I created my first email account and webpage in 1996 and since that time have been fascinated by the Internet's power to connect people. My studies at the University of Michigan's School of Information introduced me to new ways of using the Internet, new skills in programming and design and life-long colleagues in technology-based fields, who help me keep my finger on the latest Internet trends.
As it relates to international education, technology is all about reaching students where they are. The current generation of college students is increasingly dependent on the Internet and expects us to keep up with them. There is an anecdote that students are now doing their study abroad research (and most other research) at 3am in their pajamas. If we can reach these students by making study abroad information available at all hours and accessible via the Internet, we will be able to help them make educated decisions, rather than leaving everything up to Google search rankings.
Technology at Miami University's Office of International Education
Over my four years at Miami University, we have introduced several new measures designed to harness technology to the advantage and education of students. These include:
Office of International Education website
When I began at Miami University in 2005, the office website had not been redesigned or updated in any serious way since its creation in 1996. I spent the next six months studying the needs of the office and planning and implementing a major redesign that addressed the different needs of the OIE website's user groups (study abroad students, international students, parents, academic advisors, etc.)
Study Abroad Newsletter
The Miami University Study Abroad Newsletter (available via email subscription or an RSS feed) reaches over 2000 subscribers, including students, parents, professors and staff. It is an opportunity for the Office of International Education to highlight certain programs, let students know about upcoming events and deadlines and focus on issues that may be more important at a certain time of the year. These newsletters are also archived on the site so that students can refer back to them or find them in a search of the website.
Department-specific program listings
The most obvious and easiest way to list programs on our website for students to peruse is by country, but many students are in very strict majors or have several majors and minors. For these students, it's very important that they find a study abroad program that matches well to their academic curriculum. We have been working with departments to identify programs that are likely matches for majors in their department or meet a particular departmental need. By listing these on our website, we have helped students make educated decisions and also helped those students who feel overwhelmed by their options.
We created our own "Miami University Study Abroad" Facebook page in the summer of 2008, although we only started to market it at the beginning of the 2008-09 school year. So far, we've found the site most useful for connecting prospective study abroad students with each other (we don't give out information about who's going where, but we give the students a location to share that information with each other).
Facebook has also been useful in promotion and information-sharing on specific programs. When we created a joint study abroad program with Rollins College, the Facebook page we created gave the two groups of students an opportunity to "meet" online and even start making travel plans before they saw each other face-to-face. These Facebook groups are also useful for alumni cohesiveness after the program is over.
Twitter Updates from @MiamiUabroad
I created a Twitter account for the office in the summer of 2008 just to test the waters, but there wasn't much of a presence or interest in Twitter until the spring of 2009. As student interest grew, our Twitter account became more and more active. In addition to responding to student queries and highlighting points of interest around the world, Twitter can be used for contact with colleagues at other study abroad offices or providers. We've often "retweeted" (forwarded) information to our students that highlights our partner providers' programs.
Starting in spring 2009, all students who received scholarship money through our office were asked to do a project in return for the scholarship. Several of the students chose to blog about their experiences abroad. The students who we chose were responsible and eloquent and made some in-depth observations about their study abroad experience, their host cultures and their home cultures.
Miami is currently in the process of implementing the Studio Abroad office management product from Terra Dotta. We hope that this one-stop location for all the study abroad opportunities around the world will help students to make more informed decisions. The back-end power is more in-depth than anything we've had before and will make many of our everyday paper-pushing tasks a thing of the past, freeing up more time for one-on-one attention to students.
The advantage of using these technologies is that most of them are free, with relatively little time devoted to their upkeep (in many cases, our student workers can be trusted to maintain them) and a high payoff in terms of students receiving information. The drawback is that students are sometimes hard to reach or hard to convince that they should, for example, follow our Twitter feed. There are many things competing for students' attention. In many cases, getting the student buy-in is just a matter of a little time and effort - once a few students are onboard, the interest will snowball.
After identifying certain weaknesses in my computer skills, I enrolled in training workshops to correct that deficit, including:
- Microsoft Excel 2007: Workbook Fundamentals II
- Microsoft Excel 2007: Managing, Organizing and Analyzing Data
- Microsoft Excel 2007: Analyzing Data with Charts and PivotTables
- Microsoft Word 2007: More Advanced Features
- Survey Tools & Data Protection