Earlier this week I made a presentation to a group of first year under-graduate Accounting and Finance students at Bournenmouth University. The subject was one I felt they all had an interest in; social media and social networks.
Firstly, a little background to the presentation. I have been involved with these students in a Unit called ‘Professional Studies’ and it’s all about preparing them for life after study; the office, the technology, the accounts, etc. After over hearing a few conversations in the cafe and classroom it was obvious the students thought it funny and acceptable to hijack someone’s facebook account and post photos and status updates that would cause embarrassment. It was then I started to research the down side to social media and the implications it has had on individuals and their employment prospects.
You can view my original blog post, and the slides I used, here: Social Media & Networks: How to survive online (or “your [next] employer is watching you”).
What I was not prepared for, when I thought about presenting this, was the students were completely unaware that their activity online, on Facebook, could have any bearing on their employability. It was clear from the gasps and shocked faces when I introduced the examples of people losing their jobs because of their online activity that I had hit my mark; I was changing their perception of not only social media and social networks, but also of how they are going to use them.
I finished the presentation with another shock … I’d selected ten random names from the class list (194 in total) and searched for them on Facebook. I found five easily (I ignored the other five as they had fairly common names; the search showed 500+ results) and two of them had their privacy settings set so I couldn’t view their profile. Of the three I could access I could see photos, status updates, and wall conversations about alcohol, holidays, friends and ex-friends, about celebrities and the like. I also found a few groups and pages they’d ‘liked’ or joined that might cause some distress depending on the type of employer.
So, what next? Well, these students are in the middle of writing a reflective journal (a blog to you and me) and, thankfully, it is going well. There is a clear change in their perception of their online activity and what impression it might give anyone looking for them. One or two have indicated they are going one step further than just revisiting the privacy settings – they are going back through their photos and status updates and deleting anything that (going back 4 years is a long time for an 18 year old) makes them look young or immature. Only one students has posted that he was already aware of his digital footprint and the privacy settings in Facebook, so was not going to change his behaviour as he was sure it was acceptable.
I feel the presentation was a success; the students have a better understanding of what it means to have a digital footprint, and they are taking steps to take back that control they can.
There is however, one thing I will look into further … we are being told by research and leading think-tanks that these students are “Generation Y” or “Millennials”, that they are “digital natives” and confident and knowledgeable in areas that I am not (I’m a Gen-X / Gen-Y borderline case), yet I do not see this. Yes, they have smart phones, use social media, are computer literate … but they show signs of complete apathy for anything that isn’t Apple, Blackberry or Facebook. There are other products in the mix but they all aspire to own an iPod, iPhone, iPad and/or a Mac Book Air. While we can all agree they are incredibly good looking appliances there are still others on the market that are equal and, in some cases, better. But these are ignored in the face of the Apple logo.
There is also their ability to use the equipment – so far I have seen a shocking lack of ability in using even the basic Word, Excel, or PowerPoint features … and these are “digital natives”? I have read around the subject over the past year or so and have really come to the conclusion that we, in higher education have been missold the student ‘product’ by the further education society – I had thought these students were using the state-of-the-art equipment, working collaboratively, working smart, etc but they have not. Students I have talked to have claimed to have never worked in groups, let alone in an online collaborative group space.
I’ll leave you with this old cartoon; Generation Y