Tag Archives: learning

2011 goal: become a better five-tool player

In baseball parlance, a five-tool player is one who does many things well (batting average, power, speed, fielding, throwing). In today’s workplace, where we need to perform many, many different tasksĀ  — how many folks get to specialize any more? — flexibility and improving several skills is at a premium.

In that way, I’m studying my major skillsets, or desired skillsets, to examine where I want to grow and improve:

1. Writing. This has been my bread and butter. I started writing poetry when I was 4 (didn’t say “good poetry”) and have been paid to write since I was 20. But improvement is always possible. The character constraints of Twitter (and to a lesser extent Facebook) reinforce the most important writing tip ever, Strunk and White’s “Omit needless words.” I think sometimes, with my general writing, I’m too satisfied with a first or second draft when I really need to keep trying to make it better.

2. Web communication. This could represent several tools in itself, but for the sake of keeping it to five, I’ll consider this a mashup of social media, analytics and website management. This is an area I’ve had to learn on the fly, but often with the help of reading and expert advice — much of it free from colleagues. Analytics, which I just started getting into after last year’s SIMTech Conference, represents countless opportunities for improving our web presence. Not included in this list but related is …

3. Content strategy. Thanks to the awesome book Content Strategy for the Web by Kristina Halvorson (a later blog post), I gained more of a handle on, and case for, better institutional content strategy. This has resembled the Wild West in our decentralized web presence, but combining analytics with rolling content audits and content strategies could work wonders. Or so I hope …

4. Video. My communication degree had a broadcast concentration, so I know the basics. And they sat dormant for many, many years until I had to start supplying more video content a few months ago. I started using iMovie — so much easier than the analog editing I learned on ginormous machines — and now look to improve my camera work, which requires better equipment as much as anything. But I know that, underlying it all, sits a basic desire for storytelling that I cherish.

5. Management. I’ve read books, had training, but what does it mean in the real world? I supervise two full-time workers (who I view as colleagues, never subordinates), a small student social-media team (interns and volunteers) and student bloggers. I’m trying to track, prioritize and document things better, but don’t want to make it a chore. As a discipline of the Tom Peters empowerment strategy, I sometimes wonder if I’m too permissive … but my hope, especially with students, is to put them in position and with the tools and opportunities to succeed.

So, what about you? What skills would you like to gain or improve?

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top 2010 takeaway: be an information omnivore.

I learn a lot every year, but like to reflect on the biggest thing I took away from the previous 12 months. For 2010, that lesson would be the importance of being an information omnivore.

An information omnivore (in my definition) is someone who reads and consumes information from a wide variety of sources … books to microblogs, speakers to cultural events. Books remain a primary source of knowledge for me (coming from a family of librarians), and perhaps no book influenced my job as much as Susan Weinschenk’sĀ Neuro Web Design — which helped set goals and tactics during our sitewide redesign. I’m currently reading Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy for the Web, which is sparking more ideas. And Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food not only influenced my diet, but served up insights for the workplace.

Social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook are excellent sustenance for information omnivores, dishing out a smorgasbord of articles and blog entries of interest, influence and ideas. I was blessed to make it to several conferences where I learned so much from some outstanding speakers, as well as from an awesome network of friends throughout higher ed. I think that every person I encounter — from world-famous speakers to my own students — have something to teach me if I’m smart enough to listen.

But my trumpeting of information omnivores also reflects a troubling trend: In an ideologically polarized time, more people seem to prefer less variety in their news and information diet. I’m not just talking about regular Fox News watchers, but those who choose to fill up on (depending on view) right-wing or left-wing blogs … they choose not to be informed but to have information that backs up their worldview, which they can defend in chatrooms, troll-filled online article comment sections or anywhere anyone deign have another opinion. It’s like we’re reverting to earlier days when any city of decent size had different papers for each political party. (And I can’t help but wonder, for example, what the publishers of the old Oswego Daily Palladium and Oswego Times, who savaged each other on the editorial pages, would think to know their bully pulpits merged into the Oswego Palladium-Times.)

At a time where more knowledge is at our fingertips than ever before, let’s explore it and open our minds to every avenue. Become an information omnivore — read, listen and let the treasures of learning enrich you.

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learning about social media goes both ways.

Feels like I’ve been on a social media barnstorming tour of campus, leading four sessions in the past two weeks. There’s no one reason for this — I was asked to do two, while the other two were my initiative — but just as with social media itself, the conversations in this sessions always teach me something as well.

I’ve talked to freshmen about social media and learned their habits. I gave a session titled Everybody Has A Mic: The Brave New World of Web 2.0 to people in the room and scattered across the world on Second Life. I presented Social Media 101 to staff members. And I imparted thoughts on social media and marketing to an Advanced Public Relations class. My own presentations notwithstanding, and with my observations on freshmen listed in another entry, here’s some of what I’ve learned back:

1) Social Media 101, as an hour topic, is too big for a wide audience. While most came to learn practical applications of social media, one attendee didn’t seem know what Facebook or blogs were. So maybe something so catch-all is too ambitious and unfocused. But then I saw a college running a whole course on how to use Twitter, which is excessive too. At some point, we’ll find a happy medium for a range of audiences and applicable topics.

2) Students’ use of social media changes during their time on campus. While sample sizes so far are small, what I’ve found backs up what I’d heard anecdotally. For the upperclass Advanced PR class, 20 of 20 were on Facebook (no surprise), 18 of 20 checked daily, 8 of 20 had MySpace accounts and 3 of 20 used Twitter. Recall for freshmen, all 15 had Facebook accounts they checked daily, 10 were on MySpace (though barely used it), none on Twitter. This slim sampling reflects what I’ve heard about college students abandoning MySpace and picking up Twitter in modest amounts, but I aim to do more surveying.

3) I may have given up on Second Life too quickly. Maybe it took viewing several avatars hearing my presentation virtually, but I finally see that Second Life does have untapped collaborative and communication potential. Maybe I’m just flattered someone from NASA would show up in SL to hear what I have to say. Maybe I still think the economics of outfitting an avatar seem too much like Dungeons and Dragons. But clearly my dismissing Second Life out of hand without learning more is as ill-informed as those who’ve never been on Twitter scoffing it’s all about people tweeting what they had for lunch.

This all also reflects what I’ve long believed: presenting is a two-way street. Just like in social media, every interaction and every conversation is an opportunity for enlightenment.

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school’s [always] in.

The long-lasting popularity of ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock is both amazing and instructive. The brief lessons on math, grammar, social studies and more first aired in 1972 and can, at any moment, stick a song or subject in the minds of generations of learners. The series had a 1996 tribute album with alternative acts such as Pavement, The Lemonheads, Blind Melon, Buffalo Tom and Moby; Schoolhouse Rock Live! had a long and successful tour; and the Schoolhouse Rock: Election Collection came out in time for last year’s pivotal vote.

Yes, I’m a big fan. “Conjunction Junction” taught me about hooking up words and phrases and clauses. “I’m Just A Bill” provided a perfectly concise civics lesson on how bills become laws (while also being parodied on The Simpsons, the ultimate pop culture honor). And “Three Is A Magic Number” — showing how you could add the digits of any multiple of three to get a multiple of three — inspired a love of math that lasted until … my first calculus course. (If only there had been a Schoolhouse Rock calculus episode?)

In my business, there’s an odd notion that we can not educate and entertain at the same time. Schoolhouse Rock shows nothing could be further than the truth. The best teachers find ways to engage their students even as they impart knowledge. For some reason, the lessons I recall best came from professors who could make me laugh as well as learn (I’m not smart enough to know if there’s a connection between firing up the brain’s pleasure receptors and memory retention). If you don’t think a great professor can move listeners to tears (and laughter) while presenting a lesson, you’ve never seen Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture (viewed more than 8.8 million times).

Same goes with us college communicators. Students expect to have fun when they come to campus, so why are most materials so mirthless? With pictures of soaring spires, ivy-covered buildings surrounded by fall foliage, classrooms of studious multicultural learners, we want to look like serious institutions, but can’t we loosen up? We may show pictures of students smiling or sharing a (mild) laugh, but why can’t we try to write copy and use photos/videos that actually make future students smile or laugh? I received more than 100 brochures while choosing a college, all looking and sounding alike, and am sure I would have remembered if even one school had showed a sense of humor.

I believe it can be done: That we can inject more levity, more life into our work, whatever it is. That in these times, we should strive to make others’ days lighter in what we do. If you don’t believe that there is value in entertainment, in making others smile and laugh — well, then you probably don’t believe that three is a magic number.

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