Read the Menu or Eat at the Buffet? The Power of Being Together

ImageLast week we took our son Isaac on some college visits. He will graduate high school in June and has narrowed his choices to three: Ohio State, Syracuse and Rutgers. He’s been admitted to all and is taking one last visit to each before deciding where he will spend the next four years. We’ve now visited Ohio State and Rutgers and will head to Syracuse in two weeks.

What have struck Isaac in these visits are the things you might imagine: the facilities, the food, the programs, the student life, and the D1 sports.

What’s struck me in these visits is the reminder that, above all, we are social beings. There are some opportunities in life—many opportunities—that only come through face to face interaction with other people.

At both our Ohio State and Rutgers visits we met people literally from all over the world. While you can meet people from all over the world online, there is something different about sitting with them, sharing a meal with them, engaging in discussions with them. I can’t think of many other places—other than a college campus—where people from all 50 states and dozens of countries (students come from 98 different countries at Ohio State and more than 125 different countries at both Rutgers and Syracuse) are at one place at one time.

Being surrounded by so much diversity creates opportunities not just to learn about one another’s culture, but to experience that culture. An understanding of another’s culture is much more in depth when you can actually spend time with that person, rather than merely interacting in an online environment. It’s the difference between reading a menu and eating from the buffet.

Beyond culture, the educational opportunities of interacting with other people are great. Being on campus with thousands of other students provides opportunities for collaboration in study groups, lab work, and extracurricular programs (intramurals, clubs, theatre, etc.). Yes, people can work together and study together online without being together physically. But I would argue that the convenience of the technology does not make up for the depth lost in the interactions.

Being around other people inspires great acts of charity and generosity and community. While we were at Rutgers, students were hosting the 15th annual Dance Marathon, a fund raiser for families of children with cancer. Students “dance” for 32 hours (at least, they stay on their feet) and collect pledges to the tune of more than $400,000.

Here in Nordonia, our students work together on all sorts of projects that raise funds for different organizations or causes, and that create school spirit. I think specifically of our sprit week, our hall decorating, our lip sync, our point break contests…none of those are possible without being together.

Technology is becoming a bigger and bigger part of education.  Students in all grades are taking online courses much more frequently–sometimes exclusively, sometimes as part of a blended learning model. Students interact via social media, participate in MOOCs, and so on, and so on. Certainly there is value in all of that, and certainly learning can take place by interacting with others on a computer.

But what I have seen in my visits to actual brick and mortar institutions is that nothing can replace the power of being together, in physical space, with other people. Technology has the ability to flatten the world, but when it is all said and done people are meant to be together. 

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