Monthly Archives: February 2014

Smartphones/Twitter in the classroom, an update

Before this semester, I blogged about changing the syllabus of our “Media Copywriting” course (BRC328) to not only discard the old “put your smartphones away in class” trope but to even encourage and embrace the use of technology — specifically Twitter — during class time.

I was pleasantly surprised with how many readers asked for updates, and I’d say: So far, so good. Perhaps better, especially when it has curried creativity.

First I used Twitter for instant feedback, asking the class to give their quick review as I showed things like the classic Charmin campaign referenced in the name of our textbook, Luke Sullivan’s “Hey Whipple, Squeeze This: The Classic Guide to Creating Great Ads.” I always ask for feedback using the #brc328 class hashtag.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 9.22.05 PMSince advertising is about the instantaneous, in-the-moment reaction to content — humans generally think about ads in the moment, not in long-tail analytical ways, I found this very interesting. And found it funny how many times students words like “creepy,” “awkward” and “uncomfortable” to describe old Mr. Whipple spots.

But this week, we had in-class creativity exercises, with Twitter the expressive medium. I asked them to read a story — for example, on The Acting Company appearing on campus this week to stage “Hamlet” and the Tom Stoppard play it inspired, “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.” Some of the responses were bardic nuggets in themselves:
Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.52.34 PMA Shakespeare reference is a plus. Or a good pop culture analogy …

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 8.52.54 PMBut this may be my favorite …

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It definitely encourages further use of Twitter during class. It succeeds in breaking up lecture time and finds new ways to include students in both the conversation and creative process. Stay tuned!

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Potential students have questions. Provide answers. Get creative.

A previous blog entry lamented the lame state of FAQ pages and other stale/outmoded non-helpful attempts to help future students. How do we get past that? We listen, we look for creative solutions and we work with our talented current students.

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Our most notable effort is the Alyssa Answers Your Questions Q&As with student video blogger Alyssa Levenberg, part of her popular Alyssa Explains It All video blog series. The past two years, she has asked accepted students in our closed Class of 2017 and Class of 2018 Facebook groups to post questions she can answer in video form. The curious students — many of whom are still deciding between Oswego and other schools — have provided plenty of questions and this year (for the second time), Alyssa had so much that she developed a Part One and Part Two to accommodate all the answers.

These are not from-the-guidebook answers and this kind of project could worry any administrators who covet complete control of all communication channels. And while Alyssa gets questions on subjects students wouldn’t ask administrators in the first place, she handles them positively and constructively. She is an ambassador for Oswego (she’s interning with me this year) but I don’t stage manage her work … because, frankly, her video blogs wouldn’t be as successful if she didn’t have this kind of creative freedom. I may come back and say, “hey, maybe you can elaborate on this point for another video,” and sometimes we talk out potential video ideas, but once we sign off on a concept, she runs with it.

And if you’re considering Oswego, of course you would take Alyssa more seriously as a source than some old dude like me. Current students, I like to say, are what prospective students want to be because they can’t wait to get into college and live that life.

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“What’s the best dorm to live in?” We heard this countless times, in various forms, in the Class of 2017 group but there is no one answer, because it depends on what you want and what you value. How to communicate this? Again, we decided to get creative and tap our talented students.

The resulting “Why live in ___________?” video series was a team effort. Alex, an awesome contact in Residence Life and Housing (whom we invited to be part of the 2017 group) saw the value and worked with colleagues to find students to “sell” why their hall was a great place to live. My graduate assistant videographer at the time, Kevin Graham, spent a lot of time on interviews and editing, and did a phenomenal job on the finished product.

While not everybody will sit through 13 videos, having the playlist on YouTube — and shared on social media and embedded on our site — means viewers can browse. Others may find individual videos via the power of YouTube (and its parent company, Google) for searches … it’s no coincidence we phrased the title as a question. But it works better than some administrator talking or impersonal virtual tour embedded in an app you have to download because it’s widely accessible and has current students pitching their homes.

We don’t use video for everything. Last year, when we would see multiple questions in our Facebook groups on a particular club or aspect of campus, our interns would blog on that subject and we’d post up the link. In short, we let our audience interest drive some of our creative process. If we value our potential students, we should keep them in mind as we create content. And if current students can serve as virtual ambassadors, entertainingly explaining what college is like, they can connect even better.

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FAQs: the goose barnacles of higher education

In the Middle Ages, even so-called learned men believed in the bizarre duality of goose barnacles and barnacle geese. Noticing that floating barnacles bore great resemblance to local waterfowl, they put 2 and 2 together, and got 22: These animals they dubbed barnacle geese certainly must spring from the fruit they called goose barnacles when the time was right. The two things looked so similar that despite any real evidence (correlation is not causation), it seemed a stout conclusion.

While science has moved past this, I can’t help but notice that we create our share of goose barnacles in higher education: We see what we think perfectly reasonable from our perspective even when it doesn’t resonate with the real world. I’d put the curious creatures known as Frequently Asked Questions/FAQ pages near the top of the list.

Yes, this happened at a school you may have heard of.

Yes, this happened at a school you may have heard of.

Have you visited any college FAQ pages recently? On many, you’ll find a lot of questions, but not necessarily ones that students actually, you know, frequently ask. Not all are as outlandish as “What is the mission statement of the college?” (sorry I’m not making that up), but many FAQs are simply the result of administrators deciding what they want to communicate and working backwards by creating answers then writing questions people would never ask.

Some content experts would like to see FAQ pages eliminated from college websites entirely. They raise a good point: If your website is really good at providing answers within its pages, users will find the answers they need without an FAQ. This is a noble aspiration, but in reality users want quick answers, and many colleges (like ours) have to rely on content editors (more than 300 on our campus) to maintain department, program, office and section websites. In a perfect world, you can somehow find a way to clean up a 20,000+ page website, but in an imperfect world FAQs may remain at least a temporary evil until you can miraculously heal your college’s digital body.

If internal forces still necessitate FAQs, at least make sure they involve real frequently asked questions. Since our office maintains and monitors social media channels frequented by prospective and incoming students, we see questions they ask may bear no resemblance to FAQs maintained by offices and programs addressing future students. How to reconcile fiction and reality? Take notes and set up meetings. For example, I met with the Orientation office and showed what our students actually asked was completely different than the program’s posted FAQ. I worked with offices and staff to add questions that were asked and remove questions that they even admitted they hadn’t heard asked in years.

But we went a step further. If a question came up over and over that wasn’t adequately addressed on oswego.edu, we made sure that main or primary pages (not just FAQs) were updated to address these questions. No, this shouldn’t be rocket science, but it seemed like a revelation to some folks.

I can’t emphasize enough: Listen to your customers. Our Class of 2018 Facebook group bubbles with earnest questions, many of which we have answers to — including some that a few students, honestly, haven’t seemed to have looked for on our site (where the info is prominently featured). I’ve sometimes taken a deep breath and reminded myself saying “let me Google that for you” would be a bad idea, but at the same time our customers’ experiences (which may include not using our website much) are our reality.

How can we bridge this gap? Ah, that will be the topic of my next next blog installment, which involves lots of listening and tapping student creativity. Stay tuned.

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