Student Life

The latest batch of student bloggers have just started writing for Hi and this year a few new things are being introduced. Most notably they’re also making use of Twitter. It’s still early days but it’s a great insight into student life at Edge Hill. Over the coming months we’ll be making more use of this “student life” content not just in Hi but in parts of our corporate website, possibly embedding a Twitter widget:

If you use Twitter you can follow these students on @edgehill’s “Student Life” list.

Case Conference Presentation

In July I delivered a presentation at the IWMW in York entitled “Let the students do the talking…” and yesterday I travelled to Edinburgh to deliver a varient of this at the annual CASE Conference.

I was slightly anxious about telling Marketing and PR people to put everything in the hands of the students but was delighted at the positive response I had to what I had to say.

After speaking with colleagues who attended the full event it seems the Web 2.0 buzz has well and truly captured the imagination of those in the Marketing and PR world and people do seem read and willing to embrace the online trends and work with them.

I believe my slides will be available on the CASE Conference website shortly but for anyone who wishes to see them they’re on slideshare too.

One thing that I have taken away from both conferences is that our ‘hybrid’ approach to a Web Service (with my own role informally split between IT Services and Corporate Marketing) is quite unique but it’s really worked for us and has allowed us to develop services from different perspectives.

Honesty is the best policy…

Earlier this year we launched a website to allow our applicants to talk to each other and our current students. The idea behind it was to create a virtual community of applicants and to allow real students to answer questions about life at Edge Hill. The site is public but only applicants and/or students can contribute. The site we call ‘Hi’ has been a success for us. It’s given us a medium to update applicants with key information about joining us and for students to answer questions/queries directly. It’s not edited, not censored… it’s for applicants to use as they wish.

Last week we saw an example of it doing what it does best! A-level results day and students flocking to the site ready to secure their place and make new friends. Great we thought – result!

Yet with the positives came the negatives. A thread started about students being declined on-campus accommodation… and it didn’t sound good. Clearly we had some disappointed students on our hands and that concerned us.

We’ve made no secret of the fact our applications have risen phenomenally since we acquired University title in 2006. Infact it’s something we’re incredibly proud of but an increase in student numbers has meant whilst we can accommodate most requests we cannot guarantee on-campus accommodation for all first years (see the EHU2020 website for details on our plans for the future). Although applicants are informed of this it’s naturally disappointing news when they find out they haven’t got a place. So they turned to the site – the site we gave them to use as they wish – and shared their frustrations…

However negatives can be turned to positives. We’ve been thrilled to see the site being pro-actively. Firstly from our perspective it’s been great. We’ve been able to respond to individuals quickly and provide them with much needed advice and support. We had already arranged House Hunting Workshops on-campus but by using the site we could inform applicants about these and allow them to use the ‘secure’ off-campus accommodation finder to look for rooms. We’ve also seem some really positive and pro-active applicants too. One particular applicant found a seven bedroom house and started a new thread to get room mates! So people who had never even met before could sort something out together – exactly what a community site should encourage.

In July I gave a presentation at the IWMW entitled “Let the students do the talking…” so you may wonder if I still feel they should?! And my response would be ‘absolutely’. No Uni is without its problems… we can’t pretend everything about starting University will be seamless and effortless but we can ensure we offer our applicants excellent support and the best way to understand what they need is by listening to them!

A question of confidence?!

I will be giving a presentation at the IWMW in July entitled “Let the students do the talking…” and in advance of this Brian Kelly (UKOLN) asked me to write a blog post relating to my talk.

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…

Online Excellence Scholarships

This year we’re launching our first “Online Excellence Scholarship” in a bid to reward students who are excelling in the construction and creative and interesting use of new media. Successful applicants could be upwarded £1,000 over 1 year (for PGCE students) or £2,000 over 3 years (for undergraduates) an attractive bonus for any student.

So how will we judge “excellence”? Well we’re particularly interested in the richness of content, creativity, innovation and/or technical accomplishment shown in the work and whilst most people have a MySpace page or a blog somewhere or other we’ll be looking for things that stand out from the crowd.

With all the web 2.0 technologies and sites available it’s easy enough for those creative and innovative individuals to really make their mark in the online space and we’re looking forward to seeing some of the best examples and awarding the scholarship to someone we feel can really add value to the growing online community.