Creating a New Student Digital Orientation

How can higher education teach students how to be positive and active members of an online campus community?

For many college campuses, today marks the start of the 13-14 academic year.  This past weekend was surely filled with campus events, questioning but caring parents, and bookstore purchases.  It also marked a significant transition point for new freshman students.  The goodbyes to families and old friends, as well as introductions to new roommates and classmates is the start to the transformative years of the college experience.

Welcome weekend typically involves some type of orientation program, with some universities providing more formal programs than others.  These usually required sessions are developed to ease new students into the campus community, providing freshman with what administrators believe to be the critical components of student success.

But something very important is being forgotten in the new student orientation schedule, how to be a digital student leader.

Sure social media has been interwoven into the daily lives of high school and college students for years, but that does not mean these students have ever received formal direction on how to fully utilize social media tools.  It is our job as educators to teach digital skills in posting decision-making, platform tools and professional branding.  Together these formulate a plan for student digital identity education.

Below I include a portion of a larger student success paper for my California Lutheran University doctoral program in Higher Educational Leadership.  The full paper can be found here: Student Digital Identity Education.  Social media has power in transitioning new students to campus.  I offer guidance on how to harness social media tools in a multiphase comprehensive educational and outreach strategy, through the lens of providing student digital identity education.

This will begin as soon as a new student is accepted to the university, heightened at new student orientation, and continued throughout the course of the freshman year.  The three components that make up the proposed student success initiative is called Digital Identity Education for First Year Students which includes:

  • Pre-College Community Development
  • In Real Life (IRL) Digital Orientation
  • Virtual Campus Engagement  

I posted previously on the Pre-College Community Develop phase, found here.  This post will showcase a In Real Life (IRL) Campus Digital Orientation phase, with a Virtual Community Engagement post following in September.  These are all tools and ideas open for usage to my colleagues in high education, and hopefully will continue a conversation prompted by many other leaders in the field.

In Real Life (IRL) Campus Digital Orientation.   At the core of this phase is an in-person, face-to-face digital identity education.  The format for this experience should include a highly engaging and tech savvy keynote, followed by smaller interactive breakout sessions.  This session can be conducted at new student orientation, held in August leading right up to the fall semester.  Some orientation programs may not operate in this fashion, but can apply the general ideas to existing programming for freshman during move-in weekend or the first few weeks of school.

The rationale for putting resources and time to this portion of the initiative is called for by various studies.  Teaching students 21st century skills in social media technology use are extremely needed (Johnson, 2012; Rodriguez, 2011; Sacks & Graves, 2012).  With these findings in mind, coupled with the knowledge that students are high users of such social media sites, a philosophy of social media education should be developed, clearly communicated, and expected of students.

Adoption and increased usage should not be the message.  Students have many technology skills down, “College freshman are highly proficient researchers at heart, chasing down books, friends, ideas, facts, clothes, experiences, and music on a global scale, instantaneously connected rarely lingering more than a few seconds on any web site” (Livingston, 2011, p. 59).  The skills that are not yet developed include competencies of digital decision-making, analysis of online content quality, and long-term virtual branding.  These three areas should be the foundation for an institutions’ digital identity education.

The exact message and delivery system from one institution to another will vary based upon mission, university goals, orientation format, attendance numbers, available facilities and technology availability.  The learning outcomes of this session should guide the content, which include:

  • Building awareness of the positive and negative influence social media has on college students.
  • Communicating the campus resources found digitally in web and social media forms.
  • Spelling out campus policies that relate to social media and other technology resources.
  • Education of privacy settings, as it pertains to identity management and decision-making.
  • Providing a space and time for students to connect IRL (in real life) after building online relationships over the summer via traditional ice-breaker like activities.
  • Name tags should include Twitter handles or any other identifying markers of online usernames.
  • New students should be provided messaging around long-term planning of their online identity.  This should include awareness of all current and up and coming online tools to manage their identity.  Basic tools, such as creating an ongoing Google search on your name, image, or likeness will aid in their personal online management.
  • Freshman should also have an understanding of what to expect in the next year from being part of a IRL and virtual campus community.

In providing this education early on in a new students transition to the university, students are more equipped with campus resources, understanding on-campus and online campus life, development of skills to be engaged content creators, and see the priority the university takes to engage with its students.

By applying social media tools into the value of the on-campus experience, online communication can be connected to stronger offline relationships (Jacobsen & Forste, 2011).  Digital education is not the introduction of tools, rather the means of how to take advantage of social media in their roles as students on campus, active members of the global community, and future leaders in their chosen professions.


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