When I submitted my abstract back in February I was thinking of social networking and collaborative tools and how these could be utilised within our University from both a marketing and student support perspective. At the time my experiences were very positive and like many others, I was enthused by the buzz surrounding what we label Web 2.0 and excited about what this could mean for us. I still am but a number of recent issues have led me to tread a little more cautiously.
I firmly believe that as a University we should be moving towards user owned technologies. The bulk of our students (and staff) join us with a range of skills and preferences and whilst we still have to do some hand holding, the majority know the services they like to use and engage with so I believe we need to adapt accordingly and allow and encourage their continued use.
- Use gmail for your email? Use it for your Uni email too.
- Don’t want to wait for email and prefer IM? Sure no problem, that’s available too.
- On Facebook? We’ll plug you in through our portal so that you see any changes alongside the key messages we need you to see.
I still believe this is where we need to be but I also know this kind of step change is not be without its problems. Why? Because we loose some of the control. We can’t guarantee gmail’s up-time (although I’d be pretty confident it would work 24/7). We can’t moderate things like Facebook (just look at the outcry caused at Keele) so we potentially loose the power to manage some of the internal issues, without then appearing in the public domain. Naturally that’s a worry for any organisation but is it a big enough worry to prevent us from moving forward? I don’t believe it is.
We have more to gain in terms of a competitive edge by being in these spaces. User owned technologies and collaborative tools in a University environment are niceties at the moment and an added benefit but it won’t be long before they are the expected norm. On the internet word of mouth, user reviews, recommendations etc. are proving more readily available and more popular than our “corporate” offerings so the more we engage with and allow these things the more we can use them to our advantage.
How?! Well going back to my presentation title we let the students do the talking. Put the tools in the hands of the people that use them. Let them decide how to use them, how much/little to engage, what they say, how they say it. If we concentrate on providing the experience we claim to do then (which is what we’re all about) then we should move in this direction with confidence.
Recent posts on Brian’s UK Web Focus blog indicate my thoughts are echoed by others too which is encouraging. So whilst I’m treading carefully I’m still convinced it’s in the right direction…