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Speaking The Language Of Our Students

Part of my responsibilities as a Resident Director are to oversee the technology operations of the department, which currently involves maintaining/updating our department’s website and shared network folders.  Both of these are important to our department’s functionality, as well as marketing to parents who might want to send their students to live in our residence halls and to students who want to know more about what we do.  It’s a process that takes time, to be sure, but it is also one that never really has an end — information and updates never stop coming, in case you didn’t know.

The key, however, is to create something that your students will regularly visit and utilize; otherwise, you’ll be spinning your wheels and devoting a chunk of your work life to update a platform that goes unnoticed.  We need to not only speak the language of our students (and parents), but speak it on platforms we know they actually use.  One of my top priorities over the summer is to propose and create a fully-functioning Facebook page and Twitter handle for my department, in order to reach out more effectively to our students and increase our department’s visibility.  Something that I put together in order to convince the ‘powers that be’ that this is a great idea for our department was a two-step process that I called “Speaking The Language Of Our Students; Reaching Out To The Global Community.”  I have to admit, I was a little grandiose in my verbage, but I wanted to highlight the importance of utilizing technologies and social medias in marketing our department and creating digital gathering grounds for our students.

I’ve included below an abridged version of the initial proposal I created for my department in order to share a resource for other housing and residence life departments who might be interested in taking this path as well.  The writing is on the wall — our students use social media — so it is up to us as college student educators and administrators to reach out to them where we know they will be.

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Step 1: Twitter Account

Why is this important?

As of February 2012, one-third of people 18-24 years old use Twitter and one-fifth of them use it daily! See study here. That’s our demographic!  These numbers doubled to what they were in February 2012 in only nine months, and there is no sign that this will slow down any time soon.  Also, as of May 18th, 2012, there are 107.7 million users in the U.S., 1 million new Twitter accounts started EVERY DAY, and 50% of Twitter users access the site via mobile devices (instant connection?). See info here.

How is this relevant to our departments?

Studies have shown that it takes email recipients an average of 48 hours (2 days!) to respond to an email, if they even do at all — college students, perhaps? Comparing that with text messaging, which has an average response time of 4 MINUTES and an open rate (will your message be read if sent) of almost 100%! Even with the understanding that Twitter isn’t the same as texting, with 50% of Twitter users accessing it with mobile devices and one-third of Facebook users checking their accounts more than once a day (more on that below), the speed of which our students can access and receive information will be much faster and will actually be read!

What can we use Twitter for?

Gone are the days where college students read emails and pay attention to paper flyers.  Instead of those methods, we can bring information to our students in a way that speaks their language (140 characters or less).  Twitter can be a great way to publicize events to our students (openings, closings, reminders, programs, etc.), especially if it is combined with what we already do, i.e. emails, flyers, website announcements, etc. (increasing our open rate).  Twitter also has a photo stream functionality, which can be a perfect landing spot for any and all pictures taken at residence hall/campus events, as well as uploading flyers for greater visibility. This has added impact when combining in Facebook (more on that later).  Lastly, if we make it worthwhile for our students to follow us (consistent updates and Tweets), our departmental reach will invariably increase.

So how can you do this?

1) Create a Twitter account for your department. @***ResLife, for example.

2) Advertise your Twitter account via your website (Twitter feed, perhaps?) and any/all materials you put out to your students, in order to increase visibility.

3) Begin Tweeting about anything/everything that involves your department and your residents (“Look at the progress of our new residence halls!”, “Missing all of our residents over the summer! Can’t wait to see you in September!”, etc.).

4) Anyone with the Twitter username/password can update, so it doesn’t necessarily have to rely on only one administrator.

Step 2: Facebook Page

Why is this important?

As of May 18th, 2012, there are approximately 900 million users of Facebook (see stats here). This number should be at or above 1 BILLION by January 2013 (see chart here).  Secondly, over half of the United States uses Facebook! Combine that with 31% of Facebook users accessing their account more than once a day, with an average visit time of 20 minutes (see here), and a per-month average visit time of nearly 8 hours (see here), people are constantly on Facebook! By the way, there are currently 500 million users who actively use mobile devices to access Facebook! Even more instant connection possibilities!  Also, Facebook accounts for one-fifth of all page views on the internet WORLDWIDE, and if all of that weren’t enough, nearly all college-aged students use social media! This is the language that our students are speaking!

How is this relevant to our departments?

With college-age people on Facebook at an ever-increasing rate, why wouldn’t we want to create a place for our students to read and receive important information, find advertisements for upcoming programs, and connect with other residential students across the campus, on a platform we already know that they use?  Not only would a departmental Facebook page be available to our students, but parents could also visit the page and see what sorts of activities and initiatives their students are getting involved in. Free marketing! Also, along with Twitter, having a departmental Facebook page gives us the ability to upload images from programs that occurred across our residential campuses, as well as combining Facebook and Twitter to increase our digital reach with our students!

What can we use Facebook for?

Instead of relying on emails and flyers to disseminate information to our students, we can use platforms that we know they are already using to bring the information to them! Along with Twitter, this is a great way to publicize events to our students (openings, closings, reminders, programs, etc.), especially if it is combined with what we already do (increasing our open rate even more!).  As mentioned earlier, having a departmental Facebook page allows us to upload images of our programs and events (both flyers and pictures of the events themselves), increasing the visibility of the things our department does for our residents.  And again, the more we utilize our pages by providing updates and information, the more students will visit the page.

So how can you do this?

1) Create a Facebook page for your department.

2) Advertise your page via your own website and any/all materials you put out to your students in order to increase visibility.

3) Begin to update the page about anything/everything that involves your department and your residents.

4) Anyone who is made an administrator for the page can edit and update the page, so it doesn’t necessarily have to rely on only one person.

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These are just two simple ways where your department can capitalize on social media platforms that millions of our college students are using on a daily basis.  In the next couple of weeks, I’ll discuss Pinterest and how it might be the added third step in speaking our college students’ language.  Little-known fact: one-third of Pinterest users are male, contrary to popular opinion, and that number is climbing, just FYI.

How are your housing departments utilizing social media and technology to enhance your department’s image?  What are the benefits that you have seen so far?  Struggles?  Please share your insights below!

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Transforming Conferences — Transforming Ourselves?

A phrase those of us who work in the field of Higher Education regularly use with our students is to “think outside of the box.”  It’s a common enough idea — don’t stay with the ordinary, think of how you can do something newer/better, etc. — yet for the most part, the more you move up within an industry, the less this advice is preached to you.  Our work lives become more focused on administration and higher level tasks, so that the mundane invariably zaps us of our youthful creativity that brought us here in the first place.  Creating flashy bulletin boards becomes damage billing, devoting oodles of time to our students becomes putting out the daily mini-fires within our buildings/department, and so on.  It doesn’t have to be this way; we can transform our environment to be one that resembles the lighthearted, wholly worthwhile experiences we had as RAs/grads if we only break away from the insipidity that comes with having increasingly less time with students and more time devoted to managing.

I recently had the privilege of attending the inaugural Big Ideas Conference, put together by The Jersey Alliance.  One of the innumerable things that was refreshing about this conference was how it was so unlike any other conference I’ve attended.  Think about the unifying characteristics of all of the conferences you’ve attended.  Now create a conference with the guideline that you aren’t allowed to do those things.  Welcome to the Big Ideas experience.  I understood the basic premise of what this conference was going to entail, but what I didn’t know (and am starting to see after the fact) was the impact that two days would have on my overall frame of mind when it comes to Student Affairs.

I could continue on for paragraphs about how amazing an experience it was to attend this groundbreaking conference, but for space sake, take my word for it (and follow #bigideas12 on Twitter).  The brain trust that is the planners/organizers of the Big Ideas Conference understand that we hold within us the ability to transform our structured, traditional approaches into something much more dynamic and meaningful, not just for our own benefit, but for that of our students as well.  I don’t have to tell you that we are working with students who were born into the technology age (see: “Internet Generation”) and know much more about fast-paced lifestyles and communication than 98% of administrators out there.

Yet in spite of that, we — for the most part — continue to go with our normal approaches in our work with students, when deep down, our students are longing for something that speaks their language, something that they can understand and identify with.  Bulletin boards and brochures are archaic for our generation.  Anything over two paragraphs (or 140 characters) goes unread.  Emails go unchecked.  These are widely-used methods in our industry that just aren’t working for our current students.  What we as Student Affairs professionals need to do is to take a page from our Big Ideas colleagues and take part in what Higher Ed blogger and social media pro Eric Stoller calls “status quo deconstruction.”  Find ways to incorporate what our students use on a daily basis (texting, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest) into our approaches with them.  If you noticed, all of what was listed has to do with technology — think about it.  Come up with innovative ways to handle judicial sanctions, programming ideas, advertising, etc.  You have to step outside the box to think outside the box, so quit thinking like an college student administrator and start thinking like a college student.  What would you want to see from your residential/university experience?  How would you feel connected?  These and other questions are the building blocks to becoming a field that is truly student-centered.

What are some things that you and/or your department do to meet our college students where they are?  Are there any Big Ideas that you have developed that have resonated with your students?  Please share them below, and remember:

“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets credit.” – President Harry S. Truman

Communicating With The “Internet Generation”

In our work with today’s college students, one of the major themes that presents itself is the issue of communication. This manifests itself in a number of ways, whether it’s the “at your fingertips” accessibility to communication platforms, the steady decline in our students’ attention-spans, or the overall lack of effectiveness shown in the manner in which our students communicate with one another.  

Over the last decade, roommate mediating has gone from a not-so-very-often, only when a situation was slightly extreme in nature occurrence, to something that is a very normal (and most times, easily preventable) part of our daily lives as college student educators.  That isn’t to say that situations that understandably warrant our attention do not exist–because those can be just as commonplace these days–but how often as professionals do we see roommate conflicts that arise and explode simply because of a single misunderstanding which becomes exacerbated by the lack of face-to-face communication on the parties involved?

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, and the advent of the text message have done wonders for providing “up-to-the-second” updates on the world around us, as well as the ability to initiate, develop, and maintain personal and professional relationships.  However, these things have also led to the slow disintegration of understanding social norms and providing a space to “confront” issues without actually having to be in the same room with those involved.  These are the facts and the realities that we as Student Affairs professionals face with our students each day.

Although we can mediate and educate our students about positive confrontation skills and ways to proactively communicate with each other when conflicts arise (a comprehensive collection of articles related to these topics can be found here), we need to start thinking proactively about providing resources and programs for the “Internet Generation.”  After all, our mission as college student educators is to give the young men and women we work with the methods and tools to develop into successful leaders and productive members of society both on-campus and off.

What are some methods/approaches that you have used with your students in regards to improving communication skills and overcoming conflicts?  Do you find that some things usually work better than others?

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