Essay on need for colleges to engage students on their digital identities

Whether we call it protesting, mudslinging, or “digital hate,” as Chancellor Phyllis Wise did in her blog post addressing University of Illinois’ Twitter incident, there is nothing new about very public, incendiary criticism occurring online — or in person. Racist and derogatory slurs and innuendos happen every day, in our college and university student centers, in our residence halls, out on the field at games. And numerous colleges and universities have felt the wrath of social media outrage in response to a decision, changes in leadership, and other developments.

As those of us in higher education know all too well, we lack the time, staff and resources to police our students on the Internet through disciplinary action. It’s simply not feasible or reasonable, nor is it conducive to free speech.

Our colleges and universities need to take a proactive stance and realize that digital identity development – something that thought leaders such as Eric Stoller have highlighted as part of the conversation defining student affairs and higher education – can and should be a part of our institutional curriculums. This is more than just a major in social media that focuses on marketing skills, or the occasional guest speaker at a student event. This goes beyond our coaches handing out guidelines to athletes.

This is student affairs and academic leadership making a commitment to offer educational outreach and resources to students campus-wide, ideally through first-year courses, so that all freshmen benefit. Colleges are increasingly offering classes that cover important topics like financial literacy, as part of their orientation classes for incoming students. What if more colleges and universities devoted some orientation class time to digital identity topics such as personal branding, where students were required to critically examine case studies of individuals (companies, politicians, actors, etc.) who suffered the consequences of doing something awful online? Such an exercise would surely help them realize their mistakes live on in infamy online. Knowing how to unplug and be present and in the moment is another area where first-year students would benefit from receiving ideas and resources to discuss and develop with one another. Basic digital literacy skills, such as knowing the professional benefits of writing emails so that they don’t come across as casual, flippant texts to friends, would be worth sharing in a first-year course experience for all incoming students.

Career services also has a part to play in providing regular, ongoing guidance and resources so students can market their ideas, potential and leadership online, not just their senior years, but right from the beginning, as part of their experiences in pursuing internships, degrees and ultimately, jobs. If you talk to your average college students, surprisingly, some of them think LinkedIn is something that their parents use, not something they should be tapping into to network and explore jobs and internship options. If career services counselors started working with them early on to develop LinkedIn profiles, imagine how much easier it might be for students to research great internships and connect with potential employers, alumni and mentors throughout their time in college.

The pressure is on for higher education to get with the program and be more relevant to what students need to become gainfully employed after college. How far into the future will these hateful tweets haunt University of Illinois students once they start looking for jobs? My guess is forever. How will these students, many of whom have grown up in a highly digitized world where communication is immediate and readily shared through numerous technologies, realize their potential as online ambassadors without some sort of educational outreach?

The other glaring part of the weird, uncertain, ever-changing journey of social media is that these problems — which range from online gaffes and faux pas to blatant racism and sexism – are not just limited to our students. Our faculty and staff are struggling with digital engagement and how to share their thoughts and ideas online in ways that don’t damage their reputations and that of our colleges and universities. There are plenty of examples of educators being reprimanded or even fired because of poor behavior on social media. Perhaps that’s why higher education has been slow to address the need for digital identity development. Many of us employed at our institutions are grappling with the best way to use social media, at a time when technology is transforming our industry. We’ve yet to really tap into a universal, comprehensive way to address this issue at most of our colleges and universities. To bring things full circle and make digital identity development fully integrated into higher education, we need to provide more training for faculty and staff, so they have a better understanding of why digital identity matters. That’s got to be part of the mix.

As Chancellor Wise wrote, “we still have work to do” in response to the University of Illinois incident. And that work must go beyond one-time disciplinary actions to address something larger, something that is fundamentally lacking at most of our institutions: providing digital identity development educational outreach and support to our campus communities, across the board.

Becca Ramspott is a communications specialist at Frostburg State University.

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Senate Panel Backs Nominees to Education Dept., NSF

The U.S. Senate's education committee on Wednesday advanced several of President Obama’s nominees to key roles at federal agencies that work closely with colleges and universities.

The Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions approved and sent to the full Senate the Education Department nominations of Ericka M. Miller as assistant secretary for postsecondary education; Ted Mitchell to under secretary of education; James H. Shelton to deputy secretary of education; and James Cole Jr. to general counsel of the department.

If confirmed by the full Senate, the nominations will largely complete out the team that will carry out the administration’s higher education agenda over the next several years. The nominees will fill a number of roles that have been left vacant since an exodus of staffers after the administration’s first term.

The committee also approved Wednesday the president’s nominee to lead the National Science Foundation, France A. Cordova. (The nominations of both Cordova and Cole had previously been approved by the committee before Congress recessed in December, but they had to be re-nominated due to the Senate’s procedural rules.)


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New Partnership for Open Educational Resources

In a match seemingly made in open educational resource heaven, the free textbook producer OpenStax College and OER support provider Lumen Learning on Wednesday announced a partnership that aims to save college students $10 million on textbooks by 2015. Lumen Learning helps institutions transition away from traditional course materials, and will use OpenStax College's textbook offerings to bolster its catalog of open resources. The free textbook producer, based at Rice University, has published six textbooks so far and has another seven in the works.

"Lumen is the latest example of a growing coordination amongst philanthropic grantees to further the mission of access in a dynamic way," Richard Baraniuk, the founder of OpenStax College, said in an email. "Greater coordination will fuel a more rapid transition to a more efficient and open market."

State Dept. blocks access to MOOCs in countries with economic sanctions

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Want to enroll Iranian students in your MOOC? Get a waiver.


Harvard U. experiments with three versions of the same course

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Students in Harvard University's introductory computer science course face a choice of what they earn upon completion: a certificate, a $350 voucher or academic credit.

Monash Is First University Awarded Top-Level Domain

Monash University, in Australia, announced this morning that it has been awarded the right to use a .monash domain, becoming the first university awarded the right to use its own name in that way. The news was confirmed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which governs such matters. The decision is part of a new program in which globally recognized brands may seek their own domains, rather than remaining in such domains as .edu, .com, etc. While the university plans a transition, it will continue to use a domain.


Spending Bill Includes Open Access Legislation

Tucked away on page 1,020 of the 1,582-page spending bill winding its way through Congress, Section 527 of the ‘‘Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014’’ would make taxpayer funded research publicly available within 12 months of publication.

According to the bill, federal agencies must develop public access policies that provide a "machine-readable version of the author’s final peer-reviewed manuscripts that have been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journal." The policy applies to all federal agencies with research and development expenditures exceeding $100 million a year. The proposal resembles that introduced last year by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, although it is not clear how Congress's involvement would affect the rollout of those policies.

The $1.1 trillion bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday, is expected to be signed into law.

Brazilian MOOC seeks to focus on Portuguese market

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Boosting skills and access are the aims of a new Portuguese-medium platform.

SUNY Outlines First Degrees in Its New Online Initiative

Open SUNY -- through which the State University of New York plans to take existing online programs in the 64-campus system and to build on them, making them available for students throughout the system -- has its first degree programs. In her annual address on the state of the university, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher announced the first degree programs and the campuses that are producing them. The offerings include associate, bachelor's and master's degrees. Two SUNY institutions -- Empire State College and SUNY Oswego -- are each offering two programs. The others are being offered by Broome Community College, Finger Lakes Community College, SUNY Delhi and SUNY Stony Brook.


Blackboard acquires college planning company MyEdu

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Blackboard buys MyEdu, signaling it will get serious about the "consumerization" of higher education.


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