Technology has always impacted the way we communicate, but within the past decade, this has accelerated. Folks in housing and residence life have witnessed some of these changes first hand, including students not reading or responding to email, roommate conflicts being addresses through chat apps, and bullying occurring on social media platforms. Mobile devices, cloud apps, and chat platforms have proliferated, but our understanding and educational efforts around these changes have not kept up. As a result, there is a pressing need to add digital communication education into our curricula.
Within the college context, we should be helping our students learn about choosing the best to communication method for the contexts they find themselves in and the goals they want to achieve. As the infographic above illustrates, different media have different levels of intimacy. They also allow for different ranges of expression. Talking face-to-face still holds the opportunity for the greatest range of expression– allowing for non-verbals such as body language, enunciation, tone, etc. Electronic text-based media are the most limited and are often subject to misinterpretation. Talking face-to-face, however, limits one’s audience. Social media can reach far larger audiences and audiences that are dispersed over a larger geographic area. Each communication method has its positives and negatives.
But who is teaching our college students how to select the appropriate and best communication method for the situations they find themselves in?
It is part of human nature to default to the communication methods with which we are most comfortable. There is also an impulse to avoid confrontation. For instance, when discussing a sensitive issue, the initiator of the conversation may be more comfortable using electronic text-based means. Sitting behind a computer screen is often more comfortable than confronting someone in person. And yet, talking face-to-face may achieve better outcomes. Emailing a college department for help may be more comfortable, but talking to a staff member may be better suited for more complex issues (and perhaps even more efficient in the end).
This is what we need to teach college students. How can they select the most appropriate communication method to achieve the outcomes they want instead of defaulting to the communication methods they know and with which they feel the most comfortable.
This charge comes with a caveat, however. It is also important that we not shame students who may communicate via more anonymous and less intimate platforms. For instance, a student seeking mental health counseling may feel more comfortable communicating electronically and anonymously at first, before feeling comfortable enough to seek in-person help. Part of the beauty of social media and messaging platforms is that they allow individuals to surface issues and ideas that they may have previously kept private. Social media communication can help surface voices are marginalized, suppressed, stigmatized, or policed. Our role as educators is to recognize this and help guide students through the range of communication options available to them.
Some reflective questions to ask your students in their communications:
- What is your goal?
- What would a successful outcome look like for you?
- What is your level of comfort in bringing this idea/issue/thought forward?
- What means of communication are available to you?
- Which means of communication is best suited to this situation?
We attempted to identify where this graphic originally came from, but it seems it has been shared so many times that it’s hard to determine its origination. We’d like to give proper credit. If anyone knows, please message us.