Right now at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, students and faculty are under social media lockdown. The college has blocked access to popular social media sites on the campus network -- including Facebook and the social functions of its online course management system, Moodle.
Just to be clear: I have no problem with social experiments that examine the impact of social media on our culture and interpersonal relations. I think they're highly valuable -- even if painful at times.
I'm not on Harrisburg's campus, so I can't say for certain how the college's experiment is being implemented. I know that there are numerous events, discussions and classroom activities happening this week related to the social media blackout, and I'd love nothing more than to be a fly on the wall at some of them.
But my main hope for this experiment, and the publicity surrounding it, is that it leads to a broader acceptance of social media and technology within higher education curricula. Yes -- more, not less.
Why? Because the evolution of the social web -- including blogs, wikis, mobile web applications and social networking sites -- is real. It's here. For professors not to incorporate technology in the classroom is a disservice to society in general and students in particular. Whether it's a liberal arts college or a technical program, a public university or a music conservatory, institutions of higher education have a responsibility not only to educate students but to prepare them for life after graduation. And technology literacy is increasingly a deciding factor when it comes to students finding jobs or advancing in careers, from education to engineering to public service.
If colleges and universities ignore this reality, they might not survive. The peak level of college-bound seniors, children of baby boomers, has passed. The application pool is shrinking. Students and parents are increasingly focused on the high costs of higher education and want assurances that they will get a return on their investment. Colleges and universities need to be relevant -- and whether we like it or not, understanding technology and the social web (and being able to use it effectively) is absolutely critical to being competitive in today's job market.
Embracing technology doesn't have to mean all online classes or textbooks on Kindles or replacing discussion groups with online chat rooms. Technology literacy is still, essentially, a set of skills and could never replace a traditional liberal arts education, which gives students a broad understanding of everything from history to language to concepts of the world versus the individual.
However, colleges and universities should certainly invest more resources in programs that educate students and faculty alike on appropriate, effective usage of the amazing variety of tools available on the web. They should institute reasonable network policies, encourage conversation about technology and culture in every major, and teach students how to use LinkedIn in the career center. And that's just the beginning.
The opportunities for enhancing education through technology are many, and the reward will be a generation of college graduates prepared to take on the next wave of technology challenges -- able to think critically and adapt quickly to new advances. Graduates will be more successful, and that's good all around. And colleges and universities will prove that they can evolve with the times while still providing high-quality education in the liberal arts, science and technology, or any number of other specialties.
That's a future we all deserve.