Our Tech Savy, But Network Illiterate Students

This past semester I had a blast teaching Communicating Biology (Bio 380) at my new university in Plattsburgh. Since this is a third year class the focus was more on post-graduation skills than on university survival like the tutorials I used to teach in Southampton. Hence, there was also an emphasis on writing cover letters, working on CV’s and on different forms of presentations students might find themselves asked to do in the real world. Two very important aspects of this are dealing with the media and managing their web presence. For the media assignment, I had the students set up and video an interview with each other including much of what I learned from a valuable career development workshop seminar giving by the Royal Society on interacting with the media a few years back. To my great surprise the students needed hardly any equipment (most did interviews on their own webcams) and did very creative jobs with editing and producing their programs, albeit with enough copyright infringements that most could not be posted online. What amazed me was that I only had a couple who asked to borrow webcams and that all of them managed to put together videos with very little instruction or school provision of equipment and software.

On the other hand, I was taken aback at the apparent lack of thought most students have given to their web presence. They all must think about it with their Facebook sites, but very few can make the leap to how this can work for and against them in the grown up world. I must admit that I am equally dismayed at how little thought most of my peers give to their web presence as well. As competitive as academia, any edge helps; and the internet is one of the best ways to gain that edge. So after enlightening my students about how to tame Facebook, use Linkedin and the importance of taking control of their online presence, I also assigned them to make their own websites by modifying freely available templates with HTML and to write blogs which are online (link). I was worried that assigning basic HTML programming using a text editor was a bit like teaching how to use a slide rule in an age with computers, but they did well and seemed to appreciate actually seeing how this thing called the internet works. Interestingly they came up with websites that were more professional looking than most of our faculty members off campus sites. The blogs are kind of a mixed bag as you can see, but several of them found a voice and they actually were communicating biology, which I what the course was about. What will be telling will be to see how many of them keep it up.