Somewhat related to Simon’s post about the use of new social media: Hurricane Sandy unexpectedly provided me with experimental environment in which to test student use online communication platforms. I’m currently teaching online courses for our master’s degree program in international relations. I have students on at least three continents and in who knows how many countries. Some reside locally and lost electrical power during the storm. A few might have evacuated to higher ground. Yet all of them were in communication with each other and me through the course websites, email, and phone. Assignments were submitted in a timely fashion even though I announced an extension of deadlines due to the weather.
I’m also teaching three traditional face to face undergraduate courses. All of these courses had tasks that could have or should have been completed using either the online Canvas LMS or the Statecraft simulation. Only six of my students submitted anything. I thought this was especially odd for the thirty-five students who are using Statecraft, since a new turn in the simulation began at 9:00 a.m. yesterday morning. Although classes were canceled, students were in the residence halls and the campus network remained operational. It appears that many undergraduates — at least at my university — still think of an education as something that is dependent on a physical classroom. While these students are quite happy to socialize via text message, they are not effective at using digital communication tools for other purposes. My older students — whose occupations frequently require problem solving — are much more capable of operating in a globalized electronic environment.