Want to power up a social movement? Try powering on your Internet, cell phone, or Instagram account. In today’s high tech landscape, social and political movements are shaped via memes and debate forums, newsfeeds and virtual campaigns. More than ever, social technology offers platforms to mobilize, inform, and empower people in dynamic ways.
Innovative smart technology has been a major mode of communication amongst Millennials for most of their adolescent or adult lives. It’s revolutionized how Gen Y — and most Americans — access and learn about news, culture, and politics. Movements like #OccupyWallStreet have entered our cultural zeitgeist. If there is a political march or viral social campaign, the majority of Millennials will hear about it.
Social tech continues to make its mark on activism. But can it also help revolutionize our access to better education? If unaffordable and unequal education policies persist, Millennials will be the fighters for improved higher education. As they work to change exclusionary education policies, tech innovations like social media apps, big data, IoT, and virtual reality (VR) will help Millennials spearhead grassroots campaigns and facilitate DIY learning movements.
Glitches in Higher Education
In the past couple of decades, the debate over open access and the privatization of higher education has become contentious. For many college graduates who experience economic instability, the ideal of the American dream has become stymied.
Declining academic achievement scores, student debt, income inequality, and new budget proposals from the US Department of Education have greatly exacerbated Americans’ tense relationship with higher education. Overall, the general public believes that access to higher education can be improved. In addition, the average student loan debt for Millennials is $40,000. These factors have created an era of economic and class instability which ultimately needs to lead to improved education.
The Educated Generation
In today’s competitive economy, Millennials believe higher education is an advantage. Yet 62% of Americans have said they want free tuition at public colleges and universities, while 77% of Millennials say college tuition is unaffordable.
Ironically, Millennials — who seek more affordable education — are also the most educated generation in history. Growing up with Internet in the computer age, Millennials became exposed to a more global and cultural perspectives than previous generations.
In addition to being the most educated generation, Millennials tend to embody more sensitivity and emotional stability compared to older generations. A mixture of socio-economic factors made them cognizant of how income inequality impacts their financial security. It’s also made them more aware of the systemic class injustices embedded in the way Americans access education. Consequently, the majority of Millennials support policies that promote free higher learning.
Activism for the Digital Age
With new budget cut proposals from the Department of Education, middle-class and low-income access to higher education may suffer. Proposed initiatives include the elimination of the federal work-study program and $200 million in cuts to help low-income students pay for college.
If huge cuts occur and money is taken from public colleges, it can drastically devastate the progress of future generations. Millennials are at a crucial crossroads where affordable and newly structured education systems are needed. At the same time, online social media platforms are making Millennials more politically engaged.
One way Millennials can transform America’s educational environment is to change policies that disallow affordable college. Modern tech aligned with grassroot campaigns can help reshape these education policies and create DIY learning movements.
Social Media Apps and The Internet of Things (IoT)
Online social media platforms are essential to build support bases that drive movements. Popular apps like Facebook allow education advocates to share information through blogs and other interactive media. These apps rely on IoT, interconnected computing devices embedded in everyday objects that send and receive messages. Education activists can use apps on cellphones and chatbots for real-time updates about their advocacy campaigns.
Now and in the future, social media will be heavily utilized in social advocacy campaigns for many reasons:
Visibility — Information and links to resources or events are made visible and accessible to viewers, especially for lower to middle income students and supporters.
Relationships — Diverse relationships can be fostered through social media networks, creating a shared identity while learning and responding to education policies that directly affect them. Change only happens through mass support. Collective action via interconnected devices can organize informational sessions, protests, and resources to engage followers.
Framing — In general, Millennials offer a shared understanding of a problematic education system through the framework of inequality. Public discourse reshapes the way Americans think about education by assessing cultural norms through social media and other informational tools.
Resources — Movements must mobilize human and material resources. IoT helps build communities of professionals and citizens to improve curriculums and create DIY learning movements. Supporters merely connect their devices to cloud systems in order to interact with education advocates on a local or national level.
Big Data and VR
Education advocates can leverage big data to better understand the needs of their supporters, unifying followers. Big Data helps fundraising and advocacy efforts like research, marketing, outreach, and donations. Whenever an object is connected to the IoT, data can be collected to open up vast insights into demographics and user trends. Sensors can measure usage, personal preferences, and frequency. VR tech can take advantage of these tools. By implementing immersive and advocacy journalism techniques into campaigns, advocates may use VR to highlight injustices within the higher ed system. This will help education advocates understand how niche topics on education reform generate interest and guide the conversation to improve access. With so many connected devices — Gartner Research predicts nearly 20.4 billion by 2020 — it will be easier to gain more citizen participation.
The New Tech Landscape: A Digital Blackboard
As the majority experience less access to education due to increased costs, more economic and social strife may prevail. Educational institutions will lose money and Millennials and younger generations will experience the effects first hand. Those who are heavily burdened by loans can’t participate fully in the economy.
But these technological capabilities, activist movements can adopt and create DIY and alternative education methods to rally movement. More people could easily be educated on education principles through online, DIY learning tools and integrated communities.
Tech’s prevalence will change everything. As tech powers our lives, it can also power our minds and desires. But first, emerging generations must fight for it.