Technology as Enabler of Student Network Development Through Information Sharing

About a couple of weeks ago, I decided to buy some lunch from the UCSB Filipino-American student group to support their fundraiser. While I was eating, a student introduced himself to me and we started talking about my association with the organization through the years. He also shared with me that he actually knew about me and in particular about the fact that I helped developed our online portal (GOLD) used by students to register and manage their courses, amongst other functions. He then asked me a seemingly simple question but one that I had to think about for a bit. His question was “Can you tell me what’s different now with UCSB compared to how it was back then?” I responded with something obvious like “these buildings you see around you weren’t here back then.” But, what I also mentioned to him was how technology has transformed how students find information and how they conduct their business with the campus. For one, when it comes to general information, students no longer have to rely solely on campus staff to obtain the information.  Second, students nowadays no longer have to physically visit the departments to find information and conduct their business as they can now do many of their administrative (e.g., financial aid, billing) and academic transactions (course registration) online.

As I shared with the student, when I was a student at UCSB in the 1990′s we had to visit the departments physically and speak with the staff to find information. They had the monopoly to the information since information were not readily available beyond their offices. There were printed course catalogs and pamphlets of course, but students could not share information they know on a mass scale.

With social media and the web, students have become both consumers and producers of information.  Just observe the activities on facebook, twitter, reddit and other social media platforms and you notice students exchanging information amongst themselves. Information students share include deadlines, orientation, financial aid, housing, courses, and other campus services. Most of the time, the responses are accurate. Sometimes, when a wrong answer is provided, there are other students who will chime in and offer corrections. They offer advice to each other, including how to waive health insurance, how to get to the airport or bus stations, how to fill out forms, and which courses to take for their majors.

What I find interesting as I observe these exchanges of information going on is that relationships and social networks are also being created. I’ve also seen a couple of students assume roles as community leaders and as credible sources of information. What is missing in all of these interactions are the campus staff. In a way, these online interactions somewhat change the dynamics of interactions between student and staff. I don’t have data to prove this point, but I wonder if the frequency of physical contacts between staff and students are less now than how it was back then before the age of the web and social media.

There was actually one time not so long ago when I observed a student who seemed new to the campus since she was trying to figure out a campus map. I offered to help her and asked her what department she was looking for. She told me she was looking for the Registrar’s office. I asked her if she’s new to the campus and her response surprised me. She told me she was a second-year student, but she’s never visited the Registrar’s office.

As I think about how social media and the web have become platforms for information sharing amongst the students and not relying on staff, I wonder if there are still some staff who still see themselves as the sole source of information and maybe not too appreciative of the idea that students do exchange information and provide help amongst themselves. Personally, I think it’s great that in the process of sharing information they develop networks and social relationships that may contribute to their success at UCSB.

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