The value of social networking cannot be limited to helping college students organize their time. Through the social network groups I used for my research project, I was able to meet and get to know a wide variety of people. People I would not meet otherwise. I saw virtual strangers meet, and through a shared desire to do better in school, become friends in reality. Very different people came together, working as a team to accomplish a common goal. In many of my social network groups, I saw evidence of group members compensating for individual strengths and weakness in the group, to make the group as a whole more efficient. This, in turn, fostered lasting friendships, outside the classroom, that can provide students with social checks and balances.
Students need social checks and balances. Homework and lectures are not the only part of college life that freshmen must learn how to navigate. Incoming freshmen get the same old speeches about the dangers of partying too much and the value of turning work in on time. To be honest, if the kid did not learn that by Sixth Grade, he never will. Everyone knows this, and it is redundant at best for the colleges to repeat it and think they have covered the social life of freshmen. The information they impart is good advice, but that is all. Students have heard it all before and it does not begin to address specific ways to make their first year less stressful.
It is past time for colleges to “get real” about the complicated social connections that students need to succeed in college, and offer practical skills needed to survive the first year. I rely on the social network I call “family”. When I am frustrated and confused over an assignment, on the verge of giving up, my grandson, Ethan, tells me that if I was smart enough to get into college, I am probably smart enough to figure this problem out. Check! If I am overloaded with writing assignments and suffering total writer’s block, my daughter, Rachel, convinces me there is a rockin’ show in Cleveland, and I need a break. Balance! These social checks and balances allow breathing room for students. Taking a step back, and a deep breath, is critical, at times, to achieving the high standards of work that college demands.
While it was essential that each part of the social network received the help they needed with classes, it was also beneficial for the students that helped them. Olivia, a first year student in my writing class, had trouble with grammar and sentence structure. I could not understand what a thesis was. I helped Olivia with grammar and showed her how sentence structure was similar to building a house, it all has to fit together in the end. She in turn taught me how to form an opinion into a strong thesis statement and prove my theory with evidence from the readings. Through this process, that started as a class assignment, we found a shared passion for Shakespeare and new music. Olivia and I have studied together, attended concerts together, and still “tweet” and text to keep up with our changing lives. In casual conversation with my study buddy in Media class, Joe, I found he did not have the textbook to complete the homework assignments. Since I am famous for working ahead, I was able to loan Joe my book, so he could get his work finished. Joe is a post-secondary student and we discovered that we both like scary movies. We still email each other to discuss the new releases.
Social networks provide so much more than simply “posting a status update”. What begins as help with classwork, becomes a lasting connection that can only benefit all parties involved. Hmm…I should text Laura, in my Communications class, about the limited seating in American Sign Language for Fall Semester, and the sale at Macy’s this week!