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When Students Want a Push

posted: December 13, 2010 by

image by amankyAt the beginning of each term, students try to find seats in my already-full courses, and the stream of emails begins. This year those requests are a little bit different, indicating a new trend in professor-student communication, and the ratcheting up of Gen Y digital expectations in higher ed.

My students are asking for push notifications of open seats.

No can do.

The registration system at my university doesn’t offer this service for students. There’s no opt-in for them to receive SMS, emails or ping alerts about vacant course spots in real time. In other words, course selection isn’t your parents’ OpenTable or eBay auction.

But should it be?

Moreover, as a prof, I don’t have access to the registration numbers in real time. There’s no way for me to monitor the situation and give my students a push-on-request. The administrative assistant could monitor and manage a wait-list, but that’s not autopilot, that’s time consuming human effort. And in any case, that’s not what students are asking about. They want that Apple Concierge style personalized auto ping messaging.

The current infeasibility of this request at my school is beside the point. The more interesting aspect concerns students’ shifting expectations about connectivity, news alerts, mobile messaging, and system monitoring.

The next wave of digital and mobile student services will be all about the ping.

Of course there are already SMS services enabling profs to push notify their students. For example, Todd McCann, also known as “Professor Textblaster” at Bay College in Michigan received national news media attention for his innovative digital initiatives to keep students on track using micromessaging. Likewise, a new start-up Remind101 is currently in private beta at an East Coast university, designed (by a GenY entrepreneur) exclusively for educators to send students sms reminders—certainly worth a look.

There are many ways that professors could use push notifications beyond letting students know about empty seats. In an effort to raise student outcomes, we can text reminders about tests and deadlines, or send weekly sample quiz questions. In class, we can use SMS for polling, or to test comprehension, or to distribute links to web resources.

Interested in more details? For some international perspectives, check out this study (link opens pdf) “M-learning: texting (SMS) as a teaching & learning tool in higher arts education” by the University of Winchester in the UK. Also see this study (link opens slideshare) from researchers at The University of Minho in Portugal, filled with statistics and ideas for using SMS to improve students’ connectedness, comprehension, and test results.

Accustomed to auto-notifications from Facebook, for movie openings, pop-up tip alerts for local deals, and preferring texting to voice communication anyway—Gen Y students are asking for a digital push to help them stay organized and get ahead. Is higher ed ready?

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Categories: Mobile technology
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Wild and Wonderful Coordinations

posted: July 13, 2010 by

image by cindiann“Every day, thousands of people are forced to sit through dull, flat PowerPoint presentations,” observes Chuck Dietrich on Mashable. This is the case, even though “boring your audience is hardly the goal.”  What’s the solution? Socialize your presentations, not as a last-minute add-on, but at inception and by design. Dietrich suggests that video and image-rich slides are not enough—today the most compelling presentations are designed social.

Teachers can surely benefit from this advice, though it’s addressed to a business readership. But first, why would any teacher want to make their lecture more social than it already is, considering that many of us are already competing for attention from the wired generation of students who may already be chatting, Facebooking, and SMSing in class?

Because social media can herd cats, Dietrich argues. Well, no actually he didn’t suggest any such thing, but in essence the result is the same. Dietrich rightly points out that presentations designed to take advantage of social media communication trends are more likely to be perceived as compelling and relevant. Socialize your teaching and students will plug in to your content and community channels more fully, because it will feel like an experience customized for their learning styles and communication preferences.

Okay so how exactly can we socialize our speeches and presentations? It’s important to “seed innovation” by installing the right scaffolding to support student’s use of social technologies. On Dietrich’s list: live polling (using clickers or SMS) will add interactivity and interest.  Also on the list: add “short, tweetable sound bites to your slides” to enable participants to “quickly absorb and send out on their social networks.” Will profs consider this challenge? Maybe the most microbloggy among us. Others will repeat the now-classic Twitter backlash logic, arguing that nothing of value can be communicated in 140 characters—in spite of an avalanche of evidence to the contrary.

How about using social media to increase anticipation for the lecture, and perhaps increase attendance? Dietrich thinks this is both possible and important, because “reaching out to your audience using social media channels to get them excited about your talk” will “allow attendees to start discussions even before the event takes place.” Is this far-fetched for higher ed? In my experience, far from it. Here’s why:

I launched a Facebook page and Twitter hashtag for a course on mass communications, and for the first few weeks they were somewhat of a novelty. Then something amazing happened. Students began to tweet and facebook material for the UPCOMING week’s lecture, five or more days IN ADVANCE. Organic crowdsourcing of case studies, whitepapers, news articles, and statistics happened for the final three-quarters of the course, without any request to do so from me. Instead of guessing how to make lectures relevant and engaging to GenY, I saw that just designing a course to be social enables amazing innovations and conversations. And as a sidenote, I made sure to give shoutouts of sincere thanks in class to those who helped extend the lecture online.

It’s not difficult to sell professors on teaching plans that enable peer-to-peer learning. Today “the work of students is increasingly seen as collaborative by nature,” according to the 2010 Horizon Report. Seen in this light, social web technologies can be very valuable, even essential. Status updates, whether on Facebook or Twitter operate as “micro-message” information vehicles traveling far and wide through the social web, observes Erick Schonfeld on TechCrunch. Teachers can “drive the micro-message bus” in our classes, if we want to have course content be at the center of students’ attention at a moment when digital culture is “sending them off in all different sorts of directions.”

However, even if we opt out of doing so, teachers may be surprised “to find our students sharing videos that we probably don’t know existed on their Facebook posts and Twitter updates,” warns Mike Richwalsky of John Carroll University in Pennsylvania. The question becomes: shall we get out in front of designing social teaching, or would we prefer to respond after students take it upon themselves to do so?

Luckily, students sharing course content via social channels enables class cohesion and community, or what Clive Thompson called social proprioception, which occurs when “a group of people a sense of itself, making possible weird, fascinating feats of coordination.” Exactly.

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Categories: Engagement, Higher Education, Peer-to-peer learning
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