Monthly Archives: November 2011

24 hours in photos at suny oswego: let’s see what develops.

We all know that college campuses are exciting places. But have you ever stopped to think about how much happens there in a 24-hour span?

That’s what we hope to find out during our SUNY Oswego: 24 Hours in Photos project from 12:01 a.m. to midnight on Friday, Dec. 2. The odd inspiration comes from Frank Turner’s video for “The Road” where he performs 24 shows in 24 hours; it made me think about all the activity that takes place here that many people don’t even realize. Because Fridays have classes and other events — Dec. 2 has a student art opening, choral concert, women’s hockey game, two basketball games and a formal, among other things — this provides a broad swath of campus experience. I don’t just want the events everyone sees, but also what happens behind the scenes.

In addition to those of us (me) working 24 hours plus other staff and students, we’re trying to make it interactive and invite user-generated photos by allowing people to email submissions (with name, place and time of photo) to sunyoswego@posterous.com. It’s a moderated account, but any decent submissions can appear on that site for starters. Folks can also tweet images with a #24hoursinphotos tag. From there, I’d love to turn the submissions into a Dipity timeline (like we used for our sesquicentennial history) and maybe some other slideshows and/or a video showing top picks.

But this project isn’t about a gimmick; as always, goals come before tools. One goal is to produce something of interest to audiences ranging from prospective students, wondering what they can do on campus, to alumni who are always interested in seeing what’s happening at their alma mater. Moreover, it can raise awareness for current members of the campus community as to how much occurs here, the people, the places, the happenings large and small.

Obviously, I’ll keep readers posted on the results. May even keep a running blog throughout that day. Whatever happens, I can’t wait to see what develops.

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the best and worst of us: thanksgiving and black friday.

This week brings some of the best and the worst things in modern American life: the joy of Thanksgiving followed by the insanity that is Black Friday.

Thanksgiving may well be my favorite holiday. What’s not to like about food, loved ones and reasons to give thanks? Our family doesn’t get together until Sunday, but I was exceedingly fortunate that an amazing local family invited me over for their Thanksgiving dinner. “The more the merrier!” was the greeting extended to me, and the food and laughter unfolded in generous amounts. I may have learned more about some of the guests than anticipated as the stories ensued, but their level of comfort in doing so says a lot about the family. The room was filled, ultimately, with love. The feast was excellent, but the gathering and the fellowship were the real stars of the show. And that is, perhaps, the way it should be.

The way it shouldn’t be is having around 20 people injured when a WalMart shopper who really wants some video-game consoles busts out the pepper spray. Or seeing shoppers brawl in the electronics department of WalMart, with two injured and at least one arrested. And let’s not forget the WalMart employee trampled to death in 2008 in what sounds more like a scene from “Lord of the Flies” than holiday cheer.

Black Friday just keeps getting bigger and scarier. Worse, Black Friday is invading Thanksgiving day among many major retailers. Instead of letting retail workers facing the very hectic holiday season spend a nice dinner with their families, chains summon them to face large crowds bordering on hysteria. When did this week become about appeasing selfish greed instead of sharing the holiday spirit? When did getting a deep discount on a piece of electronics become more important than the safety and lives of others?

But that Thanksgiving spirit still exists. My friend Mike Petroff of Emerson College started an #eduthanks hashtag on Twitter Wednesday night listing all those friends in higher education he was thankful to know, and why. Dozens of others picked up on the thread, which Mike has posted in Storify, and spawned a touching Shelley Keith blog entry.

And the spirit still suffuses homes large and small throughout the country, giving all of us hope. When I left the gathering last night, several members of the family thanked me for coming. They opened their home, their hearts and their family cheer … and yet they thanked me? I was rather bowled over by that. Some things you just can’t put a price tag on, and have much greater value than any Black Friday bargain.

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launching a mobile site: content and users come first.

After much behind-the-scenes work, we finally just announced the launch of the SUNY Oswego mobile site. Our traffic via mobile device has climbed from 1.5 percent in October 2010 to 4 percent in October 2011, so clearly we’re seeing increased demand for something optimized for mobile.  Thanks in large part to tips from other colleges and conference presentations — and especially the skilled hands of our talented developer Rick Buck plus some trial and error — this lengthy and not-so-simple process taught us many lessons along the way.

It’s about content. I was pleased that presentations on mobile development at HighEdWeb11 emphasized thinking about content before the technology. Sessions like “On Your Mark, Get Set, Mobile!” from William & Mary and mStoner and the University of Central Florida’s “A Utility Belt Approach to Mobilizing Content” focused on existing content you can mobilize and optimize for your mobile platform. Knowing the content and building around it is made easier when you can employ a good framework and template like WVU’s Dave Olsen assembled through Mobile Web OSP. (Dave’s name always comes up when presenters mention mobile and higher ed, and we are among the many who owe him a debt of gratitude.)

It’s about users. We needed to think about how our users might interact with location-based content as well as the things they access the most on our website. As such, the mobile map was a given. The interactive directory that allows users to email or call a professor or staff member with a single click provides real convenience that takes use-care scenarios into consideration. News, an events calendar and emergency information provide timely and relevant information at (literally) the touch of a button.

Testing, testing. We did a soft rollout for New Student Orientation this summer, with an emphasis on the orientation schedule and locations. It went well and also taught us about user behavior at a (relatively) slow time before we did the main rollout. We’ve done spot testing from time to time, a practice we expect to continue.

Think mobile before apps. While all kinds of characters roam the fringes of academia trying to sell apps, anyone of any expertise emphasized how important it is to develop a mobile site first. The advantages are many — it works on all platforms and one need not negotiate with an Apple or Droid store, and wait for the process to play out for months so your users can access updates. This Cappex survey of parents of prospective students adds more support, as 79 percent of respondents preferred a mobile-friendly site to an app. While apps developers emphasize shiny objects and one-trick ponies, the mobile site is the big tent where you welcome all your users.

It’s a continuing process. We look at launching the mobile website as a beginning, not an ending. We’ve already made tweaks and upgrades in its first “official” week, and we have many other features in the pipeline. And of course we’ll keep an eye on analytics both for mobile and the regular sites to see what’s working/not working and what other features become relevant.

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can 3 positive things a day help keep the blues away?

Among all the high-tech talk at HighEdWeb11 in Austin, many key takeaways involved the importance of people and treating others well. Perhaps the best example involved a suggestion from Alana Riley of the Berklee School of Music in her project management presentation … a non-technical activity turned into a daily ritual.

Alana’s outstanding presentation — separated into three sections of people, documents and things — perhaps was most memorable for her examination of the “soft skills” and the human side of the equation. She cited studies that show we think better when we’re happy, and how being positive (or negative) can correspondingly impact the end result. I loved this quote: “It doesn’t take much to make someone feel appreciated. And it doesn’t take much to make someone feel unappreciated.” It’s something we really need to think about all the time, but we don’t. And that wasn’t even the golden nugget!

The true prize of her session was her suggestion that, at the end of every day, we take time to write down three positive things that happened to us that day. “I’ve been doing it for a few months now + really enjoy it,” she said in a follow-up tweet. “It really does train your mind to be more positive :)”

It’s a very intriguing idea that, by making a conscious effort to look for the positive, this can impact our focus and our disposition in positive ways. It would be easy to be skeptical at first, unless you’ve met Alana. She exudes a kind of positivity that tells you there’s something to this theory.

I started the day I flew home from HighEdWeb, and recalling the positive interactions (if also bittersweet goodbyes) with friends made that day easy. Not every day since has had its share of gimmes, but it really can train you to keep a kind of running tally, where a switch goes off and you think: “Aha, there’s one!” Positive things can be personal in nature — being pleased with a great workout, eating healthy, finishing a project — but the ones that make me smile most involve helping and interacting with other people. Maybe, in a way, focusing on the positive makes one more aware of the relationships around us we take for granted? And, perhaps, doing so can make those relationships, and those around us, more positive in nature?

Hey, if nothing else, give it a try and see what happens. You may be positively surprised.

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what a johnny cash cover band can teach us about project management.

[Daniel Laird photo]

Strange things happen sometimes. Like going to a conference in Austin and winding up in a Johnny Cash cover band, as took place at HighEdWeb11. But the experience also offered lessons on some factors in successful project management.

Behind the scenes, group members secured a surprise slot on the stage at the Highball club in Austin, rewrote songs by the Man in Black to reflect working on the web in higher ed and handled all kinds of logistics required to bring it all together. We only had one practice in advance, and that didn’t include all songs or all members. But it came together, somehow, because of four strong aspects to the project:

Social. Communication took place through a secret Facebook group. I was the last in, invited because Georgy Cohen knew they needed a bass player. Earlier, members had collaborated on reworking titles on Cash classics and sharing new lyrics they penned (one of my faves being from “Frames and Tables Blues,” formerly “Folsom Prison Blues”: “I bet there’s rich folks working in a fancy CMS/I bet they’re drinking coffee, not cleaning up this mess”). In hindsight, we probably could have used a Google hangout to practice a bit more in advance if we could have somehow coordinated schedules.

Passionate. It certainly reflected a labor of love for a group of devoted Cash fans with varying levels of musical talent. Granted, it’s much easier to bring passion to something this fun and crazy as opposed to, say, building a web portal. But if you can focus on the positive results that can come from any project, that can help you become excited about the outcome.

Democratic: Aaron Rester was the ring(of fire)leader, but ideas and suggestions came from many group members. We each brought our own skillset to the mix and the group collectively figured out how to pool our talents.

Flexible. When you only have one practice in a hotel room (apologies to any neighboring rooms), you figure you’ll have to adjust on the fly. And we did, such as when Larry Falck stepped up to take on vocal duties for “Get Tweetin” (“Get Rhythm”) which included his suggestion via Facebook to change keys and chord structures on the day of the show to accommodate his vocal range. Because the project was social, passionate and democratic, we could easily be flexible.

Between-song transitions could have been smoother, and I played the first verse of “Frames and Tables Blues” in the wrong key, but the surprise performance was exceedingly fun and very well received. We ripped through seven Cash covers and (for the absurdity of it) Rebecca Black’s “Friday” without major incident to a crowd that really seemed to enjoy it. We even had folks clamoring for an encore, which is tough since we didn’t know any other songs. If that was our biggest problem, I’d say it was a success … thanks to some sound principles of project management.

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