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The Academics' Forum: #TheFutureIsNow: Facebook, Beloit, and TIP Online

Satoris S. Culbertson
Kansas State University

I’m teaching a new prep this semester: Honors General Psychology. Although I’ve taught General Psychology so many times that I can give a lecture in my sleep, I wanted to do something different. And because these are honors students, I felt more comfortable taking a different approach to the course. So, although normally I abide by the unspoken rule within academia that you’re not supposed to be excited about a new prep, I was excited. I decided that, rather than use a standard introductory textbook, I would use some popular press psychology books (namely, Psychology of the Simpsons, Psychology of Survivor, and Psychology of Superheroes) and interweave the course content through these books. My intent was that, by using these books, the application of the psychological principles would be clear, as they could relate the points to well-known characters and situations. It was going to be amazing.

On the first day of class, I asked for a show of hands for those students who watch The Simpsons. In a class of 15 students, one student raised her hand. Oh boy. How many had at least watched The Simpsons in the past to be somewhat familiar with it? All but one hand went up. Whew. Ok, so who watches Survivor? One hand. Familiar? Three hands. Uh oh. Who likes superheroes? Three people. To this my jaw dropped and all I could say was, “C’MON! BATMAN!!!!”

Thankfully, none of this mattered (or seems to have mattered, as the class is ongoing). The students are engaged, actively participating, and learning the material despite not having a great understanding (or appreciation) of The Simpsons, Survivor, or superheroes. (Then again, they are honors students.) Nevertheless, I was disappointed that my book choices weren’t an instant hit.

I don’t know why I was surprised. It may be hindsight bias talking here, but I should have known. A friend of mine recently wrote on Facebook that she could have sworn she was listening to a classic rock station until the DJ informed her that it was, in fact, an oldies station. An item on Pinterest informed me that Maggie Simpson, if she aged, would be 24 years old. And, sadly, I still remember the first time I made a reference to Wayne’s World in a class and got blank stares.

The notion of outdated cultural references in the classroom has even been the premise of the wildly popular Beloit College Mindset List (http://www.beloit.edu/mindset) since 1998. This list, which points out some factoids about students entering their first year of college, is always good for a “no way!” reaction. For example, when I read that few incoming freshmen know how to write in cursive, I couldn’t believe it. My undergraduates have, however, let me know that this is, indeed, the case. As one student said, “It’s like calligraphy. I practice it when I’m bored in class.” (I like to believe that meant he never practiced it in my class.)

Clearly, times are changing, as they always have been and always will. This issue of TIP is a great example, as it is the last print version that will ever be. Although I can recall flipping through TIP issues as a graduate student (and beyond), students entering I-O programs will never have a current issue of TIP arrive in their mailboxes through which to peruse. Rather, their only knowledge of TIP will be in its online form (unless, of course, they are lucky enough to inherit an office with a lot of back-issues).

At first this seemed sad to me. But then I realized that, yet again, I was forgetting to consider what this generation of students is accustomed to—and what they want. When I look at our graduating seniors and first-year graduate students, I’m reminded that much is done electronically. And really, not just for them, but for my generation—and those before mine—as well. Whereas there was a time when we would use reference books to locate information, Internet search engines have become the norm. If we have a quick question, we “Google” it. If it’s not “Googleable” (that’s a word, right?), we can “Facebook” it. Yes, Facebook. Not only is it a social networking site, in part responsible for conference conversation starters changing from “What have you been up to this year?” to “I saw you had an amazing steak for dinner 2 days ago,” but it is also a tool for academics. I have used Facebook to ask questions regarding teaching and research to colleagues—and others have done the same. And the answers are fast and (mostly) accurate. The issue, really, is how to cite the information I receive. I’m not worried about it though, as I’m sure that will be in the 7th edition of the APA Style Guide

In 1995, an article by Clifford Stoll was published in Newsweek, purporting that the Internet wouldn’t really catch on and was just a passing fad. It seems he’s wrong, and the Internet is here to stay. Thus, although I’ll admit that I’m sad to see the print version of TIP going away, I’m comforted by the fact that TIP will still be around—and in an even more accessible format.  Maybe I’ll even tweet about it when the next issue comes out—you know, after I have one of my students help me set up a Twitter account (#justkidding #notcoolenoughtotweet #wonderinghowlongahashtagcanbeandstillmakesenseandberead).  See you online!