David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   

April 20, 2014

So, I have learned this week that some restaurants are now googling their diners.  I don't think I have to worry since it is once in a blue moon that I even need to make a reservation for dinner.  I also suspect that even the trendier restaurants of southwest Michigan/Elkhart and Granger area of Indiana don't have much interest in looking me up on LinkedIn as I make a reservation.  ("Uh-oh, the Vice President of Instruction from Southwestern Michigan College is going to be here the same night as the Superintendent of the Cass Academy.  We better put them at opposite ends of our dining room!"  Yes, keeping volatile personalities apart from each other is one reason these restaurants google their patrons.)

The power of Google to give us advance information on someone is a powerful tool.  Frankly, I don't know how anyone with a troubled past can get a job these days.  A seemingly credentialed and well-experienced person applies for one of our faculty positions and within 10 minutes of googling, we can find out that he (or she) has been fired from a previous college for some indiscretion.

I'm thinking that colleges need to create a new position, the Google Alert Specialist (GAS), to tap into Google and social media to provide faculty and administrators all the information they could ever want to know about students, potential students, employees and potential employees, to improve student retention and graduation rates.

Here's how the GAS would work.  As noted above, the GAS would receive reports on every applicant for a job and review them for any potential concerns.  Similar to how most Human Resources' application systems immediately eliminate a candidate who doesn't have the right credentials, the GAS would be able to eliminate any applicant with a shady past.

For students, the GAS would be utilized from the second an application comes in.  Let's say Johnny applies to the college. Immediarely, the GAS starts firing up search engines to learn as much as possible about Johnny.  Given how teenagers today don't seem to worry about privacy, his FaceBook page alone probably will tell us 90% of what we need to know.  Housing decisions could be made immediately ("pair him with another Chicago Blackhawks' fan"), advising plans could begin ("he's listed as undecided, but his FB 'likes' suggest he is fascinated by the law"), and crazy family dynamics could be anticipated ("if his mother comes on campus, note that she is likely to embarrass him publicly").

Then, once Johnny enrolls for classes, each of his faculty members will get a one-page summary of Johnny, along with the same for every other student in the class.  Complex algorithms will give Professor X a potential seating chart ("Johnny hates Techno music, put at least two students between him and Liz, Dudley, and Fern"), a list of topics that Johnny can't claim he knows nothing about, and the complete status of Johnny's family ("both grandfathers are dead, so call him out on that excuse").

As time goes on, the GAS could be used for assessment purposes.  Review of Johnny through social media could see whether outcomes from "Interpersonal Communication" or "Mathematical Literacy" are evident in his postings.  The Career Placement Office could have direct evidence about whether Johnny delivers a professional presentation through the very sites that GAS has used to screen our own college's employees.

I know what you are thinking:  the GAS sounds like a 24 hour/7-day a week job.  But, this is all programming.  I think we can basically automate everything the GAS does.  That way we don't have to count on a human GAS to do the Google search on himself or herself.