This week I’ll be publishing a number of guest blog posts, from plenary speakers at this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop, the theme of which is “Next Steps for the Web Management Community“. I should also add that there are still a small number of places available – but we would advise you to book a place quickly (the cost, incidentally, is £355 per person which includes 2 nights’ accommodation).
The guest posts begin with Alison Wildish, who will speak on the first day of the event. And during a week in which there has been much interest and discussion on the role of social networking services such as Facebook it is clearly timely for Alison to introduce her plenary talk on “Let The Students Do The Talking” – and please feel free to respond to Alison’s post.
Alison is Head of Web Services at Edge Hill University where, for the past seven years, she has led a team responsible for the development of the corporate Web site(s), intranet sites and Web services (which include the Web Services blog). Prior to joining Edge Hill, Alison was developing Web applications in the commercial sector. Most recently Alison has led the University portal project, the development of applicant and community Web sites, and has contributed to IDM and Single Sign-On implementations.
In my abstract for my “Let the Students do the Talking” session at July’s IWMW I talk about social networking and how “we’ve re-developed our thinking and systems to take advantage of this“. Whilst I stand by my statement it now feels somewhat naive almost as if I imply we have the answers when in fact the opposite is true. I firmly believe that student support should sit right up their alongside teaching and learning at a University and I believe it is the ‘support’ arena where social networking can have the biggest impact. During the recent shootings at Virginia Tech in the US students flocked to Facebook to inform friends of events – a platform that students have adopted as their preferred communication tool. When students have been disgruntled about staff or services, within a University, Facebook has been used by the students to air their views. So what can Universities learn from these behaviours? A lot. Whilst we “think” we’re in touch with the students needs unless we’re adapting in line with their behaviours we could be missing a trick. With this in mind I certainly favour the “if you can’t beat them join them” approach.
The majority of our ‘traditional’ students come to University equipped with a range of online skills, preferences and identities. When we questioned our students at last years Freshers Fair more than 95% of them had a MySpace, Facebook or Bebo account and used it regularly. We took the view that as students were familiar with these less formal environments we should adopt some of the same principles for the University supplied services and we did.In September last year we launched the “Go” portal for students which embedded some social networking and user-owned technologies with our institutional systems. We included a discussion forum which has proved hugely successful in allowing students to build and develop their own “communities” and a web notice board which is managed by the students themselves.Following on from this we launched a website for our applicants (Hi) in March which again is based around the community theme. The site allows our applicants to chat with our students (who also blog on the site) directly giving them an informal route to find out more about University life.
So have we really re-developed our thinking? Well yes and no. I’d like to say we’re getting there and listening to the student voice and adapting our services and systems accordingly. We’re in the process of re-developing Go to provide greater integration with social networking sites and allow for more customisation and integration of user owned technologies. From a student perspective its great and we feel it gives us additional routes to provide student support, maintain the engagement with the University and ensure our messages can be communicated to them.
On the other hand though we’re a University, a “new” one at that, and we’re working hard to establish our brand and reputation, social networking sites and user owned technologies allow our students to choose the information they engage with and their channels of choice. They have the freedom to develop these informally, outside of University constraints, and whilst that’s incredibly empowering we do need to consider the impact this has in relation to enforcing a code of conduct, the message this gives to our prospective students (outside ‘Marketings’ control) and how this can be utilised within (or distract from) the teaching and learning. So are we really that confident and prepared to “Let our students do the talking…” – that is a debate to be had!