School Mail

Remember when Google first introduced its productivity suite? people said they were out to kill Microsoft Office with a free online version. Then Gmail took on Hotmail and now both companies are gunning hard for the campus mail slot.

I wasn't aware that Hotmail is used by nearly 1 in 3 U.S. students. Schools are using Windows Live Hotmail for their official student e-mail. There's the added appeal of having an email address that they can keep after graduation so that you have some attachment to alumni (maintaining the university's domain name).

Windows Live@edu is Microsoft's suite and Ball State University, the University of Pennsylvania, and the Indiana State University Alumni Association have signed on to the other 300 or so clients now using the service.

"It's all-new Web mail, built from the ground up. Our reliable e-mail service gives your institution great features, including 2GB storage capacity, junk e-mail filtering, calendar sharing and anti-virus protection tools. Students, faculty and alumni can also take advantage of other MSN services, like instant messaging, blogging, sharing and mobile access to IM and e-mail1. Over time, their MSN services will automatically update to Windows Live services, offering new features and more complete user control."

Google still has colleges using its e-mail and productivity program suite. Google Apps for Education recently added The University of North Carolina at Greensboro, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Clemson University, Kennesaw State University, and Arkansas State University to their list. It's more than just email (word processing, spreadsheets, Google talk, calendar and page creator) and I don't see Microsoft giving some of those things away right now.

Is Your Course Sticky?

Have you heard of this term stickiness? One definition for Net use is that it is the amount of time spent at a site over a given time period. It's more than just page views and page hits on a counter. It is more a function of number of visits (repeat usage) and time spent per visit (session stickiness).

Then we have sticky content. Generally that refers to content that has the deliberate intention of getting a user to return to that particular website. This is particularly important to sites which want to build a community of returning visitors. That's important to business sites as well as many Web 2.0 sites - and it should be important to colleges that are marketing themselves online.

So what is sticky content that brings people back to a site? Interactive elements like chat, forums, email accounts, storage of user files within an account (blogs, photos etc.) are definitely sticky. Think of the big sites today - Yahoo, YouTube, MSN, Google - and all of them became stickier as they grew.

The tools offered might include customization - games, weather, news - the types of things that make up a My Yahoo page.

I believe this term first appeared in The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell. He is talking about more than websites including how ideas and behaviors catch on in society.

Any applications to education? Are some courses sticky? Are there course elements and tools that add to that in a course?

For the web, we care about how much time a visitor spends on the site. If they spend more time, they see more ads and your revenue goes up. If you get students to spend more time on coursework, chances are better that learning increases. More content, new content, and findng ways to involve the user with the site is important, and getting students engaged with interesting content is equally important.

Give web users content that they want and allow them to personalize the site. Allow students to have a role in the content. Individualize instruction.

Actually, the distinction between commercial site and courses blurs more when you look at things like online communities in which users post information and have discussion groups. Teachers are using software like Blackboard & Moodle, but also the same tools, like blogs, and Flickr, that students might use outside class. I think a well designed course that is using media, web tools and 2.0 apps (whether it's face to face, totally online or hybrid) is certainly sticky.

I don't want to push the comparison to the extreme though. After all, YouTube is also very sticky because of lowbrow humor and pure mindless entertainment too, and that shouldn't be a large part of any curriculum.

Made to Stick by Dan and Chip Heath is a book that could also fit in this conversation. It's full of ideas about what makes something stickier - read about the “Velcro theory of memory,” creating “curiosity gaps” and “the Mother Teresa Effect.”

Curious? I'll give you that last one: in 1988, Harvard researchers coined the term ''Mother Teresa effect" to describe how just watching an act of altruism can be good for you. When subjects in an experiment were shown a film of Mother Teresa caring for orphans in Calcutta, researchers found that the viewers' saliva had increases in immunoglobulin A - a substance which defends against the cold virus. Think about the positive effect that exemplary modeling has on student understanding. Just seeing & hearing great work has impact.

And bringing sticky buns and coffee to class for your students on testing days would probably help too.

Learning Abilities

In the Great Depression, national unemployment was estimated at about twenty-five percent of the total available workforce. In the 21st century the employment rate of disabled adult Americans is estimated at about twenty-six percent.

But, now, there is a work training program that aims to achieve an employment rate of 100% for that same adult-disabled population.

Funded by a grant from the Kessler Foundation, NJIT's Continuing Professional Education began the two year EmployMe! program in May of 2007 by enrolling 15 students in an 18 week employment training program that began with five weeks of employment soft-skills training and continued in two specialized tracks to web-based technologies and computer system administration. Over 120 students are expected to complete the entire program and join the workforce by the Spring of 2009.

In addition to the daily job-skills classroom training, students participate in weekly seminars and discussions hosted by NJIT's Career Development Services and the Business Advisory Council. Using these professional resources, students are exposed to real-world employment opportunities and working environments. Paid internships in businesses and professional organizations are available to graduating students as a way to transition into (or back into) the workplace.

Its a funny thing about people with disabilities --they are just like everyone else. Anyone who is told over and over that their personal limitations are too great to overcome might begin to believe that story. And the candidates who applied to this program in early 2007 had to participate in basic computer assessments, and personal interviews at a university facility --a daunting task for anyone who had been convinced that they didn't belong in a mainstream environment --and many were initially intimidated by those surroundings. But the main criteria for admittance into this program were: the desire to become employable, and the fundamental belief that personal limitations could be overcome. Aided by the most basic of adaptive technologies --adequate mobile space for those in wheelchairs, computer monitor magnifying or screen reading programs for the visually impaired, interpreters for those with absent or reduced verbal communication skills-- the students began their studies.

On September 6th, 2007, the EmployMe! program will graduate its first class. The students who were first enrolled in the program as adults with limiting disabilities will graduate as adults with enhanced abilities. They will have the ability to perform jobs in the many fields of web-based technologies; they will have the ability to perform jobs in Unix system administration they will have the set of skills required to become a functional, effective and valued employee. And, most importantly, they will know that they have the ability to overcome the limitations that other people have set for them in the past and may also set for them in the future.

The Second Life Doubters Club

The Second Life Doubters Club has a few new members from the corporate world.

From Wired magazine comes "How Madison Avenue Is Wasting Millions on a Deserted Second Life"

Coke and the NBA are hardly alone. Adrift in the uncharted sea that is Web 2.0 — YouTube, MySpace, social networking, user-generated content, virtual worlds — corporate marketers look at Second Life and see something to grab onto. At least 50 major companies have ventured into the virtual world to date, spending millions in the process. IBM has created a massive complex of adjoining islands dedicated to recruitment, employee training, and in-world business meetings. Coldwell Banker has opened a virtual real estate office. Brands like Adidas, H&R Block, and Sears have set up shop. CNET and Reuters have opened virtual bureaus there. It's as if the moon suddenly had oxygen. Nobody wants to miss out.

I recently "attended" a meeting in Second Life and even though I'm still an SL novice, most of the others were total newbies. Wow, was it a mess of lost people, software problems and very little meeting.

"Then there's the question of what people do when they get there. Once you put in several hours flailing around learning how to function in Second Life, there isn't much to do. That may explain why more than 85 percent of the avatars created have been abandoned." Companies say, 'It's an experiment' — but what are they learning?" Rishad Tobaccowala, CEO of Denuo, asks. "Basically, they're learning how to create an avatar and walk around in Second Life." Which is fine if that's what you want to do. Just don't expect to sell a lot of Coke."

Which led The Chronicle of Higher Education's Wired Campus blog to say:

The Wired article and the discussion did not talk about colleges that are building campuses in Second Life, but it seems that some people in higher education might be asking the same tough questions that Mr. Anderson is. More than 100 colleges have set up some kind of presence in Second Life, according to officials at Linden Lab, the company that runs the environment. But are those campuses attracting enough visitors to make the investments worth it?

Still new to all his SL talk? Here's a good set of 4 articles from the THE Journal that gives a more balanced look at the pros & cons of using SL in education.

Job Training Goes Open Source

In December of 2006 NJIT was awarded a grant to develop freely distributable course module curricula to support job-market specific training for the financial sector workforce. The New Jersey Regional Economic Innovation Alliance (NJEIA) and its associated industry partners have identified segments of the financial services industry that would benefit from potential employees who have certain enhanced skill sets when hired.

Developed to close the apparent gap between the skills that high-school, community college, and four year institution students were graduating and the needs of employers in the growing financial services workplace, the program, IPI Financial, is a collaboration among educators and IT professionals to develop and package effective training courseware archives.

At an IPI meeting last week, two NJIT professors from the School of Management, Asokan Anandarajan and Katia Passerini, presented their proposed training curriculum for the first of the financial training packages. Included in their presentations was commentary from financial institutions about the types of skills that were needed, but lacking, in potential employees and newly hired personnel.

Financial institutions such as commercial banks, the Federal Reserve, and Goldman Sachs, had no strong interest in requiring educational institutions to provide greater technical skills to potential employees. Those institutions provide their own technical training to master day-to-day job functions once an applicant is hired. The skills that those institutions were most interested in improving or establishing were employee "soft-skills," in the workplace. Focus groups identified the following needed areas of improvement:

1. Communication skills, both oral and written
2. Skills relating to conduct (including mode of dress and proper business etiquette)
3. The ability to deal with peers,superiors and subordinates
4. The ability to understand different cultures when dealing with people of different international backgrounds
5. The ability to engage in critical thinking
6. Lateral thinking in problem solving
7. Knowing how to work effectively in a team
8. Overall integrity in the workplace environment

Does this sound like the need for liberal arts education to anyone?

The IPI Financial group expects to produce these training curriculum archives in a freely available and downloadable form by Spring of 2008. These course archives are expected to complement and supplement the educational resources that already exist in schools and will include lecture and study materials generated by subject matter experts in the specific employment areas that are targeted. Each course archive will be a self-contained learning environment that will require a computer with an unzip utility, a web-browser, a PDF document viewer and a multimedia client program to study the curriculum content.

The format and type-content of the individual course archives for this financial services training model is expected to be applied to other targeted industries where similar learning skills enhancements are needed for the future workforce.