If you look around any college campus these days, you are bound to see students with their faces buried in their smart phones or tablets. Most are reviewing their text messages, checking in on Facebook or tweeting about their day. Few, however, are engaged in an actual conversation with other students who are physically sitting within a few feet from them. Welcome to the new college campus, courtesy of social media. It’s as if Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave was coming true before our eyes, as the members of the next generation slowly loses their ability to communicate without the use of electronic devices.
Long gone are the days of students arriving on campus without any preconceived notions about their roommate or professors; a few quick searches on Google and RateMyProfessors.com can give any student enough information to form an opinion about someone without ever meeting him/her face-to-face. Some might suggest this is a good thing, but I beg to differ. One important aspect of the college experience is that students are expected to interact with those who have varying beliefs or opinions. Diversity is the cornerstone of any good college, but how can we expect students to embrace those who are different when they use social media to seek out those who share the same core values and ideals? Students no longer have to question their beliefs or even defend their positions; they can simply turn to Facebook and find others who will gladly agree with them.
I’ll admit there were a few college professors I wish I had known about before registering for their classes, but in general, those were the classes where I learned the most. The professors may have been tough and opinionated, but they made me step outside my comfort zone, which opened my world up beyond my expectations. If I had a website that told me how hard those classes would have been, would I have avoided them? Most likely, but knowing what I know now, I am grateful that such a website didn’t exist. It’s a shame that many students will miss out on this experience and opt for the easier classes, instead.
I know I am very grateful that Facebook was not popular when I was on campus. It was bad enough being ridiculed by those closest to you about stupid mistakes you have made (locking yourself out of your room wearing only a towel) or crazy outfits you put together when you were half asleep. I can’t imagine what that is like for current students, knowing the whole world can see their flaws in a matter of seconds. Anyone can snap a photo or post a video of them at their worst moment, leaving them open to hurtful comments and shame. Not to mention the repercussions it can have on future employment opportunities or even admission into graduate school. Social media is akin to Big Brother; always watching and waiting for students to make a mistake.
It may sound as if I am advocating a ban on social media, but I’m not. In fact, I do believe there are some good aspects to it. The first day of college is very overwhelming, but thanks to Facebook, most students now can create bonds with other incoming students and their roommates before they even arrive. This can make setting up a dorm room immensely easier than when I was at college. Students can coordinate who’s bringing what and avoid any unnecessary items that would only take up precious space. I know my daughter is looking forward to creating a room design with her future roommate (two years and counting!) and posting pictures to her Pinterest account for all to envy. Students can also get the skinny on where to eat, how to score freebies and other important social events by connecting with current students on various social media platforms. No more wandering around the campus with a deer-in-the-headlights look advertising to everyone that they are college freshmen.
Finally, let’s not forget my personal favorite use of social media – staying connected to mom. Whether it’s a Google+ hangout, instant messaging on Facebook, or a quick Skype™ session, I look forward to keeping up with my kids and being there whenever they need a friendly face. Good or bad, social media has changed the college experience forever, and although there may be some things I wish my children would get to experience like I did, I am grateful to know they can reach out to friends and family anytime they need a virtual hug from someone who loves them.
Now it’s your turn to let me know what you think. Has social media ruined the college experience or made it better? I’d love to know how it has helped or hindered your experience as a student or a college parent.
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