If you haven’t been in an institution of higher education in the last decade, it is NOT the College or University that you remember. And it’s not just the buildings or the infrastructure that has changed, how instruction is offered and when it is offered have taken on an entirely new meaning.
For example, Registration. Do you remember registration? When I first attended university we walked all over campus collecting data punch cards, one for each class we intended to take. Each card represented one student and when the cards were all gone, the class was full. Once you gathered your cards, you took them to a data processing center, and all the cards were run through a system that would ultimately spit out a schedule. The collecting might take hours, the processing time was dependent on the number of people waiting for exactly the same thing as you, a schedule. Minus the punch cards, you can still do it that way, but most students today register for classes on the computer. Online. No lines, no real hassle, you register for classes.
Paying for classes. Do you remember the horror of being handed your invoice for classes each semester? Up until I signed a mortgage for a home that was the largest bill I had ever seen! And they expected payment, THEN. Again, all online. Unless you ask, you won’t even be handed a paper invoice. They bill you electronically and you will pay electronically. And given the rising cost of education (tuition increases out pace housing and health care – HEALTH CARE), it may be better not to see the bill. Books. Remember going to the bookstore, and waddling out with that enormous pile of books? The joke in my program was that Chemistry majors finished their degree with arms that were 4 -5 inches longer, just from carrying their books. Shopping around for books has become the norm, buy them as cheaply as you can or RENT them. I even encourage my students to purchase the electronic version.
And then going to classes. I took classes that met two or three days a week for 16 weeks, and that is still an option. As are classes that are 4 weeks, 8 weeks or 10 weeks long. You can have a class that meets both face to face and online, or one that meets completely online. You could have a course that meets asynchronously or synchronously electronically. And the whole notion of night classes has taken on a new meaning, some universities are experimenting with classes that begin at 10 p.m.
I say all this to reveal that you must be intentional about how you work with students in an electronic setting. They aren’t just names or even numbers, behind each digital label there is a person, a student with aspirations. Learning to work with and appreciate people you may never meet, that is a difficult opportunity. Creating that as a thin place, where they are wholly (and holy) accepted is a challenge. And I take frustration and delight in that challenging thin place every semester.