Last Friday, I attended the Student Affairs Technology Unconference at Boston University, an event bringing together student affairs professionals in higher education to discuss current and future technology trends. Ed Cabellon, the Director of the Campus Center at Bridgewater State University, organized the event and led the ceremonies. Since this was an “unconference,” participants voted on topics online prior to the event. It was more like an open discussion than a conference. Attendees came from all over, including North Carolina and Florida. Some were very proficient in social media, while others were just beginners. Many great topics were covered including analytics, blogging, QR codes, location-based services, SEO, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and privacy. But I’m going to go into a little more detail about what stood out to me: accessibility and keeping content engaging.
To be honest, when Eric Stoller, higher ed technology expert, brought up the subject of accessibility, I wasn’t really sure what that meant. “Ensuring our websites are usable by people of all abilities and disabilities is a legal and moral obligation many higher ed institutions have failed to live up to,” Eric writes on his blog. When building a school building, you would always think to make it wheelchair accessible, but the same logic usually is not top of mind when thinking about the web. The Internet is a valuable resource, and students who might have auditory, visual or cognitive disabilities should be able to access it too. In addition, making the web more accessible naturally leads to better SEO. Sounds like a win-win to me. The easiest way to get accessibility on the agendas of IT departments, technology vendors, administrators etc. is to start talking about it. Social media provides excellent channels for creating hype, so let’s get this initiative going!
Next up is student engagement. As a student, it was interesting to hear how higher ed professionals are trying to get my attention online: contests, iPads, blogs, etc. Social media is a very successful way to communicate with students, but only if you’re doing it right. The first step is to have a plan. Creating the accounts is a start, but a long-term plan and a lot of manpower is required to make those accounts successful. Part of this means giving students opportunities and content they wouldn’t receive elsewhere. You need to give a reason for your school’s community to to follow or fan you. Keep content fresh, engaging and be helpful. If a student is tweeting about limited seating in the library, offer them a different place to study or offer to petition for more seating. Become a trusted source for students.
Rebecca is a senior at Boston University studying public relations. Follow her @BeckyLoya.