On social networking in schools

Schools banning social networking sites is counterproductive. The reason you still hear so many stories about people getting in trouble about something they’ve done online, is no one has been educated. The teachers don’t often know how to use social web tools, many parents are afraid of the technology and the students therefore just do what kids often do — learn from friends or on their own through trial and error.

Some companies think there an opportunity to sell schools educationally “relevant” social tools at a premium. These sorts of redundant tools frustrate me. It’s one thing to protect and encase localized information within an ecosystem that keeps it there. But it’s another thing to adopt costly half-measures that are endemic only to that system and leave the end users no smarter than they began.

It makes far more sense to teach educators from administration down to the classroom about the power of social media and how it can be leveraged effectively. I don’t expect everyone to use it and if they did, I’m not sure it’d be that useful. But for some enterprising teachers, there are a myriad of creative ways to employ the bevy of tools out there. I’m sure some of it is already happening in a forest where few can hear it.

It’d also be great for students to understand the power of the web. Sure, it means they’ll sometimes use what they learn and experiment. Sometimes, those experiments won’t please people in charge. None of this is new, though. With the mainstream having made a full embrace of the social web, it’s time to teach our children how to be smart online.

Seeing Red: Eastern Washington to install red turf field

When you’re a non-major college team playing at the second highest level of college football in the country, any sort of positive national attention is a good thing. The decision to install the nation’s first red turf field at Eastern Washington University has given the FCS-level team more mileage than anyone probably could’ve imagined.

It began with a $500,000 donation from alumnus Michael Roos is now plays in the National Football League with the Tennessee Titans. His donation was followed by a $50,000 donation from ESPN broadcaster Colin Cowherd. All of a sudden, the $1 million dollar fundraising campaign to make the field a reality was in full swing.

Not to mention a ton of feedback — much of it negative — about the possibilities of a red field. People love tradition and nothing says tradition like a green field. Boise State University’s football team is the only major college team with a field that’s not green — it’s blue — and their recent ascent to the upper echelons of the sport have made that novelty more prominent.

EWU athletic director said that “the uniqueness of the red field was able to generate an amazing amount of publicity.” He’s not kidding. When you’re a small program raising six figures doesn’t happen every day. There are programs at the FBS level that would be happy to raise half a million dollars in less than a year, so for a program at the FCS level to manage to do it is a mini-coup within itself.

It’s astounding that in 2010, people are asking questions about whether a different colored field might somehow affect the way people play the game. You can look no further than a sport like tennis, where the playing surfaces are still different, yet the ball, equipment and players are all the same. At least in tennis, the questions are well-founded. The ball plays differently on grass and clay than it does on a hard court or carpet.

Even a national championship would have a hard time generating the sort of publicity the red field has for EWU, so they’re smart to capitalize on their fifteen minutes of prominence why they can. Since they plan to install the field in time for the fall of 2010, it’ll just give them an opportunity to show the field off to a nation that will be at least captivated with a passing interest.

Maybe there will be a Facebook contest to name the new field? (My vote: The Red Sea) Perhaps an opportunity for a cross-marketing opportunity or a way to offer up naming rights to make the field pay for itself?

For recruits trying to decide between EWU and another school, this kind of publicity could tip the scales in their favor and I’m not just talking about potential football players or even student-athletes.

In a world where everyone is doing many of the same things; creating new traditions within the confines of your values is a great way to cultivate a brand that alums worldwide can be proud of. People might have no idea where EWU or Cheney, Washington are, but they now have a reason to look it up.

That’s what I call a big win.

Who’s your….mascot?

The University of Mississippi has been without an official mascot to complement their Rebels nickname, since Colonel Reb was retired in 2003. A campuswide referendum held Tuesday indicated that students want a new mascot. One of the possibilities?

Admiral Ackbar from Star Wars. They created a site aimed at getting students to vote yes on the new mascot referendum.

Apparently, a student committee will get together and decide on a new mascot. If they can manage to get George Lucas to license the use of the Rebel Alliance logo and Admiral Ackbar is it likely that we’ll see this strange creature roaming the sidelines at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in the near future?

My bet is no. Even if Lucas were to go through with this, one has to think officials would want a mascot that they can appropriate for their own purposes and not have to share the kitty with anyone else. Nonetheless, if someone manages to go along with it, you’d have to think a lot more Rebels gear will sell in some unlikely places than ever before.

There is a precedent for having a famous cartoon character as the mascot of a team in college sports. Disney’s Donald Duck is licensed to the University of Oregon for athletic uses.

This became an interesting problem a few months ago, when some more intrepid students set out to the web and created a viral video sensation called “I Love My Ducks (I Smell Roses) to support their team in advance of their Pac-10 title season and trip to the Rose Bowl.



The problem with the video? Donald was in the video and he’s not licensed for use to anyone other than the University. Oops.

So all vestiges of the video were to be scrubbed from the internet and never to be spoken of again. This was until football head coach Chip Kelly asked for the sensation to be played at their rivalry game against Oregon State. The solution? Scrub the duck out and make a new video.

Mascots can be touchy subjects for alums and the Ole Miss controversy, (just google it and read the comments on any article about it from a major newspaper in the South) but for a situation that could’ve just been another blot on the university, these students have done something that for the time being has shifted the debate away from “Should it be a Colonel Reb variant?” to “Hey, isn’t that neat?” buying them a great deal of positive feedback that simply wouldn’t have been there otherwise.

Another example of how the web morphs local matters into something bigger.

Stirring things in a different direction

I’ve been kicking around ideas for a while to keep this blog alive. I started it two years ago this week. Given my goals when I began it were extremely modest, I’ve far surpassed my expectations. But I enjoy the dialogue and interaction with my peers in higher ed immensely, so while I considered ending it a few times, I thought better of it.

Instead, I moved the blog to a new platform (tumblr) and left the old site’s archives intact. edustir.com will redirect here automatically. I moved over some “greatest hits” posts, but other than that, this site represents a fresh start. edustir began as Observations From Left Field, a quasi-personal blog about work that morphed into Reading, Writing and Big Ideas, before adopting the edustir.com name (thanks for a Synonym project that I never used it for) about a year ago or so.

The RSS feed is already integrated into the new blog too, so you won’t have to do anything to keep receiving posts from the blog. Bear with the design alterations, as I’m sure it’ll keep changing as I decide which direction I’m headed.

While the blog will maintain a primary focus on higher education, I’m going to shift the conversation away from strictly the institutional presence side and talk more about athletic marketing web perspective in education. I think it’s a topic that needs coverage and having gone from strictly sitting behind the desk, to doing that and coaching too…it’s given me a bit more to chat about that I’d love to share.

I won’t stop chiming in on other issues, but I feel like a new niche and a new platform for the site will invigorate the blog well into the future.

So thanks for reading and commenting and hopefully, I’ll provide you with lots more to participate in the coming days, weeks and months.

Today’s challenged economy has given schools a much wider swath of candidates…senior business leaders who are tired of the climate today and are looking for a lifestyle change…who would like to come in and show colleges and universities what it takes to run an athletic program with innovation and business skills…as well as the skill of consensus building that has to come when juggling programs ranging from football to water polo on a limited budget.

Joe Favorito makes the case for college ADs as CEOs in the wake of Michigan’s hiring of Domino’s CEO David Brandon as their new athletic director.

Happy President’s Day video from Macalester

I was alerted to this from the good folks at mstonerblog and I couldn’t help but post it. It features Macalester College’s President and it’s just a really funny, but interesting look at the college in a way you’d normally not get to see it.

This is the sort of thing that’s only made possible through social media. If they’d done this, put it on a DVD and sent it out to people; not only would fewer folks have seen it, but the time (and cost) to do it wouldn’t have necessarily been worth it. Instead, they get lots of eyeballs and a ton of goodwill from people who might have never heard of the school, just because so many people will know that it’s not something they’d ever see considered at their own institution.

Projects need to be undertaken with sensitivity to the cultural mores and institutional quirks of each school, because the only way to show what you’re about, is to show people what you’ve got. No better way than to showcase your people.

I was alerted to this from the good folks at mstonerblog and I couldn’t help but post it. It features Macalester College’s President and it’s just a really funny, but interesting look at the college in a way you’d normally not get to see it.

This is the sort of thing that’s only made possible through social media. If they’d done this, put it on a DVD and sent it out to people; not only would fewer folks have seen it, but the time (and cost) to do it wouldn’t have necessarily been worth it. Instead, they get lots of eyeballs and a ton of goodwill from people who might have never heard of the school, just because so many people will know that it’s not something they’d ever see considered at their own institution.

Projects need to be undertaken with sensitivity to the cultural mores and institutional quirks of each school, because the only way to show what you’re about, is to show people what you’ve got. No better way than to showcase your people.

Should we say goodbye to the 12th grade?

Western Tech a high school in Toronto, Ontario...
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According to a Utah lawmaker, the state’s budget woes indicate to him a need to end high school with the 11th grade.

Contending 12th grade is a wasted year for most high school students, Sen. Chris Buttars, R-West Jordan, suggested Monday that the state could save $102 million by compressing high school into three years…Buttars outlined his proposal for members of the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee, dismissing 12th grade as a uniquely American tradition that is followed for reasons no one can identify.

So would three years of high school be enough? We could look to our neighbors to the north, for some examples. Ontario once had thirteen grades until budget cuts and pressure to match the 12th grade norms of the rest of Canada (and the US) forced a change. On the flip side, Quebec only has 11 grades, but then students attend a two-year post-secondary institution prior to attending university if they want to do so in Quebec.

While it seems unlikely the Utah plan will go far, will budget concerns force us to alter the way we educate students? I think we can already say it has, but what affect would a plan like this have on college admissions? Would institutions view a 3-year high school diploma the same as a 4-year? Would lawmakers increase funding to community and technical colleges to make up for the increased number of students who choose to attend them after 11th grade, in the absence of a 12th grade year? Some might say setting 16 and 17 year olds loose a year early would be good for them, but I don’t know if we’re really prepared as a nation to make that happen.

Still, with all of the budget cuts and lingering recession upon us, all it would take is one successful implementation of a program like this to have it spread around the nation.