The Connected Cohort

The landscape of tertiary study has changed rapidly over the past decade. Social networking sites are where students are going to connect, message, and share information with each other.

They’re not using Blackboard; they’re not using official, institution-sanctioned spaces. They’re using Facebook, DropBox, and IM programs. They’re supporting–or supplanting–the learning management systems pushed by the Universities with their own student-run, ad-hoc learning platforms.

The information practices of students in these informal channels are unregulated and un-policed (most of the time) by academic staff. Students participating in off-the-reservation online groups are relying on improvised and convenient approaches to their tertiary study rather than the certainty and validity of a more closely controlled setting.

This is all great in theory: empowered, autonomous students creating and consuming learning material in informal communities. But, the reality of this is too uncertain, too fraught with difficulty.

Students don’t understand how to behave ethically. Students don’t understand how to handle copyright or restricted information. Students don’t understand how to handle assessable content. This is why they’re students. They need to be encouraged, taught, and shown how to build proper information practices. Social media gives them practical, useful channels to share and disseminate information, but none of the guidance or support they need to do it correctly.