Disruptive Technocrat

Monday, August 21, 2006

AECT as social network: tapping into the expertise of its members to assure our future

For over three years I have advocated a communications model for AECT web services that broke from the traditional, top-down, webmaster-in-charge paradigm of which we are so familiar, in favor of what I call “member-managed content.” The idea never gained any traction at headquarters (although it did create a great deal of friction) and when the budget crisis re-erupted, member-managed content and its proponent were shown the door.

Shortly thereafter the Electronic Services Committee was reestablished. While no longer on staff, I remain a member of AECT, so my input to the Committee and to this discussion are certainly appropriate. Many on the Committee are Web 2.0 proponents, so I’m cautiously optimistic that this post will garner some consideration.

From Wikipedia: A social network is a social structure made of nodes which are generally individuals or organizations. It indicates the ways in which they are connected through various social familiarities ranging from casual acquaintance to close familial bonds.

AECT is a network: an academic, professional, and social network. Teacher Education, Multimedia Production, conference planning, TechTrends... each of these is a part (a node) of a bigger picture (a network) and each are connected to AECT by way of its activities. Those activities are documented by the written works of each node’s scribes: communications officers, editors, and other duly-recognized authorities. None of these nodes requires an overarching editor or gatekeeper between its chronicles and those who share interest in them.

That AECT’s web services can benefit from a communicative model of a social network should be a no-brainer. A web site which still carries a 2001 copyright notice is as outdated as its web technologies and operative philosophies: that is to say, stuck in time. MySpace, the incredibly successful social-networking website, earlier this month signed up its 100,000,000 member and continues to grow at a rate of about 500,000 each and every week. AECT is not MySpace but the social network metaphor couldn’t be a better fit (if we could grow at a rate of five members a week, we'd be out of financial trouble in no time). The current model for MySpace was launched in 2003, at about the time I began promoting member-managed content for AECT web services.

AECT’s membership roll has stagnated; membership turnover indicates we are doing something wrong. One of the things we are doing wrong, I insist, is keeping a top-down communicative model while purporting to be a member-driven Association.

Member-managed content and the extension of a social network model to our web services may not be the only way we can emerge from this stagnation, but clearly a website that still holds onto its 2001 content model – which draws attention to that by not even having the energy to change its copyright notice in five years – can not expect to dig itself out of its rut.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Did you know....

... that subscribing to a Division's listserv and membership in that Division are not analogous (that is, even if you're receiving all sorts of e-mail from a Division listserv, you may not be a member of that Division)?

This is important when it comes to elections and such.

- bonus question -

Did you know that Divisions could have multiple listservs if they desired? For example, D&D could have one for official announcements and another (optional) listserv for ongoing discusssions. The aect-members.org server has the potential for unlimited listserv hosting but so far, only a few listservs are hosted there, and the rosters of these are not dynamically linked to the membership database. This is significant because we can't restrict subscriptions to "current members only."

Mirroring of the membership database between the two servers is one way we could fix this...

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A Communications Officer for AECT?

Each of our Divisions has a Communications Officer. So should AECT.

This person is that Division's webmaster and more: the gatekeeper for the Division weblog (able to assign new authors, create posts, edit all posts, and other administrative chores with the MovableType publishing platform), the moderator or "owner of" Division ListServs, the person charged with the responsibility of making sure Division communications are serving Division members.

Shouldn't AECT itself have a Communications Officer?
An Association member, well-tuned to AECT's mission and activities, who can manage, on behalf of the members, AECT's communicaitons.

HQ's electronic services staff hasn't been up to the task, and that's because
  1. HQ staff has plenty to do already, and
  2. It really isn't something stafff should do in a member-driven Association.

If the AECT home page is akin to our online newspaper (reporting to members and the public on what AECT is doing now), the Communications Officder is its editor. HQ's electronic services staff is the publisher. We as members can and should manage our own communications, but a person - a role - must emerge to do that.

I think that would be AECT's Communications Officer. Initially that person could be nominated by or from the ranks of Division communications officers.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

Beyond complaints: a sense of direction

In my last post, I stated that AECT HQ needed to relinquish control of content on web pages - turn it entirely over to members. The devil's in the details:

First, AECT HQ needs to acknowledge that many (most?) of its members are SMEs (subject matter experts) in the areas of design and development and multimedia production (to name just a few fields), and owes its membership due heed when they offer guidance in these areas.

I would not bring this up at the top of my list had AECT HQ not been historically dismissive of guidance in these areas. Over the past several years, several research projects have been conducted by members on behalf of the Association - surveys, needs analysis, rapid prototyping and usability testing, among others - and every single one has been ignored by HQ. Not a single recommendation from these studies has been adopted * despite the fact the Division proposal reviewers saw these studies as worthy enough to include in our conference programs. (If we wonder why graduate students frequently allow their memberships to lapse, perhaps the answer lies in those students' work having been ignored by the Association on whose behalf the work was done?).
* If a member, staff member, or other interested person believes otherwise, please post your evidence so that I may enjoy my share of crow.
Next, allow that HQ works for its members. We aren't clients or customers, and membership is not a "product." We say we're a member-driven association. A top-down, hierarchical, you-get-what-I-give-you website is antithetical to that statement, isn't it?

HQ does not offer an RSS feed for its news and announcements, but damn well should. Any HQ staffer - or any member - who doesn't fully understand the importance and utility of this technology simply isn't qualified to speak to the matter. News and announcements are two of the most important uses of the technology and AECT's news can then be fed and automatically posted to Division weblogs, RSS aggregators, ListServs and more.

So, the sections on our website that pertain to News and Announcements can be "fed" by RSS - and MEMBERS * can then be responsible for the supplying the content.
* Again, it is OUR Association and OUR website.
There's more. There has been a reluctance at HQ to give control of content over to members; in particular, a reluctance to allow the average member to post to our websites. Why? At our HQ office in Bloomington, I was once told that "sometimes freedom of speech isn't a good thing"* and that criticism of the Association, on our webspace and by our members, was definitely not a good thing.
* Honest to God, that's what I was told.
Come again? Professionals and academics are being told that "sometimes, freedom of speech isn't a good thing?"

Until that remark is admitted, apologized for, and retracted, the very legitimacy of AECT is at stake.

Electronic Services at AECT HQ may be able to support some of our technical needs but in no way can Electronic Services at AECT HQ speak to the legitimacy of content, of discussion, of debate among our members.

Currently there is no one on AECT's HQ staff with any academic or professional grounding in the field. Is that important, to have professional credentials when administering or directing an effort when people are depending on you?

I'm not sure. Let's ask Brownie. He did a heck of a job.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Challenge of AECT Electronic Services

Failing our members since 2002

Our electronic services - particularly our main AECT web site - have stagnated. While AECT's Divisions, some committees, a few working groups, and scores of members are proficient in web publishing with blogs, AECT headquarters is flummoxed by the technology and seems unwilling to get up to speed.

So, how can AECT Electronic Services support a complex communications model when HQ staff are unable or unwilling to learn new technologies?

Some background: For over four years it was my privilege to serve AECT members as part of the headquarters staff in Bloomington, IN. Prior to joining AECT as a staff member, I was a doctoral candidate in Instructional Systems Technology and Associate Instructor in Computer Science at Indiana University, and had been a member of AECT for a few years prior. During my tenure at AECT, my candidacy expired.

In 2002, I moved to Mishawaka (IN) and telecommuted with HQ - AECT's technical staff doubled (from 1 to 2) as I was retained and assigned to work under the new Director of Electronic Services. After three years, telecommuting seemed less effective and with AECT's budget crisis of 2005, I was laid off.

I've given this background to make clear my history in this discussion. At the time I'm writing this, I've been unemployed for three months. With that knowledge one may see the critique that follows as sour grapes, but the fact is that these issues have been on the forefront of my agenda for years. Office politics and professional courtesy have prevented me from stating as forcefully as I do now:

  • AECT Electronic Services are inadequate to serve the needs of its members; ES (Electronic Services) has developed no strategy, vision, or indication of a direction of growth. Meanwhile, while Divisions have had varying levels of success publishing on their own, the credibility of ES is lessened: Division communications officers are unlikely to appreciate guidelines or policies from HQ when HQ is seen as ineffective and incapable of meeting member's needs as they relate to ES.
  • AECT Electronic Services are not providing the level of service our members expect.
  • AECT's web pages are not presenting a professional image of the Association and are replete with errors, difficult navigation, and burdensome graphics.
  • Our web pages aren't even coded in valid HTML (visit the World Wide Web Consortium's Markup Validation Service to see for yourself). What kind of an impression does this leave?
  • Marketing opportunities are being squandered by a staff that neither realizes the importance of nor has a basic understanding of internet marketing. Our web pages lack META tags (a fundamental element of a web page) which lowers our scores with search engines to insignificance. Our marketing thrust is still print-centric. Marketing opportunities for weblogs are impossible when staffers "have no time for this." (from email I received from AECT's marketing director when suggesting he try to get up to speed; curiously he commented that he "had his own job to do").
  • AECT's web site has not changed appreciably in over four years (in fact, the home page copyright notice is from 2001). Meanwhile, most of the current content on AECT's web sites does not come from headquarters, but from the members themselves, via posts to our weblogs.
  • AECT's login system of lastname, membership number needs to be changed as it is not secure and will not synchronize with other systems we already have in place, such as MovableType. It is our system that is broken and we need to stop looking for a publishing system that is capable of woring with a broken system. (I've written before about this problem and an approach to a solution.)
  • An incredibly robust, flexible, and dynamic communications model is emerging in some of our Divisions as the publishing capabilities of MovableType weblogs are being exploited. Yet with all these little gears spinning, the main cog lurches slowly ahead. Without AECT HQ joining in the emerging system, none of its components can fully succeed.

Given these points I am pressing for AECT HQ to relinquish control of content on web pages - turn it entirely over to members. HQ staff, and Electronic Services in particular, have been unable to develop the level of tools our members need and to learn to make the most of emerging technologies, and failed to be responsive to specific requests for services. AECT HQ is now unable to support Movabletype weblogs - no one on staff took time to learn anything about it before I departed, despite the fact that dozens of member had learned MT and published for their divisions.

Next: is wireless Internet access at the conference a perk or a necessity?