Guest Blogger: Catherine DeCourcey
The role of caring in higher education appears in conversations regarding student retention and satisfaction – think of the Academic Advising workshops with Mrs. Kenner, or administration’s urging faculty to mentor students. For over a decade, researchers report that today’s students value relationships with faculty; they perceive accessibility as an attribute of caring (Mangold, 2007; Thomas, 2002). Concurrently, these students who populate our classes expect, even crave, immediacy. Prensky (2001) observes, “They grew up on ‘twitch speed.’ … They’ve been networked most or all of their lives.” How do we, as faculty members, communicate caring to this generation of students in a manner meaningful to them?
Previously in Teaching Matters, Leaman(2009) noted removal of phone access in class to maintain a sanctuary of sorts. More recently, the question was posited regarding cell phone policy for the university (Kwame, September 21, 2013). However, the use of technology has also been lauded. Donohue (2014) discussed the use of Jing to promote communication with students. Snider (2013) highlighted technology available for students and teachers. These blogs might provide insight into the generational differences in perceptions of technology.
Like many other professors, I have policies regarding technology use in class. I am a digital immigrant, as described by Prensky (2001:technology is an add-on that occurred after I was an adult. However, I recognize that my students live, sleep, and eat with their technology, most notably their mobile phones. I decided to take advantage of that resource.
Thus, I shared my mobile phone number with my classes. Aware that boundaries are an important consideration, I provided a few guidelines: No phone calls between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m., emergency calls only please. Conversely, they were welcome to text me as needed.
After the first month, I had to change my mobile plan to include unlimited texting.
Freshmen who were adjusting to university life would reach out with questions – clarification on content, guidelines, procedures, and such. Sometimes they just seemed to need to know that someone was there. More experienced students would check in regarding assignments. Students who were going to be late or absent would let me know. (I strive to make attendance about knowing students are well and engaged, thus request the courtesy of being informed in advance should they be late or absent.) In return, I would respond – providing academic and/or affective support.
As the semester progressed, small conversations would be shared. For example, a freshman texted late one night about a doctor’s note and missed class.
CD: “Did you read your Lincoln email?” [It included a reminder about times for phone use.]Student: “I just read it sorryyyy! [sic]”CD: “Not a prob. Am up listening to the DNC speeches.:)“Student: “LOL so am I, I have to write a paper on it”
That seemingly inconsequential conversation provided a faculty connection for the student outside of the immediate classroom setting. Those connections are key to retention, key to student success. Face-to-face conversations with students reveal that the accessibility afforded through technology makes them feel cared for, which enhances the probability that they will remain at the institution.
Of course, one might worry that texting fails to provide documentation of communication. There’s an app for that! Yes, there are applications available that log and record text messages. The application that I use sends logs to my gmail account. Thus, the communication with the chronically late student—it’s documented. The texts exchange regarding assignment deadlines – it’s documented.
Over the two years that I’ve implemented texting as a communication tool, students have used it for academic and affective support.
Finally, from my personal experience I feel compelled to acknowledge that caring is not a one-way street, even in higher education, at least not with our students. Last fall, when my father was dying, students used texts to check in, share prayers, well wishes, and finally condolences during that difficult time. Those texts were gifts for which I remain grateful.
Technology indeed can be a tool to demonstrate caring. Even “digital immigrants” like me can use it to cross borders to communicate effectively with our “digital natives” - today’s students.
Donohue, W. (2014, January 17). Teaching with Jing. Teaching Matters at LU.
Kwame, S. (2013, September 21). The use of cell, mobile or smartphones in the classroom. Teaching Matters at LU.
Leaman, M. (2009, October 2). Cell phones and chatty students. Teaching Matter at LU.
Mangold, K.(2007). Educating a new generation: Teaching baby boomer faculty about millennial students. Nurse Educator, 32(1), 21-23.
Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9 (5). Retrieved from http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf
Snider, B. (2013, November 23). Tech tools for students and teachers. Teaching Matters at LU.
Thomas, L. (2002). Student retention in higher education: The role of institutional habitus. Journal of Education Policy, 17(4), 423-442.