Life wasn’t as social before we all had smartphones in our pockets. The ability to connect instantly with friends, colleagues, family and communities has changed the way we interact and engage with people globally, and is altering the possibilities of how we learn too.
One area where HE seems to be currently falling short of the mark is in bringing the social connectivity provided by our devices to the campus learning environment. Students often feel an overwhelming isolation and autonomy in university environments where emphasis is upon them to study for their own degree. Yet when we enter the workplace around 78% of our work is teamwork, which is in stark contrast to only 17% at university. We’re simply not setting students up for success in terms of the modality they’re going to be in for the rest of their lives by omitting to offer a fully social learning experience.
Students are of course like every other human being – they crave more socialness in their academic experience and even expect it, and for the time being at least, social media sites like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter fill the void to bring students together socially and academically. Even those most digitally advanced of institutions recognise that social media is the unofficial mainstay of collaboration between students – especially from a social perspective. So how can we change this?
There has to be both an academic component as well as a social component to the digital campus and those things have to blend together to provide the overall student experience. Students must be able to access their study materials, lectures and guidance from teaching staff online, but in the same swipe of their finger on a smartphone be able to collaborate with colleagues both academically and socially. It sounds so simple, and yet the overwhelming focus is on providing university resources and services, rather than bringing communities together online.
The benefits of getting the social element to learning right are clear – student engagement and retention rates rise as the student feels part of a team or community. A feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ helps create the communities and social circles that keep our students happy, less stressed, more engaged and aid the successful conclusion of their studies at the university, whilst setting them up for life afterwards.