The last article I expected to find when I opened the latest issue of the NDSU Magazine was one on social media. You see, as much as I know that Fargo, North Dakota is developing into a midwest technology hub, I forget that it isn't the small, sleepy city that I remember. I know. You've seen the movie, and that makes this hard to believe. For proof, see Microsoft, NDSU Research and Technology Park, and Great Plains Technology Conference.
But there was Dr. Andrew Mara, an English professor who teaches about corporate and organizational use of new media, to remind me. His essay got me with its tagline - "Even the alphabet was a threat at first." From there he goes on to talk about how Web site visitors expect interaction. They don't want brochure-ware. This constant interaction can be scary and perceived to be dangerous by some, but Dr. Mara reminds us that this fear isn't new. Some people don't like change. "Even the jukebox was thought a tool to break up the family by chaining men to their barstools."
While the idea of new media being a long-term communications change was interesting, the second part of the essay was what really invigorated me. He talks about his students, digital natives who use the Internet to improve their education through collaboration and connection. These methods have caused Dr. Mara to change how he teaches. For him, it means more interaction. He now encourages students to use the Internet productively during class - doing research and reporting on it. And if there is an error on Wikipedia, he expects them to contribute and correct those errors. This, to me, is an incredible way of using technology to improve quality.
So what does this article mean for the legal aid community? Where are we fearful and preventing changes that could improve client services? Should we be encouraging more backchannel conversations during staff meetings and conference presentations? Should we be conversing with pro bono attorneys, staff, and low-income communities more through blogs? What do you think? Let us know in the comments. - K