To close this week of reflection of the #SAtechMI Unconference, there won't be any funny picture, just a story.
While there were great sessions and conversations about a wide variety of topics, we were to focus on this much larger question:
How can we use technology to build community?
At the very core of this question, you would immediately think social media. Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Tumblr, and so many more have taken our ability to communicate and learn from each other to a new level. At this unconference, I was able to meet people I have been connected to on Twitter for some time.
Even features of some of the sites scream "community." Twitter users use the hashtag to communicate with those who share similar interests. Sure some may be a television show or sporting event, but there are also those in industries that are literally chatting using the hashtag. In student affairs, there is the large community using #SAchat, but even more specifically, there are those interested in technology (#SAtech), those in Enrollment Management (#EMchat), Academic Advising (#acadv), and so many more. We are using technology to build community.
But it extends past social media. Our presentations and workshops can build community. Having the ability to effectively build slide decks and prezis enhances what you are sharing with the group. The keynote for this unconference was Chas Grundy from Notre Dame and spoke about the power of story telling. There were two key points that I took away from his keynote.
In order to change behavior you need to change minds. In order to change minds, you need to change hearts. Stories change hearts #SAtechMI
Now, we can talk all day about the power of technology, and not a single person could care. However, if you are able to connect and make it personal for the person you are speaking with, change, and more importantly, action come into place. The other huge take a away is that his keynote didn't have any technology (outside of his microphone). There wasn't a presentation, no videos, nothing. It was a great way to end our day because my answer to the big question is:
Not only can we use technology to build community, but technology can be the reason for community.
We came together that day and spoke of many things. Of twitter and metrics, of blogging and digital literacy. We came together that day to talk about technology and many of us shared stories of how we are currently using technology. We also figured out many ways to keep improving our use of technology. Technology was the reason, not necessarily the solution, the community was formed.
As I mentioned in my first post, this experience was amazing. I encourage anyone that has the opportunity to attend an "unconference" to do so. Even further, if you are planning a conference or meeting of any kind, include some opportunity to be "unconference" like. You will be amazed (and slightly mentally drained) at the end from all of the interaction, problem solving, and story telling that take place.
The final session I attended before the keynote was a session about Google, more specifically, the apps of Google. I am just going to jump right in to the list of things mentioned with a brief benefit. Needless to say, the following was just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the uses and implications of using these Google Applications.
Google Account Does Not Mean Gmail - Most people assume that in order to get any of these apps, you need to have a Gmail address. The important thing to know is that a Google account does not mean that you are going to have a Gmail address. You can sign up and use your university email or whatever else you want with it.
Google Drive - Great tool for collaboration and creating documents that are the equivalent to Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. There is also a Form tool to send basic surveys and sign-up documents
Google Plus Communities - Requires Google plus, but a better version of Facebook's Groups
Creating and Event with Google - If you create an event with your Google Plus account, you can turn on a "party mode." This allows people to take pictures and they attach to the event so that you can capture the event.
Google Hangout - Video chat and type chat with everyone. The video chat can replace meeting in the physical space. The on air function allows you to hold meetings and present slideshows. On air can also be recorded to generate webinar like material. This is the first thing I am going to try.
Google Chrome - Google's internet client is smoother running and many of the apps can be opened from an apps page in Chrome. The additional benefits of some apps to run specifically off of Chrome can help increase productivity
Boomerang for Gmail - Allows you to schedule and set reminders from emails to your Google Calendar. A nice addition to help with your crazy routines.
The Old Reader - Discussed was the sad departure of Google Reader, but the RSS feed reader "The Old Reader" was mentioned to help people transition away from Google Reader into something that looks like an older version of Google Reader (which was the point of creating the old reader)
Google Script - A database of formulas and scripts to help with a multitude of different tasks in spreadsheets.
Google Scholar - As researchers and educating our students how to do research, Google scholar is a database that pulls scholarly material. A must for the college environment.
Google Search - It is a classic. Much like we refer to all facial tissue as Kleenex, the search for anything has come to be known as "Google-ing". It still has a lot of power because it allows us to learn any of the mentioned services or whatever else we want. As a person with a hacking mentality, Google is already my best friend, but this session has shown me our relationship is stronger than I thought.
Blogging, what a wonderful word. As you sit here reading, you are reading my blog. This for me serves as both a personal blog as well as a part of my professional site. Every person has the ability to blog. Some take it to the next level and develop these sites for their departments and universities.
This second session of the Student Affairs Technology Unconference in Michigan had a group of professionals at a variety of different levels in terms of their understanding of what it means to blog, what platforms can you use, and what would this look like on a college campus. Here are a few highlights from our conversation!
There are many platforms - The question came up about where to start, and this prompted an impromptu show and tell. There happened to be four or five professionals in the room who blog personally that all had a different platform to share. We were able to see and discuss: Weebly, Wordpress.com, Tumblr, and Blogger. Each have their pros and cons, but it was clear that overall it was easy to create, but was it easy to start
What to talk about - When discussing from a personal side, it is easy to say that it is whatever interests you. If you have multiple interests, share them and organize them with tags and categories. Explain to your audience that it is going to cover a lot of different things and that you hope they enjoy at least one of them. When talking about it from a department/university level, it really depends on your audience, so ask them! Find what gets students talking. At the same time, it is the department's time to generate their own content to use for a multitude of purposes. From recruitment to student reflections, there is no end to the opportunity, but it is your job to start.
Consistency is key - Most in the room that had a blog had a hard time at least once in there time of writing when they fell off the wagon. The key thing was how do you motivate yourself to send out regular posts. It was mentioned to add it as a reminder on your calendar. Another said that when the mood hits you, write multiple and save them in your drafts. There was also the point of writing for yourself, and if it doesn't come to you, don't force it. If you get on a spree, share the spree.
Generate conversation outside of the blog - To generate audience and attraction, conversation needs to occur outside the blog. Use social media to drive people to the source, but then spawn conversations on the *social* networks.
Student Employment is Power - The question came up if this were an internship, would there be enough work to do. I made a reference to a post I wrote and said yes, and you can make a team of it and still find people to work. Giving training and building that digital literacy about blogging is important, but so is freedom to create. Find students that have an knack for writing. Let them create their posts, many of these sites can create contributors where you end up as the sole person that can publish to the site. Students can then make it, you proof it and approve it, then it goes to the site.
Personal use is most important - Much like social media and other technology, we determined that it was important to experience this first personally before expanding to the department or university. Build your own digital literacy before attempting a large scale. To help build the literacy, there are tutorials upon tutorials to teach the mechanics and give suggestions to create the best product.
When I was in middle school, I did an assignment on Greek mythology. I was to take a phenomenon in the world and write my own story about the Greek gods and why this phenomenon occurs in the world. To write this back then meant that my mom would driving me to the library where I would spend hours searching for books. I would check them out and go home to write my rough draft. As my pencil continued to shrink, the story grew. I would then go and type in the computer lab my rough draft into a final draft. It was a neat story about thunderstorms being nothing more that the Greek gods glow-bowling.
I remember when the internet was not as robust. I remember when we got our first computer in the house. My first typed assignments were either typed in the computer lab or on my grandmother's typewriter. To be a successful student back then meant knowing the tools of the time.
It's the same as it is now, right? Our students know the tools to succeed in today's world, right?
The first session that I attended was a conversation about student's digital literacy. Do students truly understand the use of technology in their life? This was a great conversation and addressed several issues. I will try to highlight a few points.
There is still a gap - As we talk about access to higher education, the same can be said for technology. As much as new technology bridges gaps in connecting us to each other and the general knowledge, the more it creates gaps to those who have access. When we talk about bringing social media and other tools into the classroom, do we recognize that there are those who don't have access outside of the classroom.
Being a millennial does not equate to being an expert - We continue to say that the students today are extremely tech savvy, and while their understanding of the functions are sometimes higher than older generations, the understanding of consequences is not. Between the ill advised posting of photos on Facebook, to research solely based on Wikipedia, there is still much to be learned about the different software and tools.
The Librarian still knows all - While you think you may know how to navigate a search box, Librarians are still the expert. Whether it be the digital catalog or a Google search, your librarian staff can teach you how to optimize your process to find exactly what you need and more.
Forget Millennial, what about our digital literacy - If we are suppose to be the educators to help build our student's digital literacy, shouldn't we know it first? It was clear that there was a gap among all of us, and if you combined our knowledge together, you would still find plenty of holes. It is important as much as we teach our students to be life long learners, we too need to continue our learning.
Services need to be made available and started early - The conclusion of a very awesome discussion concluded that there needed to be services. We went as far as to say that as much as a university has a writing center and a career services office, there needs to be a specific office that handles digital literacy. To be able to teach technology so that students are not only learning how to use different technology, but to understand the implications of using it. To be able to be creative and confident that what they are doing online and otherwise is safe for them and creating digitally literate students. It was also said that this needs to start as early as middle school. If it is going to be a college focus, it should start with orientation and carry itself through all the years of the students college career. We always work towards giving students the tools necessary to succeed, and digital literacy is the necessary tool to be placed on the tool belt.
Friday May 31st marked the Michigan edition of the Student Affairs Technology Unconference. The event was unlike anything that I have ever been a part of, and I never want to be a part of anything else. Being in Ann Arbor (one of my favorite places in the great Pure Michigan), surrounded by 70+ people all hear for a mission. The group was here to talk technology. It wasn't about a catered meal or some tourist attraction, we were there because we wanted the content. Now, to get the content, it meant sharing, collaborating, conversing through three intense breakout sessions.
Did we know what we were going to talk about at the beginning of the day? Nope!
That is the best part of the unconference model. Content was not determined ahead of time through program proposals. It was determined right there in the room on the spot! We talked about what we wanted to talk about! More importantly, when you got to a session that you wanted to attend, you were surrounded by those that wanted to be there too! There was no content expert waiting for you to show the cool project he or she did, but rather, an immediate jump into dialogue and discussion. Some people asked questions, some people performed an impromptu show and tell session on what either they personally or their university was doing.
At the end of day, I walked away with buckets full of new ideas and a healthy serving of inspiration. I walked away meeting some of my connections on Twitter in the physical life for the first time. I made connections to professionals that will continue via Twitter and LinkedIn. I walked away spending all of the battery on my iPad creating 80 of the most content heavy tweets I think I have ever written.
Most importantly, I walked away knowing my purpose in Higher Education. That feeling I had when all of my work over the last seven years (especially the last 2) all came together was something I never want to lose. I know what I want to do, I know what is needed, most importantly, I know how to get it done.
There will be many posts to come giving highlights to each of the conversations I had throughout the day. I sit here fired up and excited for what the future has in store. It was by far the best experience I have ever had.