Thoreau attended a teaching conference this weekend. The keynote speaker had some things to say about communicating with the kids these days:
One small observation: The guy was insisting that we need to move all of our digital communication with students away from email and course management systems (Blackboard, Moodle, etc.) and instead communicate with students entirely via Facebook, posting assignment links there. I shall refrain from speculating on what sorts of stocks are in his retirement portfolio. Instead, I will note that while he was standing up there saying “Look, I’m old, you’re old, we’re all old, so we need to get with the times or become obsolete, now move your class to Facebook already!”, the Kids These Days are actually becoming less interested in Facebook. You could say that he proved his own point about faculty being old and out of touch, except he’s an administrator in his day job. So he actually proved that administrators are out of touch.
I am completely out of touch with both kids and universities, plus I’m an old fogey. And if you really want to know the truth, I’m not sure why university professors need to communicate with their students digitally at all. Don’t they still meet a couple of times a week in meatspace, like we used to when I was a lad? Can’t assignments and office hours and so forth be sufficiently communicated during class time?
But fine. I get it. We all communicate digitally these days, so university professors need to do it too. But you know what? University students actually do know how to use email. Sure, they might consider it something that’s mainly used for sending messages to grandma and grandpa, but they all know how to use it. And it has the virtue of being universal, extremely flexible, and supporting embedded links to any old thing you want. Students who plan to find jobs after graduation should probably know how to use it.
But my real point is this: If I were a student, I’d be pissed if I were actually forced to get a Facebook account in order to communicate with a professor. Maybe I don’t like or trust Facebook. And what if my other professors all have different favored ways of communicating? Am I forced to get a Tumblr account and a Pinterest account and a Google+ account and a Twitter account? That would be annoying as hell. Why should any of those things be required merely to be a student? Email is free, easy to use, and isn’t a vehicle for creating more Silicon Valley zillionaires. Any student who can’t be bothered to use it has way bigger problems than having to endure a slightly fogeyish professor.