I have been reflecting deeply on some startling predictions I read recently that indicate significant changes within the organizations of workplaces.  In an effort to be adaptable and agile in today’s rapid changing environment, business leaders are embracing social business models.  One of the major changes that is expected to occur in just a few years is a significant increase in the use of social networking within organizations to facilitate stakeholder relationships and communications — replacing today’s commonly used tools, the telephone and email (Gartner).  

This led me to discover some compelling data from IBM’s 2012 study, Connected Generation: Perspectives from Tomorrow’s Leaders in a Digital World, which examined the perceptions and values of a global sample of 3,400 college and university students.  The study found that the way college students are using social media is fostering a greater sense of awareness of global issues, increasing an individual’s perception of his/her voice in society, and increasing engagement in real life activities.  There is no data to indicate that college age students value virtual relationships more than face-to-face relationships but there is evidence that these two types of connections are valued equally. 

The IBM report certainly doesn’t paint the typical portrait of the technologically obsessed, apathetic college student that is so commonly referenced in discussions about technology and college teaching.  In fact, it seems to suggest that engaging in the use of social technologies has some educationally compelling outcomes.

What are the takeaways here for higher education? 

  1. We must be active participants in the social era.
    The ability to use social technologies to foster relationships is a highly valued skilled in a global, digital society. As the use of social networking trickles from informal learning (i.e. the perceived “fun” stuff like YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, etc.) into the workplace, faculty, staff, and administrators must recognize that they too must step up and join the conversation. Twitter handles will need to become commonplace, just as email addresses are.  Experiencing the value that comes from interacting with one’s own Personal Learning Network (PLN) will need to become part of the natural progression of being part of a campus community. 
  2. Social media tools are valuable assets to the college learning landscape.
    The boundaries between formal learning and informal learning in the social era must blur in order to sustain relevancy, students for success in the social workplace, as well as find one’s authentic self through the development of one’s own digital footprint. Recognizing this is one thing, overcoming barriers (like leading the way through the gray areas of FERPA because it’s the right thing to do) will set the successful organizations of the future apart from the rest.
  3. “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation.” –Brene Brown 
    Risk-taking is the new norm. This is true for professors, for support staff, for administrators, for college presidents, and for students. We all need to learn to embrace discomfort, to experience vulnerability, and to know that through this pathway we will find new opportunities to create the learning spaces of tomorrow and the learners of tomorrow.  This is hard. This is very hard. The successful college leaders of the future will be those who will do the things they imagine to be the right thing to do, instead of just talk about them or imagine someone else doing them.

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