• Tuesday, September 09th, 2008

When it comes to technology, do you ever feel like your students are speaking a foreign language? When hearing terms like YouTube, Twitter, Blogs, Wiki, and Furl, some of us who aren’t members of the millennial generation wonder “What are they talking about?” More important still is the next question: “How can I talk to them?”

How many of you have ever wished there was an easier, faster, more efficient method of reaching out to your student body than the traditional methods of newsletters, flyers, or even campus e-mail? How many of you have your own blog? How many have a MySpace or FaceBook page loaded up with pictures from your last family outing? So why not take a few of those “fun” things you already do from home and use them at work? Web sites taking advantage of the social aspects of Web 2.0 make interaction with students almost easy.

While reading this article won’t make you a social media expert, it will hopefully give you some insight into deciphering the terms and tools of this generation, as well as a few suggestions on how you may be able to use some of these tools to reach out to your students.

Greater interactivity: Digg it

Web 2.0 is a not a new version of the World Wide Web, but rather a new way to use the Web, a new way to interact with people and the things you discover. The old Web was more like a billboard along the highway; people put things up and hoped you would slow down long enough to read it. If you liked something you saw, and could remember where it was, you could send an e-mail to the author or your friends. But that was the extent of your interaction. Web sites incorporating Web 2.0 tools are more interactive, more engaging. Web 2.0 sites are more like a community and less like a billboard.

One of the most commonly used tools in the Web 2.0 collection are comments. Unlike the billboard, now if you find something you like, you can post a comment on the page telling the author what you think of his or her work, or click an icon and send the link to all your friends at once.

Social bookmarking sites such as Furl, (pronounced “delicious”), Digg, or Stumbleupon make it extremely easy for Web site visitors to share things they find interesting with each other. You may have a favorite that you use already. A simple click of an icon shares the page with all of your online friends.

As an example of how you can use this technology in the financial aid arena, let’s take a look at the social book marking feature on TG’s Adventures in Education Web site at When you hover your mouse over each icon, you’ll notice links to multiple bookmark, blogging, and social networking sites as well. Adventures in Education has only been making use of this technology for a short time, but has seen tremendous results, with thousands of visitors submitting pages and thousands more following the links provided to them by their friends. While you may think it’s some sort of rocket science to add these icon-type linky thingies to your pages, it’s actually pretty easy. At most, you may have to buy donuts for your Web team so they’ll add the few lines of code to your pages for you. How simple is that?

Twitter while you work

Ever wish there was a way to tell everyone you know – and maybe a bunch you don’t know – exactly what you are doing throughout your day? If you answered yes, then Twitter is for you – and coincidently, many of the students on your campus. Think of Twitter like text messaging on steroids. Create your account and let your students know about it. Even better, search for them to see if they have accounts and add them as friends. Because Twitter limits you to a message size of only 140 characters, students are more likely to at least scan your message and not roll their eyes and delete it, like they may be doing now with your e-mails. As you send more updates, hopefully the word will spread about their usefulness and more students will subscribe to your messages.

How many times has a student walked into your office and said “Hi, I don’t need any money today, I’m just stopping by to see what you’re up to?” Most likely never. That means that most students have no idea what goes on in your office when they’re not trying to get some of that “free money” they know you’re hoarding. How to let them in behind the scenes? A blog may be the answer. The casual, conversational writing style adapted by most bloggers makes these sites easy to read and certainly easier to follow than the “spit and polish” formal methods that most of us are used to reading, and let’s admit it, writing too. Blogs tend to talk to people and not at them. Sit down and write a paragraph or two a week about what actually goes on in your office. Show your students that there are real people with real jobs in there. It could make a difference in how they see you and your role next time they want some of your free money.

MySpace and Facebook are like golden nuggets of social goodness with all the tools you need wrapped up in one pretty little package. Ready to start the office blog? You can do that. Want to post 100 photos from an on-campus event? You can do that. Want a place where students can post questions or comments 24 hours a day? You can do that, too. Unlike traditional Web sites, these Web 2.0 sites are more interactive and more engaging. Social networking makes your office more like a warm, inviting community and less like an inert road sign.

Now it’s up to you to pick one or two of these fun (and kind of scary) new things to try on your own. How do you know which ones? Step out in the hall, grab a few students and ask them what they’d like you to try out first. It won’t all be easy, and you might even make some mistakes. In the end, however, you will have learned a few things and probably make a difference to a few students who might otherwise have been missed.

Web 2.0 Tech terms

Feeling left behind on the latest tech terms your students throw around? Here’s a quick guide to help get you up to date:

Web 2.0 is a term used to collectively describe the tools and features found on newer, more social-minded Web sites. Although the term suggests a new version of the World Wide Web, it does not refer to an update to any technical specifications, but to changes in the ways software developers and end-users use the Web. Many of the technology components of “Web 2.0” have existed since the early days of the Web.

A Blog (an abridgment of the term web log) is a Web site, usually maintained by an individual, with regular entries of commentary, descriptions of events, or other material such as graphics or video. Many blogs provide commentary or news on a particular subject; others function more as personal online diaries. The ability for readers to leave comments in an interactive format is an important part of many blogs.

Social Bookmarking is a method for Internet users to store, organize, search, and manage bookmarks of Web pages on the Internet. In a social bookmarking system, users save links to Web pages that they want to remember and/or share. These bookmarks are usually public.

Social Networking Web sites provide a collection of various ways for users to interact, such as chat, messaging, email, video, blogging, discussion groups, and so on. Social networking has revolutionized the way we communicate and share information with one another in today’s society. Various social networking Web sites are being used by millions of people everyday on a regular basis, and it now seems that social networking is a part of everyday life.

This article originally appeard in “TG Connections”, a publication of TG for the Financial Aid Community.

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