• Digital Tweed

    Digital Tweed® is the work of Kenneth C. Green, founding director of The Campus Computing Project. If successful, these posts will inform and entertain, and at times also annoy. A little dissonance can be a good thing.


The Technology that Keeps on Touching

Have they left? Are they out of the building? Driving out of the parking lot? Departed from campus?

Any question about who they are this time of year?

September 10, 2010

Have they left? Are they out of the building? Driving out of the parking lot? Departed from campus?

Any question about who they are this time of year?

Late in August the NY Times profiled the efforts of some campuses to separate hovering parents from their children who are eager to begin their college careers. Alas, “helicopter” or “Velcro” parents have become just another part of the job for many campus officials who have become increasingly accustomed to phone calls and emails from parents about dorm facilities, roommate problems, class schedules, and ”unfair” grades.

Technology, of course, is the new enabler, for both parent and child. As noted in the NY Times article,

As the latest wave of superinvolved parents delivers its children to college, institutions are building into the day [of parting], normally one of high emotion, activities meant to punctuate and speed the separation. It is part of an increasingly complex process, in the age of Skype and twice-daily texts home, in which colleges are urging “Velcro parents” to back off so students can develop independence.

The aging, baby-boomer profs and campus officials among us will remember college dorms with just one pay phone at the end of the hall. In contrast, we need little to remind us that today’s wired students are always connected: Student Monitor’s spring 2010 survey of full-time undergraduates in four-year institutions reveals that more than 90 percent of students own a cell phone; almost half own smart phones. The handheld device in their pocket or backpack provides unlimited and unmetered opportunities for undergraduates to “phone home” via email, text, voice, or video – and for their parents “reach out” regardless of time, distance, or location.

Are you (or have you ever been, or do you ever plan to be) the parent of a college student? If so, then you will have a foot in both worlds – a well-intentioned parent “engaged” with a college-age child and academic professional fending off the good intentions of a well-intended parent.

An online conversation among campus IT officers late in August highlighted just how engaged some parents want to be with their children, and their children’s use of IT resources on campus. In a moment that might be framed by a Rod Sterling / Twilight Zone introduction – “submitted for your consideration” – one campus official asked IT peers for advice on how to handle the request from a parent who wanted live (remote) access to his daughter’s computer. The request came from a parent who wanted to help his child “with any computer problems she may have.”

Is your inference engine running in high gear on this one? Is the parent a techie who is used to helping his (tech-phobic?) daughter with computer problems – and perhaps some of her academic work as well? Or is this an (extreme?) example of a parent who wants to monitor his child’s life – on campus, on social networking sites, and in other parts of cyberspace?

The responses were all over the map. Some IT officers addressed the query from a technical issue, citing remote access software the parent could buy and install without any involvement from campus officials or campus tech support personnel. Others offered major words of caution, citing privacy issues for the child and, by extension, FERPA issues for the institution.

How would (do!) you respond when pressed by a parent who wants access to his or her child’s college life?

What’s the appropriate response from a dorm director who is asked by a pressing parent to open the door to a locked dorm room: “My son/daughter is expecting me said we should meet in his/her room. Can you let me in the room?”

Is a locked dorm room similar to/different from a password-protected computer?

What about the parent who contacts a professor or teaching assistant about a grade, without telling the child? “My son/daughter sent me this paper. I did not want to tell him/her I would call you, but I have some questions about his/her work in your class.”

Way back in the early 1980s, during the early years of the “technology revolution,” John Naisbitt’s bestseller Megatrends created much buzz with his description of the tension between of high tech and high touch: “whenever a new technology is introduced to society there must be a counterbalancing human response – that is, high touch – or the technology is rejected. The more high tech, the more high touch.”

However you feel about social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter, they are good examples of Naisbitt’s tech-touch paradigm. Moreover, there is no question that in both the consumer economy and on campus, there is are focused effort to provide “tech-enabled high touch” resources and services.

Admittedly, neither the kids nor the parents are likely to surrender their cell phones, smart phones, and other digital toys. Still, perhaps a little less tech might reduce the need for so much touch between parent and student.

What say ye, dear reader? Let’s discuss.


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