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May 28, 2008

It Will Be Amazing, If People Use It . . .

I got a very straightforward question on Facebook today from a staff person at a very large school:

About your software: do you have evidence that students will use it? How do you suggest schools get students to do that? (Just wondering if students would see this as one more "hoop" to jump through and simply ignore it.)

I wrote up an answer that was probably inappropriately long for her question, so I'm making double use of it by sharing here:

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That's exactly the right question.  How can we make it not just a hoop?

We have evidence that student leaders like it. They too are very worried about "one more thing" but really Red Rover is designed so that they don't have to go there and upkeep. Most of it will be pushed to their cell phone, this is just a matter of proving to them that it really does add a benefit without much work on their part.

As for your regular incoming first year student, "adoption" is an important conversation.

If students use it, all these great things occur (assessment, recommendation, etc.) Adoption is always the problem with college led initiatives - and technology of any kind.  It's especially a problem when the software is useful / important to the school, but not important to the student, i.e. emergency text messaging. 

In the test runs so far we have reason to be optimistic.

There are three important parts on our side:

1) Solving a real pain. Students want to meet each other over the summer, at the beginning of school, and during every new semester. Identity management and grouping are huge needs and have been common themes (compare your friends!) in successful applications on Facebook. I give us an 7/10 on this one. (We need to do a better job of communicating to the students how to think about Red Rover before and after they have signed up.)

2) Making it incredibly easy. It needs to feel as nice (simple / fast) as Facebook. I give us a 6.5/10 on this. Though it gets better all the time. For comparison, I give Blackboard a 3/10.

3) Building a community. (This will convert the 10% adoption to the 30% adoption which gets into "most of my friends are doing it" territory.) With student leaders, that looks like peer created blog (http://www.theslblog.org/) and then building community from group to group. I.e. hooking up the members of Latino clubs from nearby campuses. We've just begun this process and should be in full swing late summer.  With incoming first years, that means

From the school side, there are few things we recommend for getting the link in front of students to get to the initial 10-20%.

1) Use the FB group. (See instructions here: http://redrover.swiftkick.wikispaces.net/Adoption )

2) Send an email telling the students that this is a Facebook application to help them "Find their people." Find in their dorm, or major who share things in common.

3) Use the student ambassadors to encourage students to sign up before and during the orientation process.

We expect that we will be able to get to 40% of the freshmen class with these methods (much higher % at smaller schools) and 1/4 to 1/2 will actually sign up.

That is enough adoption to make the system fun to use. Then it's a matter of 1) using cell phones for registration and 2) providing real value so students tell other students. (And it goes back to building community and growing adoption over the year.)

So that was a long answer : )

The short version is that we are focused on this question, have a good strategy and will be publishing what we learn.

Because of the design of the system (we see live data from each school and can do benchmark comparisons) we will have 15 different approaches tested shortly. We can see what works best, and immediately tell the other schools what strategies work best. We can even parse the live data by same sized school (so you could compare to UW Madison, for instance).

Unless we've completely missed on the student motivation part, the test and learn with marketing should get us there this summer.

The testing part is free : ) and the potential benefit is huge.

Please let me know your thoughts on this, I know it's a common concern and I would love to discuss it with you.

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As we come near to marketing to first year students (we are still working on setting up leaders and groups with most of our schools) this adoption conversation will come front and center.

There are so many technology vendors who will sell a college a "solution" that very few students will use.  The college takes the risk, the vendor gets the money.

While the college's marketing may be part of the problem, usually the root of the problem is a little deeper.  It's the motivation of the school (and the vendor's supplication).  Is the benefit to the student clear to the student?  Does it matter to the student?

Why is it that students like Facebook and use it like crazy but often complain about Blackboard?

Who understands / listens to students better, Facebook or Higher Education Tech Vendors and colleges?  It just seems strange, Facebook provides the service for free.

So we are taking on the adoption risk by offering our software for free and publicizing our approach.  We're partnering with schools, with the intent of listening better. 

 

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