Today’s students have grown up with the internet, with cellphones becoming something of an extra appendage. Many can’t make it through lunch (much less a whole day) without checking their phones or otherwise interacting with technology.
Always-on culture has been a challenge for recent graduates who entered the workforce without the social intelligence that came naturally to their older co-workers. This situation underscores the importance of educating students in what could be called social literacy to ensure their academic and career success.
While casual office attire has become the norm in many offices, job interviews typically require more formal dress and behavior to demonstrate a level of respect. Stories prevail of young adults showing up to interviews in casual clothing, texting or using phones during job interviews or even bringing their parents with them.
Such behavior demonstrates a lack of situational awareness about what is appropriate to do in different social circumstances. While college classrooms or the actual office atmosphere may allow for a more casual dress code, students need to be taught what is acceptable socially in terms of dress or behavior to stand out above their colleagues.
An ability to read social situations illustrates a strength to employers — quickly picking up on a client’s mood or expectations in various business or cross-cultural situations can be the difference between success and failure.
Text-speak and technology use have affected many young people’s ability to communicate. For example, college students have been known to send five-word emails devoid of salutations, courtesy or context. Often, the emails state something to the effect of “why did I get a zero on my assignment,” which leaves teachers, who often carry heavy course loads, to determine the class, assignment and grade the student is referring to.
While email has deformalized much of the communication process, students still need to ensure their writing denotes respect and provides enough context for professors (or future employers) to readily respond.
In addition, text-speak has reduced students’ ability to communicate using correct grammar. Through studying particular communication genres and what they demand, students can learn more about what individual situations demand in terms of the formality of communication. For example, if a professor signs an email “Dr. Smith,” this is a fairly good indication that they expect to be addressed as such and not informally by their first name.
While email has taken over as the primary method of communication, traditional modes of discourse still exist. For example, many employers still expect cover letters in addition to resumes, and the lack of a thank-you note for a gift is often perceived as more than a simple social oversight.
An ability to craft these types of documents illustrates an understanding of social expectations and denotes a level of respect or appreciation. While not related to the traditional educational canon, learning to properly write a cover letter or business letter or a thank-you card not only teaches students that these documents exist and are often necessary, but it also shows them how to craft them, saving them time and energy in the future.
Years ago, classes focused on the basics of communications were popular offerings in high schools. These courses were often perceived as an “easy A” for seniors, and while they probably were, they also taught students important lessons about how to present themselves. Teachers taught everything from how to shake hands through how to conduct written communication.
Such classes may not teach students a great deal about traditional subject matter, but the curriculum can mean the difference between success and failure.
Caitrin Blake has a BA in English and Sociology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in English literature from the University of Colorado Denver. She teaches composition at Arapahoe Community College.