Posted by: schooleducator | March 7, 2010

Time To Tweet College Admissions: Wall (Kindergarten) to Wall (12th Grade) Posting

And the winner is…no, it’s not the Academy Awards, it’s the college admissions letter that soon awaits millions of high school seniors across the country.  The suspense aches the hearts and minds of high school seniors.  The long, torturous college admissions process reaches its conclusion in just a few weeks, and some students will finally understand the importance of chronology in history:  “If I’d only studied harder in 9th grade and gotten an A in history class, then I would have gotten admitted.”  The realization that their footprint matters dawns on millions of students.  However, increasingly, it is a student’s digital footprint that can doom a student’s fate. There is more and more discussion and examination of high school students’ Facebook profiles during the college admissions process. An errant Facebook post can fast derail a student’s hopes for admission.
Instead, colleges should be asking students to submit their Facebook profiles as part of the admissions process.  The Facebook profile should be a portfolio of student work, with careful, deliberate choices made on what to share with the colleges.  The time honored essay that asks students to write about or reflect upon a major change or challenge they overcame needs to go into the dustbin.  Those “old” and “worn” approaches to the application process are no longer relevant and do little to allow students to express themselves originally and authentically.
Having students submit their Facebook profiles also serves the twin purpose of helping high schools and parents see how students use social networking.  As part of the admissions process, colleges can see what posts students put up on their wall, what photos they select, and which Facebook applications they use. These “choices” can illuminate who a student is, and give a deeper window into their interests, creativity, and ability to harness technology for learning.  And, Facebook accounts are FREE.
Tufts University opened the door this year to YouTube video submissions.  Lee Coffin, dean of undergraduate admissions at Tufts, acknowledges the technical interest and savvy of this generation of applicant.  In a New York Times article, he explains: “We’ve got some who are really good with the technology,” Mr. Coffin said. “There’s a real technical savvy out there in this generation, and this lets them show off their splicing, their stop action, their animation. Some of the engineering applicants show us what they’ve made. One kid is talking, and then all of a sudden, he’s in the water, to show off his underwater camera.”
In the same article, Mr. Coffin continues: “Kids who are 17 and 18 are very facile with new media,” he said, “and one of the challenges for colleges right now is to stay ahead of that curve.”
Sadly, Tufts is alone at the moment.
Colleges charge an arm and a leg to apply.  With the economy still in a tailspin, colleges could help many families by moving their applications onto Facebook. Prospective students could build networks and groups, and the colleges could see what types of groups they form.  This could also get in front of the roommate dilemma and help colleges group and organize first year housing, based on student interest and connectivity, well ahead of time.
And, on the off chance prospective students post inappropriately the colleges gain deeper insight into an applicant and can make an easy decision about admission.  It can be hard to dispute the evidence from a Facebook post, but it at least gives students a chance to play fairly in the game of the admissions process.
Student interests can shine on Facebook – art, music, community service (how quickly a student can organize fundraising for Haiti, for example) – and colleges get information in real time. No Fed Ex packages needed.
Or, to snap up another social networking tool, colleges could ask students to set up a Twitter feed for a week, and students would have to tweet for a week, and then submit their tweets as part of the application.  Again, another FREE web-based application could yield valuable insights into a student’s approach to social networking and learning with digital tools.
There is one caveat to opening up the gates of social networking or YouTube video production to college admissions.  Bob Sweeney, a high school counselor at Mamaroneck High School in New York writes in a letter to the New York Times:  “I can’t help but wonder if this initiative will give rise to one more cottage industry in the lucrative college admissions business. Video producers and directors can now join private college consultants, SAT tutors and essay editors raking in high fees from families willing to pay whatever it takes to gain an advantage in the college admissions race.”
Sweeney is right to point to the potential development of yet another “cottage industry” to the college admissions game.  But, the upside of innovative, authentic, technology-based, free applications for college admissions is that students get to play on a level field.  There is no astronomically priced test prep course for building a social network, or posting tweets.
The display of digital learning and mastery for a college application should be the culmination of an education filled with digital portfolio development by students in schools.  Digital portfolios have been around since the early 1990s, when they were first developed.  According to David Niguidula, a “pioneer” in the field of digital portfolios, there are three pillars that buttress the portfolio:  “vision, purpose, and audience. A portfolio should not contain everything that a student does in school, and determining the purpose and audience for the portfolio will help students and teachers focus on what they want to collect and select.”  (p. 155, Jacobs)  In a digital portfolio, students upload “word-processed documents, images, presentations, audioclips or videoclips – that contain their actual work.”
The limitation of digital portfolios in schools up to this point in time is that they stand as dusty file cabinets behind a labrynthine school network server.  The value of Facebook or Twitter, or a locked down social network like Ning (to allay the fears of privacy and security folks), is that students are held accountable by the audience of viewers of their portfolio pages.  There is real-time interaction and feedback, with questions and responses.  Students are forced to explain or elaborate on their portfolios and are required to stay current, with new posts of work, photos, or videos.
At different stages of child development, from first grade through 12th grade, there can be different benchmarks for children to clear.  Obviously, schools and parents would not want a first grader to post on Facebook or Twitter.  However, the first baby steps could be a contained network of teacher, parent, and student.  Then, in second grade, a relative, like an aunt, uncle, or grandparent, could be added.  In third grade, another teacher could be added.  In fourth grade, a peer could be added.  And so on all the way up to 12th grade, when students are ready to “graduate” into the real world.  They would receive guidance and training on what to post, when to post, how to post, why to post, and where to post at each stage of development.
The Tufts experiment with YouTube video application options is likely the first salvo in the soon to shift no man’s land of college admissions.  Instead of recoiling in fear or hoping that the Tufts experiment goes into the dustbin of failed innovations, school communities need to seize the mantle of opportunity and recalibrate digital learning, all the way from kindergarten through graduation.  It is the right thing to do for students and students have been waiting for the opportunity to be given license to share and receive feedback on their work from authentic online audiences.

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