Recently I have been reflecting a lot about the differences between student life for undergraduate and graduate students. I’ve wondered what the role could be for higher education administrators to ease this transition, and the role that technology could play in making this a possibility. I would say that the general consensus through both my experiences lead me to generalize that grad school is characterized by a lack of student life enrichment, especially in comparison to undergraduate education.
In my particular program of study, classes meet nights and weekends. The daytime hours are typically spent working, as most people have full-time jobs, or at least a part-time position or internship. With fuller plates of responsibilities and commitments, this makes connecting outside of the classroom to be difficult. Evening classes often mean that many students have already had a full 8 hour workday, and the little energy they have left goes into being awake and on-point for class discussion, with little left for forming deeper bonds beyond the weekly topic. What can we do as higher education professionals to bridge this gap in student life engagement? Well, I think this particular challenge is exactly where technology and social media use by program administrators could come in handy.
With the many levels of personal and professional commitments the average grad student may be juggling in addition to a heavy academic workload, social media is the perfect channel for helping busy students to engage with each other. From my own experiences, I credit my particular graduate program with being very social media savvy. The program has its own page on Twitter and Facebook, and also has a Facebook “group” created to provide a virtual space for interaction among currently enrolled students and alumns. Using these social media channels, relevant events are posted, articles are shared, questions and concerns are voiced, and a virtual community of student life engagement is created.
I highly recommend for universities and the departments within them to go virtual. While having a Facebook or Twitter may seem initially childish to a more senior program administrator, it is absolutely essential to connecting with students in the ways that they are already connecting with each other. Most importantly, I argue that social media use is crucially essential for graduate programs, where students often have many commitments outside of the classroom that keep them from connecting in person in the more traditional ways such as extracurricular clubs or sports, the dining hall, the dorm lounge, etc. While such connection-points may be essential in the undergraduate experience, they are outliers on the radar of a graduate student. Social media is an effective way to bridge this gap, and the sooner higher education administrators embrace this the better!