The difficulties of leading via Twitter

A Cautionary Tale: “A College Unfriends Its Social-Networking President”

The Chronicle of Higher Education carries a fascinating story about a new breed of institutional leader seeking to engage through twitter. Unfortunately, not everyone at the college seems to be fully bought in:

John Maeda, president of the Rhode Island School of Design, may be the only college president to publicly describe his leadership as “in beta,” a product rolled out before it’s fully tested.

He’s tinkered with using social media to connect with constituents on and off campus. He’s blogged, posted video messages on YouTube, and tweeted more than any other college president. (He has more than 175,000 Twitter followers.)

He even has a new book due out this month, called Redesigning Leadership (MIT Press), relating scenes from his three years at RISD and samples of his tweets. One example: “When people ask if I’ve stopped designing I say, ‘No. I’m designing how to talk about/with/for our #RISD community.'”

But many professors at the art school do not appreciate being part of Mr. Maeda’s high-tech experiment in leadership. In March, more than 80 percent of faculty members voted “no confidence” in his performance. To them, all that tweeting feels more like distraction than engagement.

A cautionary tale perhaps for senior university tweeters. But don’t think anyone in UKHE has as many followers as John Maeda. It must be a bigger college than you’d think.

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Twitter banality = academic credibility?

Professors With Personal Tweets Get High Credibility Marks

A piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on an experiment at a US college to investigate students’ views of their teachers’ use of Twitter. The article also highlights a number of academics using Twitter in creative ways to support their teaching. It’s a small and slightly dispiriting study:

Kirsten A. Johnson always wondered whether her personal posts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social-networking Web sites affected her credibility in the eyes of her students.

So the assistant professor in communications at Elizabethtown College designed an experiment for 120 students at the college and has just reported the results. It turns out that professors with personal Twitter streams appear to be more credible than those who stick to business. The study, co-authored with Jamie Bartolino, one of her students, appears in the most recent issue of Learning, Media and Technology.

The researchers created three accounts on Twitter for three fictional “professors” named Caitlin Milton, Caitlyn Milton, and Katelyn Milton. One account was filled personal tweets (“Feeling good after an early morning swim at the rec center”), the second with scholarly ones (“working on a study about how social-networking sites can be used in educational settings), and the third with a combination.

To Ms. Johnson’s surprise, when the students were surveyed, they rated the personal professor the highest on measures of competence, trustworthiness, and caring—which adds up to credibility.

So it would seem that academics should just forget about using Twitter for anything useful in the classroom. Unless they are unconcerned about their “competence, trustworthiness, and caring”. Meantime, we’ll wait for the experiment looking at attitudes to administrators who post personal tweets.

Replacing Textbooks With iPads

Another interesting experiment

Story in the Chronicle of Higher Education about an interesting experiment at University of Notre Dame where they have tried replacing textbooks with iPads:

It was quieter this past fall in Corey Angst’s project-management course at the University of Notre Dame, but it wasn’t because he and his students were talking less.

Every student was given an iPad to use during the seven-week course, which meant fewer of them brought laptops to class to take notes.

“There was no clicking,” said Mr. Angst, who is an assistant professor of management at the university. Even external keyboards that some students used for their iPads were silent.

Mr. Angst’s class was the first of several at the university to replace traditional textbooks with iPads as part of a yearlong study by the university’s e-publishing working group into the use of e-readers. Many colleges and universities are in the midst of similar experiments, but Notre Dame is one of the first to report results from its effort.

The professor said students were more connected in and out of the classroom because of their use of the tablet device.

Laptop screens can create barriers between professors and students during class, Mr. Angst said: “Students think they can hide behind a laptop.”

Students were surveyed several times throughout the course and said that the iPad made it easier to collaborate and manage group projects.

OK, it’s probably not a panacea but it is interesting that the iPad seemed to promote collaboration rather than isolation. And that it looks like something other than e-reader functionality was the real value of it.

Lawrence on University College Nottingham

A controversial piece from D H Lawrence

More of Lawrence on Nottingham is available here but this entertaining piece is a highlight. Not exactly what you’d want to use in promotional material though.

‘Nottingham’s New University’ in Pansies (1929)

In Nottingham, that dismal town

where I went to school and college,

they’ve built a new university

for a new dispensation of knowledge.

Built it most grand and cakeily

out of the noble loot

derived from shrewd cash-chemistry

by good Sir Jesse Boot.

Little I thought, when I was a lad

and turned my modest penny

over on Boot’s Cash Chemist’s counter,

that Jesse, by turning many

millions of similar honest pence

over, would make a pile

that would rise at last and blossom out

in grand and cakey style

into a university

where smart men would dispense

doses of smart cash-chemistry

in language of common-sense!

That future Nottingham lads would be

cash-chemically B.Sc.

that Nottingham lights would rise and say:

-By Boots I am M.A.

From this I learn, though I knew it before

that culture has her roots

in the deep dung of cash, and lore

is a last off-shoot of Boots.

 

 

Providing information that helps students with HE choices

New consultation on providing information that helps students make the right higher education choices

HEFCE has launched a consultation on information for prospective students:

Schools, colleges, universities, student unions and a wide range of other bodies are being asked to comment on the information that higher education (HE) providers publish to help prospective students choose the course and institution that are best for them.

They are invited to respond to a consultation being conducted by HEFCE, Universities UK and GuildHE. The consultation mainly concerns a proposed Key Information Set (KIS) which all publicly funded HE providers in England and Northern Ireland would be required to publish for each course on their web-sites.

The press release continues:

The consultation is informed by the results of research commissioned by HEFCE, and undertaken by Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University, which identified the information current and prospective students identified as ‘very useful’. This mostly relates to costs, satisfaction and employability. Information about the fees for each course will also be included.

The intention is that information will be presented in a standardised format on each university and college web-site, looking similar for all courses at all institutions, thus making the information potentially more useful, comparable and accessible. Discussions are also taking place about how the information can be linked to the UCAS web-site.

But do prospective students really need more information? And is this kind of standardised set of data really going to help inform decisions. Or will most students turn to other sources such as The Times League Table rather than this sort of information. Guess we’ll find out.

Universities spending millions on ‘inadequate’ websites

Money down the drain?

A report in the Telegraph highlights significant spending by universities on website redesigns which seems to deliver less than spectacular results:

Using Freedom of Information legislation the Telegraph discovered eight examples of universities spending between £100,000 and £280,000 on one-off website redesigns, as much as five times higher than the average spending.

The average annual spending on the maintenance of a university website is £60,375. That figure excludes additional spending on one-off redesigns, for which the average spending is £60,882.

The most expensive university website is the University of Hertfordshire’s, which spent £278,094 on a redesign by Precedent Communications and Straker UK, completed in May 2008. The university also employs staff whose salaries cost £221,500 every year, in addition to £14,500 each year for software support.

The reality is though that every university will account for its spend on its website differently with some being more centralised and others being more devolved. Whichever way you look at it though, spending £60k a year on maintaining a website seems an extremely modest investment for such a key recruitment, promotional and communications tool.

The report also quotes a survey by Times Higher Education which asked sixth form pupils to rate university websites:

The survey split university websites into three categories — well performing, average performing and badly performing — based on five principles including accessibility, contact information, the availability of good feedback from students, the uniqueness of the website and the quality of insight into the campus experience. Comparing spending information with the Times Higher Education survey suggests that some universities may be under-investing in their websites.

So, the conclusions are that some universities are under-investing and others are spending too much and no-one has really got the balance right. Helpful.

Twitter in Higher Education 2010

Report on the use of Twitter in Higher Education 2010

Interesting report on Twitter in HE which includes a survey on academic staff use.

Is Twitter a powerful learning tool or a colossal waste of time? It depends whom you ask. In its second annual survey on the popular micro-blogging technology, Faculty Focus found a great divide in how professors perceive Twitter, including whether it should be used in the classroom or is best reserved for networking with peers.

Of those who currently use Twitter, the most common activities include “to share information with peers” and “as a real-time news source.” Instructional uses, such as “to communicate with students” and “as a learning tool in the classroom” are less popular, although both activities saw increases over the previous year.

Non-users expressed concerns that Twitter creates poor writing skills and could be yet another classroom distraction. Many also noted that very few of their students use Twitter. Finally, a new trend that emerged this year centered on the belief that many feel they already have too many places to post messages or check for student questions/comments. As one professor put it, “I have no interest in adding yet another communication tool to my overloaded life.”

In addition, Times Higher Education has recently published a feature on social media use in UK HE:

The experts seem to be divided not only on social media’s future, but also on their present in terms of their use by academics, and the research that has been done has reached contradictory conclusions. A survey of UK institutions conducted by online consultants Jadu shows a high level of use among academics, with more than 70 per cent of respondents using social media in some way.

And includes this entertaining comment from someone slightly sceptical about the value of social media:

“You can’t get a degree on Facebook; you can’t get a degree from Twitter. Social media are forms of communication; they are no substitute for the university as the place where your curriculum is structured, where you learn. You don’t get a degree for reading books; you read books to get a degree. The same is true of social media.”

So, opinions divided then. No surprises there.

Consumer crackdown on ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses

“Consumer crackdown on ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses by showing future prospects”

Excited Daily Mail story on ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses:

Degree courses will be rated for teaching quality, salary prospects, tuition time and value for money under plans to unleash ‘consumer power’ on universities.

Poor quality ‘Mickey Mouse’ courses will be exposed on a website – similar to those used to select car insurance or electricity – allowing potential students to compare them.

The 16 statistics students most want to know about courses before making their applications were revealed in a report published yesterday by England’s higher education funding quango.

They include the proportion of graduates employed in professional or managerial jobs, their average salary, the quality of teaching on the course, weekly hours of teaching time and the quality of library and IT facilities.

All measures should be published ‘as a minimum’ for each degree course in the country in a web-based format that will allow comparisons, the report said.

A range of very different courses is helpfully compared:

Presumably the Mail expects that some of these courses would disappear if potential students were aware of this data.

The report in question, Understanding the information needs of users of public information about higher education, a report to HEFCE by Oakleigh Consulting and Staffordshire University, is available from HEFCE and is somewhat more sober than the Mail article would suggest.

It lists the top items of information potential students would wish to know about a university or course:

(The final two not listed above are the ‘Proportions of students at the university satisfied or very satisfied with the IT facilities’ and the ‘Maximum household income for eligibility for a bursary’.)

Essentially, it is argued that this data needs to be published on a consistent basis for every institution and course and this will help inform decision making. But all of the information is available at present, in one way or another, albeit not always in the most accessible form. And it seems, according to the HEFCE report, that prospective students, whilst they would like to have the data, simply aren’t prepared to look for it:

Less than half the sample had tried to look for 11 out of the 16 most highly ranked items. This is partly explained by participants’ estimate of the usefulness of the information. Those who rated the information ‘very useful’ were much more likely to look for it. However, a surprisingly large proportion (between a quarter and a half) of participants who rated items ‘very useful’ reported that they had not tried to find the information. A maximum of two-thirds of these reported that they had tried to look for information on student satisfaction and employability data. One possible explanation is that prospective students were unaware that these data might be accessible.

Another possible explanation is that the demand for information, and the need for a ‘consumer crackdown’ is somewhat overstated.

Admission Officials’ Tweets – Students Not Interested

Another social media disconnect?

According to a report in The Chronicle, Admission Officials’ Tweets are not being noticed by prospective students:

Colleges are ramping up efforts to connect with prospective students through Twitter—but students aren’t interested, a new study says. Evidence has shown that teenagers rely on college visits and Web sites to learn about colleges, rather than social-media outlets. When it comes to Twitter, students are barely on the site at all, let alone for college research purposes.

Abe Gruber, director of marketing at Bloomfield College, found in a recent study that while 40 percent of college admissions offices are active on Twitter, only 15 percent of prospective students expressed interest using in Twitter to learn about colleges. Mr. Gruber surveyed 200 prospective freshmen and 70 admissions offices in his study, which is not available online. He presented his findings at the Hobsons Connect U conference this week in Minneapolis. “Twitter scores high for the admissions officers, but not for students,” said Mr. Gruber.

Interesting this although it is not clear what the reasons are for the reluctance on the part of applicants. Some of the commentators on the piece suggest, reasonably, that it might be down to the purposes to which Twitter is being put by the Admissions staff: if it’s just used as another marketing device rather than as a communications tool to connect with applicants then it is perhaps unsurprising students are not excited.

Facebook for Scientists?

Researchers need networks too

A report in the Chronicle notes:

A $12.2-million federal stimulus grant from the National Institutes of Health will finance a network some are calling a Facebook for scientists. Several universities, including Cornell University and the University of Florida, will develop the network over the next two years in the hopes of helping scientists find other academics to work with.

If a researcher is looking for someone else in a very specialized field, he or she would usually think of all the people he has met or simply scan recent scientific journals for names, said Michael Conlon, interim director of biomedical informatics at the College of Medicine at the University of Florida and the principal investigator on the grant. Mr. Conlon calls those methods “haphazard.”

facebook

People using the network will be able to enter targeted inquiries into a search box. The results will show scholars in very specialized fields. The site will also reveal relationships between academics, such as whether someone has published an article with someone else, or whether someone was an adviser to someone else.

But why create a new network to achieve this? Aren’t existing networks like Facebook or LinkedIn able to do this kind of thing better and more efficiently?

Listening to Students (not all of them though, obviously)

DIUS has developed its ‘listening to students’ approach with a new(ish) blog:

dius-logo

Listening to Students

Whilst very early days and not a lot of content yet it strikes me as a fair effort to find one route to engage. How diligent the Ministers will be in recording their conversations and the issues raised will be interesting to note.

Listening to Students is the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills’ new blog for students. It will give students, and those with an interest in the student experience, an opportunity to read and see what students are saying to Ministers at these university visits.

Let’s see if it takes off.

iPhone giveaway leads to worries

Diverting piece in the Chronicle about the impact of new technologies on student behaviour and the campus experience: Abilene Christian U. Will Continue iPhone Giveaway.

iphone

The giveaway seems to have had an impact on the way students relate to each other and they are now obsessed with their devices:

The university’s unusual effort to give every freshman an iPhone or iPod Touch has been a huge success, officials say, and they recently decided to continue the project in the fall. But the devices are altering campus life at the 4,800-student college—and students say that not all of the shifts are positive.

“It has changed how people interact with one another on a day-to-day basis,” said Daniel Paul Watkins, a senior who is president of the student government. “Now walking around campus, nine out of 10 students either have their iPod headphones in or they’re texting or they’re talking on the phone,” he said. Sure, that’s happening at colleges across the country, but Mr. Watkins, who bought his iPhone, believes it is even more pronounced at a campus that has pushed the latest cellphones. “The West Texas charm of ‘Hey, howdy, everybody knows your name,’ has shifted inward—everyone’s enthralled by their device.”

The other concern is that iPhones simply make it easier to cheat:

“Since the iPhones were introduced, I honestly think that academic integrity has gone down,” said Mr. Watkins. “I’ve seen people cheat, and I’ve heard people talk about how easy it is to cheat.”

This though should be easier to control.

In-house Facebook?

According to Business Week, this is what the big companies are now doing, ie providing an internal social networking alternative.

water cooler

By luring employees into a network, companies hope to leverage their skills and contacts. But they also hope that all that collaboration will cut out time that’s now spent mailing documents and e-mailing comments.

A bit optimistic perhaps. Seems questionable whether such homegrown facebook alternatives will actually provide a substitute for the real thing or just an additional channel. And how comprehensive is Sharepoint in any case?

Crisis communications: ask the lawyers first

Interesting views from a conference of education lawyers in the USA as reported in the Chroncicle.

Specific comments, in a post-Virginia Tech context, included:

Avoid email

“Those e-mail messages always come back to haunt you,” Wendy S. White, a vice president and general counsel at the University of Pennsylvania, said at the annual conference of the National Association of College and University Attorneys. “It is especially bad when people discuss preliminary findings or theories.” Such messages are almost always found by lawyers for plaintiffs as part of the discovery process in a lawsuit, and even if the findings or theories are only preliminary, they could be difficult for institutions to defend later.


You can’t avoid email

Robb Jones, another lawyer on a panel with Ms. White, said many attorneys “wish there was no such things as e-mail,” but “that’s just the way we communicate.” Asked if clients should communicate by instant message or text message, which don’t leave the same electronic trail that e-mail does, Mr. Jones demurred. “I have never gotten that far in thinking about it,” he said in the interview. “A lot of businesses — I don’t know about colleges and universities so much — have banned [instant messaging]. It’s just too much of a distraction.”


Get the lawyers to decide the line

A speaker at another session, Christopher Simpson, a former university administrator who is now a consultant in crisis communications, said lawyers must become more involved in crafting a response, and protecting the image of an institution, when a crisis or tragedy strikes. “If things go badly, I contend you haven’t done your job,” he admonished the lawyers here. He said that lawyers think too much about legal minefields that speaking to reporters might create, and not about a consistent message that will portray an institution in the most positive light possible.

Thinking about the practicalities in a crisis situation, and in particular in a UK context, it would seem to me that trying to do the right thing would always take priority over consulting the lawyers. As for email, in many crisis situations it would not seem to be the ideal communications tool in any case.