Some people tell me I’m a deep thinker, but that may be a shallow thought. After all, I almost chose my college on the basis of a t-shirt.
I was a senior at Midwest City High when I visited OSU’s campus. Impressed as I was with the place, I was more impressed with this one great orange and black tee. So I thought I should go where they have such cool shirts.
Alas, it lost its allure in a couple weeks, and I decided instead to go further south to the red-and-white school and see what their shirts looked like.
Apparel aside, the deciding factor proved to be my sister C.J. who was a counselor (can’t use that term anymore) in an OU women’s dorm (which are mostly coed these days), and she convinced me I could meet more girls there with her help than by hanging out alone in Stillwater.
Turns out she was right. But the point is I didn’t make my choice of schools for the best of reasons.
An online gold mine of data
Today many high school students are making their own decisions – based on better criteria than mine – in the virtual world of the Web 2.0 media, better known as Facebook and Twitter. And, in turn, college admissions offices are getting to know more about applicants that way, too. I’ll leave the second half of this idea for the next post and deal with the first thought now.
The Boston Globe’s Peter Schworm wrote in 2008 that college admissions officers were shifting their attention toward the social media, planting their college flags (along with videos and blogs) on the Web and especially on Facebook.
Makes sense, because that’s where the high schoolers are, so why not hang out among them?
“Higher ed is really trying to embrace it on all fronts,” said Nora Barnes, director of the Center for Marketing at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth, to Schworm. “There’s no doubt that’s where their audience is.”
In fact, researchers at that school discovered that universities were adapting to internet technologies even faster than Fortune 500 companies.
And that was two years ago.
Fast-forward to today and it’s even more apparent how much today’s colleges have moved their show to the social media. The university where I teach, California’s Azusa Pacific University, is a case in point. On its home page at www.apu.edu, you don’t have to scroll down far to find the tell-tale icons of the APU Blog, Facebook, Flickr, iTunes U, Twitter, and YouTube.
This private university of some 10,000 students has gone out to meet prospective students where they live in the virtual world.
That’s where the customers are
David Peck, APU’s associate vice president of university relations, says this all just makes good sense.
“The use of social media represents more than just a way to chat with friends,” he says. “It’s changing the game for the academy. At APU, we use social media as a way to engage people and get them involved. It’s about creating dialogue and through these tools (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, etc.), we can learn what the APU community is thinking, solicit feedback, and respond to concerns.
On Facebook, universities like APU see students asking questions about majors, life on campus, financial aid, and other topics, according to APU staffer Allison Oster. These students begin to create communities with one another and with the university before they ever set foot on the physical campus. They can meet other potential students, or even meet their future roommate if they’ve been matched by the Student Housing Office with someone they don’t know.
Sharing the excitement
Oster said some newly accepted students visit the APU FAcebook page just to share their excitedment when they receive their acceptance letter.
“In fact, we’ve found that many people are going to Facebook first to ask question, and not checking the university website for answers,” Oster says. “Perhaps they are looking for third-party endorsements, or trying to discover if the information is ‘more real’ through Facebook. And while we do have a number of people on staff who follow along with those conversations and answer questions, we also see current students, alumni, and parents of current and future students engaging and responding.”
Example: One recent post was from a parent asking if her daughter, who will be a freshman in the fall, should bring a car to campus during her first year. That post garnered several responses from current students and parents, many of whom said a car isn’t needed because the campus has a trolley, and there is a shopping center and cinema complex right across the street.
One interesting decision APU makes is not to show its logo on Facebook, especially in its profile picture, to help with the perception that this is not just a corporate page, but a place for community.
Flickr pic of the day
Prospective students are responsive to different kinds of information posted on these sites. On Twitter, one of APU’s most popular posts is the regular “Flickr pic of the day” linking back to photos from the university’s Flickr group. On Facebook, alumni enjoy commenting on APU traditions, like Donut Man.
Donut Man? If that’s a criterion for choosing a college, then maybe my original t-shirt idea wasn’t so crazy after all.
My most vivid memories of the Olympics are from the 1988 Seoul Summer Games. It was the only Olympics I’d ever personally attended, and I was in South Korea to meet my just- adopted son, Min, who was about to come live with us for the first time at age 6.
But I also feel connected to the tragic 1972 Munich Summer Olympics where eleven Israeli athletes and coaches were kidnapped and murdered by Palestinian terrorists. The connection is my good friend Fritz Hattig, a former German olympian who helped organize the Munich games and still has nightmares almost 40 years later about how the event turned out.
Obviously, the Olympics has a special place in my heart, and the same is true for millions of other Americans. It’s even more special for many fans this year, thanks to the Web and that social media phenomenon of Twitter. More on that later.
As of today, Feb. 19, we are about halfway through the Vancouver Winter Olympics (http://www.vancouver2010.com/), or that two-week period where NBC prime-time program devotees must switch to cable channels to watch re-runs of The Office or Law and Order SVU instead of original episodes on the peacock channel. But that seems just ducky with millions of Americans who are still in love with the Olympics.
Over the years, the popularity of both the Summer and Winter Olympics has ebbed and flowed. Once thought to have a commanding presence on television, television executives discovered in the 1990s that there was a definite limit to how many Americans still loved the event. When they overestimated that popularity and sold a lot of up-front network advertising promising huge audiences, often they and their advertisers were disappointed.
And they discovered that trying to sell wall-to-wall coverage as pay-per-view packages wasn’t as easy as they envisioned.
These Games Rake It In
So it was with great delight that NBC discovered just this week that the Vancouver Olympics — at least on some days — was indeed one of the most popular shows on TV.
For example, just today a Washington Post writer noted that the Vancouver Olympics actually bested American Idol. It was the first time in six years any competing program had done that to the ever-popular contemporary version of the ancient Ted Mack Amateur Hour.
Lisa de Moraes writes, “By creating the Perfect Olympic Storm in prime time, mired-in-fourth-place NBC finally and spectacularly broke ‘American Idol’s’ nearly six-year winning streak.
“In the course of what NBC modestly called ‘the greatest single day in Winter Olympics history’ (because the United States captured six medals) the network averaged 29.4 million prime-time viewers.
“But when it went mano a mano with Fox’s singing competition series
Wednesday between 9 and 10 p.m., NBC’s Vancouver Games broadcast averaged 30.1 million viewers. ‘Idol,’ meanwhile, “only” mustered 18.6 million devoted fans … That’s ‘Idol’s’ smallest audience since April 16, 2003.”
It was the first time “idol” had been beaten in its time slot since May 17, 2004.
Up Close and Personal
Certainly NBC has perfected an approach that makes the Olympics so alluring to millions of viewers, and the centerpiece of that approach is the up-close-and-personal profile stories done on the athletes themselves. As we know, so many of these young people have overcome incredible odds to get to the starting lines of their events. Knowing those back stories make the Olympics even more compellling.
Sports psychologize Jenny Conviser, who teaches at Northwestern Univesity, agrees that this personal view of the athletes has increased the popularity of the Olympics.
During the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, she wrote, “Special interest stories and the human side behind the athlete is something that I think has enormous interest for all of us. And, again, it’s that sense of being able to reach out and take charge of one’s life and make it what you want it to be. And any story that represents that is compelling.”
In the Vancouver Olympics, the athletes themselves are boosting that personal aspect for viewers by engaging them in discussions over Twitter and Facebook and through their own blogs. Many of the athletes welcome questions from everyday fans and give insider information on what it’s like to be so close, and yet so far, from the Olympic podium.
The athletes’ tweets and blogs are being featured on NBC’s olympics site, www.nbcolympics.com. A sampling of these tweets and what they’ve had to tweet about is as follows:
On our way to a USA Hockey mens and womens team function. Gotta show support for each other! We are both here to win gold!
Congratulations to the medalists. Thank you to the world for showing me love and I hope I didn’t let you down. I am proud.
We don’t know all that much about the virtual unknown, or that new world being created daily by the World Wide Web and the relentless advance of technology. But some things are indeed clear.
One of the clearest is that college will never again be the same experience it once was.
Then came developments in online educational software like Blackbaord, Desire2Learn, and E-Companion. From that point forward, there has been nothing but change in the college learning environment.
Virtual vs. Real Classrooms
So much so that today we have to distinguish between virtual classrooms and residential classrooms when we’re talking about college courses.
Why? Because a ton of teaching these days is done from a corner of Starbucks with students stretched out across the globe downloading the class from one time zone to another.
According to the Sloan Foundation’s 2007 report, “Online Nation: Five Years of Growth in Online Learning,” the rate of growth in college online enrollments has surpassed the growth rate in residential campus enrollments.
Additionally, the report notes:
- Almost 3.5 million students took at least one online course during the fall 2006 term, nearly a 10 percent increase over the number reported in 2005, and double the 2002 enrollments.
- The 9.7 percent growth rate far exceeds the increase in overall college enrollments, which is only 2 percent.
- Nearly 20 percent of all college and university students were taking at least one online course in 2006. That percentage has gone up over the past four years.
- More than 4 million students are enrolled in accredited online college courses inAmerica in 2008-2009.
- Distance learning has gone mainstream and more than two thirds of all accredited colleges now offer distance learning (online) courses.
Not only are so many accredited, residential universities offering online courses, but some – like the University of Memphis – offer entire graduate degree programs online. And this university is part of a statewide online educational program (the Tennessee Regents Online Degree Program) that offers entire degree programs online. Some 8,000 students are enrolled in this RODP online program.
Nationwide, a growing number of online universities, only a few of which have actual residential campuses as well, have sprouted up. Some are more legitimate than others, and some are glorified diploma mills. Among the legitimate online college are Kaplan University, Grand Canyon University, and Walden University. Add to that the online degree programs of recognized residential universities.
The online university you have heard most about is the large, well-established and well-promoted University of Phoenix.
Most universities have found online courses and programs to be cash cows. Tuition is usually the same — even higher in some cases — for online courses as for traditional courses. Yet expenses are much less than for residential classes. Instructors are usually adjuncts, and there is no costly classroom nor lights,heating or cooling expenses.
Online courses are taught in one of two overall ways: synchronous (everyone meets in an online “classroom” at the same time) and asynchronous (students complete course modules on their own and usually engage in threaded online discussion with each other at various times).
Good and Bad Experiences
Like any course, an online course is only as good or as bad as the instructor teaching it. How that instructor takes advantage of the software technology available to teach the class in important. Some online class experiences can be quite good; others are nothing more than correspondence courses.
Sometimes students report their professors are “missing in action,” and complain these instructors don’t check in much online. The danger for any online professor is a kind of “out of sight, out of mind” mentality that can creep in, especially for asynchronous classes. Two or three weeks may pass before a prof gets to that stack of assignments that have been accumulating.
As for online degrees, or degrees earned totally through online programs or online universities, their credibility and acceptance varies in the business and professional worlds. Some programs are seen as more valid than others. Online degree programs of recognized residential universities — like the University of Memphis for example — have greater credibility, generally speaking, than a degree from a university that is totally or almost totally an online school.
In other words, all college degrees are not created equal.
What Kind of Accreditation?
In assessing online programs, it is important to check out not just the degree and courses in it, but to check out the university itself. What kind of quality control does it have that insures all profs are doing their jobs? And just as important: what kind of accreditation does it have? Is it from one of the six recognized regional accrediting bodies? For Oklahoma universities, that is the North Central Association for Colleges and Schools. For my school in California it is the Western Association of Colleges and Schools.
There are some 52 other national accrediting bodies, but few of them have the credibility that these six regional accrediting bodies have. And remember, several schools have no recognized accreditation because a college or university does not have to be accredited to do business in the United States. But transferring course credits from them to an accredited school is often a problem.
Online education can work very well, but it probably works best for students who are self-motivated, organized, and will actually do the work at home by themselves. While there may be some online group work, the individual student back home — or at that corner in Starbucks — will ultimately have to energize himself or herself to do the work.
There is middle ground between doing degree work in residential universities and online universities. Many schools, like my own Azusa Pacific University near Los Angeles, combine residential and online classes. Additionally, individual residential courses also have a companion online site on which the professor posts documents, syllabi, and assignment dropboxes.
Locally, OU and OSU both use Desire2Learn as their online course management systems, and OU’s website says about 40 percent of its instructors incorporate it into their traditional classroom experience, extending that exprience into the world of the Web.
These systems also have built-in virtual classrooms. Sometimes when a professor must be out of town for a conference or presentation, he or she chooses to hold the class online in that virtual classroom. Most students have found this companion online site to be very helpful and add a welcome dimension to the class.
I’m still relishing the vivid memories of Berlin last Nov. 9 when 100,000 of us stood out in a cold drizzle to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
There aren’t many experiences to match that, although one of the events during the month-long celebration, dubbed the Festival of Freedom, came close.
That was seeing how a bunch of creative Germans put together a website called Berlintwitterwall (www.berlintwitterwall.com) and invited people from around the world to tweet about other walls of oppression that must come down. You can still see a sample of the tweets by going to that site, and some are extremely moving.
The site had more than100 tweets posted in the first 24 hours. Then momentum really picked up and, before long, there were thousands. The site pictures the East Side Gallery, a famous stretch of the wall that still stands and is painted with murals. Against this wall, the messages appear as they stroll in a continuous stream from right to left.
Visitors can also click on photo icons to see pictures of pieces of the Domino Wall, about 1,000 pieces of 8-foot tall styrofoam painted with messages of peace by students, celebrities and politicians. The Domino Wall snaked nearly a mile along the old wall line and were toppled during the celebrations on Nov. 9.
China Bans Site
So popular was the site to people in countries with oppressive policies, that some of these governments — China’s in particular — wound up blocking its citizens from logging on to Berlintwitterwall. But not before many Chinese citizens risked a lot to post their protests against their own government
The twitterwall site was the brainchild of the Kulture Projekte Berlin, the non-profit arts organization that was called upon to add their creative minds to this Festival of Freedom, 20 years after the fall of the big wall.
“We got a lot of worldwide attention, so naturally the Chinese people have seen it as a way to voice their opinions about internet censorship in their own country,” Carsten Hein, the project coordinator, told German newspaper, The Local.
Particularly troublesome to Chinese authorities was the request by the Berlin Twitter Wall for users to describe, “which walls in the rest of the world should, in their opinion, now fall.”
I’ve been a journalist for a lot of years, and I have never understood why anyone can still think that censorship does more good than harm. Doesn’t the very idea of censorship infer strongly that government leaders are insecure about their own program, and/or that they have something to hide, and/or they think the people are too stupid to figure it out for themselves?
So kudos to this application of the social media which allowed the world, in this case, to voice its opposition to oppression of all kinds.
A Sample of Tweets
Here are some of the actual tweets from the cyberwall at this site which is still up and running:
* “One day China will see their walls of oppression come tumbling down, just as the Berlin Wall did.”
*”Some people think that the U.S.-Mexican border is another wall of oppression.”
* “The Berlin Wall is a symbol of how far some societies will go in dividing themselves from tolerance.”
* “The Berlin Twitter Wall has been great-firewalled in China.”
*”The 20-year anniversary of the fall of the Wall shows the struggle that freedom of thought faces.”
* “Without the fall of the Wall, I would have never found my friend in the East.”
So a lot of pent-up frustrations by everyday Chinese citizens managaed to get out before the government clampdown. But China isn’t the only country attempting to restrict access to the Web.
A Dirty Dozen
In a report released last March, called “Enemies of the Internet”, the group listed 12 nations that it said have systematically restricted their populations from accessing online news and information deemed “undesirable.”
The nations cited were Burma, North Korea, Vietnam, Egypt, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Tunisia, and China.
The report asserted these countries not only restrict access to Web sites, but also persecute some computer users for what they post online.
Despite these attempts at censorship, one of the great advantage of the Internet is that oppressive governments around the world find it harder to keep messages of freedom like these away from their people who are so hungry to read, hear, and see them.
Often, as in the case of China and Berlintwitterwall.com, some protests reach the rest of the world before the government is able to shut the door.