What’s the best electronic medium for professor/student interaction?

The comments at my last post are suggesting that email has been surpassed by IM, Facebook, and text messaging among the younger generation as the preferred means of electronic communication. (Maybe of any kind of communication.) That really gives me, as a professor, some pause as to my assumption that if I need to get information out to students in a timely way (say, about a change in an assignment or a last-minute announcement for class) or create a space for out-of-classroom discussion of ideas or assignments, email isn’t nearly as reliable as I think it is.

I’m OK with that if it’s true, but then there are two questions that come to mind as being pretty important from my perspective:

  • If I have information that I need to get out to my students quickly and be reasonably assured that they’ll get it in time for it to be useful, what is the best way to do this? Is there no one best way, meaning that I need a plan to send the info out in multiple formats? (That would be time consuming = bad.)
  • Whatever medium/media is the answer to the first question, where is the functionality for it in the major course management software packages like Angel? If it’s there, does it make sense to use the CMS proprietary version of the softwar or some third party app? (E.g. Angel’s chat feature versus plain old AIM?)

Also, would students appreciate professors using IM, texting, Facebook, etc. for class purposes, or do they really want to keep “their” means of communication for social purposes only? I tried using Facebook last year in relatively close contact with my precalculus class, and far from the students appreciating my efforts, they really felt resentful and creeped-out by the fact that their professors were on Facebook, which is “theirs”.


Filed under Educational technology, Social software, Software, Student culture, Technology

8 responses to “What’s the best electronic medium for professor/student interaction?

  1. wagedomain

    As a recent college graduate in CS and a person who actually enjoyed knowing their professors on a slightly more personal level than most, I would have to say that while you probably have good intentions, many students will most likely dislike the idea of a professor IMing them or writing on their facebook wall etc.

    I think that email is still the best means of communication for professors and students (besides good ole fashioned talking of course) because it does not too harshly cross that boundary between social and professional.

    Keep in mind that many people use facebook/IM to tell their friends exactly what they are up to, and many times (especially in college) those things are not things they would want their professor knowing about. That’s why there was that rash of people being kicked off of collegiate sports teams thanks to facebook photos, etc. a while back.

    I don’t know if you use BlackBoard technology yet but many many colleges are using it now and it’s another good educational communication tool BlackBoard is portal software that allows each individual class (not just course, but each instance of that course) to have their own website, essentially. Within the website there is a message board, emailing form complete with options to email just instructors, just students, everyone, etc. There are announcements, assignments, due dates, calenders, the list goes on.

    When I was still in school almost everyone used BlackBoard as their primary method of communication, althoug they may have used another form like email through BlackBoard.

    Just my two cents.

  2. I am studying Computer Engineering in India, and I am astonished to find that almost all colleges in India make use of age old communication methods. I am planning to implement a collaborative system in my college using Plone which will help students and professors to share notes, post lectures, manage timetable and learn to make use of good technology. This collaborative concept will help everyone to understand the benefits of working in a team and also enhance their overall personality. I hope I can make it as fast as possible..

  3. In my experience, Facebook is not merely a “young person’s” world. On the contrary, it seems that it’s much more populated by people who are 25+ than is MySpace (and for good reason). It’s really a good networking tool for finding and keeping in touch with people you already know.

    I know this wasn’t the point of your post, but I thought I’d give my two cents. It’s too bad your students were “creeped-out” by your being on there, and unfortunate that they believe that Facebook is “theirs” alone.

  4. clicknation

    I agree that Facebook is expanding rapidly into other generations and I think that your students my be more amenable this year than last. It seems to be morphing daily into a very big public forum. I get friend requests every week from family members, colleagues etc. as it starts to sprawl out. I got a request from a grad school acquaintance today. I think my own college student sons have gotten used to my being on there and having part of their world visible.

    I used Blackboard last year and found it complicated for me and for my students, who are older Masters level students. I got much more response to a blog of powerpoint slides etc that I set up outside the sandbox because I didn’t need the security and tech support from Campus IT etc. Doing something similar in Facebook might be a good idea.

  5. elementaryteacher

    Why not prepare a quick photocopied survey, pass it out at the beginning of class (with check-off answers, not fill-in-the-blank answers) about which medium they would prefer? At the top of the page, give a brief explanation of what kinds of information you’d want to contact them about, so that’s clear for them to think about when checking off their choices.

    At the bottom of the page, have a blank for their full name, their e-mail address, and if they don’t have e-mail, ONE fill-in-the-blank of about two lines, asking, “If you don’t have e-mail, how would you suggest I contact you?” OR, ask yourself, do THESE students without e-mail really NEED to be contacted outside of class? (Maybe they don’t, but to their own detriment?)

    Best regards,
    Dedicated Elementary Teacher Overseas (in the Middle East)

  6. i think the social sites are the best medium .

  7. Katie

    Howdy. I’ve just stumbled across your blog and I figured that, as a high school/college student, I’d put my two cents in.

    It’s true that the majority of my friends at other campuses don’t use email as much as I do. I leave the Gmail window open while surfing the web and constantly check my inbox on my cell phone when I’m away from a computer. I’m an addict.

    My peers, on the other hand, tend to use facebook a lot, but there are some students that find adding their teacher to be really creepy. I’d say that using facebook to keep your students updated is a good solution, but point out the “Limited Profile” feature under the “Privacy” menu to keep everyone from getting the heeby jeebies. This way, they’ll be able to separate you from their friends and won’t have to worry about you reading their comments on Sally and Billy Bob’s pictures from spring break. Eliminating you from seeing their personal life eliminates most of the creepiness.

    And, in my opinion, Blackboard is a pain. If you’ve got some kind of strong urge to use it, just create a WordPress blog and a forum using forumer.com or something of the like.

  8. Bryan

    I teach medical undergraduates in the UK. Five years ago – we were a new medical school at that time – all students used Blackboard as the primary messaging tool, although few students used the homepage facility to post personal details.
    Five years later we have many more students and courses – Blackboard has become very crowded and does not appear user friendly. Interaction is at a minimum – the discussion boards are hardly visited – yet Facebook is popular and busy. My students actually invited me to join their onine community; perhaps they don’t view me as a “lurker”, which is reassuring. Those students who don’t want me to view their personal details manage this by altering their privacy setting – no great problem.
    Interestingly, there is resistance among some of my teaching colleagues to move onto Facebook. Some claim that they are ‘technophobes’ so couldn’t possibly manage to navigate within Facebook – despite this technology being more userfriendly.

    Resistance to change, fear, apahy or excuses, excuses ??????

    Some interestig ideas here, thanks for your thoughts.

    Bryan, UK