Awards
Technology Innovations: University of Wisconsin, Green Bay - Gold Medal

Category 12: Technology Innovations
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Stuff2Do Vlog

Contact: Todd Sanders, student affairs Webmaster, Office of the Dean of Students, 2420 Nicolet Dr., Green Bay, WI 54311, Phone: (920) 465-2736, e-mail: sanderst@uwgb.edu

Program description: Stuff2Do is a vlog for student life events. A vlog is a blog that uses video to deliver the message. You can subscribe to the vlog via RSS or iTunes, so it’s also a podcast. There’s a wiki for viewers to submit events and ideas for the show, a Google map mashup so viewers can see who else is watching, and we did a “photo contest” where viewers could submit photos of events that they attended – it’s an ever evolving project that seeks to engage the student.

Planning and objectives:

BZZZZZZZZZZZZ, Buzzwords…

There was quite a bit of chatter on campus about podcasting. Some folks very high up in the food chain wanted to see the campus produce a podcast. Nobody was biting, so I took the bait. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in technology for technology’s sake; however, I was looking for a creative outlet, and a podcast sounded like a good way to climb out of my box – two birds, one stone.

First order of business was to find a guinea pig. Something that had a steady flow of content – something that could be massaged into a podcast format. It needed to be something that already existed elsewhere online; I’d just enhance it. The Student Life calendar of events fit the bill, and I approached them with the project plans.

What were the plans? Make a video podcast using yours truly as the talent.

Why video, why not audio? You and I both know that if I did an audio podcast, that soon after the launch, I’d get people requesting a video version. So, much like a Jean Claude Van-Damme movie, I went straight to video.

From the start there were three objectives. Not complex by any means. In fact, you could say the goals were kept to a minimum to guarantee the success of the project.

  1. Don’t fail – fake it till you make it. Fool people into thinking that I knew what I was doing. Get that first podcast delivered on schedule for the start of the fall semester and see the project through till the end of the spring semester.
  2. Find student talent to take over somewhere down the road. While I’m guessing most college students enjoy a 30-something with three kids, a wife, and minivan telling them what to do, I’m sure there are some kids out there that rather see one of their own on the stage. From the start, my role was that of a foster parent actively seeking a fit parent to adopt this baby. The show was theirs; I was just standing in until they took the wheel.
  3. Have fun. The task at hand would have ups and downs. Late nights and early mornings. Lack of sleep and large doses of caffeine. But in the end, if it was’t fun, it would be a prison sentence. I’d just mark days of the calendar until my release date at the end of the spring semester. That’s not what I was signing up for. So having fun with it was not only very important, it was required.

I know what you’re thinking. He said he had three objectives and he has yet to tell us how he planned on increasing student numbers at events, squashing the efforts of those proclaiming there’s nothing to do on campus, making prospective students beat down the admissions’ office door. While these are wonderful goals, they are not the ones we were shooting for. We wanted to make things simple, to introduce something new to our students – to innovate.

How does the media fit? Student affairs leads the way in many things on campus. I think it is because we are so concerned with the student experience – students come first. We are not afraid to try new things, especially if we think that the student will benefit from our efforts. Video on the Web and podcasting are two things student affairs feels our students want, especially to enhance the classroom experience. By producing the Stuff2Do video podcast, we proved that it could be done, and that students are eager to accept it. Hopefully this will promote the future development of podcasts across campus – hopefully this will pave the way for enhancements to the classroom experience, through the use of podcasting.

What makes it innovative? Podcasting on campus was a big buzzword, with a big stinger. Nobody wanted to play with it, all that buzzing could get someone hurt.

How could it be done? Who would provide the content? Where’s the equipment? Why not just give up now?

What makes the Stuff2Do podcast innovative? Simply put, it wasn’t being done. It was too easy not to do. People would be waiting for the wheels to fall off and say, “I told you so.” The pitfalls were many, the rewards few (that’s where you can help – wink).

What we’re doing isn’t innovative to the rest of the world, but it is somewhat unique to the higher education world, and certainly to our campus.

It’s more than the use of video to highlight student life events. It’s a mesh of things that are there for the viewer to take ownership in. It’s a wiki that lets students submit show ideas, it’s a creative outlet for student video producers, and it’s a map that lets viewers interact – it’s the start of a conversation. It’s an attempt to engage the student, to create a community. It’s something that wasn’t being done; it’s something that I’m glad we did.

Evaluation plan: If we build it, will they come? The answer: YES!

The photo contest in the fall had over 100 entries. The map has almost 1000 members (not bad for a school that has less than 6000 students). Student participation in the wiki is growing. More student-produced video content is flowing in. And I’ve become a star. Now when I go the vending machine outside my office, the M&Ms are magically sorted by color – my demands are being met.

Sure I could tout Web stats or give you the number of subscribers we have, but that’s not the point. Numbers are good and they keep getting better, but the active participation, the student engagement, the user generated content, the beginning of an online community – that’s where the performance is, and that’s what we are building on.

Audience: It was created for current students. To let them know what was going on. But things have evolved. Many of my colleagues are regular viewers; I think it is my way to add a little extra sunshine to the campus climate. Admissions has used the site to target prospective students. Their recent online postcard campaign is responsible for a bump in traffic (they assigned each student a unique URL so I can see when they click the Stuff2Do link in the postcard). Alumni have been introduced to the show via an article in the alumni magazine (it goes out to over 20,000 former students). Neighbors stop me to comment on recent shows – really.

Thanks to broadband and the acceptance of Flash Player, everyone seems to be happy. Who doesn’t like video?* What was once something new and different on the Web, is now something that is expected – especially by our current students.

*Note: the events are all accessible in the Student Life calendar; the video just enhances the content that is already available online.

Use of resources: The biggest expense (for the university) to date has been an external hard drive and a chunk of my time every two weeks or so. I spend between 8 to 12 hours per episode in filming, editing, formatting, uploading, and updating the site. I film with my trusty and dusty Sony Handycam from home and edit with iMovie on my Apple at work. The script writes itself, I print out the Student Life calendar and hit record, whatever happens, happens. I shoot from my sons’ bedroom in front of their TV, so there are plenty of props available when needed. The two biggest expenses on my end have been DV tapes (average one an episode) and the registration fee for this award (my annual donation to CASE).

Response, results, goals meet: The response has been awesome. It’s been fun watching the momentum grow. To watch it spread, more people coming to the site, more people sharing photos from events, more people putting a pin in the map, more viewer created video, more suggestions on the wiki. It’s been a wonderful experience.

Did we meet our goals? The first episode was by far the toughest. Once it was under my belt, the rest came more easily (except for the episode on Seasonal Affective Disorder). Right now we have 11 episodes created and five to go, with no plans on stopping before we cross the finish line. So I was able to fake it till I made it – check one off the list.

Finding a student to take over has been a little tougher. I might go back to the drawing board and revise that goal to state, find a group of students who can supply the talent and video and I’ll do the editing and the rest of the technical stuff. It is a lot of work for a college student to handle on top of schoolwork, so I’m hoping to find a compromise. One that will let the student voice be heard, without over taxing it and taking all of the fun out of it. The students are involved (submitting photos and videos, pinning the map, sending suggestions via the wiki) so I don’t want to say I failed on this one, and we still have 5 episodes to find someone.

I’ve had a ton of fun on this project. It’s been a creative outlet, and a great escape from my “redesign” duties as a Webmaster. Don’t get me wrong, Financial Aid Web sites are fun, but it’s a different kind of fun - you know, the kind of fun that makes your left eye twitch.

The big picture was simple, to introduce something new, – to innovate. To see where it would go, to see if it could be done, to see if anyone cared. It was like going to the moon – now that campus has seen that it can be done, more people on campus are less fearful of the “what ifs”. I gave the alligator’s belly a rub, and he didn’t bite my hand off. The fear of podcasting has been lessened; the possibilities are now being discussed.

Come to think of it, that whole moon thing didn’t amount to much – did it?