Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon - Education Edition

How many degrees are you from Kevin Bacon?  I know, the game really only goes for celebrities – see if you can beat my 1 degree for Billy Crystal?  But then, take the Footloose actor out of it and try it at your school.  How many degrees of separation are between you and the English Chair or the Valedictorian or that Sophomore who just got bad news about her grandma.

We have definitive proof that humans need connection to others.  It’s not only obvious to most people, but people I’ve blogged about copiously like Matthew Lieberman, the neuroscientist who has evidence of a “social brain” showed what happens if we experience a lack of socialness…pain.  Like real pain.  The brain doesn’t distinguish between hitting our thumb with a hammer, being ostracized, or feeling alone. 

So, an important question is begged.  How is your school handling social experiences?  How are you intentionally, purposefully creating experiences for students that promote positive, reinforcing socialness? 

Maybe you are attempting this through the allowance of student clubs and groups.  Maybe you host events here and there – bingo, speaker series, ultimate Frisbee tournaments…all great things for those who participate.  All great things for students who aren’t online students.  All great things for students who are outgoing or extroverts. 

But what about the others?  How have you tapped into the social world of the students who are at a distance or, by virtue of personality or life context, who simply try to keep their distance

After traveling the globe for years and genuinely looking for tools and solutions to this very issue, I have to say I haven’t seen many attempts, let alone answers.  Typically, it seems schools put all of their effort into student services for face to face experiences but rarely for online students.  Also atypical are social events promoted for nontraditional, off-campus, online, or on-campus-but-shy students.  It’s just a nut that I haven’t seen cracked…

But try we should. It’s one of those idioms I attribute to Dan Pink who tells us that what we know to work best (often based on brain science) is rarely leveraged by organizations. So let’s get specific. How is your school leveraging what we know to be impactful and effective via neuroscience when it comes to “holistic” education?

1.       Academic Socialness: I’m in algebra and struggling.  I should be able to reach out for help socially.  Yes, that may mean my instructor.  It may also include a classmate.  And it could mean a tutoring service.  But why can’t it also mean someone at our school who has a profile description saying they like algebra or that they like talking math?  Perhaps a Senior or Grad Student who has been there, done that, or a peer from 1,000 miles away. 

2.       Organizational Socialness: I have a question about my student government.  I want to see their page to get some info and I want to ask a question.  Whether it’s real time or asynchronous, I want to be able to communicate with that group.

3.       Personal Socialness: I just had a hilarious experience happen to me and I want my University community to know it.  I want to add a selfie or tie to a Twitter post with a cartoon.

Think of your learning system like a house.  After someone comes in the front door and they’re in the foyer (or mud room or entryway, etc) they want to chit chat.  They want to get to know you and scope the layout.  Can they?

Then, people may move into a formal space to talk or discuss – perhaps a living room.  This is probably checked off already as your students can talk formally through their online class sections, all day long. 


But beyond that, where do people typically end up?  Where do the HGTV shows tell you that the social hub of the house is?  It’s the kitchen.  That is where people congregate.  They may talk about stuff from the living room as well as insights they first shared in the foyer, but they’re likely to look for meaningful conversations and the deepest connections there.  They’ll want to laugh, share, and maybe even help while they grab a drink from the fridge and try your guacamole. 

So, what should the school’s online kitchen look like?  Should it look like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or none of these?  Should you build your own social experience or tie to an existing one?  People have tried all of these and failed at all of these.  Although there may be some hope on the horizon. (Check out Campus, which I implemented in my Chief Innovation Officer role for exactly these reasons…) But maybe it’s not as much about look and feel as it is about usage.  Maybe if we tie a social experience to the academic experience and interconnect organizational experiences, then maybe we’ll get a lot more adoption, buy in, and ultimately, maybe we’ll connect our students meaningfully.  Maybe our kitchens, living rooms, and foyers will be filled with introverts and extroverts alike.  Maybe you’ll see that kid from your history class who never comes to any events.  Maybe you’ll get to know a mom, half a world away while you sip on your soda. 

We need connection.  We need people.  We need socialness.  How are you being intentional about creating a meaningful social experience for your students? 

Oh, by the way, Billy Crystal was in Monster’s Inc with John Goodman who was in Death Sentence with Kevin Bacon.   How many degrees are you from the Freshman at your school who is from another country?  How many different systems do you have to use to get to the Student Government homepage?  Why not find out?

Good luck and good learning.