Flexing Your Faculty: Teacher Blogs

I’ve previously written about the valuable role students can play in generating content for social spaces. Student-generated content is a great way to communicate the culture of your school, straight from kids who experience it every day. But you might not realize that there is another source for content creation right under your nose—the faculty.

Faculty bloggers are a great way to round out your school’s story online. You can show off your outstanding teachers to several different audiences. Potential families and potential employees are both curious about what life is like on campus. Although student recruitment is a major part of outreach, staff turnover rates in international independent schools range from 10 percent to as high as 60 percent. This makes staff and faculty recruitment a big part of school marketing.

Making the Case

Faculty are already busy—they’re teaching, after all—so asking teachers to blog on top of their regular duties might be a hard sell. There are ways to make the case, however. Teachers already regularly communicate with parents in a variety of ways. Think about how some of that information can be turned into blog posts—for example, photos from a field trip, quick video clips from presentations or class reading for the week. If the class is using technology or other tools in the classroom, all the better. Initiatives like 1:1 programs (one laptop for each student) are also great fodder for blogs.

Another way to make the case is to appeal to a teacher’s professional goals and career arc. Blogs can be a great way to create and maintain personal brand. As previously mentioned, it’s not uncommon for international school teachers to change schools. Some migrate to new schools every two to three years and having a digital record of classrooms and activities can be a great way to show course progression, teaching styles and interest to potential employers.

Privacy Concerns

As always, protecting students and families is critical. Faculty should adhere to the same data protection and privacy policies used for all school publications. I am personally a big proponent of having the majority of content publicly available, but keeping kids safe is of the utmost importance.

Finders, Keepers

Your teachers might be creating the greatest blog content ever written, but if it isn’t easy to find, they might as well not bother. Make faculty blogs easy to find for all of your audiences: potential families, current families, potential employees and the teaching and learning community at large. Consider creating a page on your website that lists all faculty blogs and make it easy for users to navigate between them.

Final thoughts: Blogs aren’t the only way to share faculty-generated content. Microblogs like Twitter, photo sharing sites like Flickr or the many social bookmarking sites are also options. It’s up to you, the school and your faculty to figure out what works best.

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Student Generated Content: Part Five

This is the fifth post in a series on integrating student-generated content into communications, particularly in social platforms. Read the entire series here.

Below are two great examples of blogs and other presences that highlight student generated content.

Example One: Beyond the Elms from my alma mater, Scripps College

Beyond the Elms is written by current students as they begin to explore their options for life after college: graduate school, entering the workforce and entrepreneurship. Students also discuss their searches for summer internships, interviewing tips and other career-related endeavors. Valinda Lee, Assistant Director of Career Planning & Resources and manager of the student bloggers, shared a great success story with me via email:

“One of my writers is interested in going into literary criticism. In one of her posts she mentioned the names of a few critics who she admired. One of them must have had a Google alert set on his name and found the blog entry. He left a comment offering help to the student, and they connected for a great informational interview. He happens to have connections to her midwest hometown and put her in contact with an editor of a paper there.”

Thank you Valinda!

Example Two: Videos from Students on Ice

The Students on Ice Foundation offers educational expeditions to the Arctic and Antarctic for high school students, focused on helping young people gain a better understanding of our planet and environment. During each expedition, students share their experiences and impressions, all of which are captured on video. These videos are then uploaded to the web, giving visitors a first-hand account of the students’ adventures. The videos are also a great way to thank donors and others who helped make the trip possible. Watch the clips from the 2010 expedition to Antarctica here. You can also follow their upcoming journey to the Arctic here.

Looking for even more examples? Check out this shared Google spreadsheet created by Kyle Judah (@KyleJudah) listing student blogs from institutions around the world.

I know there are many, many more examples out there. Please share yours in the comments! I hope this series of posts has inspired you to think about how your organization can use student generated content to reach your many audiences.

Student Generated Content: Part Four

This is the fourth post in a series on integrating student-generated content into communications, particularly in social platforms. Read the entire series here.

Managing student staffers can be tricky. Here are some things to remember:

Put Someone in Charge

A single member of the professional staff should be responsible for student workers. Having this point person helps eliminate confusion on where to go for guidance and assistance, both for student workers AND staff members. Brainstorming, determining the content calendar, and selecting topics can be highly collaborative activity, but one person should have the final say on editing decisions and other issues.

Be as Clear as Possible

Describe what you have in mind when giving directions to your students. Be specific. Don’t tell your students to “go take some pictures.” You won’t be happy with the result. Instead, say something like, “take photos of people, make sure you can see their faces. Make your photos tell a story.” This way, you won’t end up with random photos of the sky, the ground, or other “interesting” shots you probably won’t be able to use.

Provide Feedback and Evaluation

Meet with your students on a monthly basis to share the results of their posts. Show them the number of hits, comments, and any other feedback. Tell them how they’re doing on meeting deadlines, working with the team, etc. Make sure they understand the impact of their work on your larger audiences – this will motivate your students and make them feel like part of the team.

“Pizza is not Pay”

That’s my mantra. Student content generators are valuable members of your team. Don’t try to buy them off with pizza and soda. Compensate them with a monthly stipend, pay them on a post-by-post basis, or have them work for an hourly wage. Thank your students for their hard work with more than money: offer to serve as a professional reference, and publicly thank them whenever possible.

In an upcoming post: some great examples of student generated content.

Student Generated Content: Part Three

This is the third post in a series on integrating student-generated content into communications, particularly in social platforms.

So you’ve identified your student content creators…now what?

It’s time to give your team the tools and the guidance and  they need to work efficiently. Here are a few things to remember:

Provide Tools and Technology

You wouldn’t expect a professional staffer to provide their own computers and office supplies to get the job done; treat student workers the same way. Give them access to office cameras, software, hardware, and anything else they may need to create and edit content.

Provide Admin Logins and Access

Trust students with the keys to the castle, but do so with caution. If possible, give students medium-level access to your social media and administrative tools. For example, some blogging platforms will allow you to provide the ability to upload content without the permissions to make it “live” to the public. This cuts down on overhead for you, and helps students learn the tools.

Lighten Your Workload

Create a workflow that is as simple as possible, clearly defining who does what, when. The key is to cut down on re-posting, copy/pasting, and reformatting. The more work you can have the student take care of on the front end, the better. Give them their own login (as described above) and you’ll save time. Instead of taking a blog post sent to you via email, pasting it into your blogging software, re-doing the formatting and adding tags, you can just review and approve the post.

Coming up in future posts: managing students, choosing appropriate tasks and responsibilities, and compensation.

Student Generated Content: Part Two

This is the second post in a series on integrating student-generated content into communications, particularly in social platforms.

Identifying Student Content Generators: Where to Find Them, and What to Look For

One of the most important elements of student generated content is identifying the great students who will create it. The first step isn’t hitting the quad with a fist full of fliers to find help, but rather to identify your stakeholders and audiences. Who are you trying to reach (alumni, prospective students, parents, community members)? How will your content be relevant to them? What types of content will have the greatest impact? What are your goals for this project? The answers to these questions will differ from campus to campus, and maybe from department to department. But the answers will provide valuable insight into the types of content – and therefore, students – you should be looking for once you begin your search.

Finding Students: Where to Look and Who to Ask

Now that you’re ready to seek out student talent, make use of your colleagues and partners on campus for recommendations and leads. Speak with faculty members whom you trust to identify talented students. Talk with admissions, athletics, and student affairs. These groups work directly with students every day, and are your in-house experts. And don’t forget to engage with students themselves: talk to those active in clubs, campus activities, student newspapers and student government.

What to Look For

Interviewing students for this role is important. Take it as seriously as you would if hiring a professional. First, the basics: make sure the student has the skills and the talent to create content. Ask for samples of their work, dependent on the role you’re filling. Blogger? Ask for a writing sample (make it a quick test in-person, and consider doing it without computer-aided grammar and spelling checks). Photographer? Ask for a few of the shots they are most proud of. Videographer? Get a few samples of their work for reference.

Also important: their personality. Get a sense of who they are as a person, including their interests, experience, their professional, educational and personal goals. Also consider what I call “interestingness,” – background, where they’re from, and those characteristics that make them unique. World traveler? Sailing enthusiast? Accomplished pianist? Find out.

Finally, remember that one of the goals of working with students is creating and fostering a relationship with your audiences. The student workers you select should be personable – not only online, but in person. Find students who would be great to take to an event for alumni, donors or admissions.

Cautions

Set expectations for the students and for your staff. Make sure that everyone understands their roles and responsibilities by avoiding confusion about what the students are there to do, and how they contribute to the team.

Do your homework: check the “digital footprint” of your potential student staffer. Take a look at their profiles on social sites, read their personal blogs, check out their online photo galleries. Make sure you have some sense of their online reputation up front. This accomplishes two things: 1) you get a better sense of who they are and 2) you are aware and prepared for issues that could crop up later (inappropriate photos, comments, etc). Depending on what you find, you may not want to hire the student in the first place.

And finally, Independent School folks working with kids or high school students: get parent permission. Even if your students aren’t minors, make sure you consult your legal team to make sure everything is on the up and up.

What other advice and insight do you have? Post a comment.

Next post: training!