Cast your vote for the eduStyle Best Institutional and Students Blogs Awards by May 31st

May 26th, 2008 Karine Joly No Comments

Have you voted for the best institutional and student blogs eduStyle awards?

Not yet? This (long) post composed of 4 interviews should help.

Recently, I’ve contacted the people in charge of the 6 nominated blogs and asked a few questions to help you learn more about these blogs and cast your vote.

Out of the 6 people contacted, 4 got back to me:

  • Susan Evans from the re.web blog (College of William and Mary)
  • Andrew Careaga from the name change blog (MST)
  • Claire Moller from the New to UBC blog (UBC)
  • Nancy Prater from the Real Life student blogs and podcasts (Ball State University)

College of William and Mary – re.web Blog – the W&M Web Redesign
Susan Evans, Director of Web and Communication Services

1) When did you launch your blog?
W&M launched the re.web blog on November 29, 2006. The W&M web redesign project was in a pre-planning phase at that point; our redesign effort officially launched in February 2007.

2) What was your goal at that time? What was its target audience?
At launch, the goal of the re.web blog was to support of one of our five project goals – to encourage broad participation by the campus community, offering numerous opportunities for feedback and suggestions. Members of both the re.web project team and the W&M Web Redesign Advisory Committee were committed to a transparent communication strategy for this campus-wide initiative that would bring significant change for the W&M web environment. Our target audience was W&M students, faculty, and staff. It only made sense to use the web as the primary communication tool for a web redesign project. In a nutshell, we wanted the re.web blog to be the central location for getting information, reading updates, and providing feedback.

3) In your opinion, what makes this blog unique?
In my opinion, our blog is unique because it is the primary communication tool for a campus-wide initiative. Additionally, we are attempting to offer variety in our content. For example, our blog

  • regular posts from members of the re.web project team
  • periodic guest blogger posts from campus stakeholders
  • occasional podcasts

Finally, although we started out using our blog for communication about re.web, we have regularly used it to educate our campus and departmental web managers about web technology, web standards, web communication best practices, and the power of blogs.

4) What has been the return on investment of this blog since its launch? How do you measure its success?
In terms of ROI, we have been successful at using the blog as a central means for encouraging feedback and discussion about everything from design to content management system selection to information architecture. We have measured success, in part, by the number of comments we received at critical junctures. In early January, we posted web design concepts for broad campus review and feedback. During this design review phase, 133 comments were posted on our blog. In early February, during our most concentrated CMS selection period, 15 comments were offered about the strengths and weaknesses of the two products we were considering.

The re.web project site at associated with our blog and many of our readers access the blog through that site.
Since launching our project site and blog in November 2006, the total number of hits to the site is 51, 257. On average, this equates to 2,848 hits per month.

We consider external validation a measure of success. Both mStoner and Hannon Hill have confirmed that the re.web project blog is an example of ideal communication during a campus redesign effort.
Hannon Hill: “From a humble vendor’s perspective, W&M has redefined the way that web team decision-makers should communicate with their constituents and stakeholders during a project of this magnitude.”

Additionally, our approach was referenced at:

College Web Guy
“The efforts they seem to be expending to involve their constituents and keep them aware of the redesign process are going to pay dividends.”

Higher Ed Web Marketing
“In the world of Web 2.0 this is a great way to engage the campus community in a process where to be successful you need ‘buy-in’.”

Missouri University of Science and Technology – Name Change Conversations

Andrew Careaga, Communication Director

1) When did you launch your blog?
Name Change Conversations was launched on Jan. 30, 2007.

2) What was your goal at that time? What was its target audience?
The blog was part of a broader communications strategy to communicate to alumni, current students, faculty and staff, and the general public about a proposed name change for the University of Missouri-Rolla. (That was our university’s name at the time. As of Jan. 1, 2008, we became known as Missouri University of Science and Technology, or Missouri S&T.) Following a vote in April 2007 to approve the name change, the blog morphed into a resource for sharing information about the transition from UMR to Missouri S&T.
The target audiences were: alumni, prospective students, current students, and faculty and staff.
The blog was part of an integrated communications strategy that involved other vehicles, including traditional news media, our alumni magazine, small group discussions on campus, etc.

3) In your opinion, what makes this blog unique?
The difference about Name Change Conversations was its focus on a particular issue — changing a university’s name. it was intended to address a controversial issue in a fashion that allowed for more communication among our various constituents (the audiences listed above).

4) What has been the return on investment of this blog since its launch? How do you measure its success?
Since this blog was intended to facilitate discussion about the name change, we measure our success in terms of the number of comments received, or “conversational index” — the ratio of comments per post. (The conversational index was an idea developed by blogger Stowe Boyd. See this post for details.) During the early months of the blog’s existence, while the university community was still debating the merits of a name change, some of the posts received as many as 30 or 40 comments or more. The blog got people talking. More than 14 months and 97 posts later, the blog has received 513 comments — a ratio of almost 5.3 comments per blog post.

University of British Columbia – New to UBC Blog
Claire Moller, User Experience Architect

1) When did you launch your blog?
The blog was launched in July 2006. We redesigned the WordPress theme in October 2007.

2) What was your goal at that time? What was its target audience?
Initially, our goals were:

  • to provide just-in-time information to newly admitted students, and in so doing;
  • to avoid duplicating information being sent out from all the various units by communicating to students through a coordinated effort; and
  • to encourage students to become involved in student activities by welcoming them into the student community.

We knew that newly admitted students receive offers from a range of universities, and we wanted to give them all the information they needed to choose UBC; to become familiar with the broad range of services, resources, and opportunities available to them; and to start getting prepared for September. We decided on a coordinated approach in response to student feedback about feeling like they were being spammed.

Our target audience has since shifted and we’ve expanded the initiative and created a separate blog for second-year students. This decision was based on direct student feedback elicited through a survey – 91.9% responded that they wished to continue receiving the e-newsletter directing them to information on the blog.

3) In your opinion, what makes this blog unique?
Our blog is unique in several ways:

  • The content is driven directly by student responses to our surveys and to student feedback – in particular their answers to the following question: “Thinking back on your experience, what do you wish you had known before you arrived at UBC and/or about your first year here?”
  • The content is compiled and written by a student, and photos are selected or submitted by students. We felt that a student voice was the best way to speak directly to students about the student experience.
  • The blog is governed by a committee of student services professionals across campus, to whom our student writer reports. This committee includes representatives from most of the units in the VP Students portfolio – from Career Services to Registration Services, from Student Development to Housing & Conferences, from the International Student Initiative to groups outside the portfolio like the UBC Library and the Alma Mater Society (AMS).
  • Our blog workflow includes an editorial review by our in-house Communications Services unit before publishing.
  • The blog is complemented by an e-newsletter that includes the item headlines and drives readers to blog for full information.
  • Our blog is focused on providing “just-in-time” information and presenting that information in short, digestible chunks.

4) What has been the return on investment of this blog since its launch? How do you measure its success?
We survey students each year to get feedback on the frequency of posts and types of content provided. Students have rated the service very highly and have requested that they continue to receive the e-newsletter in their second year.
We also monitor our usage stats using the FireStats WordPress plugin. Our email campaigns typically generate a 45% click-through rate – not bad considering the average targeted newsletter can expect about a 10-20% click-through rate.

Various unit representatives have reported the following anecdotal evidence of its success:

  • Spikes in registration on the Student Service Centre occur after email campaigns.
  • Career Services workshops experience spikes in registration after email campaigns.
  • Increased awareness of programs and events that are highlighted on the blog.
  • Students who send replies to the emails formulate more informed inquiries

Ball State University – Blogs and Podcasts: Real Life at Ball State University
Nancy Prater, University Web Coordinator

1) When did you launch your blog?
September 2005. Plus, the site gets a facelift every September as we bring on new bloggers.

2) What was your goal at that time? What was its target audience?
The Experience Ball State Web site offers visitors an authentic feel for what student life is like at Ball State and a way to interact with selected bloggers in a friendly, multimedia environment. As a largely undergraduate university, our primary target for this project is college-bound high school students and their parents. Our mains goals were to 1) Offer more personal, interactive recruitment communication so prospective students can begin to feel connected to Ball State; 2) Help students see if Ball State is the right fit for them; and 3) Provide an “unvarnished” (but mostly positive) view of the university

3) In your opinion, what makes this blog unique?
I think our blogs stand out because we were the first (that I am aware of) to open up the comment section – meaning our blogs are true blogs, and not just journals of our students’ experiences. In addition, we do not edit the blogs – meaning visitors get an authentic view about life at Ball State.

4) What has been the return on investment of this blog since its launch? How do you measure its success?
The site continues to get thousands of hits every day – especially during peak times in the spring when students are making final enrollment decisions. In addition, our surveys of incoming freshmen and their parents indicate that students, but especially parents, appreciate and understand the authenticity of the bloggers. They also feel they had a better understanding about what campus, professors, and the overall Ball State experience would be like. We feel this later impacts retention. If you have helped someone find the right college fit, then they are more likely to have a successful experience at your school.

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