Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Thoughts about institutional use of Web 2.0 tools

LOGO2.0 part I
Originally uploaded by Stabilo Boss
I've seen plenty of posts in the blogosphere about using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom. But, I've never seen anything about how schools can use Web 2.0 tools outside the classroom; how can we harness the Web 2.0 tools for institutional advantage.

I've been thinking a fair amount recently, particularly since the jobs which will generally be open over the next several months are admissions or development positions. It is the admissions, and development, and alumni offices which have the most involvement with external stakeholders; Web 2.0 offers a slew of opportunities for involvement of external stakeholders.

Student Blogs: Colleges are using student bloggers to provide an unvarnished perspective about colleges. Back in April, Marcella Bombardieri of the Boston Globe wrote an article, College blogs tell it like it is: Schools ask students to give applicants a real account of campus life, about this phenomenon:
Eager to forge stronger connections with prospective students and parents, MIT and other universities in the last two years have been starting blogs and recruiting undergraduate bloggers. Blogging has become one of the hottest trends in college admissions.
There's no reason this couldn't work at an independent school, too. Ms. Bombardieri notes,
The message from student bloggers isn't always pretty, yet college officials say the blogs are worth the risk. High school students can get unvarnished views of any colleges from Facebook, MySpace, or unsanctioned student blogs. They may be more inclined to trust a school they think is willing to show them real campus life, officials say. Plus, the technology gives colleges another tool to help applicants make the best decision, especially if they cannot afford to fly in for an overnight stay.
School leaders would have to choose the student bloggers carefully and provide a reasonable set of guidelines.

Administrator/Leader Blogs: Similar to the idea of students blogging, another idea is to get administrators blogging. This example is from higher education, but I think it's a good example that you don't even need to be the senior person responsible for a particular area. Chris D'Orso, Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions at Stony Brook University publishes "an inside look at the Stony Brook University undergraduate admissions process and the transition into the first year of college."

Malcolm Gauld at the Hyde Schools blogs regularly. Mr. Gauld's blog, Malcolm's Blog, is even available through an RSS feed. The school has made it easy to get information out through a variety of means. Mr. Gauld writes about a variety of topics including popular culture, parenting, the Hyde Schools, alumni and student successes.

Web Cams: No, I'm not talking about the advertised "co-ed house cams." No, rather, I mean having one or more web cams at various venues on campus. A school could have a webcam shot of their front view; a military school could have the webcam pointed toward the parade deck. A school could webcam the gym or a field house (having it on during games only, or at least not during official team practices; no need to give the opponents an easy way to scout players and teams). Ideally, a school would think about what makes them special and put that on a webcam. Christchurch might focus on their waterfront along the Rappahannock River; Blue Ridge might point their webcam on the climbing tower; Millbrook would have wild animals from their own zoo fill the picture. A school could even sign on with Weather Underground and participate in their Weather Web WunderCam program.

Photosharing tools, such as flickr: I know there are some schools which already use some tools, but they are usually clunky and are a profit center for the school. Parents love to have pictures of their children. But, I haven't seen anything as graceful as flickr, and I haven't seen any schools with "official" photostreams. But I have seen a couple of "official" institutional photostreams. The best stream? The United States Army. That's right, the U.S. Army uses Yahoo's flickr. If it's good enough for the Army, it's definitely good enough for a school.

Many independent schools have entries in Wikipedia. I'd wager that most of them are started by alumni or students or parents. My alma mater has an entry; I started it, but it was just a stub. The entry is much fuller now, and I had nothing to do with it. I did write to the development office and suggest they have someone work on the entry.

One reason to be involved in the creation, development, and maintenance of the Wikepedia is that sometimes the entry will be changed or vandalized. Last year, I interviewed at a school in the mid-west whose Wikipedia entry said something like "the school was founded as a place of education for wayward girls and delinquent boys." If that's true, great, but in this case it was just someone mucking about. I figured it was a current or previous student.

MySpace and other social network sites: While some schools have banned MySpace and other social network sites (I know one school that forbids students from even having an account), I think -- in terms of connections with alumni, parents, faculty (current, past, future) -- the use of these network sites would be a huge boon.

Issue of "push" vs. "pull": I know there are schools that post frequent e-newsletters. I saw a school recently that had weekly e-newsletters for each grade-level and another that had a weekly dean of students e-newsletter. One issue I have with these is that they are generally pull vs. push. What do I mean? An RSS feed is push (the content is "pushed" to the customer); a website or blog is pull (the reader has to go to the specific site and "pull" the information off the Internet. Schools need to have push & pull technology for all information, particularly information that changes frequently. The other issue I have is that there is a host of free tools available that a school can use. Many school web sites which are all-in-one are clunky and school. The Army was able to latch on to flickr as a photo distribution center; they're a "pro" user so the total cost is only $25. That's a bargain. I could see the federal government spending hundreds of thousands of dollars building a photo distribution center software... and having it not work on deployment.

Seeing the future: I think it's possible to see the future: look around. The future is here. Now. Institutions, including independent schools, can either embrace the tools or be left in the dust of change.

With any luck, in the fall, I'll be practicing what I preach.

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