Stickiness in Social Media and Centrally-Supported Systems

Nate AngellMy good friend Nate Angell from rSmart moderated a session called “Sakai vs the World Wide Web 2.0: To Facebook or Not to Facebook?” at the 2011 Sakai conference in Los Angeles. He does not know that, but I’m the one who “planted” that topic as a potential session for the conference, and he’s the one who bit on it 😉

He argues that Ivy league institutions (like Harvard) and price leaders (like the University of Phoenix) have already established their presence, and that other higher education institutions will have a hard time competing on these turfs.

I believe that the bulk of institutions that will truly succeed going forward will not be those that win online, but on the contrary, those that do a good job establishing, maintaining, and conveying unique local experiences.

He makes a convincing argument that your learning management system, just like your institutional marketing efforts, should focus of providing a sticky space, a place where students will want to come back for more. The toolset you use should reflect that desire, should it be considered social media or not.

I strongly encourage readers of this blog to read his post and comment.

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8 thoughts on “Stickiness in Social Media and Centrally-Supported Systems

  1. Stickyness is all well and good. But the majority of our students only behave if our course info is “sticky” if they are going to get a grade for visiting a site or doing a “social” activity. You can lead a student to interactivity, but it’s up to him or her whether or not he’s going to spend the time to interact. Get a grade? More likely to do it.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic/realistic. Guess I’ve taught too many required classes in my day! 🙂

  2. Hi Richard,
    I agree that what he is proposing is easier said than done. As long as grades are going to be the currency of the realm, it might be difficult to implement at the course level. Still, food for thoughts.

  3. Interesting. OK- I have two perspectives here, so please let me rant first.
    Due to some of the issues that we have experienced recently with an LMS that will not be named, I am finding the opposite of stickiness-repellingness. When basic functions: chat, blog, test/quizzes, spell cheek, etc. are non-functional or clunky due to an upgrade then why would anyone want to come back?

    On the other hand…when something is going on in class or at the institution that makes it compelling to witness, then it does not have to be awarded with points, etc. So what does that say about our assessments? Sure some may be routine cognitive building exercises, but how can we develop more authentic assessments that will make students “eager” to participate?

    • Hi Jann,

      There is definitely a technology component to stickiness, I agree. We have gone a long way from the early days of the Internet and can’t imagine not having systems that do everything for everyone. Technology will always serve us well (as we expect it to) and make us cringe at the same time.

      But your second point is where I’d put my money. I think grading is a necessary evil, but it might getting in the way of real learning assessment.

  4. Thanks for your response to my post Mathieu! I’m very interested in the comments you have generated here.

    First, I would agree that it is not functionality or technology that would be the primary ingredient for “stickiness”. People will meet in some pretty ramshackle buildings to have a rewarding experience. So I would hope people didn’t read my post as a call for specific functionality or technology to promote stickiness. Content, communication, and personality are still king. Sakai—or any other LMS—would just be a channel for stickiness, not its origin.

    Second, on grades as the currency of the realm and authentic assessment: sadly. The first is still largely true, but if we focus on that, we will continue to focus on the easiest thing to go get someplace else. The second is a complimentary practice to stickiness. A good sticky learning experience would be one where the assessment is built into the learning, rather than tacked on at the end as a separate activity, or in other words, where the assessment is authentic 😉

  5. @Nate – your point that “A good sticky learning experience would be one where the assessment is built into the learning, rather than tacked on at the end as a separate activity, or in other words, where the assessment is authentic” is essential. It’s a also an issue that directly intersects with the LMS platform, as the typical LMS in 2011 does an absolutely TERRIBLE job at facilitating anything but the most rudimentary of assessment capabilities (effectively an after-the-fact, black box of a grade that does nothing to describe the process of learning).

    This is why I’ve been promoting the idea that OAE needs to build in advanced, outcome-based, assessment at the very core, and make it available everywhere. There are already precedents for this, so no reason we can’t do much better, and make the process of creating conditions of “stickiness” eminently fluid (to get to Richard’s comment, where the technology facilitates without resistance).

    • Hi Bruce,

      Thanks for your comment. I think you make a good point that current LMSs do a poor job at embedding assessment where it should be within the academic path. But then, so do educators…

      How will the Sakai Open Academic Environment (OAE, formerly known as Sakai 3) strike a balance between ease of use (enabling current teaching administrative tasks) and best practices while remaining a system users will be able to use without extensive training?

  6. Jann sez…..
    “I am finding the opposite of stickiness-repellingness. When basic functions: chat, blog, test/quizzes, spell cheek [sic], etc. are non-functional or clunky due to an upgrade then why would anyone want to come back?”
    To be fair, Jann, a lot of those were clunky BEFORE the upgrade, too! (I’m typing as a CISC instructor.) The online components of my classes have been most successful when I find the right combination of tool and grade (punishment/reward) to encourage participation. For example, I’m thinking about ditching the required online-LMS-based PRE-class quiz (prove to me your prepared for class) for a mini-blog about the reading for each class meeting–assuming I have a TA to track that for me. Would tie in to class discussion and continue to make the kids accountable for being prepped for class.

    Bruce sez:
    “OAE needs to build in advanced, outcome-based, assessment at the very core, and make it available everywhere.”
    I’m a simple instructor, following the path proposed by a current dean at a “major mid-atlantic university” when he was a physics professor: I try to use online components to steal some of the students’ “beer time”–the idea being, engage them with the course material SOMEHOW outside of the time we meet face-to-face (or in scheduled online sessions for a distance class). I think that’s a less fancy way of saying what Bruce typed–that is, build in assessments and/or small grades everywhere, and pretty soon doing things related to the class outside of “class time” becomes part of the culture of a class.

    The challenge is finding things that attract student participation. I tend to use a lot of things OUTSIDE our unnamed LMS because so many of the tools that are available do repel students. But then I link to those outside tools from within the LMS…..

    Another way of conquering some of the “repellingness” is to get student input. My fall semester class has already voted and chosen Google Groups within gae.udel.edu as their preferred discussion vehicle (over a php bbs hosted elsewhere, our LMS’s forums, Yahoo Groups, and standard Google Groups). Using the class email list for communication about topics like this BEFORE the semester helps with the engagement with the class — even if the online tools “repel” rather than “attract,” the students feel they’ve had some input into the choice.

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