, and mature actions both on campus and beyond.  Educators want students to acquire knowledge, learn how to analyze it, and learn the process of judging what to believe themselves.  Educators want students to appreciate diversity and engage in civil interactions.  Educators want students to make wise choices about alcohol use and dating behavior.  These are expectations for complex ways of constructing knowledge, one’s identity, and one’s relations with others that would make campus life healthier and prepare graduates for productive participation in adult society.  Educators hope that students will integrate these ways of knowing, being, and interacting with others into the capacity for self-authorship–the capacity to define their own beliefs, identity, and relationships internally.

The article goes on to explain how educators can be good companions for students’ journey of self-authorship.  Good company on this kind of journey offers information necessary for the trip, insight into previous experiences, guidance about the minimum safety needs, and ultimately places the responsibility of traveling safely with others on the journey on the participant.  Given that we do indeed, as educators, want to shepherd our students on the journey towards self-authorship, what does that look like in the age of Web 2.0?

I’ll be honest; before the “13 things @ Coe: Learning Web 2.0” project, I didn’t think I had ever heard of the concept “Web 2.0.”  Looking back, I realized I had probably heard the term, even if I didn’t know what it meant.  What’s more, I was certainly participating in Web 2.0 in ways I never knew.  I looked up a list of the top Web 2.0 sites (thank you,  Among them are YouTube, Wikipedia, WordPress, craigslist, and many more.  I’ve used most, if not all of the top 15 sites (as listed for June 2010).  My involvement in Web 2.0 was much more entrenched in my daily life than I had originally understood.  What’s more, as a looked for a list of what Web 2.0 sites were available, I only learned how much I didn’t know.  Again, google helped me out with this information quest; here’s the site I found:  Who knew how involved being involved was?

Armed with my information about self-authorship and Web 2.0, I began to wonder how to put them together.  That’s when I came across the article by Magolda and Platt, called “Untangling Web 2.0’s Influences on Student Learning.”  Magolda and Platt have a much simpler way of explaining Web 2.0: “ReadWriteWeb.”  At the most basic, Web 2.0 is about changing communication from a one way conversation (directed at the reader) to an interactive one where the reader can respond and shape the discussion.  Sounds amazing when you think about it, right?  If we want students to engage in their own learning, using Web 2.0 tools that encourage them to interact is a perfect solution!  Here’s the catch (I know you were waiting for it): how do we know what to use and when?  I gave you the website with the hundreds of Web 2.0 sites, very few of which I have heard of and fewer that I know how to use.

Okay, now the good news.  The whole idea behind Web 2.0 is that people are using all of these tools and telling others about them.  You can search for the “best” of any type of tool and get numerous lists, rated by all different kinds of people and even instructions on how to use them all.  The beauty of Web 2.0 is that the tools are learner-centered.

Drawbacks?  Of course, there are some.  Magolda and Platt mention two in particular. They write:

The two greatest concerns we hear when we consult with faculty and student affairs educators about embracing Web 2.0 applications are (1) they fear losing control of the classroom and (2) they find the task of learning new technologies daunting.

The reality is the Web 2.0 does shift the authority and ownership over the information; it takes away the teacher as expert and invites students to be mutual creators of knowledge.  This is scary, but it is exactly the method we need to offer if we are truly committed to being good company on the self-authorship journey.  Students are living in the Web 2.0 world.  Whether we feel comfortable in it may not matter, the question is more likely when, not if, we get on board with this shift.

I consider myself a student affairs educator.  Now I just need to figure out how to provide good company on Web 2.0.

until next time, ekg


Filed under 13 things @ Coe, social media, student affairs, technology

2 responses to “meeting them where they are

  1. Interesting post and it has given me new points/issues to ponder regarding the vast variety of issues surrounding Web 2.0 (et al). The issue that keeps coming back/worrying me is the issue of multitasking and focus. I think that the possibilities for discussion and exploration with the various mechanisms of Web 2.0 are very exciting, but my concern is when those very mechanisms distract rather than add to a learning experience (whatever that experience might be).

    Of course I refer to the plethora of information coming out recently on the realities of multitasking and how this changes attention and deep thinking. I don’t even just point the finger at the students – I find myself reading and thinking in different ways than I did even a few years ago. At times these are better ways – thinking about related topics, a sort of mental hyperlink, but others are pure distractions to the topic at hand (e.g. when was the last time I checked my email?), even when reading something in print.

    Without belaboring my point (into an even longer comment), I guess my biggest question is how do we encourage fruitful use of these methods of communication/dissemination of information? In the classroom (using the widest definition of the word), how does one encourage a variety of approaches to information and communication to help our students grow into informed, critical members of society?

    [You don’t have to answer – just thoughts I had when reading your post. Of course, if you have the answer to the $52,000 question, feel free to share 🙂 ]

    • Claire — I totally agree. I am a terrible multitasker, meaning that it’s both terrible because I do it so often and that I am not very talented with it. I recall multitasking from the onset of my involvement with the Internet. My sister would call from college and I would talk to her on the phone while chatting online with three different friends — carrying on four conversations all while “doing my homework.” I know that none of those things were done effectively, yet I continue that exact process. I watch TV, check my email, and talk to my parents on the phone, etc. It’s no wonder our students are checking their texts and facebook pages during class! I think I avoid those things out of sheer respect for my colleagues; I’m usually tempted to pull out my cell phone when I know I have a new text!

      Maybe instead of trying to think differently (more focused?), we need to figure out how to work with students where they (and we) are — as multitaskers? And teach one another to do it more effectively?

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