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From the Trenches: UBTech 2012 Session Highlights

University Business, September 2012

With 64 breakout sessions, UBTech attendees had to make some tough decisions about where to spend their time.

Two sessions that got attendees thinking about their web presence were “Managing the Unmanageable: Digital Governance in Higher Education” and “Three Keys to Online Giving Success.”

Mark Greenfield, director of the office of web services at the University at Buffalo, asked the audience if they thought most college websites in 2012 are bad. About half did, but Greenfield thinks it’s more than that, and the reason is that web professionals are being held back. “If I go back 10 or 15 years ago, the primary reason for the sites being bad was the skills sets,” he said. “That’s really not the case anymore. Most of the web professionals now have pretty good skills sets. The problem is the decisions that get made above them and the fact that a lot of the times they are not allowed to do things that they know are right.”
In his work helping senior-level campus executives understand the value of the web, he’ll consult on the risks associated with bad websites. He gave his own institution’s gaffe as an example. When tuition was changed back in 2004, the bursar’s web page got changed to reflect the current cost. “However, there were hundreds of pages on individual department websites that never got updated. I was very happy I was not working in the bursar’s office when somebody would walk in with an official looking University at Buffalo page with the tuition on it, that said it was $x amount when it was in fact considerably more than that,” he said.

Then there was the school (he didn’t name) that had a student from China come over to study a very specific graduate degree program. When that student arrived the first day of classes, he found out that degree, described on the website, was no longer offered. Ouch.

“Most of the time, senior leadership views the web as something that costs us money. They do not think about it as a strategic asset, which it really is, especially in this day and age,” he noted. But whether it’s infrastructure risk if the site goes down, legal risk if accessibility or privacy compliance isn’t adhered to, or reputational risk when content is wrong, the web should be viewed from a risk management perspective, too.

Offering a look at the giving pages of various colleges in his session—and demonstrating how they might inspire, engage, and simplify—was Kennedy Kipps, director of admissions for the college foundation at the University of Virginia. He shared strategies such as connecting the school to larger societal issues, as the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta did, and using video to engage donors, as the Goodman Cancer Research Centre at McGill University (Quebec, Canada) did with its scientists, students, lab techs, and volunteers throwing their “hands up in the air sometimes…saying ayo, gotta let go” as they lip synced to the song “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz.

He shared the University of Virginia’s College of Arts and Sciences annual giving campaign for connecting how gifts help students in the areas of advanced research in the sciences, with various students at work looking up at the camera to simply say “thank you.” U.Va. inspires with a historical reminder: “Two hundred years ago, Thomas Jefferson’s academic village was only a dream. That dream became U.Va.”

Kipps also showed how The College of William & Mary (Va.) allows donors to support a particular project. They can choose from a list, fund it, and then follow it to get updates on progress. Donors have been invited to hear students talk about their research.

He spoke, too, on shopping cart models as an emerging trend. MIT donors, for instance, can add something to a gift form, save in a cart, and then “shop” for more projects to support.

As far as technology’s impact on the admissions office, admissions consultant John Dysart spoke on “Changing the Structure in the Admissions Office to Adapt to New Technological Realities.” He noted that while market conditions and technology have changed dramatically over the last 30 years, that department’s structure and the roles of admissions counselors have not kept pace.

It’s an issue he hoped to fix by hiring communications counselors for two of his client schools a few years ago. They work from noon to 9 p.m. solely communicating with students, texting prospects and updating their institutions’ social media pages and websites in the first half of their day and then making phone calls to prospects the second half. Including these counselors in the admissions office resulted in significantly increased phone contact rates and applications, daily social media updates, twice weekly web content updates, an increase in folder completions, and an increase in yield from accepted to enrolled.

Covering change in the classroom was Michael Garver, a professor of marketing at Central Michigan University, in his session, “Flipping Out Over the Competition,” which he presented along with colleague Brian Roberts, an instructional technologist. The fast-paced, interactive session (which made conference attendees in nearby rooms wonder about all the fun) incorporated student response systems, podcasting, and team competitions to demonstrate how students in marketing classes taught by “Coach Garver” learn.

Garver recommended the book Made to Stick (Random House, 2007), which, he said, “changed how I think about teaching, marketing, and presenting. … The success principles of a simple, unexpected, concrete, credible, emotional story is how you get people to remember your content.”

He also shared brain research on how people recall images better than text. “Two weeks later, people will remember the pictures 65 percent of the time, and the text only 8 percent of the time,” he said.

In “Unleash Your Inner Spielberg When Creating Online Lectures,” a follow-up to his popular session last year, Brian Klaas, senior web systems designer at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, revealed a strategy to help faculty create better video presentations in the classroom. Faculty members “don’t know how to incorporate the techniques of something like Spielberg into how they do their lectures,” he noted. But, once a few get into it, a lot more are willing to try it. “They want to keep up with the Joneses,” he said.

Klaas advised suggesting to faculty that they tell personal stories and reflect on them as part of their lectures. They should also think of PowerPoint as their camera that can help the audience process the story, zooming in on a fact within a larger slide when necessary. In addition, faculty shouldn’t spend more than two minutes discussing a single online lecture slide, as research has shown students tend to jump ahead at two minutes, 20 seconds.

“Faculty are really busy people, and they resist change,” Klaas reminded attendees. Giving them a few really strong, solid examples can lead the way and “show them what we could do for them.”

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