Internet Technology

License to Recruit?

Admissions-sponsored student blogging can get real results for your institution.

Student blogs that are sponsored by Admissions offices have quickly spread all over the country. If you haven't started a blog like this yet, you are probably looking at what other institutions are doing with great interest, envy, or fear-and definitely with some pressing questions.

Should you launch your own student blogs to support your recruiting efforts? How can you ensure these blogs about college life will end up generating more applications as well as bigger and better classes of freshmen? Beyond the media hype, can these interactive diaries translate to better yields?

Consider why they can help attract the best prospective students and persuade them to attend your school. Everything comes down to the Holy Grail of authenticity-or at least a perception of authenticity.

Whether you call them Millenials or NetGeners, today's prospective students just don't buy marketing messages delivered on glossy brochures. They've spent their teen years watching all sorts of reality TV shows and fallen in love with their "transparency." They rely on their peers' opinions and recommendations on music, movies, and education. And, according to the report "Teen Content Creators and Consumers" (Pew Internet & American Life Project, 2005), 38 percent of all teens who are online say they read blogs.

Student blogs have
become sought-after commodities in the
college selection process.

Already fueled by the prosperous college guide market, this generation's yearning to find out the truth about college life has made student blogs sought-after commodities in the college selection process.

Some corporate players have noticed, taking advantage of this new trend.

There's TheU, for instance. Founded by Doug Imbruce, a recent graduate from Columbia, the company produces and sells DVDs created to reveal the "real" college experience at different institutions.

Recently, current students have had the opportunity to set up blogs and share the lows and highs of their college life. "Bloggers for TheU.com are incredibly aware of the many different shortcomings of their schools and help students enjoy a happier, less stressful college transition by preparing these kids for challenges, big and small," says Imbruce. "The bloggers are also on hand to document and illustrate the many different ways in which some schools cater to specific needs better than others."

With TheU's blogs getting several thousand visits per month, chances are a lot of information about your institution is already available on this website, which is promoted to high school counselors. On these blogs, visitors can find good feedback about college life as well as not-so-good takes-as in this post dated April 24, 2006, by Judy L. from MIT:

"It is lonely up here, and that is why so many of us drink or get depressed. Some, maybe even most, of the heavy drinkers at MIT never even touched a drink in high school-but they can pound a 30-rack [of beer] away in one night without even blinking here."

So, what's a school to do when this type of testimonial is available and promoted on the internet? Join the fray, add other viewpoints, and make them easily accessible to high school seniors and their parents (which MIT does, with its student blogs sponsored by the Admissions office).

"Interaction between these audiences is inevitable and already occurring elsewhere, so why not facilitate the conversations and take advantage of it on our own websites? Prospective students and their families are visiting RateMyProfessor.com, LiveJournal.com, or TheU.com to learn 'the truth' about our institutions," says Bob Robertson-Boyd, web manager at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio. Since its first student journal in February 2003, the institution has offered several blogs. Administrators there even pushed the envelope further last fall by featuring the latest posts right on the university's home page-without any preliminary sort of content editing.

While student blogs can help prospective students find balanced accounts of college life at a particular institution, they also complement or further the benefits of student-guided campus visits.

Any well-rounded campus tour led by an engaging and interesting freshman can work wonders on undecided admitted students. Similarly, good student blogs inform, engage, and give a glimpse of student life. At Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., 82 percent of the student body is from out of state, with 48 states and 42 countries represented. So campus visits aren't always possible and L&C student blogs have been an excellent substitute since 2003.

"Our student blogs provide insight into L&C and give the college an added dimension that can be difficult to convey over the internet," says Michael Sexton, dean of Admissions.

Blogs can also help admitted students zero in on their final choice school. "Prospective students, and certainly their parents, watch with a critical eye when we show them beautiful words and pictures depicting a perfect campus life. What these decision-makers need instead is a way to understand what life is like on a particular campus to help them decide if that is the right place for them," confirms Nancy Prater, web content coordinator at Ball State University (Ind.), where 12 students started to blog last fall.

Capital U featured its latest student blog posts right on its home page-without any preliminary editing.

Finally, good student blogs can help high school graduates with their last-minute questions or doubts at decision time or even earlier in the selection process-without disclosing their identity. That's exactly why Beloit College (Wis.) launched its blogging program last year. Since a third of its applications had been sent without any documented first contact, officials began offering another option to this type of prospective student.

"Blogs are a good way to invite the attention of students without asking them to make a commitment. Our marketing goal was to provide a way to observe Beloit in a comfortable, non-threatening way," explains Nancy Monnich Benedict, vice president for enrollment services.

All this does make sense. But, what kind of return on investment can be expected from these student blogs?

That's where things get tricky. Launching and maintaining student blogs doesn't require a huge investment. From staff time to a few thousands dollars covering bloggers' compensation and/or technical gear, the necessary budget remains low compared to other tactics. So most early adoptors didn't spend too much time setting up processes to measure their ROI.

While e-mails, application forms, or conversations with admission advisors have expressed positive feedback, measurement data generally isn't available yet, even in schools with three-year-old initiatives.

"As soon as the right tools are available, I fully intend to look at our blogs to track views, time spent on each post, comments posted, on-campus interviews with families, and effort to publish, to try to extrapolate some form of ROI," says Robertson-Boyd. "I want to be able to say that Capital's blogs were responsible for 12 undergraduate students and three newspaper articles in 2007. Assuming the best, of course."

Ball State invested more in its blogging program, essentially in the form of promotional postcards mailed to high school seniors. Just a few months after their September 2005 launch, their 12 student blogs resulted in lots of press clips and received more than 11,000 visits per day. "We have not tried to quantify our ROI but can say confidently that the value we have received has far outweighed our cost," says Prater.

To determine the impact of the blogs, staff have conducted intercept interviews of prospects and parents during campus tours last spring. They're also surveying incoming freshmen and their parents during summer orientation. (Hint for prospective blog program launchers: If you plan to start your own student blogs soon, don't forget to borrow these ideas.)

It would be a mistake to think student blogs will work all the time. The success of these programs depends on institutional culture, the talent of the bloggers, and the efficiency of promotional efforts.

At George Fox University (Ore.), MBA student blogs, tried for nine months and then discontinued, never developed a real audience. Graduate Admissions Director Brendon Connelly (who personally blogs with great success at SlackerManager .com) says, "We wanted the blogs to be so compelling that they would be a recruiting tool that we could highlight. Blogs can be and do all that, but, we now know, there's much more to a successful implementation than simply selecting smart and witty students with impressive titles to blog for your school or program."

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Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations, and technologies. She is also a web editor for an East Coast liberal arts college as well as a consultant on web projects for other institutions.

Internet Technology: RSS: The Next Big Thing in University Web Communications

Investing in this technology can help get an institution's news delivered-and read.

It's 10 a.m. Do you know how many messages are sitting in your e-mail box and what's happening on your campus, in your state, or in your professional field? So much information, so little time.

The Brand (Brave?) New World Of Online Public Relations

Ready or not, IHEs must strategize about how they appear in mentions on the web.

Dan Rather hasn't been the only casualty of the brave new world of blog swarms. In a speech to the Denver Forum civic group she gave last August, former University of Colorado President Elizabeth Hoffman said she wished she would have assigned one of her staffers to read political blogs every day, as reported later in The Denver Post.

The Power of Podcasts

Universities explore mp3 technology as a new marketing tool.

With more than 30 million iPods sold since 2001, chances are you've witnessed the invasion of these small digital players and their matching distinctive earphones on campus. Your students, their parents, your alums, their kids, and your faculty and staff have likely seen or used one. Supported by the so-called "net generation" as much in love with cutting-edge technology as with on-demand music, the arrival of this fashionable device at colleges and universities has opened the door to a digital audio revolution in higher ed: podcasting.

Word familiarity is one thing, but let's agree on its definition. According to Wikipedia, the web encyclopedia, podcasting is "a collection of technologies for automatically distributing audio and video programs over the Internet via a publish-and-subscribe model." Unlike earlier online collections of audio or video material, podcasting is automatic, usually through RSS feeds. Independent producers can use it to create self-published, syndicated "radio shows," and it offers a new distribution method for broadcast radio and television programs.

While iPods have definitely played a role in the naming and the development of this new practice, you don't need an iPod to listen to podcasts. Any mp3 player or even a good ol' PC can be used to delve into the wonderful world of podcasting by downloading a free podcast from Apple's iTunes online store or any other podcast directory.

Podcasting certainly presents some of the characteristics of more ephemeral crazes: It's about a year-and-a-half old but has already attracted a lot of buzz, mainly driven by marketing strategies from Apple, mainstream media, and other key industries. Whether it was planned or not, Duke University (N.C.) got a lot of media coverage of its "iPod first-year experience." In 2004, more than 1,600 freshmen were given brand new iPods to enhance their academic experience. Although the initiative wasn't repeated on the same scale the following year, it resulted in very positive promotional outcomes.

More recently, the announcement of a similar initiative by the School of Education at Drexel University (Pa.) for the new master of science in higher education program--made just days after the launch of iPod video--confirmed the device's magnetic marketing appeal for higher ed.

"The Future of Podcasting," a November 2005 study based on a sample of 4,400 radio listeners and conducted by Bridge Ratings, estimated that 5 million people would have downloaded podcasts in 2005. This year, the forecast is 9.3 million users, and it is expected to reach 62.8 million within five years.

How many of these millions of podcast listeners plan to go to college, make a donation, recruit your graduates, or write an article about your institution? That could be the million-dollar question in a couple of years, one that some corporate players in higher education have begun studying.

Thomson Peterson's introduced podcasting in February 2005 and has yielded promising results: more than 4,000 downloads per month. Executives had been exploring the idea of offering audio and video resources as a way to supplement the online experience, recalls Dan Karleen, Peterson's director of online product delivery. "When podcasting came along, giving people the option of subscribing to receive new programs automatically, the time seemed right to launch a series of podcasts complementing our three core areas: college admission advice, financial aid resources, and standardized test preparation."

Since last September, more and more institutions of higher ed have decided to offer some of their lectures as podcasts to their students. Some, like Purdue University in Indiana, have made their class podcasts available to anybody who would like to download them; others, like the University of Michigan's School of Dentistry, have reserved these class recordings for current students via a private iTunes store. For the past few months, the academic uses of podcasting have been at the center of an animated debate in academia between fans and critics, but the controversy shouldn't overcast what this technology can offer to admissions, marketing, or college relations.

"I'm not a big fan of jumping on the next thing that comes around in college marketing. ... However, there are some colleges who have started to play around with [podcasting] models," says Brian Niles, CEO of TargetX, a company specializing in interactive marketing communications, as well as the producer of podcasts for college admission officials.

With 30,000-plus podcasts downloaded in 10 months, Allegheny College (Pa.) is a great example of the power of podcasting. Launched in April 2005, the podcasts are 15-minute interviews with a new guest every week; recent guests have included the director of Athletics Information and the entrepreneur-in-residence. The podcasts are viewed as a complement to more traditional online and print marketing efforts. "They allow us to go into much greater detail than you can in a press release or a printed brochure, and do so in a conversational manner, something that makes a difference to people and allows them to make a more direct connection with Allegeny College," says Mike Richwalsky, the host and producer of these podcasts.

At Savannah College of Art and Design (Ga.), meanwhile, the video podcasts available on iTunes since October 2004 are just another way to deliver admission-related videos produced for the institution's on-demand streaming video website. "SCAD On Demand topics include visiting artists, the exploration and creation or art and the experience of living and studying at SCAD. ... When the opportunity arose to expand our reach and make SCAD's streaming media available through iTunes, it just seemed the logical thing to do," explains Paul Razza, director of the communication broadcast unit.

For Mansfield University (Pa.), spokesperson Dennis Miller believes podcasting is simply a new way of communication delivery--"what radio used to be," he says. "It's intimate, speaking to one listener at a time. If it's done right, it creates images in the listener's mind that last a long, long time."

Promoted via radio spots at their launch and available through iTunes or Yahoo, the MU podcasts offer a glimpse at the experience of four freshmen through unscripted, yet edited, weekly interviews as well as advice from the Admissions and Financial Aid directors. "These shows can be a big help to guidance counselors. They answer questions that students and parents ask all the time," adds Miller.

According to Lori Schmidt from TwigPod Production, a podcasting agency whose clients include California Institute of Technology and Whittier College (Calif.), podcasting strength also resides in its ability to deliver content to an audience in an inexpensive and extremely timely fashion. "These days, it's not uncommon for a college or university to recruit prospects for three or more years. Once they've seen the publications, website, and DVD, what does an [institution] have to throw at students to keep them interested? That's the benefit of podcasting."

While podcasting can help create and build great relationships with prospective students and their parents, the buck doesn't stop at the Admissions office. Because podcasts can tell stories about an institution in a more compelling way, they often appeal to multiple audiences, from high schoolers to older alumni.

They can help build and develop a community of individuals interested in an institution not only off, but also on, campus. Last year, the web team at Buffalo State College (N.Y.) launched a podcasting initiative to add an interactive, multimedia, community-building element to its website. "The main goal was to engage our online community to participate, whether it is by producing their own podcasts, subscribing to a podcast feed, or using the technology in the classroom. We also thought it would be a unique way to disseminate messages about what makes Buffalo State great--interesting lecturers, a student-run radio station, undergraduate research programs, and so on," says Brett Essler, web publications editor.

While podcasting is still in its infancy, higher ed podcasters see it as a promising communication channel. As Paul Kruczynski, senior web implementation specialist at BSC puts it, "By building a podcast repository now, we create a framework and method for further integrating these tools into tomorrow's academic environment."

So podcasting might well be worth your time.

Karine Joly is the web editor behind www.collegewebeditor.com, a blog about higher ed web marketing, public relations, and technologies. She is also a web editor for an East Coast liberal arts college and a consultant on web projects for other institutions.

Catching Copy Cats

With the wide number of anti-plagiarism tools available today, students looking to lift others' work don't stand much of a chance.

The fall semester opened this year with unprecedented concern over the scope of plagiarism in higher education. A virtual epidemic of cheating, or perhaps just a new awareness, has spread across the academic world. A web search for "plagiarism" reveals numerous articles published this past summer alone in the higher education press.

Going Beyond Google

There's a treasure trove of valuable research online--if you know how to find it.

Wireless Spreads Out

IHEs find new ways to tie mobile technology to teaching and administrative services.

Isla Vista, a college community for the University of California, Santa Barbara now has free Wi-Fi access in the downtown area. Like many college towns, its residents have come to expect ubiquitous internet access. The new network is Firetide's Instant Mesh Network. A mesh network topology connects all nodes without requiring communication to pass through a central concentrator. A wireless mesh uses multiple network gateways, essentially radio-frequency access points, that create multiple, concurrent traffic flows among themselves. The aggregated capacity of these gateways provides seamless Wi-Fi coverage and high throughput, which holds promise for a growing number of digital communication modes on campus, including video and voice over IP (VoIP).

BelAir Networks is participating in the University of Georgia's Mobile Media Consortium, a project to test wireless infrastructures in an urban environment. The wireless mesh replaced a wireless network that had been in use for three years. Last fall, UGA's mobile media design students experimented with services such as a restaurant guide and a wireless walking tour.

Since 2003, Drexel University (Pa.) has used a wireless network known as DrexelOneMobile and built on Microsoft's .NET Framework, Mobile Internet Toolkit, and Visual Studio.NET. The network uses the university's LDAP directory to authenticate mobile users. Because .NET technology accommodates any software that conforms to the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP), an XML-based method for encoding web service requests and responses, Drexel's administrative applications and portal are reachable through DrexelOneMobile. The campus community can use a variety of mobile devices--wireless laptops, Blackberries, web phones, and PDAs--to access the network. Featured services include news, campus announcements, and an online phone directory.

A wireless infrastructure may
save Dartmouth as much as
$1 million in annual costs.

Dartmouth College (N.H.) has consolidated phone, cable, and data services in one wireless system. The project, which began in 2001, has added 1,400 wireless access points to the 24,000 wired ports on campus. The college will expand its cable TV system to provide faculty and students individual "channels" for showing movie clips, video projects, or presentations. Dartmouth estimates that a wireless infrastructure will save as much as $1 million in annual maintenance, cabling, and salary costs. How the change in technologies will affect teaching and learning is not yet clear, but Dartmouth is again making all of higher education take notice of its innovations in campus technology.

IHEs are pondering the impact of the ever-growing variety of hand-held devices. IP multimedia subsystems (IMS) are the basis for expected break-throughs in "combinatorial" or "rich call" services--adding to circuit-switched voice calls new video features such as push-to-view, see-what-I-see, and push-to-share. Handset makers like Nokia, Samsung, and Motorola can already be called multimedia phones. Nokia has announced a model capable of storing as many as 3,000 sounds. Motorola and Apple Computers plan to test-market a music cell phone, hoping to build on the runaway success of the iPod. These third-generation (3G) devices, with features like improved internet browsing and messaging and voice-video integration are just now coming to market. Their impact on campus will be interesting to watch.

Duke University (N.C.) has experimented with the iPod as a potential aid to instruction, although the initiative met with mixed reactions, perhaps because not a lot of thought appears to have gone into how the devices would be used. But during the past academic year "podcasting"--the dissemination of digital recordings of all kinds in MP3 and other audio formats--has sparked new interest in these music players. Duke and others are intrigued by the possibilities of listening to lectures and language lessons distributed via wired and wireless networks.

Fixed and mobile networks are rapidly maturing to form an extended communications fabric. Multimedia services carried via easy-to-use handsets are sweeping through the consumer marketplace, perhaps heralding another revolution in communications and a scramble to adapt campus infrastructures.

A Web of Fraud

Viruses and worms were just the start. Make way for phishing, spoofing, and spyware.

Many in the IT community have wondered why the internet's bad actors have poured their efforts into penetrating computers and networks but generally refrained from inflicting the worst kinds of damage on those systems. Data erasures are not very common, despite media alarm to the contrary. Entirely disabling a computer is also fairly rare.

Internet 2005: The Gorilla Gets Bigger

Even as it grows more useful, the internet is still an unwieldy beast.

Web Content Management

Controlling the website when everybody wants a piece of the action.

The webmaster, once seen as a hero and magician, is now in danger of being viewed as a bottleneck. No lone person, or even a central office, can be responsive enough to keep today's complex higher education websites stocked with up-to-the minute information. On the other hand, if dozens of individuals and offices create their own web materials without coordination, a website can splinter into unnavigable chaos. This dilemma is motivating many savvy webmasters to start moving their institutions in the direction of web content management software (WCMS).

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