Malleable Musings

June 19, 2010

Back to Africa / back to Facebook

Filed under: Facebook, International Student Recruitment — Brendan @ 9:11 pm

I’ve always had a bit of love affair with Africa.  So when I was pressured by my boss in to going to Ghana this week, I didn’t resist too hard.  Especially given that this is the year that Africa gains the recognition of hosting the World Cup.

It’s nine or ten years since I was last in Ghana and whilst I always consider Ghana as West Africa for beginners (it’s just less chaotic than elsewhere) I had a thoroughly enjoyable time.

I loved meeting our students and alumni, and I caught a few moments to listen to some African drummers, who were performing outside my hotel at some sort of corporate function.
http://www.coventry-volleyball.co.uk/bfpersonal/Memo.mp3%20

I also loved the football atmosphere.  There were signs of the world cup everywhere – from football pitches on the ground in the airport, to the flags of all of the nations involved all around the bars, to people selling football strips in the streets to cars carrying Ghanaian flags.

One of the objectives of the visit was to try and foster a better relationship with our alumni, and current students.  We had set up various events and so last Saturday during the first England game I set up a Facebook page to see if it would help promote the recruitment activities  and if it could be used to help foster an online community for students and alumni.  I had a Google Adwords voucher so I set up a few ads aimed at my target demographic and did a few Facebook ads as well.  This took a bit longer that I thought it would – primarily because the interface has changed so much on Google since I last used it via the web (about two years ago).  I ran the ads for a few days after we arrived and for a total cost of around £30 I’d had around 3/4m ad impressions and around 600 clicks through to the facebook fan page.  This meant that by the time I arrived in Ghana the following day there were already around 35 page ‘likers’ / fans.

Unfortunately whilst internet connectivity in West Africa has definitely moved on.  My personal connectivity hadn’t.  It was a bit of a hit and miss affair as to whether I could get on the internet.  When I did get online I generally couldn’t upload large files.  In all it meant that my ability to update statuses and drive interaction and traffic was a little limited.

It was therefore a bit of a bizarre coincidence that when I returned to the office yesterday that my first meeting of the day was a meeting about an official Facebook page.  Having just got in after a long flight I probably wasn’t in the best of form for such a meeting and my initial reaction was that there were far too many people in the room.  However I soon changed this view to being that some of the most important people hadn’t even been invited. I guess it comes back to the old problem of who owns stakeholder communications – and the answer is everyone.

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May 28, 2010

Did I just describe a PLE?

I had an interesting phone call last week from someone in the COI. The COI, in case you don’t know, are the UK Government Central Office of Information (COI) – the Government’s centre of excellence for marketing and communications. They do some excellent work providing guidance on all aspects of marcomms.

Anyway, the person who rang me was carrying out a research study for The British Council. They were wanting to identify the media habits of professionals who work in the area of international education.  In particular they wanted to understand potential media which actively engage in issues related to higher education and how these were used.

So during the phone call I was read a list of media titles.  I’d heard of more or less all of the titles mentioned although there were a couple of more obscure titles (journals) where I wasn’t quite so sure.  In discussing the traditional media I explained that print-only media is more or less invisible for me.  The only thing that I receive in hard copy format that I even flick through is the COL newsletter.

So online media is really the only way I access this sort of specific news of information.  I also explained that I wasn’t that likely to visit a particular website to get my news, although I might use an online database, library or datastore if I knew what it contained.

I reflected back and thought about the professional networks that do exist.  They often provide meatspace opportunities but I recognised that very little news was ever highlighted to me offline.  Okay, I’d occasionally find out a little titbit of information in conversation with colleagues from other institutions especially at conferences but it was usually soft anecdotal stuff rather than news or hard information.

This lead to a bit of a discussion about what I thought NEWs was and an explanation from me that I was only really likely to look at NEWs if it was sent directly to me as an email newsletter or highlighted to me in another way, through an RSS feed or crowdsourced by a brand I trusted (either a corporate brand such as the chronicle or a personal brand) or if it hit a search filter of some type that I’d set up.

I also explained my reticence to paywalls and the problems I have with sites that have registration walls (e.g. the FT).

It was a quite an interesting conversation that had me reflecting quite a bit about my current media habits and how they have changed over the past few years.  Two or three years ago I would have given very different answers and even a year ago my thoughts were quite different and search seemed much more important to me.

I didn’t talk about the details of how I get my NEWs these days but whilst I was on the phone I kept thinking have I just described a Personal Learning Environment.

In terms of the details of my PLE, for the past six months or so I’ve relied on my6Sense to keep me updated.   My6Sense is an interesting iPhone app that pulls together your social and RSS feeds.   The idea is that the more that you use it the more it understands your interests and starts to surface the things that you’ll find relevant.  I usually check it a couple of times a day and so far I’ve found it to be pretty good.  Of course, I don’t really know what I’m missing however for some reason it feels better knowing I’ve flicked through a couple of pages of my6sense recommendations than seeing the thousands of items that I never got around to looking at in Google Reader.

I do also occasionally dip in to Twitter and Friendfeed.  Twitter lists, and friend lists on Friendfeed help me catch up on things that particular people have said that I might have missed and I also use Friendfeed to bookmark things to go back to read later when I have more time.

I certainly don’t feel that I’m really part of an international education network.  If an online network does exists for the people who are interested in these aspects of international education then either:

  1. I  haven’t really found it yet (although I have found lots of people who offer some really interesting points of view);  or
  2. I’m too much of a visitor and not resident enough – also read I’ve been too much of a lazy slacker and haven’t worked hard enough to become part of that network yet.

However, I do feel that I’ve got the beginnings of a personal learning environment.  It’s a learning environment that I know will definitely change over the coming years, months and days in ways that I can only dream of, but it’s still my very own PLE isn’t it?

May 7, 2010

Goodluck Jonathan

Filed under: Uncategorized — Brendan @ 6:16 pm

It’s been a bit of a bizarre week.  From Tuesday to Thursday I was in meetings with some Greek colleagues, supposedly talking about the future. Given the current uncertainty in Greece such future-gazing was obviously very, very difficult.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about the upcoming UK election that happened yesterday. I explained the first past the post system and that I thought that the UK may be about to experience some uncertain times – given the likelihood of a hung parliament. The one thing they couldn’t understand why the election wasn’t taking place at the weekend and yesterday morning they were amazed to hear that I had voted at a few minutes past seven.

That evening, after my visitors had returned back to a Athens, I took a romantic stroll back to the polling station with my wife so that she could vote.  Sometime just after 9.30pm she voted and raised the turnout for that polling station to a whopping 50%, apparently the ward finished the night at 56% whilst the constituency finished only a little higher at 59.4%.

Later that night I heard about the voting irregularities that were happening elsewhere in the country and was reminded about the furore around hanging chads in the US Presidential Race of 2000 .  The (Wednesday?) morning that the story of the Florida debacle was breaking I was sat in Asaba, Delta State “the Big Heart” of Nigeria. I was meant to be providing some feedback to the State Governor on the initial scoping I had done for a project but instead along with all of the members of the Delta State Government I was sat in a sleek black leather chair glued to CNN cheering Al Gore on.   I distinctly remember the room breaking down in laughter when the now seemingly disgraced Governor, James Ibori, said something like, “Maybe we should have sent our electoral commission.  You’d never get this happening in Nigeria!”

Then today I had lunch with staff from the Nigerian PTDF and a current Nigerian PhD student who told me that he heard that this UK election was being observed by a Commonwealth team that included Nigerians from the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).  Crazy eh!

(In other news, I flicked back through some of my notes from my times in Nigeria last night and I realised that I’ve actually met their new President who was sworn in yesterday.  It was near the start of 2000 when I was working on another project, the best description of which is probably given by Dr Sese, for the Bayelsa State-owned Niger Delta University.  I remember the State Governor, who came to a similar end to Mr Ibori, slightly better than Goodluck Jonathan, the then Deputy State Governor.  In fact, most of my memories of my short time in Yenegoa relate to crazy motorbike rides on potholed roads in endless rain, queues of people that stretched on for miles, and the most flea bitten run down hotel it has ever been my pleasure to stay in. A dark damp room with a broken window and fan, no curtains, no running water and permanent electrical cuts.  It was all made bearable by the incredible warmth and drive of the staff I was working with, especially Prof. Buseri, the newly appointed VC.)

May 1, 2010

I can haz teh interwebz

Filed under: Life at home — Brendan @ 12:56 am

You don’t know what you got till it’s gone…..

I’ve been without my Samsung NC10 notebook for a while. The screen developed a fault a few months ago in which the screen would just go blank (white) when you plugged in or unplugged it from the mains. It would return to normal as long as you then turned the screen brightness down. I found out later that this was a known fault that would have been covered under the warranty.  However it wasn’t that big a deal so I carried on regardless until a few weeks ago when a couple of bubbles and a crack appeared on the screen.

My poor little netbook screen

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks without my little netbook.  It’s amazing how much this my internet use has been even more curtailed than usual.   I use a computer at work, but generally at work I’m working, rather than surfing the net for stuff that interests me.   We do have another computer  at home and I have my iPhone but these have their limitations, namely I can never get to use them because I have a Farmville addicted wife and two kids, who are always on them.

Anyway, this sort of screen damage is never covered under the warranty because it is always assumed to be user caused impact damage.  The nice people at Sykes (who Samsung use for their customer support) quoted £189 to get a new screen fitted at one of their repair centres and well over £100 (I didn’t make a note of the price) for just the part itself.   I dithered a bit at this point and did a bit of googling.  I contacted, D & J Henry, who also happened to be my local Samsung repair centre, and do electronics repairs for Argos.  They quoted £100+VAT which was a bit more reasonable.  I was very tempted to just pop around and see them, but I tried a couple more google searches before I made up my mind. Up popped up the website for LCDs4less.co.uk who were selling the screen for £65.75 including overnight delivery.  Then I also found a piece which showed most of the necessary steps and confirmed to me that I could handle the repair myself (I’d previously managed to replace my iPhone screen and the NC-10 looked equally as simple).

There was only one problem. There seemed to be several different screens to chose from.  The very helpful LCDs4less people told me there were actually two different types of screen and the only difference was the size (one screen is 10.1″ and the other is 10.2″) but I thought it was best to ask Samsung (Sykes) for the part number.

Once I knew I was after a BA59-02415A LCD PANEL-10.2WSVGA;CLAA102NA0ACW,WSVGA  I ordered the part last Saturday.   I got a despatch note on Monday and the screen was sitting waiting for me on Tuesday evening when I got home from work.

The repair was was very straightforward and took all of ten minutes.  The first few steps are shown in this article. The article doesn’t show the actual screen removal but if you are interested it’s simply a case of undoing an extra eight screws and detaching a ribbon cable at the back of the screen.  In retrospect whilst I had the case undone I probably should have gone the whole hog and ordered in a digitiser as well.  The idea of a touchscreen net book really brings out the inner geek in me.

I have an overactive mind so various thoughts hit me as I was making the repair:

1. the ease I had in sourcing a specialist piece of equipment over the internet

I’m not a huge internet shopper so it always surprises me when it the process works well.  I’m not sure how I would have gone about making this order just a few short years ago.  The interwebz has definitely changed businesses.

2. the value of information and skill

I was reminded of one of the key messages I picked up from Freakonomics, a book I read maybe four or five years ago and a blog I used to follow religiously. This message was that there is value when there’s an asymmetry in information, but that many of these asymmetries are diminishing with technology and a move towards the openness of information.

I also think that there ‘s something about the application of knowledge or information or maybe even confidence.  It’s easy to get information; it’s more difficult to know you have the experience or the skill to apply information.

(As a separate story, this week, even though my wife works for a DIY retailer and so would get a huge discounts on the materials, I’d just paid a local company to put in a new garden fence for me.  Why? Well simply because my wife, probably correctly, didn’t have the confidence that we (I) had the skill / experience that a tradesman would.  Note to self: Brendan if you ever get the time there’s another blog post in that story about sub-contractors, brand and WOM.)

3. the value of trust of both information and of brands

I’ll not launch in to a diatribe about the care that’s needed with internet research, but could I trust this information/company crossed my mind several times.  This was even more the case when I replaced my iPhone screen. The lack of solid information at that time was why I felt it was necessary to video the repair I made.

I’ll also not mention anything about the additional trust I had in D & J Henry simply because I knew where they were based and that I could visit their premises in person.

Instead I’ll just mention the brand premium.  Sykes were able to charge more than D & J Henry because they were closely associated with the Samsung brand.  I’m sure I knew D & J Henry were the Samsung repair centre (from the Samsung website) but I’m sure I only got a cheaper quote because I range their general customer line rather than taking the Samsung route.

4. and finally, how consumer electronics is designed to be disposable and how the make do and mend culture that I grew up in doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

Thinking about points 1,2 and 3 I think that there are probably lessons and parallels for all sorts of industries but especially for the one in which  I work, the higher education industry.  Especially when I read Seth Godin’s latest post and some of the responses to it.

March 27, 2010

So how many is that. Where, what and who…

Filed under: Data Visualisations, simple hacks — Brendan @ 12:03 am

I often have fairly complex sets of data that I need people to understand.  Often what I need to represent is geographical market information, i.e. country related data.

The sort of common questions I get include things like who and where are our students, how are courses growing in certain markets etc.

I’ve found that this sort of data is often best represented in some graphical format.

So I’m always interested  when I see a new way of laying the data in new ways that can be easily understood.  The latest I’ve discovered is producing kml output that uses the Google Chart api and opens in Google Earth to produce images like this.

It’s a shame that the kml doesn’t quite work the same way in Google Maps as it does in Google Earth.  Maps is more accessible in that it doesn’t require a plugin to work on the web. However the pie charts are icons and in Google Maps the icons are apparently automatically scaled to 32×32 pixels.

Because of wordpress limitations I can’t easily show the Google Earth version above and have opted for a screenshot instead. Although if you have Google Earth installed you just use the spreadsheet to produce a kml file and simply open it to get the full effect.

To enable me to generate these sort of images quickly I’ve made a spreadsheet in to which I can quickly enter data and then when I flip to the KML tab I can just copy and paste the text that’s produced into notepad.

Then it’s just a simple case of saving the file and double clicking on it in to open it up in Google Earth.

What I love about this method is how flexible it is.  I may well alter the spreadsheet so the output can be customised more easily.  e.g. at the moment on the settings tab I just allow the name, description and something that helps manage the scale of the charts to be customised.  I could easily see how I could customise the chart further (e.g. include the dataset labels, choosing colours, choosing the type of chart etc) or maybe even customising the numbers of data series used.

March 11, 2010

Going Global 4 #gg4 #bcgg4

Filed under: Conferences — Tags: , , — Brendan @ 11:29 pm

I got confirmation that I’ve got a place at Going Global 4 today. It’s billed as the international education conference and will be held at the Queen Elizabeth II Conference Centre on March 25/26th.

I’ve previously attended Going Global 1 which was held in Edinburgh in 2004 and Going Global 3 which was held at London Excel in 2008.

They usually offer fantastic networking opportunities. However some of the sessions are a bit hit and miss.

This year I’m looking forward to hearing what Martin Bean has to say in what could be an interesting panel discussion on “Opening learning: new ambitions for higher education in a Web 2.0 world“. I’ve never seen him in real-life but I’ve listened online to him speaking several times and have always been impressed. It will also be interesting to see the interplay with the other panellists on this session.

I’m also looking forward to whether there will be any sort of social channel especially for the plenary sessions. I’ve tagged this post #gg4 just in case. (Note later found out that hashtag of #bcgg4 was being used by policyreviewtv.)

However, what I’m really looking forward to is meeting some new people catching up with some old friends from all around the world who I haven’t seen for a while.

The only downside is that I probably can’t make it to a Twestival this time around.

March 10, 2010

Flipping the HigherEd Funnel

Filed under: International Student Recruitment, Social Media — Brendan @ 11:29 pm

Early last week I listened to a podcast on which Joseph Jaffe talked about some of his thinking in his latest book and I was left thinking “yeah, I’m not really sure how new this is but he seems to make sense, I wonder how much of this applies in a Higher Education (HE) context”. Then later in the week I saw a series of tweets from Mark Greenfield who was attending a webinar run by Powered, Jaffe’s company. Mark seemed to be thinking in the same way to me.

Then later in the week, last Friday, I sat through an all-staff Marketing Division Briefing at the University I work with. It covered the internal changes in the University and anticipated changes in the operating environment. I think the key phrase was this will be a period of “cuts and austerity”.

Then there was a sort of mini-marketing lesson. It was fairly standard stuff. It included the difference between Marketing Communications and Marketing as a whole – a topic that I’d often rail about. The lesson was necessary as the Division is actually really large and includes staff from Admissions, Alumni Relations, MarComms, Student Recruitment, Press & PR and the International Office who may not have had a formal marketing training or background.

Most of the lesson centred on the importance of differentiation and brevity of messaging. There was quite a bit about the importance of being first.

e.g. Everyone knows who Yuri Gargarin is but the guy on the left was apparently the third man in space (I say apparently as I found out later it depends a bit on your definition of space). Unsurprisingly no-one knew his name?

What about the 49th UK Prime Minister? She might be better known as the first female UK Prime Minister, mightn’t she?

The point was then made that many university marketing straplines and positioning statements are similar to that used by the Flight of the Concords. Compare “Ranked 6th best for student employment performance for non-specialist higher education institutions in England”; “Fourth for the highest average graduate starting salaries”; “Ranked in the top 5 best modern universities”; with “Formerly New Zealand’s fourth most popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo.”

From that there was then a vague UK university branding map the Elite (Oxbridge) at one end and the New Universities at the other. This lead on to the New Elite positioning. etc, etc.

What surprised me was that another UK university was mentioned alongside Oxbridge as an elite university. I initially thought this was just a slip of the tongue. However, from a conversation over a coffee later in the day I started thinking that it might not be.

This was particularly interesting for me because when I started looking for a job closer to home in Spring/Summer’08 I’d had a couple of interviews at this university to head up Student Recruitment.

I obviously didn’t get the job, which at the time I was very upset about, but now I’m happy with as my current role is far more up my street.

However, as part of this interview process I had to present on their new corporate strategy which ran to 2015 (seven years in the future) and the implications of this strategy. I was presenting to a group of staff – who would have either been my peers, or working to me.   It was a fairly standard-ish presentation covering how the future was fairly unpredictable and to demonstrate this I looked back at what has happened in the previous seven years (top-up fees; the twin towers attacks and it’s impacts on the international education market; an explosion of Chinese students on the campus of the university; communication changes including the rise of the web, email and mobile phones; the effect of their recent rise up the league tables etc.) and what this meant as their recruitment funnels changed shape. I went on to explain some of the challenging targets in the strategy and how I felt we would need to future-proof ourselves….

After the presentation one of the questions that I was asked was something like, how do you think our exhibition booth should look to differentiate ourselves at UCAS recruitment fairs? The question was obviously being asked of everyone. I seem to remember giving a fairly glib response and then asking a question back, “How important are UCAS recruitment fairs going to be to this University in the future?”

So how does this story fit with Jaffe’s Flip the Funnel?

Well, Jaffe has written a business book based on the premise that “Customer retention is totally overlooked and is in fact the new acquisition.”

He explains it in this short video.

I don’t like using the word customers, I prefer students, but I’ll buy that Higher Education is a business, maybe a business in need of radical change, but still a business.   My view is that in the vast majority of the world the qualification and the educational/student experience are commodities that are purchased – although I realise that this may not sit comfortably for many educators. (e.g. I listened to George Siemens at TEDxNYED at the weekend say something like if education draws heavily from corporations, I don’t want any part of it.)

However, unlike many industries the Higher Education Business is usually a significant one-off purchase. This means that some of the Jaffe’s soundbites about returning customers don’t seem quite that applicable* e.g.

12% of all Coca-Cola customers account for 80% of Coca-Cola Classic sales

75% of Zappos‘ revenue comes from returning customers

* at least not in student recruitment, although I can see some of them fitting well with other roles in HE, like alumni relations/giving.

In HE students (our customers) don’t usually come back for seconds and there is selection process that works both ways.  We are often recruiting with an eye on the quality and diversity of the intake, or to meet specific targets imposed either by physical limits or a regulatory environment.

In contrast, most businesses aren’t fussy about who their customers are.   (Although, I’m sure it does happen on occasion, e.g. I watched an episode of the brilliant 1950’s set Mad Men TV show, and there was a storyline about a TV manufacturer called Admiral not wanting to advertise to “Negroes”.)

However, these differences shouldn’t lead the HE community to entirely dismiss the concepts and stories that Jaffe is promoting. For example, on the recruitment side it is easy for selecting universities to over-invest in awareness by not pushing their points of differentiation or by attending fairs and advertising in specific publications and partaking in other promotional activity simply because that’s what others are doing.  Whilst retention of the right prospects through the conversion funnel and converting these “right prospects” is often underplayed.

Detractors (e.g. United Breaks Guitars) and promoters are more important than ever before.  Changes in communications have allowed people to express their satisfaction, and more likely dissatisfaction, to large numbers of people far more easily and quickly than in the past.

Jaffe is definitely on to something when he says what’s needed is  content, conversation and commendation.  He says we need to give our promoters a megaphone.  A sentiment with which I couldn’t agree more.

He’s also quick to push the customer experience to counter detractors.  In a rough approximation of his words, Customer Service is the new Marketing/PR and it can be a revenue generator but it’s “not your grandfather’s customer service.” It’s alive and it certainly shouldn’t stop at 5pm on Friday.

To me this is Moments of Truth played in public, in real time, often over the web.  Yes we need to build fantastic customer service, which requires an ongoing commitment, but we need to back this up with as near to a real time 24/7 monitoring service as we can afford.  My view is that this should incorporate formal processes as well as we have a duty of care for all students not just those with the loudest voices.  This monitoring / feedback process then needs to be triaged.  Issues and problems need to acknowledged, evaluated and routed with serious issues escalated to appropriate decision makers so that responses can be made as quickly as possible.  (In HE not all decisions can be made quickly, especially if a committee is involved, as they often are.)

One of the tweets I saw from Mark asked “Where does “customer service” organizationally reside in #highered?”  Well, my guess is it has to be distributed.  OK, there may well be within my university a Student Experience Committee but it’s the entire staff (including academic, administrative, technical and any other type of staff member) that provide the service.  These people will be considered by the student to be the organisation.  They are the brand*.  And, like or not, that means that they market the institution whether they know it or not.

* People are the brand, this tweet came up during the webinar. I think it has important implications for how brands should use social media and the importance of meshing personal, professional and corporate messages.

Hard to have a relationship w/ a biz. People want to talk to people, not to the “brand”

In conclusion, I’m not sure how new or original Jaffe’s thoughts are.  Especially if your starting point is that marketing is about identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.  The world is obviously changing.  Customers have a bigger voice than they ever have had in the past  and some of Jaffe’s stories and concepts help illustrate this well.  I’d love to read the book, but I’m realistic and know that unless it’s an audiobook I probably need to wait until I next take another holiday or a flight.

I’m sure there are other implications for HE that I’ve missed so I’d be interested in others’ thoughts.

March 2, 2010

Taking a holiday

Filed under: Life at home — Brendan @ 11:45 pm

So 2010 is nearly two months in and I find myself on only my second (or is it third) blog post of the year.

My low number of posts has certainly not been due to a dearth of ideas. Quite a bit has happened over the past month – although I didn’t think the world really needed another post about the failures/sucesses of Apple and Google with their recent product launches. That said, I haven’t seen that much about the difference in approach the two companies make in their product launches.  I was also quite interested in what’s going on at Facebook as they sent me an email as from my last job I’m still an admin of a Facebook page with a large number of fans. It said that, “To ensure a positive user experience, we require admins of large pages to confirm their affiliation with the brand, business, person or entity that their Page represents. ”  I thought this was interesting especially in light of Project Titan.

In addition to all of the tech news there are some really interesting things going on in my area of work. Personally I’ve also been through some interesting times – visiting for the first time what I consider one of the craziest, most unsustainable cities in the world (previously I’d only seen the Tarmac of DXB).

Nor has my low number of posts anything to do with an infatuation with a new micro-blogging service. For the record my initial reaction to Google Buzz was, “Wow looks good but not really for me – yet”. What was bizarre about Buzz for me was that I have never used my gmail as a primary email, instead its the email I use for all of my web services. Therefore I only had one automatic contact from an IM conversation.

Instead I took a holiday; both metaphorically and literally.  The low number of posts can all just be attributed to a busy start to the year. I just haven’t found my usual time to blog. So, partly out of guilt (why do we blog anyway?), I’ve resorted to piecing this entry together when waiting in shopping queues, waiting for my kids, on buses and in various other moments when I’ve had more than 30 secs to myself with my phone.

This is a lot harder than it sounds especially as the week before last was half term and so most of this blog post was written whilst I was on a family holiday and one of the key phrases that I heard if my phone is ever visible is, “Dad, can I play on your phone”, particularly when we are in taxis, on aeroplanes, waiting at airports etc.  Top tip: an iPhone is a godsend to keep kids amused when the flight home is delayed by five hours.

The holiday has been great although we haven’t done a huge amount. The kids are at the age where they are very happy just playing on the beach, having a swim, playing the occassional round of minigolf and dancing at their mini-disco in the early evening.

Our one proper outing was to visit Sioux City, so we now have two little sherrifs running around shooting each other.  I loved how you can become a fan of their albino crocodile on Facebook.

It was a lovely disconnected holiday for me.   I didn’t touch the Internet (although the kids have – when there was torrential rain we visited an arcade and instead of playing air hockey or pool they spotted some computers and asked to play moshimonsters). Nor have I watched much TV, other than some of the events from Vancouver 2010 on German Eurosport. It’s funny but usually in the Winter Olympics I’d be hooked on the curling – this time it’s mainly two-man bobsleigh, snow jumping and biathlon. TV scheduling all seems to be based around national preferences and medal chances.

Instead of being online in my downtime when the kids are in bed, I’ve immersed myself in a book.  I’m pretty pleased with myself on that I managed to read two books cover to cover and get halfway through a third.

The first book was a great page-turner, The Ghost by Robert Harris. The wikipedia description is spot on – the lead is not that subtle a characterture of Tony Blair.

The non-fiction was John Simpson’s “Not quite world’s end“. It was harder going but thoroughly enjoyable.  It contrasted nicely with The Ghost and I identified well with many of the situations he found himself in, especially those in Africa.  He’s really isn’t a bad old boy, but what I found most interesting was how vigorously John defends the BBC.

Far more vigourously than the corporation’s director-general Mark Thompson seemed to do on Newsnight this evening.  I’m a license fee and independent state broadcasting fan but I really don’t know what to think of how poor this performance was.  It left me wondering what exactly to think.

January 10, 2010

Google-opoly at #lff10

Filed under: Conferences — Tags: , , — Brendan @ 11:43 am

I’ve been attending a conference, “Positively Disruptive“, for the past few days. It’s the Beyond Distance Research Alliance online conference and is mainly being run through Eluminate (a platform I really like) and Second Life (a platform I’ve never really understood or got in to).

If you are interested in attending the “Positively Disruptive” conference it’s not too late – as the conference runs until the 14th January 2010.

Quite a bit of the conference content really interests me, however I’ve found it difficult to participate fully because of the family commitments and the day job.

There’s been more than one occasion where I’ve had to come out of the Eluminate session to answer the phone, meet a deadline, get the kids dressed or fed etc.

So tonight (last night) I thought I’d try and participate fully in a session called Google-opoly and I thought I’d make a diary of my experience of this session here as well as in the wiki. N.B. it is a working post and changed quite a bit over the course of Sunday 10th January 2009.  It may still change further!

The session was based around a custom Google Map and a wiki so I had to register my google account in advance.

Then at 6pm I signed in to Eluminate to do the orientation briefing. Unfortunately despite my best intentions, I missed most of this as I was cooking dinner at the time and had two screaming children. However I understood that I’d receive an email and a link to a Google Map and would be able to do the session later that night / the following day.

The email came through at 19:41 on the 9th January.  I had a quick look at the email which told me I was to start in Rio where I would be given a task. However I waited until my wife and kids went to bed and then managed to get a look at the map.

The welcome message said:

Welcome, Traveller…
You are at the threshold of the Mysterious Labyrinth of the 101 Possible Futures for Learning… Many have attempted to steal its secrets and many have failed… They have remained locked up in the endless corridors of the Labyrinth, to serve as an example to those tempted to follow in their footsteps, and their words were put up in the World Wide Web to the amusement of the world:
http://www.rinkworks.com/said/predictions.shtml
If your resolve is still undaunted, take the first step into the Labyrinth and try to reach the elusive Future of Learning treasure cove.

At each step in the Labyrinth you will have to make a choice, complete a task or answer a question.

On clicking on the map marker in Rio I was told:

The number of higher education institutions in the world in 2025 is three times the number of higher education institutions in 2010.

1. In your Travelogue on the wiki, list three arguments why you think the number of higher education institutions in the world in 2025 is three times the number of higher education institutions in 2010.
2. Find an image of Rio de Janeiro on the web. Cut and paste an image of yourself (or something representing yourself 😉 onto the image of Rio de Janeiro and save it. Upload it on this website:
http://wigflip.com/saywhat/.
Create a caption, using the website, for example: “I wish you were here in Rio de Janeiro in 2025”. Save the resulting image and upload it on your travelogue in the wiki.

In the Eluminate Orientation session we were each asked to pick a statement that we agreed with.   I didn’t see the question properly.  Due to lack of time I think I mis-read the question in the orientation, as I think by 2025 we might be seeing some aggregation rather than fragmentation. However I felt duty bound to come up with some answers that sounded vaguely plausible. These were:

  1. New for-profit private colleges entering the market.
  2. A funding regime that leads to a larger number of smaller specialised more regional undergraduate teaching universities. These are likely to be non-residential and more akin to sixth-form colleges.
  3. Population growth and the need to open new HEI’s to serve demand especially in countries like China, India, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia etc.

I then searched the web for a suitable image and a quote “tomorrow will worry about itself” (Matthew 6:34 in case you are wondering). Took a photo of myself using the camera on my netbook and with a bit of cropping in Paint.Net I came up with the image below. I hope some don’t find it blasphemous.

I then hit my first problem. Wetpaint (the wiki we were using – another platform I really don’t like) doesn’t like Chrome and Safari.   It also isn’t that easy to use on a Netbook – and you may as well forget trying to update it from an iPhone.

From Rio I was sent to Valencia where I got the following instructions:

1. Think of three examples where an industry, area of knowledge, or any area of human activity in history or at present has undergone the types of changes that may lead to the increase in the number of higher education institutions in the world. Post your examples in your travelogue.
2. Find an image that you associate with each example and post it on the wiki with a short comment about why you think the image represents your example.
3. When you are done, go to Maui. You are doing great! Who knows, you may be luck enough to get out of the Labyrinth of the Hundred Futures….

I thought that with this question it would have been easy to talk about Moore’s Law and the Digital Revolution, however I think that this has been done to death – my favourite is this take on the Shift Happens video by a US private education group. So instead I decided to focus on two other revolutions and a mania so I came up with the following:

  1. The creation of the steam engine (which was a key driver in the industrial revolution) even helping to create new industries. File:Watt7783.png
  2. The French revolution which was a period of massive social and political upheaval that lead to a radical change in France and Europe.File:H P Perrault Prise de la Bastille (painted 1928).jpg
  3. Manias are financial bubbles – in Holland in the 1630’s the price of a Tulip bulbs including the Viceroy (pictured below) reached crazy levels . Could universities be operating in bubbles likely to draw in private investors – creating HEI’s in a bid to seek an unrealistic and unsustainable return on their investment?
    File:Tulipa Viceroy door Anthony Claesz. rond 1640.jpg

At this stage I’d worked out that the task was going to take a bit more than the hour that had been allocated.  So before going to bed on Saturday the 9th January I skipped ahead a couple of locations hoping and praying that Sandra who set up the Google-opoly task hasn’t made a Labyrinth with moving walls.  I did this as I knew that the following day I wouldn’t have much time and would need to be able to make updates via my iPhone.  On reaching Maui where I was asked the following:

1. Think of 6 factors which may facilitate the increase in the number of institutions in the world. You need at least one example of each of the factors listed below:
A. Social
B. Technological
C. Economic
D. Environmental
E. Political
F. Legal
G. Ethical/cultural
List your examples in your travelogue in the wiki.
When you are done, go to Bad Kissingen.

Having slept on it I came up with the following, at around 10am on Sunday 10th January (but I thought that some of the examples could have been stronger):

A. Social – a perceived need for members of society to up-skill, fuelling demand for higher education at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels.
B. Technological – the improvements in teaching technology allows the ability to teach large numbers of students using a distributed academic staff, lowering the cost of entry for potential new HEIs leading to a proliferation of new providers.
C. Economic – in an effort to reduce costs more students are living at home and so more regional universities need to be built.
D. Environmental – something similar to the economic argument, students and governments looking to reduce their carbon footprint so more local universities are needed.
E. Political – it is realised that higher education is no longer a public right and cannot be subsidised by governments. This leads to increased public / private partnerships and more entrepreneurial private HEIs focused on degree completion.
F. Legal – there’s an opening up across the world of the rules regarding what sort of organisations can award degrees.
G. Ethical/cultural – the war on terror continues apace widening cultural divides, this leads to a growth in small institutions tailored to specific communities.

In Bad Kissingen I was told:

Think of three ways in which each of the groups below will be affected if indeed the number of higher education institutions in the world in 2025. Write down your thoughts in your Travelogue in the wiki:

Students
Academics
University administrators
For-profit producers of learning technologies.
Learning technology.

Ah, and send your fellow explorers a postcard from Bad Kissingen. Use the magical powers of the Internet, if you have to (i.e.fake one).
Good work! You are doing too well. If I were you, I’d be careful not to attract the attention of the Labyrinth Trolls with all your shining successes….

Go to Dubai

So again I found an appropriate image and the town coat of arms and a pdf of the back of a postcard and created the image below.

My thoughts on what will affect the groups were:

Students

  1. More choice
  2. A more consumerist attitude
  3. More orientated towards a return on their investment

Academics

  1. Possibly further separation of roles, e.g. teaching vs research especially in more teaching only HEI’s
  2. A more corporate employment contract
  3. Maybe the end of academic freedom

University administrators

  1. More demanding and litigious students
  2. A more competitive environment
  3. Greater flexibility in working practice will be demanded

For-profit producers of learning technologies

  1. Concentration on the profitable areas of the curriculum
  2. More institutions looking for ways to differentiate themselves
  3. A need to be learner and meaner that state sponsored providers – does this mean cutting corners

Learning technology

  1. As there become more potential customers learning technology companies begin to make serious money
  2. Will proliferate – numerous HEI’s all running their own individual systems and software
  3. (I realised after the event I hadn’t thought about the open movement both OERs and open source software could become highly important.  OERs could either fragment and increase in number, as seems to be currently happening, or large OERs could be utilised by multiple institutions.)

Despite missing a reason I set off for Dubai where the following happened.

Ahhh, you were warned, you were warned!!! The Labyrinth Trolls are after you! You will need to enlist the help of some of the other adventurers exploring the Labyrinth. Find out who of the other Learning futures Festival 2010 participants is also in the Labyrinth and pair up with them to complete together the following task to save yourselves from the Trolls. Any means of persuading them to collaborate with you are allowed – you need their help!!! Except for threatening to delete their travelogues on the wiki – instant disqualification will follow. When you have paired up with a fellow explorer (communicate using the wiki, Elluminate or email), complete the following tasks:

1. Find out some information about the institution of your Collaborator. List who your collaborator is in your travelogue.
2. In your travelogue, list 5 ways in which their institution can prepare itself for the future you have described so far in your travelogue – the future of sharp increase in the number of institutions. What do they need to do in order to be “successful” in that future? What will happen to them?
Now go to Taj Mahal and hope that the Trolls have lost sight of you…

So I was stuck in Dubai until I found a collaborator.  I left a message on this blog asking if anyone could help and I left a similar message on my wiki page.  At this stage my wiki page contained the contents of the task of Rio and that was all.  I also sent a cry of help in a more targeted way in to the Twitter ether?  Around 3pm Amanda Jones left her comment below.  She’s a Consultant Gynaecologist with an interest in education that has taken her down the route of becoming Foundation Programme Director for a hospital in the Manchester area – she oversees the training of the newly qualified doctors for their 1st 2 years.

(This bit is out of order as I noticed with 1hr 30 to go that I missed something. Damn, just noticed I’ve missed listing 5 ways in which Amanda’s institution can prepare itself for the future I’ve described so far in my travelogue.  N.B. I’m not sure that we’re going to see a major increase in F1/F2 training providers, given that it’s a subsidised area – isn’t it? However I’ll give this a go.

  1. Ensure that they are tightly linked to the Royal Colleges
  2. uncertain
  3. uncertain
  4. uncertain
  5. uncertain

Unfortunately I didn’t have much thinking time at this stage and only got the first thing Amanda’s institution should do.  One of my fellow Google-opoly players, Mick Norman, came up with the following ideas:

Here are my five suggestions to help with the increased number of students in 2025.

  1. As there won’t be enough time or real live patients for trainees to learn from, virtual patients in Second Life and other virtual environments will become essential. Using both live patients and virtual patients before the student numbers increase will help ease the transition for both teaching staff and students.
  2. Using OERs will enable the hospital to maintain a high quality of teaching resources to larger numbers of students.
  3. Distance-based learning means that students can learn from all round the country, but attend physical placements in or near their own homes.
  4. Constant training (as mentioned above in San Francisco) will mean that whilst the hospital will have many more students enrolled, they are not necessarily all training at the same time, meaning that live placements can be optimised.
  5. Improvements in virtual patient technology will mean that the physical placements in hospital that do take place will not need to be as long as they are in 2010. (I think I’m stretching into idealistic here!).

Looking back I’m sure I could have come up with a few more ideas if I’d thought more about this or had a bit more time.)

So with 4 hours to go I moved on to the Taj Mahal and was told:

You will need some more collaboration now. Look again at the travelogue of your collaborator and list in your own travelogue 5 possible future developments which may prevent from happening the future that your collaborator is working on. Write them down in your travelogue.
You are almost done. You can see the light at the end of the tunnel of the Labyrinth. Or wait… Is it the incoming train? You have to move fast! Go to Sozopol.

Looking at Amanda’s possible future, I’ve come up with the following five developments that may conflict – I’m a bit ashamed that most of these are UK-centric and might be a little outlandish – but maybe not:

  1. Businesses saying that they don’t really need graduates – there was a piece in the news this week about SME’s in the UK thinking that A levels were graduate qualifications.
  2. A new form of power source is discovered that is cheap and non-polluting in Fudan University (China) in 2012.  They invest the patent royalties in their university – it grows in size and status, buying out lesser facilities like MIT.  In turn this triggers fewer big name brands in education.
  3. The pressure on universities in some countries to get students through the courses quicker and cheaper causes a international schism.  In particular the new UK two-year degrees are not recognised at all internationally.  The UK’s competitive advantage in the international higher education market is in tatters.
  4. The government decides to introduce a national higher education curriculum and states that to ensure conformity that all undergraduate degrees will assessed and issued by the new University of Great Britain headquartered in Milton Keynes.  Regional universities that are not research centres effectively become little more than schools teaching to a particular syllabus.
  5. The latest 2012 World University Rankings uses measures in which very large universities are advantaged – this leads governments to start merging institutions for reasons of national pride.

Hurrah I could then move on where I find the following:

You are safe. And it is the end of the labyrinth. In order to be allowed to come out, you need to complete one last task:
1. Think of three common practices in learning and teaching in 2010 which may disappear by 2025. List them in your travelogue. Post one image for each potential Dodo.
2. Think of three ways in which you might need to change your work/career to prepare for a future with many more students. List them in your wiki.
3. Select all the text from your travelogue and paste it in the Wordle application here:

http://www.wordle.net/

When you have created a wordle that you like, press ALT and PrtScrn on your keyboard. Open the Paint programme on your computer and press Alt+V. this will paste your wordle in Paint. Save the image as a jpeg and post it in your Travelogue.

Hurray! You are done!!!! Come to the live conclusion of Google-opoly on Sunday at 6 in the elluminate Room for a discussion of your adventures with the other survivors (if there are any, the Labyrinth is an unforgiving place)….

And my answers were (links go to the images – haven’t had time to insert them yet):

  1. Physical books and libraries.
  2. Paper based forms / documents – application, registration, transcripts
  3. Vivas – to be replaced by other forms of assessment (probably continuous)

How will my work/career need to change in a future with many more students?

Given my role I don’t know if it will change because the university is working with more students.  I need to think about this a bit more.  In a sense, I’m a step removed from students.  I work in international marketing and partner management at the University.  We may end up working with more/different partners who will need greater support from me/the university.  However I think it will be other sorts of changes particularly political and technological that will drive change in my work and career.  I need to remain informed about the possible futures and changes to the regulatory frameworks that affect the environments in which I/the university works.

And here is my wordle (I did this at 7pm whilst waiting for the wrap -up session to complete).

It was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I have since updated my wetpaint wiki page.  However given that it is an open wiki that anyone can edit / delete I thought it was important to have the content here as well.

Congratulations to all of my fellow Google-opolers who escaped the labyrinth and well done Sandra for setting up a really interesting exercise.

January 6, 2010

Career women make bad mothers

Filed under: Social Media, Trad marketing methods — Tags: — Brendan @ 7:01 am

I saw the “Career women make bad mothers” outdoor ad on a bus shelter as I was driving around the Leicester Ring Road on my way home yesterday.

It made an impression.  I remember thinking, “What advertiser uses a message like that.  Are they looking for trouble. ”

As I was only able to read the headline I assumed it was for some trashy new TV show.  A few minutes later I’d forgotten all about it.  Then in the evening I saw a tweet by @pigironjoe and I was interested enough to read his posterous post http://post.ly/HIrO.

Unlike Tristram I’m not a careers person so I wasn’t particularly interested in the careers aspect of the headline.  Instead, I was interested in the campaign itself.

So I went off to the marketing comics to find out a bit more.  According to Media Week/Brand Republic, it’s part of a £1.25m campaign to promote the power of outdoor advertising and will use 11,500 billboards and poster sites nationwide.  To put this into perspective it’s the equivalent weight as a campaign that would be used for the launch of a new blockbuster film or of a campaign by a major telecoms company.

What interests me about this campaign is the supposed interaction between online and offline media and the use of such a provocative headline.  In terms of the provocative headline I think that “Max Harrington” sums my thoughts up well with his comment on the Media Week/Brand Republic article.

Max Harrington

Max Harrington – 05/01/2010
This approach is a bit old hat these days. Couldn’t they come up with something that’s clever or funny? When the outdoor industry did that campaign \(10 years ago) for a fake Aussie perfume that was brilliant. If the outdoor industry wants to seduce brands then use the style of creative ads that brands would run. The average marketing director will simply say “well of course you got a response, you insulted thousands of people, big deal, that ain’t selling”.

However what really has me scratching my head is the quote from Alan James, the chief executive of the Outdoor Advertising Agency, “The campaign hopes to demonstrate the power of outdoor advertising as a direct response medium with the ability to drive people online.”  (Now this may not be an exact quote, there’s a subtle difference between the word direct and the word immediate used in the Daily Dooh post linked above. )

But in any case, why:

  1. was the URL so small as to be unreadable on the poster?
  2. pick the domain britainthinks.com when there is already a whatbritainthinks.com domain which dates from March 2003 (it was for text-messaging about the Iraq War and I found the analysis of their campaign really interesting);
  3. build a site that’s so poor for SEO purposes?
  4. run neglible PPC? Bizarrely they are bidding on “Britain Thinks” – where’s the PPC for the phrases that they will use on their posters.  If I were still a PPC advertiser I’d seriously consider running a campaign on their phrases for some quick, cheap eyeballs.

You’d expect them to get all this right wouldn’t you.  After all this a serious £1.25m campaign – isn’t it?

Having seen the poster the only thing I had to go on was the phrase Career Women make Bad Mothers.  So I typed it directly in to Google and at the time of writing the number one result was a highly critical mumsnet post “Career women make bad mothers“.  Whilst on Bing it’s this great blog post on “Career women make bad mothers“.

The BritainThinks website doesn’t make the first page on either search engine.

Whilst there is definitely more to getting a message across than advertising on Google poor oohgle thinking is unforgivable in this day and age.  Separately I’m wondering what effect the snow is going to have on the campaign.

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