Monthly Archives: January 2010

Making viral look easy

Last week at the end of one of my classes, I overheard one student say to another “you have to see this, it’s the funniest yet”. I didn’t take any notice until they both fell about in uproarious giggles. Ok, enough, I had to share the fun.  Here’s the source of their mirth –

Go on……….. admit it …………… you laughed, didn’t you?

The stats on this video are amazing. In a week, it has 978.096 views, 2,221 ratings, 2,886 comments. That is impressive, to say the least. The buzz factor surrounding this is huge. Some organisations spend a fortune creating a buzz (think T-Mobile) and this just arises from nothing (in fairness, part of the attraction might be that RTE actually showed it). I find that fascinating.

Why do some things take off and others simply do not, despite having a low going for them?  Marketers everywhere wish they could figure this out, bottle it and sell it. I don’t the bottlers need to worry about a rush for their services just yet.

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The student experience

What’s it like to be a 3rd level student?  Every now and again, large scale surveys are released promising to tell us what life is like from the other side of the desk. The latest such study comes from the Times  Higher Education.

By and large, these studies tend to tell us more or less the same thing every time they are carried out.  In essence, students need to feel they belong.  They need to fit with campus life, or at least the aspects of it that are important to them. This might be provision of a well-stocked library, a vibrant students union/ society, an accessible program director, a top-class sports arena, or a chess club. Whatever it is, it contributes to students feeling that they are part of a community. All the criteria THE mention concern sense of community and sense of belonging to that community, or some aspect of it.

I find it interesting that the report mentions a distinction between full time students, part-time students and international students. From my experience, these are three very different collectives, with very different priorities, and looking for very different things from their chosen academic community.  Part-timers come in the evening time when the facilities tend to be limited. They tend to have less time to explore them anyhow. They are more likely that the other groups to turn to each other and their lecturers for assistance needed. Full timers have more time to immerse themselves in the wider aspects of campuslife.

International students, unfortunately, have GNIB (that’s the Garda National Immigration Bureau), language and cultural barriers to deal with before they can even begin to think about the more relaxing and social side of academic life. This group have the biggest challenge. The academic and social/cultural life they find themselves in can differ radically from what they are used to in their home countries and can take some getting used to. As an example, I know the Indian students have settled when they stop calling me ma’am and call me by my first name.  This dilemma of how to address a lecturer is something that’s not even on the table as an issue for domestic students.  The international students are the group most in need of the safe-environs of a supportive community where they can relax and let their guard down.

I would like to see a large scale study that looks at the breakdown of factors contributing to “the student experience” from the perspectives of these 3 groups. I imagine they are very different, even with students in the same class or studying the same course. One student’s positive experience is another student’s nightmare.  Take, for example, the “class discussion”.  Unless they are feeling very secure in the class environment Asian students are slow to get involved in class discussion. American students tend to get bored unless there is something to talk about, regardless of whether they barely know their classmates or not.  Having a combination of both groups in a classroom poses some interesting challenges for the lecturer.

The quality of lecturers / lecturers featured as a criterion in the THE study.  There was a time when being a good lecturer meant showing up to class in time, “standing & delivering”, and marking your essays and exams. This is no longer the case. There are so many competing strands to the “good lecturer” these days that keeping up is a fun challenge. This is a topic more deserving of a whole set of postings on its own …. one I will come back to later.

I reckon that knowing and having passionate views on your subject matter, and then getting that across to those for whom this content is new is no longer the key challenge.  The more critical make-or-break component is engagement, engagement and more engagement.  Given the wealth of domain content information available today, reaching out to students is more important than providing them with that information.  It makes my day when a student complements me.  The reasoning behind the complement almost always arises from engaging with the student(s) in a positive way. This can be anything from an encouraging smile to taking 10 minutes out to explain a concept, or even a firm “why were you not in class yesterday”.

Recently I had a student come into my office, start talking about a problem he was having.  He talked about the problem, then he begin to sort out his dilemma, followed this by identifying holes in his solution, then plugging those holes, and then he left.  He gave me little opportunity to do anything more than say “hmmmm”.  He called back later in the day to thank me for listening.

Talking, listening, engaging, it’s all part of the lecturer’s experience as much as it is the student experience.

And a little humour doesn’t hurt…

Mr Bean asks why - from Zaidlearn's blogspot

“It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, and I’m feeling good”, so say the lines of the song.  It’s a new year, a decade of the new century has passed and we’re into the decade of the twenty-teens.  What surprises and excitement will it bring……….

A nice person pointed out that the last post before Christmas was the first one where I commented on my students’ work. Yes, so it is. In for a cent, in for a euro, here’s some more.

Over Christmas I took the opportunity to read cover-to-cover a dissertation by a master’s supervisee on e-hrm. More specifically, he was considering how “e”-enabling various hrm functions might have a positive knock-on effect on employee productivity.

From the convergence of various published secondary sources he found that a typical employee learns what they need to do their job from 3 sources: 60% of the knowledge comes from on-the-job learning-by-doing, 30% comes from superiors or mentors, 10% comes from formal training / education.  This raises the age old question of what exactly a qualification from a college or university is for. Seemingly, if it is to prepare students for the world of work we are not doing a great job.  There is a risk, however, that the role played by intangible skills acquired in college such as self-confidence, attention to detail, working to deadlines, etc, cannot be adequately captured in these percentages.

E-HRm practices are effective in speeding things up for employees and taking the bureaucracy and tedium out of form filling and paper pushing. But that’s about it. Significant productivity gains were not to be found.

All the “e”-enabling in the world, and to wonderous levels of sophistication and expense, don’t matter a jot if an employee doesn’t fit with the culture of the organisation they are working in.  This is the crunch point.  Finding a match between the job to be done, the organisational “how-we-do-things-around-here unwritten rules, and the individual person is all-important.

Matching the sides of this particular triangle is not easy. E-recruitment is increasingly part of the employee selection process – video-conferenced job interview anyone?  Unfortunately, it is every bit as ineffectual as picking the right person as the non-e variety. Quite simply the interview process often fails to successfully join the sides of the triangle. For example, a self-exaggerator interviewee will make a far better impression than a modest or humble interviewee.  However, the later might be much more capable and a much better fit but being crippled by the normally positive characteristic of modesty lowers their possibilities.

Is it any wonder that employers are googling (or binging) potential candidates?

More creative and innovative organisations are finding ways around the mis-matching risk by tackling the job interview from a different perspective.  One that I came across recently, not in this student’s work, comes from retail group  Zappos.com.  In order to really access a candidate’s personality, they have thrown standard interview questions out the window and replaced them with seemingly off-the-wall ones aimed at sussing out exactly who Joe Interviewee really is. For example, instead of asking a candidate to talk about themselves, they ask him / her to assess how weird they are.  The interviewee is asked how lucky they are or to draw a picture of their impression of a pig rolling around in the mud.  There isn’t a weirdness or lucky quotient, or a right and wrong way to draw a pig. The questions and tasks are merely novel means of getting to the core of a person without allowing the self-exaggerators to self-exaggerate or the modest to remain modest.

Hmmm, so how weird am I exactly?

Uniformality

I’m watching a new RTE documentary series called The School at the moment. In essence, students and staff at a school in Dunboyne are under the camera lens so the world can see what their school life is really like.

While this is a secondary school and my abode of work is third level, I find that I am enjoying this.  I love the fly-on-the-wall snippets. The perceptions of the students are worth airing. From the first years having burger buns lobbed at them by second years to the sixth years wondering where they will go next, the students reactions to the incidents reveal a lot. The 2 first years on the receiving end of the burger buns showed a mature and responsible attitude, putting themselves in the position of the second year student and how themselves might act in that situation.

However a theme that seems to crop up a lot is the school uniform and students being told off for improperly knotted ties, having navy trousers and not black ones, wearing trainers outside the sports grounds, etc.  This brings back rather dodgy memories for me. Back in the school days I somehow managed to get on the wrong side of the uniform police on a regular basis and quite often without even trying to. I wasn’t slovenly but that uniform never sat properly with me. My darling brothers went to an all-boys school where there was no uniform. The staff considered it more trouble than it was worth to implement it. I was so jealous.  There was general consensus that the boys in their own clothes looked better and smarter than the girls in their uniform.

The teenage years are highly influential. Students are out of lower childhood and are experimenting with self-presentation and who they are in relation to others outside their direct family.  Uniforms stamp out much of the appearance aspects of self-presentation. I’ve never been sure that this is a good idea. What’s wrong with letting students express themselves through what they wear?

The effort taken to implement the proper wearing of uniforms could surely be better spent elsewhere. Surely the emphasis should be on personal development, helping students figure out careers that might fit them, contribute to their local environment, debate societal issues, etc. It’s good to see that much of this is taking place in the school. One teacher was stopped in the corridor and asked for his perspective of how Ireland handles the poverty issue.  Would the interviewing student have carried out the interview any more or less proficiently if wearing non-uniform clothes?

As an aside, guess what my favourite item of clothing is in the cirrent time – black jeans!   My “uniform” has come a long way from the early school garb of the 1920s.  I quite like the hat though.

A smart uniform from the 1920s