“Life Online” & the Impact on Students

There are many ways students can pursue a “life online.” Students of all ages use virtual environments, which can include virtual worlds like PokemonGo, Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, or Penguin Club. Students also use social media as another form of taking a “life online.”

In 2007, I was a freshman in college and none of my professors in the Spanish or Education department took part in virtual environments, which is why I may have never heard of Second Life. According to Michael J. Bugeja’s article, Second Thought About Second Life, Second Life is a virtual-reality world created by Linden Lab, in which avatars (digital characters) lease “islands” for real-life purposes — to sell products, conduct classes, do research, hold conferences, and even recruit for admissions. Reading this article startled me and really made me open my eyes and mind. As an educator, I never thought of taking students into a virtual world in the classroom.

Why are these students, colleges, schools even participating in these virtual worlds and social media platforms? Are the educators and administrators really thinking about how this will impact these students academically and socially?

This type of virtual environment grants students anonymity, allowing them to detach from reality. Understanding the fundamental building blocks of these platforms is key. After reading the article, Social media? Get serious! Understanding the Functional Building Blocks of Social Media, the central honey comb of social media is identity. How can students truly identify themselves through an experience that is not real? A student isn’t facing another student, making eye contact, or even seeing the other individual. Being in this virtual environment condemns any real consequences. At what point do students draw the line between reality vs. fantasy?

Aside from these social implications, there are measures of concern to address between student academic achievement and their “life online.” In the study by Kirschner & Karpinski, Facebook and Academic Performance, I found that the study was very vague and clearly needed some peer review. I don’t think that these technologies decrease academic achievement, it makes no difference. It’s interesting how Pasek, more, & Hargittaito break down the issues in Kirschner’s and Karpinski’s study in Facebook and Academic Performance: Reconciling a Media Sensation with Data.

Going back to technology determinism, students have control of their “life online.” They choose to go on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Students are capable of achieving academic success with or without ICT. I strongly believe that it is a matter of time management skills and priorities among each individual student.

In the end, I am 100% positive that the creators of these social media platforms and virtual environments, such as Linden Lab, thoroughly thought about the implications and societal impact these applications or interfaces were going to make among students, faculty members, and colleges around the world. (I’m being sarcastic.) Surprise! To my findings, I come to realize the true motive around education and technology is money.

I took to heart what Michael J. Bugeja suggests for universities and find that it is sound advice, not only for universities but our society as a whole!

“That suggests that universities have rushed into online consumer markets without fully understanding liabilities. Until we do, we must rely on traditional academic standards:

  • Procedure: Send a copy of this article to your campus lawyer, equity officer, accountant, human-resources supervisor, teaching-center director, network administrator, and ombudsman, requesting their opinions about issues raised here.
  • Debate: Hold a public forum and/or a faculty meeting to discuss these issues openly with experts on cyberlaw, new media, technology, gaming, harassment, ethics, and other related disciplines.
  • Research: Go online to view the warnings and disclaimers included in the syllabi of computer-science professors, scholars in studio and fine arts, and in social, forensic, and medical sciences (to name a few) whose real or online environments might expose students to content that some might find potentially offensive.
  • Best practices: Prepare faculty members and students for the Second Life experience in orientations, adopting the policies already in use by campus programs that routinely expose students to unfamiliar environments, such as travel abroad, archaeological digs, social work, internships, and volunteer work.
  • Assessment: Analyze technology use in terms of cost versus learning outcomes and keep files of your institutional efforts to be used in accreditation as well as disputes, documenting that you have addressed these issues.”

 

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