Friday, 26 November 2010

We didn't win but it was a good night

Well, we didn't win the Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Support for Students. I was very proud of Fran for getting us short listed but it was always unlikely that we would win it two years in a row. We did have a good evening though at a very plush event and Michael Portillo did a brilliant job of presenting the awards - he was surprisingly hilarious. Here are some snaps.

Friday, 19 November 2010

MailChimp 'opened' stats and MS Outlook reading pane

I'd said in a previous post about MailChimp reports that I was a bit disappointed with a 25% open rate from our mailing list emails. However, Marta suspected that this was partly due to high numbers of users subscribing via their official University of Leicester email account which, common to many institutions, uses Microsoft Outlook. And the default setting for Outlook is for the reading pane to be on. This enables users to read an email without actually clicking on it to open it. Well, Marta and I tested it, and she was indeed correct - viewing a MailChimp email via the Outlook reading pane isn't recorded as an open in MailChimp reports. And given that more than 75% of our (now 4,000 strong) list use their address - I've come to the happy conclusion that our open rate is much better than I thought :)

Thursday, 11 November 2010

I've got round the MailChimp problem

By Za3tOoOr!
You may have seen that I've been quite excited about MailChimp lately. My excitement subsided though after Vic pointed out last week that there was a problem with users subscribing from addresses. I hadn't noticed because the initial 3,500 subscribers (which I blogged about here) had come via a Plone form - and I simply imported the csv file into MailChimp. And because I was already included on this list via my address I tested the subsequent form with other addresses - hence missing the problem (school boy error).

I contacted our IT Services and they said that MailChimp wasn't blacklisted. I contacted MailChimp and they said that there must be some kind of filter which was blocking it. The answer in the end was to create a non address for the mail to be seen to be coming from so as to get through the spam filter which blocks messages that seem to be pretending to be from addresses but are coming from an external service. So I created a sdzhelpdesk@gmail address and set up an auto-forward on that to send all mail to I then made sdzhelpdesk@gmail the default "Reply-to" email in MailChimp and it works! Confirmations from address are now received and replies to messages are routed through gmail to

I've tested it with three different people but if you would be willing to check for me (if you have a address) you can do so here. And as I said in my tweet, thanks to MattMailChimp and ITS for helping solve the problem. And to Vic for spotting it.

Now I can get on to the serious business of using it for student engagement.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Employability KPIs

Not CC (obvs)
Yesterday I attended a university committee at which my director presented our draft key performance indicators for employability. There were seven KPIs proposed as follows:
  1. Destination statistics
  2. Opportunities for career planning
  3. Support for the development of employability within courses
  4. Opportunities and support for work experience and placements
  5. Opportunities for developing employability outside the curriculum
  6. Engagement with employers
  7. External recognition and validation
The committee, however, recommended that we have just two: do our graduates get a graduate job and how much are they paid? Whilst I understand that the Browne Review places considerable pressure on universities to show potential students what return they will get for their investment (and rightly so), I can't help thinking that we're confusing institution-level KPIs with service-level KPIs.

I'd be interested in your comments, especially if you're from a careers service who's also wrestling with meaningful KPIs.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

MailChimp report

It's been just over a week since I sent my first MailChimp email to our distribution list of nearly 3,500. I blogged about it briefly but now that a week past since I sent it the report looks a bit more interesting.

Of the 3,456 messages sent 858 were opened, 136 bounced and 2,462 were unopened. To be honest I'm a bit disappointed about these figures - but they're pretty close to the industry average (apparently) and previously we didn't have any data on who had opened what so I'm going to use this as a base line.

What I'm more pleased about is the click rate.; 473 of the 848 who opened it clicked on a link - which suggest there was something of interest in it.

MailChimp even gives me a 'Click map' so I can see which links recipients clicked on. Very useful.

I also know from the report that the 848 people opened it a total of 1,285 times. 1,202 of the opens were from the UK, 47 from China, 4 from India and various single opens from other places.

Also, only 2 people unsubscribed. Which is good.

Now I need to decide what to do with all this lovely data. I've also figured out how to create subgroups within the list so we can differentiate on the basis of year of study (assuming people are happy to tell us this information). More on this later...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Guardian's social media guidelines

I just saw on a retweet from Richard Hall that The Guardian have just released some social media guidelines for its journalists. You can read them in full here but the main points are:
  1. Participate in conversations about our content, and take responsibility for the conversations you start.
  2. Focus on the constructive by recognising and rewarding intelligent contributions.
  3. Don't reward disruptive behaviour with attention, but report it when you find it.
  4. Link to sources for facts or statements you reference, and encourage others to do likewise.
  5. Declare personal interest when applicable. Be transparent about your affiliations, perspectives or previous coverage of a particular topic or individual.
  6. Be careful about blurring fact and opinion and consider carefully how your words could be (mis)interpreted or (mis)represented.
  7. Encourage readers to contribute perspective, additional knowledge and expertise. Acknowledge their additions.
  8. Exemplify our community standards in your contributions above and below the line.
Which seems like very good guidance to me.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

I've just decoupled the events feed

Having been quite pleased with myself a year ago for figuring out how to automate events notification from our website to Facebook and Twitter I've decided to turn it off. News items will continue to push out automatically but VicJames and I decided that the events notification was just too noisy. Vic is now taking more of a specific responsibility for updating our Facebook and Twitter accounts and it's a much better tone and timing than the automatic events feed (see this for an example). James is beginning to do the same for the postgraduate researcher development accounts. Would be interested to hear what you think...

Monday, 18 October 2010

MailChimp mail delivered

Got in this morning to a confirmation email that my first MailChimp mail had been delivered. See below.

The reason there were 3,456 on the list rather than more than 3,500 (the figure I mentioned last week) is because when you upload a list the very clever little chimp notices duplicates. It also notices syntax errors so I was able to alter an address which was to @g, and and one which was @hotmail.,com. Very clever.

Now I need to wait and then check out the reports when more data has arrived. The report about 20 minutes after the delivery said as follows...

Thursday, 14 October 2010

I’ve taken the plunge with MailChimp

Having mulled it over for a couple of days I've taken the plunge and become a fully paid up member of MailChimp. Having had more than 3,500 students sign up to our mailing list (yup, it surprised me too) I came to the conclusion that we couldn't manage such large numbers on an internal system. Doubtless I'll blog more about MailChimp when I've had more time to have test it, but just for now there are two features in particular that were clinchers for me.
  1. It puts users in control - they can unsubscribe or update their profile at any time
  2. It give email a social edge (no, really) by supporting Facebook page likes and adding sharing buttons
I thought I'd spotted a catch last night when I said thought they tied users in by not letting you export contact lists. I tweeted the thought and within two minutes I had a reply from MailChimp telling that I could export lists and with a link to the place telling me how. I was very impressed.

What I'm most concerned about now is what to say. Here's a link to a browser based draft and there's a screen shot of it below. If you have any comments on any aspect of the email (content, tone, style) then I'd be really grateful to hear them. I plan to send it tomorrow afternoon. Or maybe I should wait until Monday morning?

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Mailing list managers

An update on the Good old fashioned email post - I've now had more than 3,000 people sign up to our mailing list. With that many people on the list I need a mailing list manager. Obviously I'd like to push more of them to our Facebook and Twitter accounts but as Marta said in the comments 'I guess we have to give them what they've signed up to'. They've asked for email. What I want to avoid though is having to reply to lots of emails - so we'll just use it as a channel to push information out - which is why I'd prefer it if they used social media because then the communication can be much more responsive. We can quickly reply to a tweet or a Facebook post and the one-to-many nature of social media means that everybody else can benefit from the answer. With email it's one-to-one and there's no way we're spending time responding to 3,000 questions, many of them probably similar.

So, does anyone know anything about mailing list managers? I think I need to learn about them quickly. We can't use our University CFS system for mailing to such large numbers easily because there's a limit of 1,000 people per email. Also, if we're going to use email then I want people to be able to unsubscribe easily should they want to, again, there's no easy way of doing this with CFS. A good mailing list manager should also give us several other useful features, including easy delivery, tracking and groups that support preferences.

I've heard of MailChimp and it looks good but we'd need to pay for it ($50 a month) because the free accounts are only for up to 1,000 addresses. It also has the potential to integrate with Facebook and Twitter.

Becka told me that they use Majordomo at Bradford. It describes itself as "a program which automates the management of Internet mailing lists. Commands are sent to Majordomo via electronic mail to handle all aspects of list maintenance. "

I've also stumbled across Mailman whic says "Mailman is free software for managing electronic mail discussion and e-newsletter lists. Mailman is integrated with the web, making it easy for users to manage their accounts and for list owners to administer their lists. Mailman supports built-in archiving, automatic bounce processing, content filtering, digest delivery, spam filters, and more."

I'm desperately in need of some advice from this from people who have used such things...

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Good old fashioned email

I've thought a lot about how we publicise our services in the last 12 months (for instance a couple of posts tagged publicity and all the Facebook stuff). I've thought about our website, social media, digital signage, email newsletters and print. All with a view to engaging students in what we do. More recently we've summarised our diverse range of services in some simple statements (I blogged about the first draft of those here), which have helped both staff as well as students understand more what we do and how it fits together. They're as follows:
  • Succeed in your studies
  • Gain experience
  • Develop your career
Incrementally we are getting more engagement, evidenced in part by the number of 'Likes' on our Facebook page (but I'm trying to get beyond likes). We've also been running a Student Development roadshow this week to get out and about on campus to tell students (and possibly staff) about what we do. In spite of all this activity I was still suspicious when I got in this morning to find more 1,800 emails in my roadshow signup subfolder. I asked on Twitter if anyone knew why it might be (I'd suspected David might have popped something up on the Students' Union Facebook page) but in the end I found out it was via a good old fashioned email from Paul Jackson, our Director (see below). It went to all students and we now have more than 2,300 responses since 17:46 yesterday (more than 500 of which were since having made the form University of Leicester login only).
So I've been musing about why this worked so well. I think there are a number of factors:
  • timing - I suspect people are more responsive to this kind of thing at the beginning of the academic year (especially freshers?)
  • tone - I think Paul struck a good tone in the email - supportive and friendly
  • simplicity - the email only asked students to do one thing 'click the link to receive important information'
  • clarity - I also think that the 'succeed in your studies, gain experience, develop your career' thing is nice and clear
  • incentive - there's a chance to win a £50 iTunes voucher if you sign up (as a University of Leicester student) - but I'd be surprised if that made a big difference
Now I need to do make sure that we capitalise on this initial interest. I also need to think about how to manage such big numbers. I'm certainly going to encourage people towards our Facebook and Twitter accounts, but maybe students just like good old fashioned email. I thought that was for old people.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Another quick Facebook ad update

I've just put up another Facebook ad. This time I've tried the following criteria:
  • who live in the United Kingdom
  • age 18 and older
  • who are at University of Leicester
  • who are connected to University of Leicester Students' Union
  • who are not already connected to Student Development, University of Leicester
The difference being the addition of the 'who are at University of Leicester' bit. I shyed away from this the first time in case people hadn't updated their profiles - but I'll give it a go and see what happens, especially as we're now in freshers' week more people should have updated their profiles by now. I really should put up another add with different criteria (as per Brendan's helpful comments to a previous post) but I want to see how this one goes. I'm only spending a poultry £5 per day but I still need to be careful what we spend on it whilst it's still very much experimental. I also asked David if he'd mention us on the Students' Union pages - which may well be more effective. And now I understand the 'Action' column in the stats summary table (thanks Alun) I should be able to differentiate between those who 'Like' us as a result of the ad and those who find us via other means (like a post David might put up). But the important thing in all of this is not the numbers but getting beyond likes. So more work to do...

Friday, 1 October 2010

Quick Facebook ad update

This needs to be quick as I'm in a hurry. Hopefully a more considered most will follow next week. So I mentioned on Tuesday that I'd put up my first Facebook ad. It was just a simple test with a very small budget of £20 - set to run over 4 days - 28 September to 1 October. The targeting was as follows:
  • who live in the United Kingdom
  • age 18 and older
  • who are connected to University of Leicester Students' Union (thanks David ;)
  • who are not already connected to Student Development, University of Leicester
On Tuesday before the ad we had 1,692 'Likes'. 4 days later we now have 1,728, an increase of 36. It's not a huge increase but it's something - and all in the week before term starts. You can see further details in the image below.

I need to go through the figures more closely (and look up the helps to see what some of the TLAs mean) but there have been 63 clicks but how many of those are responsible for the increase in 36 Likes I'm not sure. The ad performance glossary doesn't mention what the 'Actions' Column means - if the actions represent the number of clicks that translated to likes then the ad is responsible for less than a third of the increase in the four day period. Does anyone know what the Actions column means?
Anyway, I think I'll pop another one up for next week (but I'm going to try a different image) to see what impact that has. It's useful to be able to experiment...

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

First Facebook ad done

A couple of months ago I mentioned that I was thinking about a Facebook ad. Well, I've just created one. The comments on the previous post were very useful (thanks Brendan!). I've set a very small budget (£5 per day) just to test it out over the next four days. David very helpfully gave me temp admin permissions to the Students' Union page so I could target the ad at users who don't currently like the Student Development page (current "likes" 1,692) but already like the Students' Union page (current "likes" 5,163). I'll let you know how it goes. One thing I'll change for next time is the image - it doesn't render very well at a small size but I wanted to link it to our Roadshow - could probably update that now but need to get onto other things...

Thursday, 23 September 2010

THE Awards 2010 Outstanding support for students shortlist

I'm very pleased to be able to announce that we've been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Awards Outstanding support for students. Our letter said:
"I am delighted to inform you that your institution has been shortlisted for the Times Higher Education Awards 2010 in the Outstanding student support category. This is a significant achievement given the quality and number of entries - we received more than 500 entries from more than 120 higher education institutions."
Which is great news. The nomination is for The University of Leicester Internship Programme (TULIP) that you can read more about here. Frances Capps, our Student Employment Services Manager, runs the programme, which was the brain child of Paul Jackson, the Director of Student Support and Development Service.

(And by the way, we won it last year. Just saying.)

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

ALTC 2010 quick mid-conference reflections

Part way through a busy ALTC conference I'm just trying to jot down a few of my thoughts on things so far (largely for my own benefit rather than anyone elses).

Yesterday was a bit of a slow start. Donald Clark's keynote was, I felt, provocative but lacking in any substance or evidence. Mostly I'll remember him for not having a lot to say that was constructive and swearing a lot. It got better after that. Geoff Stead's mobile learning demonstration was well done and it was good to meet him today. Alan Cann's session I missed because I had to leave early but his innovative use of FriendFeed to scaffold reflection is well worth a look at the slides. Our (that's Alex, Mark, Jen and me) presenation on Creating pedagogic models around  searchable tags andfreader commentaries on e-texts was well received (well done Alex!) - you can see the slides (actually, Prezi) on my previous post.

The sessions I've been totoday have been great for different reasons. The panel discussion on ethics of web 2.0 was extremely thought proving - gave me a lot to think about. The Guerilla narratives of media workshop was a lot of fun - in less than 30 minutes we generated usable ideas for using mobile devices for learning. And Dave White pulled off a brilliant presenation (that's two years in a row) on models of online distance learning - I'll blog about it more when I've had chance to digest it and hopefully post a link to the talk.

And as always it's been great to meet some new people, especially those I've only ever 'met' before on Twitter, and also bump into some old people too.

And finally, just to prove that I'm really here, here's an image of me with my apple devices in the conference from Steve Wheeler's blog post of yesterday. Thanks Steve!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Tagginganna at ALTC

This presentation is Alex and Jen's work, but I'm putting it here for completeness, and because Mark and I are the other two members of the project team. We're presenting it at ALTC tomorrow (although as I'm setting this post as a delayed publication - that should read 'today').

Monday, 23 August 2010

Our post-hootsuite options

Since my post Thinking about alternatives to Hootsuite I've been mulling over what other services we could use to manage our social media for Student Development. I don't mind paying a bit, we just can't afford (and I object to anyway) paying what Hootsuite are charging. I had thought to put up a blog post asking if Hootsuite had plans for an educational licence, but I've just noticed on their blog that they are offering a 20% discount for not-for-profits. I guess this is a start but a) it's not enough for us given we'd still need to pay more than $79 per month and b) as an University we're not CIC registered so we wouldn't be eligible anyway

Alan pointed out this helpful article to me on Top 5 alternatives to Hootsuite, which suggests the following:
You'll  notice, if you scroll down the comments in that link that someone also suggested MediaFunnel.

There are a number of things I need a service to allow me to do, the main criteria are as follows:
  • Support multiple Twitter accounts
  • Support Facebook pages
  • Allow multiple users to post to the accounts
  • Shorten URLs
  • Allow scheduled posts
  • Allow attachments (especially images)
  • Have a reasonable charging model
So, I've been having a bit of a look at the options and here's a summary of how they match up to the above criteria (as far as I can tell).
  1. I gave up with Brizzly because it kept asking me if I wanted to 'create a picnic'. Very annoying!
  2. Buzzom will be including a URL shortener soon - see. Also see comment on this post from the Deep Sherchan from the Buzzom team re premium version.
  3. MediaFunnel will be going Freemium but I'm assured there will be no bad surprises. Rumour has it it will be two users and two social media accounts for free., then each additional user/channel pack will be $4.95/month. This is much more realistic than Hootsuite.
Other features that would be good too are workflow, roles and co-tags. MediaFunnel has all of these.

So we'll be trying out MediaFunnel in the next few weeks and I'll let you know how we get on. So far it's looking extremely promising :)

Thursday, 19 August 2010


Just putting up a quick test post for the nice people at Apture. I'd seen this tweet from RWW about using Apture on their site. I clicked on the first link which was a YouTube video and after a quick delay it opened in YouTube rather than playing as a pop out in the RWW site (as shown on this quick screenr). So having had this reply from Apture I thought I'd try this video of Mark Cavendish winning stage 6 sprints on TdF 2010 on my blog to see if it does the same.

PS. I think Apture is brilliant.

Annual report wordle

Yesterday I was tinkering with Student Development's annual report for 2009/10. It's largely for internal purposes but I may well publish it on here when it's finalised. In the mean time here's one of those natty little wordles of it. I'm pleased to see students most prominent.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Acting up

Today I start 'acting up' as Head of Student Development. Maria Graal, the previous Head of Student Development, has left for Bangor University to be their Director of Student Experience. She's going to be a tough act to follow but I'm looking forward to working with a great team. There's going to be a review of Student Development's activities starting in September which will report in December. We hope to be able to show the review panel what a great job we do, as well as receive some useful suggestions. I guess I'll be acting up (it's a great phrase, isn't it?) until at least Easter, and then who knows...

So if you have any tips or suggestions about managing a big team, strategic planning, dealing with budgets and anything acting up related, I'd be very pleased to hear them.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Thinking about Hootsuite alternatives

Today Hootsuite announced a freemium plan. I understand the need for a freemium model and Student Development already have a subscription with Flickr, however Hootsuite's price plan looks like it's going to be prohibitive for us.

Hootsuite has been brilliant for us in the following ways:
  • team collaboration - allowing us to have lots of people (currently we have 6) posting to multiple accounts, especially our Student Development Facebook and Twitter accounts
  • monitoring response and progress - this is a really handy feature, especially when we have so many people posting to the accounts - it helps us keep track of who's responded to what
  • statistics - the stats give us a really useful snap shot - daily clicks, referral data and, most helpfully, most popular tweets
  • scheduled posts - great for delaying posts to more appropriate times
  • assign tasks - we can even assign responses to individual team members - but we haven't used this feature much yet
All in all it's been brilliant, but at $99 per month for what we'd need (8 team members) I'm sad to say I think we're going to have to switch to something else. So does anyone have any recommendations of something that will do much of the above at less cost?

Friday, 6 August 2010

I've just discovered image maps

I'm probably being a bit slow off the mark here but I've just discovered that I can make image maps (or to be more accurate Matt showed me how the other week - he's going to blog about but he's been busy with other posts). I don't need to know about programming to do it (which is just as well), instead I just used

Below is a photograph of Tryfan that I took last time I went up it. It's not the best example but I wanted to demo something that doesn't have straight lines. So if you hover over the image you'll discover various links:
  • the stile links to the Wikipedia entry on stiles (fascinating, I'm sure)
  • the wing mirror links to the 'Let me Google that for you' link for the same
  • and the rocky profile that is Tryfan links to the Wikipedia entry on Tryfan (and if you hover carefully you'll see that the image map for that follows the skyline of the ridge)
All-in-all I think it's pretty clever, and more importantly, potentially very useful, especially since we've tested it and we know it works in our Plone CMS (not everything does). Obviously it will work with any image - not jsut photos, so all I need is a reason to use them. I'm hoping that Marta or Steve or someone else in the team might think of how this would be useful.


Looks like uploading the image is a bit flaky (worked to start with then stopped working) so I've recreated it with a url to the image to see if that's better...

Monday, 19 July 2010

New front page done

Matt and I have been thinking about a design for a new front page of the Student Development site for a while now, and now it's done. After some really useful comments to previous posts (New front page progress and We need a new front page) we've finalised a design. It's not brilliant because we're working with some quite tight restrictions in our Plone CMS and we're having to do everything in tables, but I think it's a lot better than it was. We now have a lot more space to promote current news and events and the rather confusing team structure has been replaced by three clear themes. There's also more white space than there was.

Hover over the image below so see notes, or just go to

Draft social media guidelines for UoL

On Thursday last week AlanBrendanEmmaRichard and Michelle had a really useful meeting with our Marketing and Communications team to  talk about blogs, blogging and branding at the University of Leicester. We talked mostly about institutional blogs but also about staff blogs and all agreed that Wordpress was the platform of choice. I mentioned that Joss Winn, at the University of Lincoln, had set up

Your chance to contribute

At the end we also touched on the draft social media policy that Marketing and Communications are working on. Helen's kindly given me permission to put the policy on so people can comment on it (at the paragraph level). So here's the link to the draft policy on for you to comment on. Thanks to Marketing and Communications for letting us comment on the policy in this way. I hope that it proves to be a really useful way of developing policy.
By  Matt Hamm

Friday, 16 July 2010

Plagiarism tutorials now creative commons

Nearly three months back I blogged about Making the plagiarism tutorials creative commons. Well, it took a while but they're now finally done. You can see them all here. It probably took about 30 minutes per tutorial to make all the necessary changes, and I just did them one at a time, as I had the time. Hence it taking nearly three months.

Track back to the original post if you want to access the original files.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Thinking about a Facebook ad

I've been thinking that it might be a good idea to do a Facebook advert for our Student Development Facebook page during freshers' week. Having had a quick look at the guidance it looks like adverts can be very specifically targeted. There are three steps to putting one up:
  1. design your advert
  2. targeting
  3. campaigns pricing and scheduling
So I'm after advice, especially if you've used Facebook adverts before. My options under the three steps are as follows.

1. Design your advert

Facebook Content - that's easy, that will be the Student Development page.
Title - that will default to the name of the page.
Body text - the help text is helpful here.

Image - need something that's 'visible when small', the help text tells me.

2. Targeting

Should I make this UK? The help text says 'Choose countries where your target users are located when they access Facebook.' So presumably this comes from their IP details rather than their profile information? I could also limit the 'City' to 'Leicester' - but I assume this would be too specific if Facebook draws this information from profile data?

Age - I'll make this 18 years of age plus. The rest of the demographic information (gender, interested in, relationship and languages) I'm planning to leave unselected.

Likes and interests
I think I'll leave this blank.

Education and work
Education - this is where it gets tricky. I could choose 'At University' (see image, right) but the students I most want to reach may have not yet updated their profile and therefore still be listed as 'At Secondary School'. If I can assume everyone keeps an up to date profile though I could then choose 'At University' and then 'University of Leicester'

Workplaces - I plan to leave blank.

Connections on Facebook
Connections: Target users who are connected to: [Enter your page, event, group or application]. I was thinking of putting University of Leicester Students' Union Facebook page here but the help text says 'Leave this field blank unless you would like to narrow your audience to people connected to your Page, group or event.'.

Target users who are not already connected to: [Student Development, University of Leicester]

Friends of connections - I'll leave this unselected as the help text says the same as for 'Connections' (see above).

3. Campaigns, pricing and scheduling

This includes account currency, account time zone and campaign name, but more importantly the daily budget ('What is the most you want to spend per day?' and programme ('When do you want to start running your advert?'. And the more targeted the advert the cheaper the per click price. For instance, if the advert is very un-targeted the per click price is £0.70 but if I choose 'University of Leicester' in the Education bit the per click price halves - £0.35.

So, what do you suggest?

Thursday, 8 July 2010

New front page progress

I've been thinking on and off for about a month now about how we can improve the front page of the Student Development website. I blogged about it a while back (We need a new front page) and got some very useful comments.

The reasons for redesigning it are:
  1. to give us more space to promote topical news and events
  2. to theme our work under three main headings to give what we do more coherence (succeed in your studies, gain experience, plan for a career)
  3. to make things easier to find
Having had an really useful meeting with David Morgan yesterday I've re-worked things a little (see draft below) to give the 'Latest news and events' bit more space for more stories and also given the three themes different colours to try and differentiate them a bit.

We're working within quite a restrictive CSS in Plone so it's not easy to make it look quite how I want it to but it's getting closer. You'll see I've put a space holder image in for story 1 - the reason being I couldn't find an image of the correct dimensions (long and thin) to go in that bit - which probably means that bit's not ideal.

There are still things I need to do, including:
  • put in an obvious Information for employers link somewhere
  • maybe also put in a link for PhD students to supplement the mentions they get within the three themes
What do you think? As usual, all comments gratefully received :)

Student Development staff can login to see the most up-to-date version here.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

How to embed an annotated flickr image

I thought you couldn't embed an annotated flickr image into a page, but then Alun told me you could using the brilliant Mbedr. I had to use the <iframe> code rather than the <object> code but it was still quick and easy.

Matt will be pleased because he was wanting a way to embed an annotated CV into a page. This should do it nicely. And I'm sure they'll be lots of other uses too.

So here's the photo of Andrew's office again, but this time complete with annotations. Thanks Alun!

Annotated flickr image

Just had a helpful response from Andrew Norman to my tweet re annotated flickr images and wondering whether the annotations still work when the image is embedded...


Tuesday, 6 July 2010


Just wondering if this will be useful after Alan's suggestion. Anyone used Wallwisher before? It looks handy but not had any experience of it.

Tagginganna project plan

Our ingenious #tagginganna project plan ('our' = MarkAlexJayJay and me)
Tagginganna project plan

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Team building day success!

After blogging about our team building day earlier in the week I'm pleased to be able to report that it was a big success. Here's what we did:
  1. created a beautiful tyre-planter garden complete with sand pit
  2. laid a long stepping stone path with a hopscotch centre piece
  3. made a meandering bark path edged with scented plants leading to a fairy circle of log seats
  4. engineered a raised, decked walkway between the trees.
Our volunteering team did a fantastic job of organising it and I think everyone enjoyed working together on a really valuable project. Here are the snaps, more to follow in the Leicester Mercury...

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Team building day

By Alesa Dam
My boss is good at organising team building days, not least because she doesn't take them too seriously. Her approach is to find something we can all do, that's off site, that's a bit different and is a bit of fun. Last year we had a drumming workshop, the year before that we did something on creativity, and the year before that we did an art workshop. Each time it's been relaxed and enjoyable with no contrived analogies to work situations - like I said, just a bit of fun. But in my opinion they really work, and I've been wondering why.

Years ago I read a book called The R Factor (looks like it's out of print and funny that you can buy '20 used from £0.01'!). It was written for a very specific audience and I seem to remember it had a rather contrived ending, but the thing I remember most, and thought seemed useful, was what it called the 'dimensions of relational proximity'. They said that the factors influencing the closeness of a relationship (in any context) could be assessed in terms of:
  • directness - the quality of communication
  • continuity - the frequency, regularity and amount of contact, and length of relationship
  • multiplexity - the variety of context of meetings
  • parity - mutual respect and fairness in the relationship
  • commonality - shared goals, values and experience
I think the authors have given fancy names to something that is essentially common sense but I do think that it's a useful framework. The reason I think our team building days have worked in the past is because I think they enable many of these things to take place - certainly multiplexity (we see each other in a different context), parity (everyone's on a level playing field) and commonality (we work on something together to achieve a shared goal).

Well, it's that time of year again and tomorrow we're doing a community project at All Saint's Primary School in Wigston - you can read more about the project in this news article, but in brief Student Development will be:
swapping their pens for shovels to spend the day at All Saints Primary School in Wigston on Wednesday 30th June 2010 to give the school a well deserved garden make-over
which not only should help facilitate the building of relationships in our team, but will also make a valuable contribution to the community: win, win! And probably be a good laugh too: win, win, win!

I'll let you know how we get on...

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Networks get things done

I've had several noteworthy positive Twitter experiences, including Twitter and maths homework and Twitter fixed my dishwasher. I had another one yesterday.

I'd been asked by Registry to help them with a data problem (they'd asked IT Services and for some reason they said ask me). My response was that I didn't know enough about Excel so couldn't help - but they replied to say that they were really stuck and didn't have anyone else to ask as the member of staff who'd been responsible for it in previous years had left, so I agreed to have a look. The problem involved allocating guests to seats for graduation ceremonies. On the sample data I was given there were nearly 500 graduands each requiring seats for between zero and four guests. They wanted the name of the graduand repeating the same number of times as they'd requested seats for their guests (here's a sample of similar data). I sent out a quick tweet as follows...

...and very quickly I had a number of helpful responses (several from Leicester, one from Macclesfield and one from Milton Keynes)

But not having fixed the problem I put up a quick blog post on Can you help with an Excel problem? To which I got more responses from Leicester plus Plymouth, and Hamilton, New Zealand. But I got more than just tweets - four people very kindly emailed me Excel spreadsheets or links to Google spreadsheets showing how I could tackle the problem - including staff at Leicester (thanks Rick and Hazel) a friend who's a teacher (thanks Chris) and a member of staff from Imperial College London (thanks Moira). I was overwhelmed with people's helpfulness!

Most suggested solutions involved list functions like =IF($C1>1,$A1,"") which did the job of repeating the surnames the required number of times but then would have involved me converting the columns to rows.

The most comprehensive and elegant solution (within three hours of my original tweet) came from a third year computer science student at Leicester, Chris Bunney, who went to the trouble of writing the following macro using visual basic.

 Sub InsertSurnames()

    Dim LastRow As Long
    Dim r As Long
    Dim surname As String
    Dim tickets As Integer

    Dim surnameCol As Integer
    Dim ticketCol As Integer
    Dim targetCol As Integer

    surnameCol = 1
    ticketCol = 3
    targetCol = 4
    LastRow = ActiveSheet.UsedRange.Rows(ActiveSheet.UsedRange.Rows.Count).Row
    r = 1

    Do While r <= LastRow

        surname = Cells(r, surnameCol).Value
        tickets = Cells(r, ticketCol).Value

        If (Not (Len(surname) = 0)) Then

            Cells(r, targetCol).Value = surname

            For x = 1 To tickets - 1

                Cells(r + x, 1).EntireRow.Insert
                Cells(r + x, targetCol).Value = surname

            Next x

            LastRow = LastRow + tickets - 1

        End If

        r = r + 1

End Sub

And it worked an absolute treat. So thanks everyone for your contributions - I really appreciate them. Another good example of the power of networks. And by the way, Chris Bunney, having graduated, is currently looking for jobs...

Sub InsertSurnames()

Dim LastRow As Long

Dim r As Long

Dim surname As String

Dim tickets As Integer

Dim surnameCol As Integer

Dim ticketCol As Integer

Dim targetCol As Integer

surnameCol = 1

ticketCol = 3

targetCol = 4

LastRow = ActiveSheet.UsedRange.Rows(ActiveSheet.UsedRange.Rows.Count).Row

r = 1

Do While r <= LastRow

surname = Cells(r, surnameCol).Value

tickets = Cells(r, ticketCol).Value

If (Not (Len(surname) = 0)) Then

Cells(r, targetCol).Value = surname

For x = 1 To tickets - 1

Cells(r + x, 1).EntireRow.Insert

Cells(r + x, targetCol).Value = surname

Next x

LastRow = LastRow + tickets - 1

End If

r = r + 1


End Sub

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Can you help with an Excel problem?

I somehow got roped into trying to help the people who organise the degree ceremonies with a data problem. They have a spreadsheet of guests and a spreadsheet of seat numbers. Each guest has requested a certain number of seats - between 0 and 4. The guest name needs repeating the same number of times as the number of guests. The guests then need to be allocated to seats. At least this is the way they've framed the problem - there might be a much better way of doing it. I've had a few responses from Twitter (thanks Alan, Frances, Jake and Stuart) and I've Googled it, but still no joy. I have discovered the repeat (=REPT) function which does repeat text by a specified number - but then joins it into a continuous string. If you have better Excel knowledge than me (not that difficult) and are willing to look at it I'd really appreciate it. Here's the file (I've changed the names to protect identify <cue A-team music>. There are >1,500 names on the actual sheet.

Monday, 21 June 2010

University of Bournemouth's First Year Experience Special Interest Group

I'm going down to the University of Bournemouth on Wednesday to talk to their First Year Experience Special Interest Group about our experience of using Facebook and Twitter to try to facilitate student engagement with student development issues. Here are my slides. You'll notice an uncanny resemblance to a previous presentation - but I have moved it on a bit with the Trying to get beyond likes thinking - and I'm hoping that in discussing it with the group in Bournemouth my thinking will be moved on a bit more. And while I'm on the train I'm going to read this paper, this paper and this paper - it's about time I read some papers on the subject (thanks to Michael Seery for the useful summary)!

Here I come sunny Bournemouth!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

We need a new front page

Our current Student Development front page has served us well for nearly a year now. When I wrote about the plans for it a year ago I explained the criteria for the design and the proposed structure. Since then the structure of the front page has remained largely unchanged but there are now reasons to update it, here are the three main ones:
  1. we are running out of front page space, especially as more and more of our work involves more than one of our teams (for example, the Leicester Award);
  2. we need to give certain themes of our work more prominence - principally careers and support for postgraduate researchers;
  3. we need to make it easier for visitors to find what they are looking for (pushing out information to Facebook and Twitter has helped a lot in this regard but we need to make the front page itself more immediately self-explanatory)
I intend to stick with the same folder structure underneath the front page as it reflects our team structure and makes the administration of the site much easier to manage. The different teams that make up Student Development are as follows:
But the front page I propose to change to reflect three main themes (that Matt, Fran and I came up with last week) under which we think the work that each of the teams do should fit. The suggested themes are as follows.

Succeeding in your studies

To include academic skills development for undergraduates and support for research postgraduates (the latter's web pages we will be restructuring over the summer - I blogged about some ideas last week)

Gaining experience

To include work placements, volunteering and business and enterprise opportunities - for undergraduates and research postgraduates.

Planning for a career

To include the support offered by the career development team (whose web pages we will also be restructuring over the summer) and the Research Student team - for undergraduates and research postgraduates.

I'm hoping these headings will simplify things and so help us address the three reasons mentioned above. In terms of how it might look on the page here's a mock up (I'll figure out the relative sizes of the columns later) - click on the image to enlarge it.

I'm really interested to hear your comments; staff and especially students. Some questions to consider:
  • do the themed areas cover everything?
  • are the themed areas termed correctly?
  • will the proposed changes address the reasons for change (1-3)?
  • does the draft layout make sense?
  • do you have any other ideas or suggestions?

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Publicity channels

Part of my role in Student Development involves overseeing publicity. When I started in the role 18 months ago we were using only traditional forms of media to communicate with students; flyers, posters, emails and our website (all broadcast media that allow little or no two-way communication and simply pushes information to recipients). Since last summer I’ve been developing our networks on Facebook and Twitter (social media that does allow two-way communication and recipients select to ‘pull’ information towards themselves) to supplement the traditional methods. So we now have a range of publicity options available to us that I thought it would be helpful to outline – and if you have any suggestions or comments I’d be really pleased to hear them.


Our website is our primary means of communication. I’m concious that we need to reorganise our front page (the subject of a future post) because we’re running out of space to put stuff, but that aside, here are elements I use within the site for publicity purposes.

News items (within Plone) are vital as they keep the website dynamic and also populate RSS feeds which I use to push out to Facebook and Twitter (see how here).

Event items also add a dynamic element to our site and populate RSS feeds in the same was as the news items do.

Top level portlets at the Student Development level of the website to highlight services that we want to give a particular push to at any given time. At the moment we’re doing this with our Graduate Success Programme (but we only have room to display one item like this at a time – which is one of the reasons we need to redesign the front page).

Team level portlets at the relevant team level – in the case of the Graduate Success Programme that’s in Career Development.

Mini sites to create an uncluttered site focussing on a particular event. In order to de-clutter an area I block the portlets above in the folder structure and start the navigation at the relevant level. If the event is to be a regular one Ialso request a specific URL, for example (again)

Social media

As already described I’ve been using social media to try and engage with students for some time now. More recently my focus has switched from Twitter to Facebook and in particular how to encourage interaction not just ‘Likes’. To this end I’ve been trying the following:

  • extra Facebook and Twitter updates (as per Helpdesk Hollie’s advice) in addition to our automated RSS outputs
  • a specific Facebook push – like we tried recently with Revision and exam skills (which seemed to work)

Digital signage

There are various plasma screens around campus which make up the University’s digital signage one of which is in the Student Development Zone. The screens generally operate on a 10 second cycle; scrolling through the notices set to display. The images and text displayed on these screens, therefore, have to convey information quickly and simply.

More important than our own screen (the traffic that it gets is limited given our location) are the other screens around campus – in particular in the Help Zone on the Ground floor of the Library, the Graduate School Reading Room, the Library Cafe and (especially) the screens in the Students’ Union.


Because not everyone looks at our website or joins our social media networks we also send out a monthly newsletter to all students. This comprises of just a few highlights plus a link to further highlights of the month’s news from our news feeds. Click here for the June edition.


And for completeness I thought I should mention print. Although for publicity purposes we’re beginning to move away from print because it’s usually high cost for a relatively low impact.

Any suggestions? Have I missed anything?