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Social Networking, Your Professors, the Generation Gap, and You

August 19, 2008

by Emily

Maybe it's just the release of Beloit College's "Mind-Set List," a list of news items, pop culture references, and technological advances that happened 18 years ago and thus have always existed for incoming college freshmen, but the generation gap between the big desk and the little desks in the college classroom seems to be on everyone's minds this week.  As usual, social networking applications seem to be both a tool universities attempt to use to bridge the gap, and a reminder to students just how wide the gap is.

First off, Inside Higher Ed informs us that a new Facebook application called "Schools" is being marketed to universities as a way to allow their students to connect in a safe environment where their identity and school enrollment have been verified.  Included in the application are tools that professors can use in the classroom, such as a name game that allows students to learn their classmates' names.  Unlike other Facebook applications, the university has to purchase and implement "Schools," rather than allowing individual students to adopt it.

If this application takes off, and even if it doesn't, more undergraduate students (and probably some graduate students, too) are likely to experience Facebook and other social networking sites as a "creepy treehouse," a term the Chronicle of Higher Education shared with academia in its news blog yesterday.  That crawly feeling you get when your professor friends you on a social networking site, even though you don't have any incriminating photos or information on your profile?  That's the creepy treehouse, built to look like a place for kids to play, but really used by adults.

So, remember when you're attending college this fall that your professors come from a different world, a world where: 

     
  • Seinfeld was a new idea in television and The Simpsons was considered pretty daring, too. Referencing these shows might still seem like a good idea to appear hip.
  •  
  • The Harry Potter books might still be on their "to read" list and it feels like they only added them yesterday.
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  • News that the SAT now has three sections hasn't quite made the rounds.
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  • They can still remember when their school first got computers, when those computers first were connected to the Internet, and many can also remember school being the only place they could get online.
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  • Online courses are a novel approach to distance learning, and social networking tools (like opening a campus in SecondLife) are a novel approach to virtual learing.
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  • Socal networking is for work, not for play, and they have no idea why networking with people you work with is so creepy.
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