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Facebook for Alumni Associations: A Guide for Advancement Professionals

a video we made for alumni professionals

Alumni Associations on Facebook from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.

Facebook for Educators: A Guide for Instructors

here’s a video we made, a follow up to my most popular post.

Facebook for Educators from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.
An Instructional Guide to Facebook for Teachers from Inigral Inc. on Vimeo.

FAQs for Schools on Facebook: a dialog with Jeff Bohrer

Jeff Bohrer had a sit down conversation at Wisconsin-Madison about our Schools on Facebook product.  He brought up some great questions we hear quite often, so I figured I’d repost here:


* For how long is our institutional data kept at third-party host?
Seeing as how the value increases over time because students and alumni are able to connect on all the data they share, we aim to have that data within the application permanently. Under contract of course!  We could host on your systems, if it makes you feel more comfortable.  However, over the past ten years there have been dramatic advances in server/hosting technology.  We recommend using a top of the line host, and we can provide that for you.

* What are the intellectual property (of students) considerations?
At this moment, we have no e-portfolio capabilities.  It is worth noting that students are sharing all sorts of data and work on the internet freely.


* How often would our enrollment data be updated at third-party host?
As often as you can support.  We take batch exports from older systems, and we’re the market leader in real-time integrations according to the LIS specification by IMS Global.

* Will advertising be served? How?
Seeing as how we are attempting to “license” the application and support, advertising at the moment would be inappropriate.  An ad network would have to be student organization driven, and there would have to be a revenue share with both the campus and with publishing student organizations.  This is a year or more off, however.  Right now, no advertising.  We have to be careful, if this is even something we want to pursue.
Currently, a company called Chegg (Netflix for textbooks) is willing to fully sponsor any campus that wants to use our application but doesn’t have the budget.  This would mean that each course would have its book list link directly to Chegg.  However, this is only at the campus’ request.  We’ve also got interest for affiliate programs with CourseSmart and ScanR.

* Is there a difference between a person’s regular Facebook profile and their Schools profile?
The facebook profile is only shared with “friends” on facebook and contains dynamic content of a personal nature.  Students don’t necessarily want to “friend” all their classmates and reveal all of that personal information, but through activating their Schools profile they can share campus relevant data such as course memberships and affiliations with organizations, greek life, dorms, and departments.  This kind of profile will help to accelerate community between classmates that aren’t yet comfortable with the “facebook friend” designation.

* Can any members of a class get to other classmates regular profiles without being a friend?
Any classmate or person who shares an affiliation can get to the Schools profile with campus relevant information, but not to the Facebook profile.

* How would FERPA exceptions be handled in the application?
This is a great question, and we’ve given this more than considerable thought.  We’ve designed our application for various level’s of “opt-in” permissions, so there is no indication that we are not 100% FERPA compliant.  So, as far as we know, there are no exceptions.

Instructional and Business Process

* What is our process for choosing which “cool new” tool/service to try or adopt?
We’re interested in this as well.  Incidentally, I’ve been writing an article for On the Horizon about disrupting the higher ed products and services market.  I’ve been interviewing VCs, and they all think Higher Ed would be a much more desirable market if there a way to speedily get decisions made about purchases.  I’d be happy to discuss ideas around this.  One thing is for sure, the more the process is streamlined and fast-tracked across campuses the more the market will see innovation.

* What are the implications if instructors participate? What if they do not?
Instructors will see a lot of value in “Facebook as Symbolic Interaction” (title of a presentation Susan Lewis and I are doing at the next New Media Consortium conference in Second Life).  However, its certainly not mandatory.  If it was, some professors would be less than happy.  It’s a tool that has significant value, but we don’t want any top-down mandates for instructor participation.

* Could our institutional participation in Schools somehow help teach students how to best manage their “public face” (online profiles and info)?
I think so.  It would automatically mean more prudent choices in profile pic, and would certainly generate discussion on how older generations are using the social web to get an impression on job applications, etc, in addition to the long term ramifications of creating a reputation that gets carried with you even after school.  One would hope that the moral of these conversations would be that students should always be putting their best foot forward.

* Should we consider this a student-only tool? Just at first or for how long? Do we let instructors or TA’s in?
If that’s what your campus is comfortable with.  It would be of value either way.

Notes on ACT: What Works in Student Retention? All Surveyed Colleges

ACT: What Works in Student Retention?

These notes were put together by Jill Chiang, Berkeley.

  • In an all college survey, only about half the colleges were able to identify an individual responsible for coordinating retention strategies (51.7%) and have established an improvement goal for retention of students from the first to second year (47.2%). Only 33.1% have established a goal for improved degree completion.
    • Those specifically responsible for retention (had the term retention, the term enrollment, or the terms student affairs, student services, student development or student success included in the title made up 21.5%, 15.8%, and 19.8% respectively)
    • The most, 29.1% included the terms Director, Coordinator, or Executive Director included in the title.
  • Institutions are more likely to attribute attrition to students characteristics than they are to attribute attrition to institutional characteristics.
    • Institutional characteristics (only 2 factors reported back): amount of financial aid available and student-institution fit
    • Student characteristics (13 factors reported back):including lack of motivation to succeed, inadequate financial resources, inadequate preparation for college, and poor study skills
  • Retention practices responsible for the greatest contribution to retention:
    • First year programs – freshman seminar/university 101 for credit, learning communities, integration of academic advising with first year programs
      • Freshman seminar/university 101 for credit: Only offered by 13.1%
    • Academic advising – advising interventions with select students, more advising staff, integration of advising with first year transition programs, academic advising centers, and centers that have both academic advising with career and life planning
      • Advising intervention with select students: 12.6%
    • Learning support: a comprehensive learning assistance center/lab, reading center/lab, supplemental instruction, required remedial/development coursework
      • Tutoring program: 13.1%
      • Mandated course placement testing program: 10.7%
      • Comprehensive learning assistance center/lab: 10.4%
    • The remaining practices were cited by less than 10% of all colleges
  • The top institutional factors making the greatest contribution to attrition (on a scale of 1 to 5) ranked highest among Financial Aid, Student-Institution Fit, Student Involvement, Social Environment, and Curriculum (least included Personal Counseling Services, Admission Practices/Requirements, Quality of Teaching)
  • Student Characteristics making the greatest contribution to student attrition ranked highest in: Lack of Motivation to Succeed (Lack of Educational inspirations and goals), Inadequate Financial Resources, Inadequate Preparation For College-Level Work, and Poor Study Skills. Health Problems and Poor Social Integration were among the lowest.
  • Most college integration services were : tutoring programs, academic clubs, instructional use of technology, individual career counseling service, orientation services
    • Least were Freshmen Seminar/University 101, Study Groups, Social Skills Course/Program, Community Member Mentoring
  • The top program with the Greatest Impact on Retention happened to be the least offered college integration services – Freshman Seminar/University 101
  • Recommendations from the ACT:
  1. Designate a visible individual to coordinate a campus-wide planning team
  2. Conduct a systematic analysis of the characteristics of your students
    1. Who are our students?
    2. What differentiates students who stay from students who leave?
    3. Look at demographics, academic performance, academic plans, non-academic variables, self-reported needs, student opinions and attitudes
  3. Focus on the nexus of student characteristics and institutional characteristics
  4. Carefully review high-impact strategies identified through the survey (first year programs, academic advising, learning support)
  5. Do not make first to second year retention strategies the sole focus of planning team efforts
  6. Establish realistic short-term and long-term retention, progression, and completion goals
  7. Orchestrate the Change Progress
    1. Composition of the planning team
    2. Frequent reports to and input from the entire campus community
    3. Provide proof of concept in support of planning team recommendations
  8. Implement, Measure, Improve

Academic Advising and Student Retention, Summary of two papers by Joe Cuseo

Recently the problem of student attrition has been presented to me as something our Facebook solution might impact.  So, I’ve been digging.  By far the best read on this are written by Joseph Cuseo, a professor of Psychology at Marymount College.  I’m going to highlight some of his points about retention and brick-and-mortar solutions.

First, it’s a big problem.  25% attrition at four year universities, 50% at two year universities.  At some schools, each lost student is tens of thousands of dollars of revenue.

Retention is more cost effective to address than recruitment, it can can cost as little as 1/5 the cost of recruiting a new student.  If a school is trying to improve its bottom line, it’s easier to focus on retention.

Advising programs that structure, recruit, train and incentivize outstanding advisors have greater success rates than those that are simply voluntary.

Good advising improves retention by 25% over  “poor advising” and 40% over no advising.

Contact with faculty outside the classroom is the single biggest determinant of student satisfaction with their institution.

Here are some recommendations by Joe:

  • Provide strong incentives and rewards for advisors to engage in high-quality advisin
  • Strengthen advisor orientation, training, and development, and deliver them as essential components of the institution’s faculty/staff development program.
  • Faculty are probably least prepared when it comes to academic advising; this can be solved by professional development programs before they enter the programs
  • Assess and evaluate the quality of academic advisement.
    Maintain advisee-to-advisor ratios that are small enough to enable delivery of personalized advising
  • Provide strong incentives for students to meet regularly with their advisors
  • Identify highly effective advisors and “front load” them—i.e., position them at the front (start) of the college experience to work with first-year students, particularly first-year students who may be “at risk” for attrition.
  • Include advising effectiveness as one criterion for recruiting and selecting new faculty.


Cuseo, Joseph.  Fiscal Benefits of Student Retention and First-Year Retention Initiatives

Cuseo, Joseph.  Academic Advisement and Student Retention: Empirical Connections & System Interventions

Shout Out: Diigo Educator Accounts

I just wanted to give a shout to Diigo for releaseing educator accounts.

I’ve been in touch with Maggie Tsai, just like most every blogger in education.  She does a great job of being involved with the community and seems to care a great deal about Diigo’s future in education.

I personally think social bookmarking is one of the key areas of growth both on the internet as a whole and in education, and I’m really excited about Diigo’s product.  They’ve been trying out lots of new features and the offering has been getting more than robust.

Feel free to friend me on Diigo.

Pain Point: College Level Remediation and the “Diploma To Nowhere”

A study recently published by the American Institutes for Research (AIR) revealed the near-embarrassing fact that twenty percent of students enrolled in 4-year institutions and thirty percent of students enrolled in 2-year institutions do not have the basic skills for post-secondary education or employment. Students surveyed could not understand basic computations, nor could they understand basic documents. Students’ crucial knowledge base is still lacking, and this should not be news to any educator.

The cost in real dollars of the failure of our education system is staggering.  Right now, I want to bring attention to the most direct cost: remediation at the college level.  In a current report, Diploma to Nowhere, by Strong American Schools, students’ educational shortcomings result in up to $2.89 billion spent on remedial courses, mainly in math and English. Fifty percent of 4-year students seventy-five percent of 2-year students could not even test to a proficient level of  literacy.

Placement in remedial courses is often shocking to students – 95% of remedial students reported completing most or all their work in high school, and most of these students had high school GPAs of above 3.0 and were enrolled in AP courses. As this signals an urgent need for genuine college preparation in high school, colleges should be preparing to accommodate these students as well.

There are wrong approaches to trying to turn this around.  Investing more money into these initiatives proved ineffective ten years ago , and the purse will prove to be the wrong approach today.  High schools are currently attempting to require high school exit exams in an attempt to ensure the readiness of their students. However, this issues falls back on the low expectations of their students, as the Center on Education Policy points out that many of the high school exit exams test at a 10th grade level. Elisabeth Barnett points out that high school exit exams and colleges require different things.

Support must come from internal focus and effective innovation at both the high school and college level. High schools must focus on challenging their students through rigorous and higher-order activities while raising their expectations of their students’ academics through difficult work rather than empty rhetoric. Speaking of, I’m working here internally to open source my College Readiness Curriculum, so I’ll speak more on that as it arises.

This problem is getting more and more costly, and I’m only talking about the direct costs.  The externalities (sagging skill base in the work force, a culture of ignorance, college dropouts, etc) are far more costly and incalculable.  According to the National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) in 1995, 35-40% of students in 2-year public institutions had to enroll in remedial courses. Today, that number is 43%. The same students – minorities, low-income students, and first-generation students – still make up the majority of the group.  We must absolutely rally around this disappointing news.  Innovators in this area please get in touch.

Facebook Hits 100M Users

I met up with one of my friends at Facebook yesterday and he told me he and the rest of the company had been celebrating Facebook hitting 100Million users all day.  Zuckerberg took everyone out to a lawn in Palo Alto and gave a Jobsian “100M users isn’t just a company, its a movement” type of speech. Here’s an article with Dave Morin tweeting the news.

I post this because there are still some people in Higher Ed or K-12 that think Facebook is a fad, or that Facebook is for kids, or that students will jump ship as soon as adults get on.  Facebook’s fastest growing segment in the US is those over 35.  Some days they get .5 million new users a day.  Facebook will be bigger than Myspace in about a month or two, and it is infinitely more scalable and usable.  The site has engagement and retention rates that beats the absolute pants off of any other site on the web.  Facebook is not going anywhere.  Hands down.


Debunking the Creepy Treehouse: the Functional Mall.

I need to debunk the Creepy Treehouse, as it seems to have become some sort of rallying cry and is pulling people in the wrong direction.  I’m going to debunk it with contrarian metaphor: the Functioning Mall.  (If you come up with something more catchy, let me know.)

First off, let me tell you that the metaphor of the Creepy Treehouse is powerful.   There are many different ways you can build a Creepy Treehouse.  Instructors crossing lines by getting into personal or social settings where they are not particularly invited is totally creepy treehouse.

However, this in no way suggests that instructors should not be using innovative, even social technologies to engage students.  Adults and Teachers and Parents are allowed to and should get on the Social Web, but they must do it carefully and obey the general laws of coexisting with teenagers.  There are, in natural settings, places where the two have been known to coexist.  This has been happening since at least, as far as I can calculate, 1992 😉  We can look there for another metaphor: the Functional Mall.

Now, youngsters hang out at the mall.  They consider it a highly social space, and their scene is operated more or less on their terms.  Grown ups, while not prone to hang out at the mall, go to the mall.  There are stores targeted for teenagers that no adult should go to (e.g. Urban Outfitters), stores targeted to adults that no kids would be caught dead in (e.g. the Back Store), and places where both species coexist in their native habitat (say, a movie theater or the Cookie Company).   Adults and young adults know how to behave around each other, seemingly, in this same ecosystem.  There’s a rule, and let me make it transparent: transactional interactions are accepted, social interactions are not.  If a teacher sees their student at the mall, wave hi (or better yet nod slightly).  A security officer opens doors, stops fights, tells directions.  A store owner or employee helps them find things, accepts money, packages items, and send them on their merry way.  Yes, there is a clear line, and that line is socializing rather than transacting.

Would youngsters want adults to leave the mall, never to return? Well, not really.  They understand that the mall can be there for their dates and shopping sprees largely because adults also shop there.  And the mall doesn’t want to limit its customer base to teenagers.  I mean, there’s a business in teenagers: you could have rollerskating rink, or a go-kart shop, maybe put them in the same spot with mini-golf.  But the real business is open access and open wallets.

Facebook, most decidedly, does not want to be just for teenagers.  Most of the country doesn’t realize this but, out in the Silicon Valley, Facebook is hot business.  Microsoft invested in Facebook at a 15 billion dollar valuation; that’s more valuable than Ford Motors.  Their revenues are probably around 200 million a year and climbing dramatically; they have around 550 employees up from some 50 three years ago.  Their engineering and operations team is the magnet for the best talent anywhere.  Zuckerberg just recruited Google’s COO and Head Chef to boot!  This isn’t happening because people think Facebook is going to be a site for college students and teenagers.  Facebook, hands down, is going to get everyone on it and won’t stop until they do.  In the past year in a half its grown from around 35 to 90 million users.  60% of the population of Norway is on the site.

College students aren’t going to just up pick and move to another site.  Facebook is the only web application that’s figured out how to scale and still keep some sort of cohesion as a product and a community.  It’s got privacy settings, and gives users granular control over who can see what.  Grown ups can join without any creepy treehouseness.

What Facebook is lacking is a way for those with careful relationships to have transactional interactions.  But, that’s a good part of the reason that they’ve opened up to applications.  Soon, you’re going to see transactional applications for just about any interaction for any set of careful relationships you can think of.  Yep, you heard me, you’re going to be able to interact with your boss without being friends.

We don’t need to give educators an excuse to not be using these technologies, we need to be getting them to understand how best to use these technologies.  We need to keep in mind the “creepy treehouse” to guide us, but let us not point to everything on Facebook and Myspace, Twitter and Flickr and start accusing.  As long as everyone is using their privacy settings and limits contact with those that might be of a “transcendant” age group or have a “careful” boundary (e.g. teacher/student, parent/child) to transactional interactions.

FERPA, Facebook and The Social Web

As some of you know, I’ve been posting at Michael Feldstein’s blog about our limited beta release this Fall.  The overwhelming sentiment is “This is exciting, but what about FERPA!”

The immediate reaction to the thought of activating a campus-wide Facebook application can make any decision-maker nervous.  Information is shared all over Facebook, and a campus’ interest to keep student data private and secure is not only an obligation but is also upheld by the law.

First, a basic understanding of Facebook Platform is necessary.  Facebook presents applications through a frame and never has the opportunity to cache nor store any data presented within an application.  As of the new redesign pushed by Facebook in July 2008, users have direct control over the “stories” that are generated by applications.  Users also have control of what Facebook users can see what kinds of data, and can even directly block individual users that may find a nuisance.

We store our data with an infrastructure company on the cutting edge of data storage and security.  We can, if requested, create a local installation on a local server behind campus security systems.  However, we’d like our customers to note that innovative hosting companies have extensive expertise regarding large scale, secure hosting with nearly 100% up-time.  Having that kind of performance locally is nearly impossible.

At Inigral, we’ve worked with our pilot school and our lawyers to assure that all features of our application are FERPA compliant and uphold the strongest standards of security and privacy.  I don’t want to go into the exact feature set that makes it such a comfortable thing for institutional adoption, but it is proof that venturing into the wide world of the Social Web is highly possible with a little care.

However, the institution is not completely hands-off in this regard.  At most campuses, the administration will have already asked the student to sign an agreement to share data with third parties acting in concert with the mission of the institution.  With near certainty, we will be covered under such agreement.  If the institution does not have such broad language in place but has policies that treat enrollment data as “directory information,” we will be covered so long as students are notified and allowed to “opt-out.”  If enrollment data is not treated as “directory information,” the students should be asked for their consent by an “opt-in” email.

FERPA is in place to make sure that institutions are careful with and respectful of a students right to privacy, but it was not intended to hold back education in the 1990s before there were things like APIs and the Social Web.  No school has ever lost Federal funds because of FERPA, which is the only punishment that can occur for being in violation (besides being tied up in a lawsuit).  Privacy, Security, and personal Control over information is more than a valid concern, but lets not let it be a brick wall of anxiety in the face of the march towards user-friendly, interoperable, and multitudious educational solutions!

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