Highlight an App: Spotcycle

By Anitra Cottledge

I’m going to let all of you in on a tiny secret: I really underutilize apps on my iPhone. I only use a few apps with any regularity: Facebook, TweetDeck, Evernote, Wikipedia, Snaptell and Goodreads.

As a result, I had to really think about what app to highlight for this post. In the end, I decided to focus on an app that I recently started using: Spotcycle.

I am not a champion bicyclist. In fact, until a couple of weekends ago, I hadn’t been on a bike in years. I definitely don’t own one anymore. However, in my attempt to become more active, I decided to draw on the resources in my area. You may have heard that Minneapolis is the #1 bike city in the nation. It’s true; I’ve seen more people on bikes here than I’ve seen anywhere else. People bike to and from work, use bikes as their primary mode of transportation (even in the winter!), and at the University of Minnesota, employees can even earn wellness points for biking.

It’s kind of like a big deal.

Now, thanks to Nice Ride MN, Twin Cities residents and visitors can rent bikes for varying amounts of time. And best of all, there’s Spotcycle to help sometime (or oftentimes) riders:

  • search for bike docks and bike stations (it even lets riders see how many bikes are available at each station!),
  • keep track of the timing of their rentals, and
  • bookmark and share bike routes (haven’t used this feature yet, but plan to in the future as a I do more biking).

The major downside – which isn’t a fault of the app, but rather a systemic issue – is that these bike-sharing programs aren’t available in every city. The Spotcycle website has a listing of participating programs, but if you live in a city whose program isn’t linked up with Spotcycle, your options are only to either get your local program added to the app, or to use a different app altogether.

So far, Spotcycle is working really well for me, as a basic app with pretty stripped-down features. It doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles, but I don’t need that, at least not until I become a more advanced bike rider.

Highlight an App: Spotcycle

Linkage Love (Late)

by Kristen Abell

University Websites Venn
from xkcd – http://xkcd.com/773/

Tis the season in our division to start re-designing websites. And since I generally play an integral part in this process, I’ve been brushing up on my website standards (okay, not really – I pretty much have what I look for in a good website design memorized at this point, but it makes for a better post if I’ve been “brushing up.” Or something.), and I thought I’d share some great resources with other folks looking at web design – either from the design point of view or the client point of view.

And let’s just be clear – if you have a crappy website as a client, it’s as much your fault as it is your designer. Know what you want/need, and make sure you get it. No one blames the web designer (except maybe you).

So, to start, here’s a brief list of ten standards to abide by when re-designing a website. No, copy would not be number one on my list, but it is important. Usability might be one of the top things I can recommend when looking at a website design. Too many people try to use all the bells and whistles or focus on design only. Let me break it down for you – if a student can’t use your website, it doesn’t matter what cool tools you have or how pretty it is – it’s just a bad website at that point.

And speaking of usability, here’s a list of accessibility guidelines for websites that defines some best practices when designing them.

For those who are web designers or will regularly be working on websites, I’m loving the site for A List Apart – lots of great resources and sections on everything from code to usability, from design and content to mobile applications. Seriously good stuff here, people.

If you’re brand new to website design, or websites in general, give Code Academy a try – it’s a fun, interactive way to learn coding. You’ll be learning code before you know it – I promise!

And finally, it can be hard to know what’s good without understanding what a bad page looks like. For this, I highly recommend a gander around Web Pages That Suck – where there is so much suck, I don’t even know where to start. Except with what I think might possibly be the worst web page of all time. I cannot guarantee you’ll ever want to open your eyes again after looking at this site. You have been warned.

So what web design resources do you use when designing or working on websites?

Linkage Love (Late)

Communicating to students using social media – best practices

by Lauren Creamer

It’s that time of year again! And no, I don’t mean BBQ and mini-vaca to the Vineyard time – I mean on-campus move-in.

Hooray!

If you’re like me (and I imagine some of you are, as this is a student affairs blog you’re reading) you are super excited to meet new students and speak with parents. Answering questions and helping where I can always bring a smile to my face. But once the students are moved in and settled, how do we communicate with them? You know they will scatter themselves far and wide exploring the city (Boston) and making connections across campus. As if they will be in their rooms. Or read that flier you posted. Everywhere.

However, one of the best ways (I have found) is to communicate with students via social media. Through my work in residential life I have shaped the ways in which my department uses social media. This year, specifically, all first year building complexes have Facebook pages (and optional Twitter accounts) and staff members are required to post a few times each week. Because we launched our pages before orientation, students were apt to use the pages we created and began to interact with their Resident Assistants and building-mates over the summer.

Anticipating an assortment of questions from the RA staff, I created a social media best practices sheet to be posted in each staff office. Below is a list of general best practices (from the original sheet created by me!) to consider when creating a Facebook page, Twitter account, or blog for your community.

  • Share your back story – what is this community all about?
  • Update with unique, relevant content and direct engagement opportunities
  • Create a strong visual identity – embody the ideals or your community
  • Listen – what are the residents saying? What do they want?
  • Encourage students to share their own stories, photos, videos and feedback
  • Respond quickly – via Facebook OR in person
  • Link information back to websites – OrgSync (a Northeastern specific social media outlet), Northeastern University home page, Residential Life home page
  • Create anticipation – get students excited for upcoming events!
  • Consider tone – consistent, positive expression

Whenever I am posting (for my building community or myself) I think about these best practices. I hope to create a meaningful, interactive experience for my students from move-in until graduation. The conversations don’t have to end when the work day does.

Communicating to students using social media – best practices

Highlight a Woman: Clare Cady

By Kathryn Magura

This week I have the pleasure of highlighting the work of a friend and colleague, Clare Cady. Clare is the Coordinator of the Human Services Resource Center and Food Pantry on the Oregon State University campus. Clare is a recently published journal author and continues to bring the issues surrounding poverty at the collegiate level to a salient concern in Student Affairs.

Clare is passionate about helping students in poverty be successful in college. How does technology fit into this? According to Clare, we need to be cognizant of the Digital Divide, and corresponding affects it has on students in poverty.

Can you share with us what you mean by this?

I went to a graduate thesis defense recently for my friend Allyson Dean and the following quote from a student was shared, “If you don’t have access to technology, you aren’t relevant.” This resonated with me because we are currently trying to get our various subsidies applications online. If we get our applications online we will allow students to complete these forms on their own time while preserving their dignity and privacy. But what is the cost? If students are not required to come into our office, they may not realize what other resources we have to offer. We miss the opportunity to build relationships. The holistic view of what it means to be a college student is changing. When we require students to submit homework online, what message are we sending to students who do not have internet access at home, and may not be able to get to campus (due to familial and other obligations) to submit materials online? If we require students to know how to use computers, what resources do we provide them when they may not come to our universities with those skills? We offer remedial math and writing courses, why not computer skills?

How are you addressing these issues?

Last year, we applied for a technology grant through the university so we could develop these web-based applications, but were denied. Throughout the process my staff and I were hesitant to actually want the grant because we feared the potential to lose the high-touch environment the office provides to students. A student may come in to our office with the intention of applying for Mealbux, but we give them flyers for our other services, and they usually find other ways we can assist them. That is something I really enjoy doing, so we need to find a way to balance the convenience that technology can provide with the ability to engage students in need.

What other ways are you looking to utilize technology?

I am trying to start a food pantry association, so that the growing community of food pantries on college campuses can be a support and resource to each other. The fact is that professionals doing this work are disparate and usually wearing many different professional hats. I really see the best use of technology for this group is to build and strengthen our community.

Your passion for serving students who are truly in need is inspiring and contagious.

Thank you. I have seen some students struggle through homelessness and still manage to graduate. It feels wonderful to know I played a small role in their success. I know a college education will give the students I help a greater opportunity to succeed after they graduate. Finding ways to remove the barriers so they can get there is how I gain satisfaction in the day-to-day tasks. There are no cut and dry answers, and each student I help has different needs. You have to be creative when finding solutions. This office was created out of the grassroots efforts of students. I love that! The students inspire me every day.

Thank you, Clare, for being an inspiration to me and other student affairs professionals.

Highlight a Woman: Clare Cady

Linkage Love: Women in the Military

By Anitra Cottledge

I’m convinced that some of the best ideas come to me while watching #nerdland. I usually come away from watching the Melissa Harris-Perry (MHP) show with some inkling of a topic I want to know more about, or some tidbit of information that I want to further research.

Today, I came away wanting to learn more about sexual assault and military women. Working in a women’s center, I’m no stranger to advocacy and education regarding sexual assault (although on our campus, an office other than the Women’s Center is charged with doing the primary response, advocacy and education related to sexual assault, relationship violence and stalking).

However, I am amazed (and pleased) at how people use technology to continue to draw attention to this important social justice issue.

This morning on the MHP show, actress Jennifer Beals spoke about a YouTube series (on the Where It Gets Interesting, or WIGS channel) she’s starring in about sexual assault in the military. A brief synopsis of the webseries, entitled “Lauren:”

When a soldier reports an assault, she is forced to choose between what she loves and what’s right.

People can also help support the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) by purchasing a WIGS tote. A note on SWAN and how sometimes the Internets are a playground for connecting random experiences and bits of information (which is one of the things I love about the Internet): I first learned about SWAN through reading Do It Anyway: The New Generation of Activists (which I plan on using when I teach next semester) written by Courtney E. Martin. One of the activists she profiled in the book is Maricela Guzman, who was part of the creation of SWAN.

As always, I am excited by the potential of technology to help facilitate awareness, action and change — in ourselves, our workplaces, campuses and communities.

Linkage Love: Women in the Military

What’s in Your Travel Bag?

By Brenda Bethman

Recently Ive come across a couple of posts (here and here) discussing the pros and cons of traveling with only an iPad. As I have a heavy semester of travel ahead of me (Im currently at the beginning of the first of five (!!!) trips Ill be making this fall), Ive been intrigued by these posts — especially since I just lugged my 15 inch laptop, iPad, and assorted cables, headphones, etc. through the airport.

A tad excessive, perhaps?

Rereading that sentence, I realize how excessive it sounds, but I have not yet figured out to manage with just the iPad. Its great for checking email on the fly, taking conference notes, and keeping up with social media. But if I need to do anything for my classes (which is quite likely), the iPad lets me down: the Blackboard app is awful and the lack of a file system makes uploading files to Blackboard via Safari impossible. And while I can access MyGermanLab through Safari, its clunky. So, if I have teaching things to do while on the road, I have to bring the laptop. (A PS here: this post is being published today instead of yesterday because I was unable to get a properly formatted post to upload from my iPad. So I had to edit it on my laptop in order to get it published. Guess I do still need it).

I also carry my camera (Chicago is too photogenic to go without it), Mophie juice pack for long days at conferences, an Airport Express for those hotel rooms that span still dont have wireless, and, of course, my trusty iPhone (and maybe my Kindle if Im likely to be reading outside). Again, I realize this seems like a lot, but I find that I do use it — and, more importantly, that it allows me to just as (if not more) productive outside of the office as I am while back on campus. What about you? Whats in your travel bag? How do you stay productive while traveling?

What’s in Your Travel Bag?

Blog Prompt: What trends do you see with incoming students and technology?

By Lauren Creamer

As I write this post I am coming off a one-hour organization/scheduling binge and, at one point, was using my computer, iPad, and smart phone all at the same time (… I probably need to go outside soon). My point? The trend I am seeing with incoming students and technology is that they are addicted to technology. Now, I’m not saying this is a cause for concern. I fully embrace the value technology imparts upon our society, but I also have a healthy appreciation for other things… reading copious amounts of books, playing Ultimate Frisbee on weekends, casually vegging out on my couch watching the West Wing re-runs. I also understand the impact that improper use of technology can have on a person.

Today’s typical college student was born in an age where they always had technology at their fingertips – whether that be through video games, computer use, having a smart phone before they could even drive a car – it seems that they are almost never unplugged.

With the constant engagement of students and technology comes increased risk of inappropriate use. You might think that increased usage would teach our students the dangers they face. You would be wrong. The more comfortable our students become, the safer they feel. The safer they feel, the more information they are willing to divulge. The more information they divulge, the more likely they are to be at risk (see a pattern forming here?). Specifically, students seem to believe that their special corners of the internet are private.  Oh contraire, young Padawan. When you post/tweet/blog personal information it becomes public. Forever.

Why do we care?

As student affairs professionals, it is our responsibility to continuously educate our students. This is a chance for us to have those developmental conversations we so cherish. When we see them sharing inappropriate pictures/information/etc. with the world it is a teachable moment that should not be ignored. “Does that picture of you at a party with a beer in your hand look super cute? Maybe. Does it paint a poor picture for future employers and possibly family members? Yea. Have you thought of the repercussions of putting that sort of information on the internet, where, essentially, it cannot ever be fully removed? No? Let’s talk about it.”

I didn’t write this post to scare everyone into a panic about our naïve students, I wrote this post to call attention to our charge: allow them to embrace the fantastic possibilities of technology, but keep them grounded. The comfort of a smart phone or an iPad can give us great joy, but the impact can reach far beyond the moment of a post or a tweet.

Blog Prompt: What trends do you see with incoming students and technology?