Sunday, 29 September 2013

How Online Engagement Leads to Collaboration

Its almost 3 years since I opened my first social media account and boy what a learning experience its been.

Today I am involved with, or am in discussion about, some really interesting projects - including

  • Collaborating with OCR, who are one of the largest awarding bodies in the UK, on my latest report based on Technology in FE
  • Will be producing a really cool RSA shifting paradigms style video with OCR (How cool!)
  • Invited to sit on the Expert Advisory Board for the inaugural Horizon Project Europe
  • Guest bloging for a couple of education publications/sites including LinkedIn University
  • An interesting and ambitious development with #ukfechat
It has been 9 months since I became involved with #ukfechat and this weeks session was hosted by University of Hull Lecturer Dr Carol Azumah Dennis @azumahcarol and was on the topic of "Establishing links between research and practice in FE" 

The discussion looked at some of the challenges with conducting research in Further Education and, with input from experienced researchers like Matt O’Leary @drmattoleary, we compared some of the key differences with how research is viewed in HE & FE.

Some of the comments included a lack of time, budgets, experience and how research didn't seem to be as valued in FE.

As part of my contribution to the chat I detailed my experiences with other areas of social media - highlighting aspects of inbound marketing, how producing good content is important to every profession today to avoid what Seth Godin has termed as the "Race to the Bottom."

The merry band of regulars at #ukfechat have encouraged one another to blog, get involved with what we believe to be the first FE dedicated teachmeet, the following comment was made at the end of the chat and the suggestion of taking the groups innovation and collaboration a step further;

"Right #ukfechat has got us into blogging & teachmeets, whose up for research?"

After an hour of discussing the issues - the considerations, time restrictions, the potential and the frustrations - we found that 7 people were interested in exploring the idea - @fossa99 @mrssarahsimons @csf0961 @hilarynunns @shanechowen @azumahcarol and @drmattoleary - who will be exploring some topics that we could research.

The next stage will be to find a topic and a way that we might be able to work together and collaborate given the various considerations - geographic location, difference skill sets, job roles and responsibilities, research experience, no time, no budget and not even having a set topic or hypothesis - but we're willing to explore the idea and see where it takes us.

Not bad for what is a bit of random chat about FE on a Thursday evening at 9pm? What were you doing last Thursday at 9pm? Join in the chat... and the research... you can always watch Educating Yorkshire on Channel 4+1. 

Monday, 23 September 2013

From Generation Spent... To Generation Rent?

Dream Job!
If you're one of those lucky people and "you do what you love; and love what you do," have you ever stopped to wonder why it is that you love it?

If it's because you work in education, maybe its because of that teacher who was so passionate about the subject they taught, that their enthusiasm for the topic was infectious... and you just could not help but catch the bug! It was so infectious that his/her captivating lessons went viral and polluted the air with ideas and possibilities.

Or maybe your enthusiasm was hereditary as you saw your parents were clearly enthusiastic about what they worked as.

When my employer closed their Glasgow office 3 years ago, the day the announcement was made I set myself a new goal, which was to land my dream job something that looks set to become a reality in the not too distant future.

This got me to thinking "why is this my dream job?" What makes it so cool? Why do I get excited about education, technology and start ups or, more accurately, their organisational culture?

I think the answer to this lies in three simple words that pack a big punch;

Making a difference
When you hear Steve job's talking about the influence of his 4th Grade teacher;

"I’m 100% sure that if it hadn’t been for Mrs Hill in 4th grade and a few others, I would absolutely have ended up in jail. I could see those tendencies in myself to have a certain energy to do something wrong. When you’re young, a little bit of correction goes a long way"

Or Google's Jamie Casap talking about the opportunities that education provided him with - and is silver bullet that we need to save - or how dedicated teachers like the guys at Kipp and elsewhere achieve in helping kids out of the ghetto... whats not to get excited about?

It's education that changed the world for these people when they were growing up and they, in turn went on to change the world. As Casap says in his Ted Talk "How many of you were not on the internet today?" Was one of the first things that you did this morning to reach for your phone and see if there were any messages? When was the last time you went a day when you were not online?

So educators and technologists GET STUFF DONE! However the very best educators and technologists who get stuff done do so by paying close attention to the culture they establish.

That's the reasons I think that I do what I do... and why I love doing it! I get to hang out with people who change the world - educators and techies.

The Stuff of Nightmares
It's perhaps also due to this same criteria that I there are two groups who I am not their #1 fan.

Over the last few years there have been two groups of people who have changed the world in a very different kind of way - to make it a nightmare place for many - the political class and the financial industry.

Like many bloggers I have wanted to "Let loose" and vent my frustration at the actions of these groups and had to remind myself that "If I've nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all," (and assure you there is relevance by raising this in today's post).

These two industries highlight the power that culture has on individuals. I know a number of politicians, and there is no doubt that they are intelligent, hard working and caring people. But put anyone into a culture of "Well everyone else is doing it" and they do things they would not otherwise have done, as the extent of the expenses scandal highlighted.

Would the CEO of a bank go down to the local pub and approve a loan of a local drug dealer? No, of course they wouldn't. 

But put them into an organisation with the kind of culture as depicted in Michael Douglas' "Wall Street," or the soon to be released update on the "greed is good" tale via Scorcese's film "The Wolf of Wall Street" and the  "Anything- goes-as-long-as-you-don't-get-caught" culture, and they do things they might not otherwise have done... and blame the culture

Add to this the fact that these two groups recent decisions have caused a great deal of suffering while they don't actually produce anything, you can perhaps see why I'm not their #1 fan. 

What would you rather have in your pocket - the latest iphone/android phone... or the latest political manifesto?  

If there is ever a "Lets-transfer-bankers-bonuses-to-educators" petition please, please let me know, I'd be happy to be the first to sign up!

Laughing all the way to the bank?
Despite some questionable practices and behaviour we see that it is very much "business as usual" ...but for how much longer? 

In my Lessons in Adversity post I consider what followed from previous recessions, and wonder what the consequences will be of young people seeing their parents struggle and become "Generation Spent" (literally and physically) Are there signs of what to expect starting to appear... 

Generation Rent
High levels of unemployment, zero hour contracts, a volatile economy, seeing parents struggle with mortgage payments, hard working families having to walk for miles for the charity of food banks... how can this not have a lasting impact on the young people living through these changes?

Articles are starting to appear regarding the business of the future: renting and sharing or how all the current insecurity is changing peoples priorities, goals and aspirations answer any questions about why aren't young people buying more homes or my faviourite pictures of millenials with everything they own (and it isn't much).

Makes you wonder why these "Millenials" get so much criticism about many of their ideas and actions... they seem to have sussed the game out better than the older generation have!

And I can't imagine too many parents advising them otherwise, so could the banks end up paying a heavy price in the long run... but could this also affect education? 

From Freakonomics... to Freaking Out Educators?
Freakonomics discusses what the major contributing factors were when there was a drop in crime in the 1990s. While politicians and other groups argued that it was their policies that led to these improved crime statistics, authors Stephen & Dubner Steven Levitt argue that the legalisation of abortion in the landmark 1973 legal case Roe Vs Wade (which legalised abortion nationwide in the USA) played a significant role.

Could it be some similarly unexpected reasons that end up being the deciding factor that plays a big impact in traditional methods of further education? 

As the debate about the merits and flaws of online learning rages on... c
ould it be the mindset of "Generation Rent" that will be the deciding factor in the mass uptake and adoption of MOOCs?

Education with a small e
There's not much room for course books and in these
houses... But it will be easier for students to relocate 
to where the work is.
I don't know if there is anything in this but its difficult to imagine that there will be much of an appetite for a group who are travelling so lighting to want to be saddled with thousands of pounds worth of debt on Education with a big "E"... when they are able to replace this with a small "e" through e-learning.   

And with parents providing the benefits of their experiences from the side lines, if I were an educator, I wouldn't want to bet against it... 

I know that I'll be telling my kids about the importance of doing what you love, making a (positive!) difference... but to travel light, it will sure help them to not get bogged down if they ever decide to take the road less traveled.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Did Learner Voice Just Go Viral? LinkedIn University

I am currently working on a report that has taken almost a year to research and pull together, so am extremely excited at the prospect of finally publishing it. 

The topic of this report is all about how important the relationships between educators and their technology suppliers are (a rough executive summary for this report can be found here - Technology in FE)

Something that this report considers is why so many of educators faviourite EdTech tools are free and developed by the major main stream tech providers like Google, Apple and Microsoft et al as opposed to dedicated specialist EdTech providers... is LinkedIn about to join this group of providers with the launch of their Linkedin University Pages. 

For all the money that colleges and universities spend on promoting their institution at the moment, I wonder how any of them compare to the potential impact that this new initiative from LinkedIn will have in a few years time?

This looks to me like a great opportunity if colleges embrace this free advertising for the college... but could it also be a risk for any college who continues to dismiss social media?

Learner Voice... Just got amplified.
UK Further Education colleges get assessed by education inspectors for  their "Learner Voice" strategy, which effectively asks "Does the college listen to the needs of their users and customers?"

With LinkedIn's announcement I sincerely hope that the colleges' answer to this question is a resounding "YES! We do."

I have recommended that colleges watch Scott Stratten's Unmarketing presentation - Social Media and Engagement Explained in previous posts... please find the time to watch this today, its full of really useful marketing advice. One of my faviourite comments from this presentation is; 

"There is no such thing as a social media success... social media amplifies you brand.  If your product sucks it will suck more on social media" 

Is your college prepared for current students logging onto your LinkedIn University page to discuss their college experience with your prospective students?

Social Media Guidance and Digital Citizenship... Just became a priority
Related to this announcement may be the fact that social media guidance for students may have just become more of a bit more of a priority for the college.

I have highlighted in the past how social media should be embraced for students as this can greatly benefit their job prospects - Social Media and Better Job Prospects.

LinkedIn's announcement perhaps shifts the focus of social media guidance benefiting students to being advantageous to the college... and to help prevent making your admission departments' job a lot more difficult.

In the "Audacity of Hope" Barak Obama discusses the importance of media relations by observing "I am whatever the media says I am," and how public opinion is formed by how the media portray his speeches and decisions. We see this in the UK as politicians cosy up to influential media moguls, to try to avoid any bad press.  

Most colleges will be aware that bad press is unavoidable in the age of Social Media and, in many instances, the damage is done once the comments are posted.

Prevention is always better than your marketing and PR department having to comment on a bad press event. This is where social media guidance and training can be invaluable.

One of my favourite example's of responsible social media use is from Maccalaster College President Brian Rosenberg in his  2011 commencement address, where he advises graduates to be responsible, and remember what the college has taught them, both educationally and in terms of core values.

For some example Social Media guidance policies please see P15 of this Twitter in Further Education Guide

Corporate Image Vs Social Identity 

Social Media sense of humor? Might be a little risque
 ...but its got 3.5mil views
While I talk about education & technology on social media - and hope that the content is relevant to educators - one of my own social media policies is to refrain from "talking shop"  "There is a reason its called social media" I remind myself.

Like any brand, college's want to put its best foot forward, they want people to go to their website and get the professional, corporate vision of the college. 

But the colleges' corporate image may be a little different from the students perspective on social media... and may even be more like this "Honest College Ad"  (Warning: this is very funny but does contain some strong language).

Humour can work for colleges and one of my favourite examples is again from Macalaster's Brian Rosebergs and his tour of the college on President's Day... its very funny. I wonder who is going to be the first UK College Principal to film a similar kind of video? 

Playing Devil's Advocate... But Quality Matters

"If we were a good university we wouldn't need this commercial"
 The Honest College Ad

As an educator do you find the fact that your employers, government ministers, sending their children to private education is just a little hypocritical? Why don't they have confidence in their own product?

If you said "Yes" to the question above, what happens if we ask, would you encourage your kids to attend the institution you work at? If not, why not? If the reason is due to an issue of quality, is your decision any different from the politicians who get criticised? 

"Great products are at the heart of today’s leading companies. No longer is the product independent of sales &marketing" Dave Feinleib, author of Why Start Ups Fail.

My Technology in FE report looks at how hard it is to create a great EdTech product, but is true for any sector or industry... its hard work! But,in the age of social media, its also a sound strategy.

So the next time that your in a crisis meeting with your admissions and marketing team to discuss a fall in admissions or a poor recruitment campaign, you may want to call other departments into the meeting, and find out if you are dealing with a marketing issue... or challenges based on "network effects" and "feedback loops" - College Brand & Identity - Just Do It!   

Dealing with Negative Posts... Build a Community
I'm not sure what level of moderation colleges will have on LinkedIn's University pages but there may well be the potential of negative comments being posted. This is perhaps unavoidable as students can tend to blame their college or university if they struggle to find employment.

If a student attended college 2 years ago and was expecting a job to fall into their lap at the end of their course, but is out of work, they may feel that the college has let them down... their college has not delivered what they had expected.

There are many reasons for the economic downturn, all of which are outwith the colleges control. However, if a student says on social media that the college didn't help them find a job, and there are enough comments, then this is what will stick. This is how Dell found themselves in "Dell Hell" in 2005.

One of the best strategies that I have heard of to deal with any kind of negative influence is to take the time to build up a community of online proponents, before any bad press occurs, as the proponents can work to neutralise the influence.

"Hoy! Critics Leave em Teachers Alone"
I attended a conference where a school have taken the time to build a community online, so they could communicate with students and parents across a number of platforms.

The school was earmarked to get academy status (the bad, failing kind not the independent kind), this upset everyone at the school. Instead of the teachers coming out to defend themselves... the people from the community that they built up did - students and parents tweeting and blogging in defense of their teachers and articulating how and where the school was undergoing changes.

Rosenberg highlights that negative comments are inevitable, and might be an inevitable part of the Colleges' LinkedIn University page. But there is a big difference between there being nothing but a few sporadic complaints about the college on the page; and one that has an active and vibrant community, one with students who are taught and encouraged to create responsible, constructive content about the college.

Then, anytime there is an incoherent, rambling rant about the college, there could be numerous well thought out replies that limits and dilutes the potential impact of these kinds of posts.  

I enjoy following Ohio State University's hashtags for this reason - students tweeting to the world about the great time they've had at the university. 

Check out #OSU1000 to see how the university gets loads of free advertising... and enough positive learner voice sound bites to fill a prospectus

LinkedIn - Student Style
What's the worst thing that would happen if college LinkedIn staff profiles were written in a style aimed at appealing to prospective students? 

Other radical ideas might be to explore ideas like the "Many Voices of Sweden" - an odd Twitter experiment...which has become a multimillion pound tourism boon? Brave, yes. Some unexpected Tweets? To be expected. Controversial, absolutely? Sleepless nights for Sweden Inc's Marketing Department? I'd be surprised if it didn't! Was it successful? 

Or what about O2's social media masterclass when their network went down? Marketing didn't cause this problem, and a poor response could have fanned the flames... but boy did they get their sleeves rolled up and help with the fire fighting!

So the next time you're brand encounters a storm in a tea cup because of a social media catastrophe you can do what O2 did by using humour, do what Sweden did by giving up control of their brand to the many voices that make up their community.

...And if the storm does blow into a full scale hurricane - you can see where this is going can't you? But decorum prevents this blogger from spelling it out.... but this particular brand of humour didn't do Scotland's image any harm check this link for more details - Scotland's Hurricane

Or what about encouraging Tweeting in class and as part of your course work? After all students are going to to this anyway, better to do it in a controlled environment rather than to be as deluded as Sheldon Cooper and his Lecture Tweets... would this not be instant Learner Voice data that could go towards self assessment data?

Any college with a marketing strategy that includes trying to control their brand by refusing to acknowledge, explore and embrace the role that social media can play, is increasingly looking like a risky strategy. Especially when there are open invitations like this;

Welcome Higher Ed Professionals

We're here to support all you do, from preparing students for careers and engaging alumni to marketing and admissions outreach.
                                                                                  LinkedIn University Homepage

So congratulations! Your LinkedIn University page awaits you today. It could take the college brand to great places! Log in and sign up and you'll be on your way! ...and will you succeed? If my experience is anything to go by, you will indeed! 98 and three quarter percent guaranteed.