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Saturday
May022009

Applying a "brand" aid?

I find it a little troubling that we are beginning to take our values from marketers. I'm speaking specifically about our concern over personal "brands."

After reading Jeff Utecht's post about helping his students create personal "brands," I decided I ought to look the term up to see what it actually meant, having no background in business. The website buildingbrands.com has a variety of definitions, but opens with this interesting observation:

What is a brand? Too often even marketing professionals don't have an answer, and too many have their 'own' answer. Which makes life very confusing!

Indeed. But the article quotes The Dictionary of Business and Management as:

"a name, sign or symbol used to identify items or services of the seller(s) and to differentiate them from goods of competitors."

While I certainly understand and agree with the advice that we need to help all Internet users be aware of their online (and I hope offline) reputation and history, I am concerned that we are stepping too far into the realm of image rather than accomplishment.

Are we about style or about substance? Is it in our student's and our own best interest to simply think of ourselves as products that should be made as marketable as possible? To what extent do we truly encourage individuals to purposely develop unique identities online, especially when being true to oneself may not be appealing to mainstream society and work against traditional employment or "successful" career paths? (What if a student should decide to "brand" herself as the foremost authority and practitioner of devil worship on the planet - following a probably passing adolescent interest?)

Are we making sure that students understand that an image alone has little value? A clever brand might get attention, but unless it backed up by a body of meaningful work and experiences, reliability and consistency, of positive values and thoughtfulness, it might work against an individual as well as for him. (Edsel, Thalidomide and Nazi were all brands, after all.)

I'm not sure this topic deserves the kind of attention I've given it, but something didn't' set right with me about teaching self-marketing to seventh graders. Have we all drunk of Seth Godin's Kool-aid, and developed a 24/7 neurosis about being purple cows in order to survive in tomorrow's society?

Oh, do consider the source: if this writer has a "brand" it may be a small, smelly mammal that is either very cold or depressed.

 

Wednesday
Apr292009

Improving professional organizations with technology

We know that our website needs major work--but we don't even know what's possible, much less what's optimal! Any suggestions about how to start a dialog? Any probing questions you could throw our way? - Director of an educational organization

The expectations members have of the online resources their organizations provide seem to be growing every year. I jotted down a few things I find of value provided online by my professional organizations -  and perhaps a way to think about how to plan for change...

Here are my two cents on how you might approach creating a plan to maximize your website.

I have always thought Zuboff's observations are a good place to start in looking at how any organization uses technology. She observed that technology can be used to automate processes (do what has always been done but more efficiently) or informate processes (take advantage of the intelligence and speed to do what may have been impossible without technology).

I am not sure what all services your organization currently offers its members - the schools or the individuals in them. The distribution of current information, curriculum planning/evaluation, surveys, collaborative projects, and staff development opportunities can all be done or supplemented online efficiently and effectively. A good place to start would be looking at what you are currently doing and seeing if any of these tasks can be "automated" with your website, making them more current, easily revised, and efficient. Hosting online learning environments, webcasting services, or even supporting cloud-based email/calendaring applications for your member schools, especially the smaller ones, might all be services that would be used and appreciated.

As for "informating," the primary thing I've seen websites begin to offer are more personalized, interactive services. This could take several possible shapes on your website:

  • Member schools (and individuals) could have individual log ons and portals. ISTE does this very effectively on its website. One can easily change contact information, renew memberships, join mailing lists, change Special Interest Divisions, etc. The upfront cost of programming is offset by less in house time spent doing this FOR members. Members can customize the look and feel of the website, creating their own "experience."
  • Your website could help facilitate ongoing personal learning networks for its educators by creating and supporting professional networking environments modeled on social networking sites. Nings, wikis, blogs. threaded discussions, and even microblogging sites can be used to promote ongoing conversations, information sharing and problem solving among individuals with common needs and interests. (Library media specialists, for example.)
  • A good website can extend the power of your face-to-face conferences. Again, ISTE has been a pioneer in these efforts, creating pre-conference and post-conference support for both those members who attend and those who can't, as well as encouraging "back channel" communications during the conference itself by organizing live-blogging, chat and other means of reporting out what is happening in sessions in real time. Many sessions are also recorded for later audio or video streaming, making them accessible to members after the conference from a central repository.
This might get you started in your thinking. You've got some great local tech talent in your member schools. A website advisory group could prove beneficial, especially if you hold it someplace warm this winter and invite me to facilitate! (No hidden agenda here.)

So, what in terms of online services should we all be expecting from our professional organizations? What delights you and makes you glad you paid those dues?

Image from: brentsuniverse.com/?p=264
Wednesday
Apr292009

Shameless self promotion...

In today's e-mail...

May's Cable in the Classroom has an article about educational blogs and your Blue Skunk blog is the second one listed. Thought you might like to see the article if you haven't already: http://www.ciconline.org/cicmagazine-may09 Click on Bookmark This!

Cool and totally unexpected.

Except now I feel the pressure to actually live up to the hype.

Damn!