Tag Archives: university

The face of 21st century education | Part 2

There is ongoing debate about whether institutions should record lectures and often this brings into question attendance rates. Technology is not the enemy of student attendance. It can be used to enhance lectures, create extra academic resources, and increase flexibility for students with competing priorities.

Online lectures

Remember morning lectures? You studied late and you’re barely awake. It takes you an hour to get to campus each morning and you haven’t had time to eat. This professor is hard to follow and in the morning rush, you forgot your notepad. How’s your concentration?

Now imagine you’re watching the lecture you missed on your laptop while eating breakfast. A little confused by the last statement your professor made, you rewind and listen again. She begins speaking about something you know well, you forward that part. Before writing a few insightful notes, you pause the recording.

Online lectures can be produced in a variety of formats, such as screencasts, podcasts and live recordings of

in-class lectures.

The online lecture doesn’t need to replace the in-person experience for on-campus students. It can act as an extra resource for revision and students are able to listen when in class, rather than franticly take notes.

Technology allows not only for recording lectures, but for live-streaming and online lessons. There are universities that offer fully online lab courses where students join lectures, take part in online activities, and conduct lab work online or with pre-packaged wet lab kits.

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Social universities part 3 | The UK

We’ve taken a look at how some Australian and US universities compare to each other with their use of Facebook and Twitter. It’s only fair to bring in the UK for round three. Or is it?

University of Cambridge

The University of Cambridge Twitter account is less formal than most university Twitter accounts. Its language is often casual and it doesn’t only push out news, it brings attention to events on campus, includes weather updates, and retweets relevant content.

Here’s one of my favourite examples of their tweeting. Cambridge link to an event listing, to the Cambridge Flickr channel and the Twitter account for the eight museums on campus. Well done.

Their use of hashtags can become a little overkill.

The University of Cambridge Facebook Page usually includes a short lead-in to articles posted on the wall, some are even framed as questions and generate thoughtful comments. Instead of dropping the entire URL into the status update, they should be shortening it with bit.ly to track click-throughs and shares. This data can be compared with Facebook Insights to determine which type of content is most popular and receives the most interaction.

Looks like they haven’t made the switch from FBML to iframes (phased out in March). Not so well done.

University of Oxford

The Twitter stream for the University of Oxford is filled with tweets linking back to news on their media page. They inform followers about events on campus and university programs, but they don’t connect with followers, their tone is unexciting and they don’t use hashtags … except for #FollowFriday, which they’re doing correctly and I can dig it.

The University of Oxford Facebook Page has turned the Discussions tab off, doesn’t allow fans to post on the all and doesn’t respond to fans’ comments on posts. They mix up the content, posting important updates for prospective and current student, giving kudos to professors and staff – though most link to the media page on their website. There must be a few admins posting on the wall. Sometimes URLs are dropped into the copy of the post (looks messy), sometimes it’s a bit.ly and the ‘voice’ of their updates changes back and forth.

University of Wales, Newport  

The University of Wales, Newport Twitter account is quite conversational and responds to followers. They do their followers a diservice, however, when they fill their stream with “please RT” tweets. This is how it looks as I write this article. 

Want to annoy your followers? This is how. Also, the Twitter handles you’re begging for a retweet are now put in an awkward position.

The University of Wales, Newport are quick to respond to questions from prospective and current students on their Facebook Page. They post a mix of videos, campus updates and general questions and don’t seem to mind others’ promotional spam on their wall. They attempted to resolve a student’s frustration on the wall, whereas my advice would be to move it to a Facebook message and comment that they’ve done so on her post. This shows others the situation is being handled privately, the student can feel comfortable giving extra details and Carl Peters isn’t vilified in public.  

The University of Aberdeen

“The University of Aberdeen is the fifth oldest in the UK and is at the forefront of teaching and research in medicine, the humanities and science.”

They’re definitely not at the forefront of social media! Their Twitter account is an automatic news feed, with no personality and no real-time updates. It’s also confusing to see universities like Aberdeen naming themselves one thing on Twitter ‘Aberdeen University’ and another elsewhere ‘University of Aberdeen’.

This copy is found on the Info tab of the University of Aberdeen Facebook Page:

:At Aberdeen we’re always interested to hear what you think about the University. Whether you’re a student here, an alumnus or are considering coming to the University, please feel free to leave us your comments, email us or check out our wall for what’s going on around the campus.”

Aberdeen show no regular presence on this Page. Prospective students are asking how to apply and have questions on accepting their offer with no official answer – missed opportunities? Spammers are also taking advantage of the lack of Aberdeen maintenance.

Aberdeen’s last post was on July 8, “We’d just like to say congratulations to all of our students that graduated this week. You made it!!! Don’t forget to join our Alumni facebook page!” Why should they if this is the standard you’re setting?

Queens University Belfast

Queens University Belfast runs its Twitter account through the web and not a social media dashboard such as Hootsuite. Makes life harder than it needs to be. At graduation time, for two weeks straight the account only tweeted about graduation. What about those followers not concerned with graduation?

Then there’s this:

This type of tweeting hurts my heart.

The Queens University Belfast Facebook Page shows many automated tweets, though you’ll also find events, photo uploads and campus updates. They are regular with posts, mainly seen with links to press releases.

There you have it. Out of the universities I’ve explored, Australia is ahead on Twitter, the US is ahead with customised tabs on Facebook and the UK? Um … Cambridge is doing well.

Next up – Canada.

Social universities part 2 | The US

Welcome to my second post in the ‘social universities’ series. Last week I touched on the Twitter and Facebook accounts for a few Australian Universities. How social are they compared with the US? The universities below are using Facebook custom tabs to communicate their institution’s strengths and brand to target audiences, not seen widely with Australian universities. Though generally, these US universities don’t stack up against the Aussies when it comes down to Twitter engagement.

Stanford University

The Stanford University Twitter account tweets university media releases and information about programs. It showcases professor achievements and brings attention to podcasts. The stream has a good amount of retweets and original authors are properly attributed, but there is no engagement with followers. This account is playing it safe.

The Stanford Facebook Page acts as a feed for promotional content, rather than using it as a channel for sharing updates and information with current and prospective students and alumni. Some of their posts generate insightful and intelligent discussions between fans. The page has a commenting policy that mentions fans posting on the wall, though it appears fans don’t have the ability to do so, only comment on and like posts. Stanford has also switched off the Discussions tab.

The Stanford ‘What’s Your Stanford Story’ Facebook application is a smart marketing tactic for extracting marketable sound bites – “If you or your son or daughter received financial aid from Stanford, what would you want to tell those who helped make your Stanford experience possible? Post your message and upload a photo or video and tell us how scholarships change lives”. Stanford owns users’ stories and has the right to apply them to promotional content, reproduce them or distribute them with the royalty-free, unending license handed over upon submission. Maybe not so much to ask if you received financial aid for Stanford.

Harvard University

The Harvard University Twitter account not only shares news stories, but faculty updates and useful course and program information. Their feed shows only a couple of retweets and no follower engagement. Harvard tweet recommendations for #FollowFriday, but they’re doing it wrong.

Harvard’s Facebook Page is used primarily to push promotional content, with some posts targeted toward specific groups such as prospective students. The posts receive many likes and comments, though Harvard do not seem to respond to fans. The Harvard Facebook landing tab displays an impressive use of clean design and branding while providing the perfect user experience. The tab gives exposure to other top Harvard Facebook pages and social channels, lists quick links and presents the terms and conditions neatly at the bottom. I don’t have any connection with Harvard and I want to like this page.

Texas A&M University

The Texas A&M Twitter account tweets occasional updates and reminders, though primarily shares promotional content, sports news and shout outs for faculty achievements. They don’t directly engage with accounts outside of the Texas A&M network. Their Twitter wallpaper should have their social channel information on the left-hand side, anyone with a screen larger than 13 inches is going to miss it.

When landing on the Texas A&M University Facebook Page you’re greeted with the wall feed, but there is a Welcome Tab (Howdy!) that would be better put to use as the landing tab. It highlights links for prospective students, though could also list links for current students, alumni and the broader Texas A&M community. I also like the specially designed tab for the ‘House Rules’.

University of Georgia

The University of Georgia Twitter account is an automatically updated feed of media releases and news. Disappointing.

The University of Georgia’s Facebook Page has a snappy, to-the-point landing tab and they include a tab for their comment policy. The wall is used to communicate with fans, unlike the Twitter account. One fan expressed their excitement at starting at UGA in the fall and UGA responded with “We’re excited you’ll be here!”. It’s nice to acknowledge people in this way and it makes me wonder how many people are being ignored in the Twitterverse by UGA.

University of Michigan

The University of Michigan Twitter account responds to followers, while also posting links to relevant news and stories. They spread tweets across communicating with current and prospective students, and the general U-M community. As with Twitter, the Facebook posts by U-M seem to be focused around campus initiatives and general updates.

The University of Michigan Facebook page does well with this welcome tab by letting fans self-select content and explaining what fans will experience by liking the page. A promotional video is used as well as a link to their mobile app and a short commenting policy is included at the bottom. The tab looks similar to the U-M website.

Missouri State University

While the Missouri State Twitter account doesn’t seem to engage with followers, it does tweet frequently about faculty and student achievements and events. It appears targeted toward the current MSU community, the opposite of how they’re communicating on Facebook …

The landing tab for the Missouri State University Facebook Page is just plain smart. Prospective students are the target here and helping them begin the admissions process in this way may be very effective. By labeling it a ‘community profile’ MSU are projecting a sense of belonging, telling applicants they’ll be able to connect with other members makes people (especially young people) feel welcomed. Remember, once you like a Facebook page, you’re taken directly to the wall when you visit, so this really isn’t an inconvenience for other fans.

The MSU homepage runs a social feed from MSU-affiliated Facebook and Twitter accounts under the heading ‘news and events’ – clever!

These US universities are bringing user experience to Facebook. Some of the examples above could do with a little work in terms of engaging with audiences, though whether these universities are using multimedia or quick links, they’re taking Facebook seriously.

Trying to apply university values and brand voice to worthwhile exchanges on both platforms may appear daunting. This isn’t as noticeable on Facebook due to community engagement, apps and welcome pages, though tends to result in inhuman Twitter streams filled with promotional news and updates.

In the next instalment of ‘social universities’ I’ll look at how UK universities are attracting and retaining their Facebook and Twitter communities.

Social universities part 1 | Australia

This is the first installment of my series on how universities around the world are using Facebook and Twitter, a brief overview for those of you who’re curious, looking for inspiration or want a snapshot comparison.

The university accounts listed below are the official accounts for each university (to be assumed when the links are found on their homepage), though some only concern themselves with news and updates and not with building a community. Regardless, it is refreshing to see universities actively using Twitter and Facebook as a way of keeping followers informed and sharing relevant information.

The University of Melbourne

The University of Melbourne’s Twitter account is an example of how universities can maintain professionalism on social media, while using a conversational tone. It speaks to a wider audience than simply other university affiliated accounts and when followers ask questions that cannot be answered, they tell the user their question has been passed on to those who can.

The account spreads itself across communicating with current students, prospective students and alumni, and shares relevant news about the university and industry. Questions are asked and responded to and the account follows up with others and tries to make amends with frustrated users.

The University of Melbourne Facebook Page asks and responds to questions, posts news and updates and seems active in building a community. Many posts link back to pages on their website and most posts seem to produce several comments and a fair amount of likes.

Their questions app generates more than 300 votes per question on average and they have a separate tab for alumni, directing that group to a portal. It’s a shame the page’s wall is the landing page. They’ve done a terrific job with this alumni portal and having a similarly designed general landing page would help convert first-time visitors and shape their experience.

The only thing I’d keep an eye on is fans posting spam, though their terms and conditions cover that concern, “The University of Melbourne does not necessarily review every post on its Page”.

Monash University

The Monash University Twitter account has a balanced combination of communicating university news and connecting with the community. The account responds to prospective student questions, but doesn’t go looking for opportunities to connect. It’s open to feedback and uses links and hashtags well and like the University of Melbourne, Monash is professional and conversational.

The wall is the landing page for the Monash University Facebook Page. The info tab lists who is monitoring the page, though doesn’t tell fans how they will benefit from liking the page. It doesn’t appear a moderation policy exists.

The main types of content posted by Monash are faculty stories, event information and photos. Their content receives a lot of likes and a good amount of comments. There’s an obvious difference in content strategies for the Twitter and Facebook accounts and they seem to be doing well at encouraging distinctive communities.

Macquarie University

The Macquarie University Twitter account operates mainly under a push strategy and university news is preceded with “MQ News:” which makes it feel a little dry. The account isn’t updated each day, with some lags in tweeting. When there is a conversation happening with individual followers, a sign-off is often used, “^Paul”.

The Facebook page for Macquarie University uses the wall as the landing page. Some updates are either straight URLs entered into the ‘update status’ field or feeds from Hootsuite.

My advice for the overload of students’ wall posts between each other for things like text books (comes across quite spammy and takes away from the pages intention) is to encourage students to use the discussions area of the page and not the wall for buying and selling purposes.

The page doesn’t appear to have a moderation policy other than ‘Please note, offensive comments will be removed.’ The info tab explains what fans can expect by liking the page and there are a few helpful links including transit info and a link for student enquiries.

I was surprised to find a Twitter account run by a University President who communicates useful and regular content. If you were to search Twitter for other university president-run accounts, you’d find tweets like “Going to such and such event today, should be fun!”, “I’m in in an overseas country talking with important people about important stuff” and “yay for the rain”.

Steven Schwartz may not engage with his followers, but the tweets he shares are valuable for professionals involved in higher education and it is obvious he has his finger on the pulse.

September 2012 update: Prof Schwartz has retired and is now tweeting as @wisereveryday

University of Queensland

The University of Queensland Twitter account responds to followers and posts UQ-related news, though doesn’t ask questions to generate community response. Their Twitter feed is filled with many invaluable tweets that don’t share information, only one-liners in response to something followers have said. It reads out of context and fills the stream with extraneous content.

@uqnewsonline tweet “Thanks for the RT” far too often and I would never suggest this when using Twitter. A retweet shows your follower read your content, thought it valuable and shared it with their followers. My response to retweets is to ‘pay it forward’ when someone retweets me. This article says it all: 7 Ways to Thank Someone For a Retweet. UQ has a presence on Twitter, Flickr and YouTube, but don’t have a Facebook Page, which I find interesting.

The Australian National University

The Australian National University Twitter account does not have conversations with followers, which is almost expected for a news-specific account. What they don’t do that I believe is important is retweet and share stories from other university affiliated accounts, such as faculties and initiatives.

The ANU Facebook page doesn’t try to generate discussion. The news and updates posted on the wall are informative and are ‘liked’, but not commented on. It also appears fans cannot post to the wall, only comment on existing ANU updates, which makes the page a running news feed, not a community.

The description of the page explains how fantastic ANU is, like copy taken straight out of a glossy prospective student brochure. It would be nice to instead read what I will get out of liking the page.

These are some of the ways a few Australian universities are using Facebook and Twitter, how about the rest of the world? I’ll be taking a look at how a couple of smaller US schools are stacking up against the Ivy Leaguers in my next post.

Is your university impressing you with their social media channels? What are they doing that sets them apart?

Technology’s effect on ‘study time’

Do today’s students study less? I see opinions on this pop up on Twitter and in blogs, usually accompanied by views about students being less motivated than past generations as a direct cause of being distracted by new technology. Let’s briefly compare today’s university students with yesteryear’s.

How did students find information before the Internet?

  • Visiting a library
  • Searching for books
  • Borrowing books
  • Photocopying pages from books
  • Writing notes from books

How do students find information today?

  • Search engines
  • Online journal and newspaper searches
  • eBooks
  • Social networks
  • Smart phone apps
  • Podcasts
  • Question/answer communities

Our everyday lives are flooded with access to information. This is something today’s students have grown up with, causing them to be resourceful and efficient. They’re more capable of sorting through irrelevant information, they use long tail keywords, they prioritise and sift through Google search results at a glance.

How did I find information as an undergrad?

In ancient 2003, when my class was given an assignment, I would almost break out into a full sprint to the library where I’d borrow as many books as possible on the topic before my classmates had the chance. If my university library didn’t have what I needed, I would drive to the National Library, request books from the catalog, wait half an hour for them to be picked out by staff, and photocopy or hand-write notes from those books. Sometimes the books weren’t what I expected and I’d spend more time searching, requesting, losing out. This would take an entire day, if not longer. Not to mention the time involved in using dial-up Internet. In my undergrad days, I must have looked to outsiders like I was studying really hard.

Imagine how much extra ‘study time’ students put in during the days of typewriters.

My study habits today

When looking for information today I download Kindle books in seconds, search online directories of journal articles, look up Google books, tweet questions to my Twitter followers, join online discussion forums, listen to iTunesU lectures … all this from the comfort of my couch.

When my professor mentions a book or website during an online lecture, I immediately bring it up on my laptop screen. I type lecture notes, exchange them with a classmate and learn things I may have missed. I listen to marketing podcasts while working out at the gym. I write essays on the weekends while IMing my friends and looking up recipes for dinner on an iPhone app. This is the world I now know, integrating my degree into everyday life.

This uncontrollable shift in the methods students use to find and consume information must not be seen as a threat. Instead of blocking technology in the classroom, educators should embrace it and include it in their curriculum. Students need to be prepared for the new workforce.

New technology challenges traditional teaching

I came across a blog article titled Changes in education hurt actual learning skills and am concerned with the narrow-mindedness displayed by the professor who wrote it. Concerns over new technology and its affect on society are nothing new and occur with each ground-breaking development.

The article begins by opening up the discussion about the impact of new technology on the Standards of Learning Tests:

“Colleges are now receiving the first crops of students who have been indoctrinated from kindergarten for SOL testing. The educational issues, however, delve deeper into our culture. Additional factors include parents, cellular telephones, grade inflation, and the social media to which students are addicted.”

The professor then continues the article without again mentioning SOL testing, only having used it as a loose introduction to a tirade that attacks today’s youth and their parents.

“Cellular phones make it too easy to call home to ever-willing parents for problem-solving. A generation ago, high school students typically waited until suppertime to report daily activities to their parents. College students called home once a week and paid by the minute — or wrote letters. By then, the inane issues were worked out and forgotten.”

This attitude is in direct opposition to today’s widespread adoption of instant communication. Technology allows us to post updates through the real-time social web and communicate with close friends through text and instant messaging. This is the world in which we live—almost everyone is connected ubiquitously to one another through mobile technology and a world of information is at your fingertips. The professor is also forgetting this generation of students has never known a life without computers.

bored students in lecture

“Attention spans are shorter. Few students are driven by a passion for learning; instead, most want the bottom line”

Firstly, attention spans are shorter with all generations, it’s not exclusive to youth. Secondly, it’s called the recession and it’s had a devastating impact on young people worldwide. Some students’ passion for learning may be replaced with a goal of being employed and earning money, but they’re seeing professionals in the workforce lose their jobs regardless of their passion for them.

Wanting the ‘bottom line’ is forced on students, beginning in high school as they strive for entry into their top universities. Look at college entrance scores, the difference between an 89.2 and an 89.9 can result in an offer to your first-choice program or a rejection letter and loss of hope. This is ‘bottom line’ and it is drilled into teenagers’ heads when studying toward and applying to universities.

The professor mentions “the immense challenges of educating this new generation”. Her article implies she’s not up to that challenge. Old-school educators cannot hide behind their dusty Encyclopedia Britannica collection and deeply rooted philosophies. New media will hold them accountable. Take a look at what students have to say about this professor on ratemyprofessors.com.

Effective professors are adapting to their students’ need to learn in new ways. Sam Scalise, CIO of Sonoma State University, says, “The professor’s role is evolving from instructor to mentor … Homework, quizzes and projects will have to be designed in such a way as to require genuine thoughtfulness on the part of the student. That paradigm shift offers enormous potential for advancing educational quality.”

Educational quality is made possible with enlightened, well-informed educators, who stay up-to-date with the latest in teaching methods, technology and expectations of this new generation. It’s not about being ‘popular’ with students, it’s about connecting education with the real-world.

Other professions involve keeping up with industry trends to remain relevant and provide value to those you support—designers, developers, personal trainers, construction workers. Educators are responsible for providing quality tertiary teaching. This may challenge ideas of traditional teaching, however, universities will come to expect more from professors as they look to improve transition and retention rates.

Old school is out

Classes should not be taught in the way they were fifty years ago and universities are recognising this. Polley Ann McClure, CIO of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York says, “Teaching will become more outcome-based and student-centred … To be truly transformative instructional paradigms will have to shift.” Memorisation is a thing of the past. Students now want to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations and won’t accept instructors who teach courses straight from text books.

The professor and author of Changes in education hurt actual learning skills should not hold students, their parents and technology entirely responsible for lack of attention in class and commitment to learning. Students should respect their professors, but it’s a failure on the professor’s part if they don’t attempt to earn that respect by recognising and accommodating the learning needs of today’s youth and the shift in societal norms.