7 tips for increasing student engagement with academic induction

 

One for the Academic Librarians, this. It's Week 1 of the new academic year at my institution, which means one thing: Induction. I've looked after a lot of Departments in my relatively short time as an Academic Liaison Librarian, and have tried constantly to hone induction and make it more interesting - below are the seven most productive changes I've made to how things work.

That said, one thing I've learned for sure is one size does NOT fit all, and what works for the culture of one Department might not work for another. So have a look at these, see if you think any of them might be useful, and ignore the ones which aren't.

When I think back to my student days, I remember having ZERO interest in Library induction. For the BA I went on the tour, for the MA I went to a lecture - but in neither case was I at all engaged. And that's how almost every student naturally is. It's really helpful to think about this properly - not as a librarian, but as a prospective student who has no idea of the value of what they're about to hear. How do you get that across? How do you relate what you're saying to their real world? Essentially, how do you shake then out of their indifference?

1. Don't tell them everything, open a dialogue

It's tempting to unleash the full fury of Everything There Is To Know About The Library (particularly if you only get one session with a particular group of students) but there's only so much you can cram in before it all becomes overwhelming. Better to pick some key messages and focus on getting engagement for them.

The brain can hold on to 5 or 6 new things at time, 7 if you're super-clever, so a lot of my sessions are literally called things like 'Six Useful Things for [Department] Students' - and they leave a lot out. I either then put other vital information in a booklet / handout, or make sure it's all available via the main online link I give them, the Subject Guide for their Department.

You want to open a dialogue in Induction - ensuring the students come back to you, or to the Library, or to the various online spaces, for more when they need it.

2. Don't JUST tell them about the Library, talk about other useful things too

This has been a revelation for me. I tell my students about a mixture of non-library things (for example filter-bubble free searching via DuckDuckGo, social media dashboards and the students guide to social, useful services like Zetoc, networks like Academia.edu, useful tools like Evernote - AND I tell them about the Library, about JSTOR, and all the regular stuff. The result is hugely improved feedback scores compared with my previous 'library only' inductions, and, amazingly, the thing they rate as MOST useful is the business about JStor and the Subject Guides. I think the students are more engaged overall because there's a feeling of 'he's not just telling us what he knows, he's telling us what WE need to know' and so they take note of the Library-related stuff more than they would otherwise. It smuggles it in.

(See an example of presentation which takes into account points 1, 2, 5 and 6 of this list.)

3. Scheduling really matters: move teaching BACK!

If you have any say at all in when your teaching happens, move it back. For some of my Departments I can't get this changed; it's embedded in certain parts of certain modules and needs to stay there. But for the rest, Week 4 is the earliest I teach.

Imagine being in Week 1 of your first year at University. You're in a new city, making new friends, finding out where you're going to LIVE - why on earth would anyone talking about how to find journal articles even register? Information literacy is undoubtedly useful, but it must be given MEANING and agency by a real life context. For example, just after the first assignment has been set. Then you really do need to know how to find and use the resources.

4. Make an interactive map

We no longer run tours of the Library, so we've found that students like the presentation to show where things are geographically, which works best in a Prezi. It's also easier for them to check back on areas of interest in their own time later.

There's a general Interactive Map of the Library, then most of us Academic Liaison Librarians take it, copy it, and adapt the copied version for our specific Department. Here's the specific History of Art map I used in an Induction session today.

If you want to make your own interactive map, all you need is a Prezi account and a PDF of your Library floorplans. There's a blogpost about what to do next, here.

5. Summarise with a Random Slide Challenge

A Random Slide Challenge uses volunteers to summarise your session for you, using slides they've never seen before - there's more on the mechanics of it here, see tip 3. I find it's a great way to end the session; everyone leaves smiling, and there's a genuine benefit for students seeing their peers sum up rather than just hearing me say the same things all over again.

Be warned though; you need enthusiasm, and prizes, to make this work! And numbers. I once had a session with only about 10 people in and couldn't get any volunteers, everyone was just too self-conscious in such a small group.

6. Make materials available online, after or during

We use Prezi, Slideshare and Scribd to make materials available - and all of these get embedded in our Departmental Subject Guides (LibGuides) as appropriate. It means students can refer back to what they missed, it means they stumble across them via Google searches, and it means if you have a link-heavy booklet students are using in the session, they can click the links rather than typing them in.

7. Check last year's feedback first

I know this is ridiculously obvious but I only started doing it last year.

Prior to that, I would check feedback right after a teaching session, and then I wouldn't look it again until one year later, to compare it with that year's feedback. Now, I go back over all the feedback just before creating my new year's materials and ALWAYS learn something useful which I use to revise the new content. Each Department has different styles and needs, too - it's helpful to be explicitly reminded of that by reading all the comments about what worked and what didn't the previous time the session ran.

 

BONUS TIPS: Some Twitter Wisdom

I asked my network on twitter for some more tips, and here they are.

Any more suggestions? Add them in a comment below.

Prezi Guide: The 5 Essentials To Stop Your Audience Feeling Sick

 

Prezi is nothing if not divisive. Some people love it, some people hate it - I'm in neither of those camps. I find it very useful in some situations, but still use good old fashioned PowerPoint Slides for more than half the presentations I give. Prezi should be used for a reason.

Prezi is relatively new (it's been around since 2009), it's getting more popular (there are around 40 million users now) and it's improving its interface all the time. Some people accuse it of being style over substance, but for certain ideas (interactive maps, for example) it provides substance that slides simply can't bring to the table. For me, Prezi can be fantastic as long as you adhere to one maxim above all: don't let the medium get in the way of the message. Any presentation materials should be there to support the presenter and work FOR the audience in adding to their experience. Do that, and Prezi can really raise the level of an audience's engagement.

Potentially, a great Prezi has the wow factor. So why would you want to completely undermine that by creating something which makes sections of your audience feel motion-sickness? It's up to you, the presenter, to minimize the possibility of this as far as humanly possible. Here's how. (For the short version, view the Prezi about it.)

1. Positioning

The single most important thing about creating a Prezi is the positioning of the objects on the canvas (and directly related to this, the order in which they're visited on the path). Position your materials sympathetically, people! By which I mean, rather than moving haphazardly around the canvas and disorientating the viewer, move from left to right, or from top to bottom - move in a way the human brain is used to.

2. Distancing

But positioning is about more than putting your objects in a coherent pattern - it's about having a uniform (and short) distance between them. The closer you place your objects together, the less zoom and swoop there is in your prezi. Place them right next to each other and it won't zoom out at all, it will just slide right over from one object to the next.

3. Sizing

As with distancing, uniformity is the key to sizing too. Put similarly sized objects together - ideally make them the exact same size. This means there's no need to zoom in or out. Contrast this to having a small object followed by a much larger object and then a small object again: the zoom is flying all over the place.

4. Rotation

99.9% of rotations and barrel-rolls in Prezis add absolutely zero value to the presentation.

I just made that stat up but I'm sure it's true. In fact most of the time rotating actively detracts from a Prezi. It is the Number One cause of queasyness in the viewer. It can be used with a good reason (a visual metaphor of some kind to better express your ideas) but otherwise, why would you? It just gets in the way of your message.

5. Pacing

The ability to zoom in and out is both Prezi's strength and its weakness. It's what allows you to show the relationship between objects on your presentation, it's what allows the element of surprise for the big reveal, it's what lets you put your own hierachy onto your information rather than having it dictated to you. But it's also at the heart of what can induce nausea in your audience.

So, pace your Prezi like you would regular slides. Don't move it on every few seconds - arrive at point on your path, talk about it for two minutes, or five minutes, or more, and then move on. This means there are fewer zooms per presentation, and less quickly following one-another. But you can still take advantage of the zoom's ability to enhance your presentation.


One last note on zooming

If you double-click the right arrow to move your presentation on (or left arrow to move it back) it zooms twice as fast. This can be effective in reducing the sea-sick effect - after all it's the transitions which cause the problems, so if you only transition for 50% of the time you did before, that helps. The only downside is it feels risky; if you triple click by mistake, you'll miss your path point entirely and have to go back...

Here's my Prezi on this whole topic - it explains what I've just said in a visually illustrative way (which is sort of the point of Prezi after all):

 

Finally

All that said, if members of your audience are particularly susceptible to motion-sickness, even doing ALL of the above may not be enough. So only use Prezi for a specific reason. Use it to do something PowerPoint can't, rather than as a direct replacement for the sake of it. Use it to cover several dispirate topics, or to make something interactive, or to visually explain relationships between ideas. But if you don't need to do any of those things, and it's a regular presentation, just use regular slides. Just be sure to use them well.

Which leads us to a bonus option:

(6. The nuclear option)

Prezi can be a very useful way to make a nice looking presentation: the fonts, icons, ease of importing images, and themes, make smart presentation materials without the need for a huge amount of effort or design knowledge. Once you get over the initial learning curve, it's quicker to make a nice Prezi than nice slides. So if you want to take advantage of all that, but want to 100% eliminate the possibility of motion-sickness, simply save your Prezi as a PDF, and use it as you would slides. Every path point on your Prezi is a full-page of the PDF so it ends up looking like a (nice) PowerPoint.

To save a Prezi as a PDF, click the share icon and choose the relevant option from there.

To save a Prezi as a PDF, click the share icon and choose the relevant option from there.


Disclaimer: Prezi will always make some people sick - they dislike Prezis intensely, and it's very important to them that they bring this up a lot. I offer no judgement here; I do the same with LinkedIn. But this guide is about stopping an audience feeling motion-sickness when watching a Prezi - if you aren't prepared to take steps to do this, you shouldn't be making Prezis!

7 Super Slide Styles to download, copy, and adapt

 

I love slides, as I've said before. One of the biggest problems people have when trying to make something effective and visually arresting is simply knowing where to start. Or having not much time at all, so they can get together the content but don't have chance to put it into a new style.

So with that in mind, I've created the presentation below. It features the same information presented seven different ways; if you like any or all of them, you can download the original PowerPoint from here, and do whatever you want with it. Delete the bits you don't want, modify and build on the styles you like.

I've not done this before, provided a sort of OER version of a presentation, so I'll be interested to see if people find it useful. I hope the templates can work in some situation or other for you, particularly if you're stuck for inspiration. It may be that you take a slide style and use it throughout a presentation, or it may be that you take one or two styles and just use them as a blueprint to give you a head-start, and then change them completely.  It's entirely up to you, you can do whatever you like with them - and although it would be great if you could credit me somewhere, don't worry if you can't fit it in. I'm not releasing them under a Creative Commons Attribution license, I'm just putting the whole thing into the public domain.

Something I need to make clear though (and thank you to Andrew Preater for flagging this up to me) is that the images are Creative Commons images (rather than public domain), and so if you want to use those images specifically you need to respect their original licenses! Each of them is linked to, both in the presentation itself and with its creator's name at the end of the presentation, so you can see the kind of Creative Commons licence they have. In all cases, they need at a minimum for the creator to be attributed. Obviously the images I've used here are just in there as examples, I'm expecting people to take the slide designs and redo them with their own content - but if you do decide to keep them, keep their Creative Commons status in mind...

For 6 of the styles I've included a little arrow in the breakdown section with a link to a full set of slides created somewhat in that style (most by me, a couple by other people) so you can see what an expanded version might look like.

To adapt and build on these styles if you like them, the right-click menu in PowerPoint is your friend. Firstly if you right-click on the little slide preview pane, you'll find the 'Duplicate' option. Duplicate the slide you like, then edit the contents. Right-clicking on the main slide edit view is vital here too: the menu it produces allows you to recolour text boxes or backgrounds, change the picture (but retaining size and positioning), copy elements you like and paste them elsewhere, blur or darken images so you can write directly onto them, etc etc. This allows you to take a single slide and build a presentation with a cohesive visual theme around it, rather than just having literally the same slide several times with different words on it.

Good luck making your slides, and let me know what you do with the templates! (You don't have to. I'm just curious to see whether people make things using these as a building block, and what they're like...)

Email Communication Part 2: Measuring Impact, Subject Line Length, Email Frequency & More

 

Earlier in the week I wrote about the basics of good email communication, the three Ts. In this follow-up I want to cover a few more complex things which didn't fit in the previous post, particularly around the theme of an email newsletter.

 

Why do people unsubscribe from mailing lists and newsletters?

Reasons people no longer want to receive a regular email from an organisation include, in ascending order of importance according to Litmus: Found an alternative way to get the same info, Preferred to seek out info on their own, Found the content irrelevant, Received too many emails generally, Found the content to be repetitive or boring over time.

And in First Place? 54% of people said the reason they unsubscribed was this: Emails came too frequently. Don't over-saturate your audience - pick your moments, based on THEIR needs, the lifecycle of their work, and on how much vital information you have to impart. Which leads us to...

So how frequently should I email?

In Part 1 of this post I talked about the importance of being Timely - emailing at the right time of the day so that your email is received both at a time when people actually read emails and when yours isn't buried under a pile of other emails coming in at the same time. 3pm appears to be the sweet spot.

There's another aspect to being timely though. Firstly, Monday appears to be the best day on which to send an email newsletter - for all the reasons you'd imagine (people are still full of vim and vigour early on in the week, and not yet weighed down by all the things they wished they'd got done but ran out of time to do).

Secondly, I believe it's really important NOT to email to a fixed schedule, for example the first Monday of every month. A vital aspect of good communication is not wasting opportunities by communicating when you don't need to - it reduces the value of your communication overall and edges you closer to becoming part of the white noise. So send your newsletter or other 'important updates' email only when there's a weight of useful things to say, rather than just when it's the time you usually send it. Communicate because your audience NEEDS to hear what you have to say, rather than because you need to send a monthly update.

How long should my subject line be?

Click to view this as part of a larger (and very useful) article on EmailAudience

Click to view this as part of a larger (and very useful) article on EmailAudience

Click to view this as part of a larger (and also quite useful) article on MailChimp

Click to view this as part of a larger (and also quite useful) article on MailChimp

I mentioned in Part 1 that I think the Subject Line is hugely important, and that calling your email 'Newsletter' is a recipe for being completely ignored. You need a decent title, one which gives people a specific reason to open the email; a benefit to them.

As to how long this subject line should be, there is conflicting evidence about this. EmailAudience found that very short worked well, medium length worked REALLY badly, and very long (tweet length subject lines, basically) worked fantastically.

However MailChimp analysed 12 billion emails and concluded 'Subject line length means absolutely nothing'! If you compare the graphs showing the two companies' findings, they do actually follow broadly the same pattern - short and long are good, medium length doesn't do much for anyone. It's just that how much of a difference this makes is clearly reflected as being much smaller by MailChimp. 

They conclude with this very sensible statement which makes a good point about Subject Line length and the kinds of devices and platforms your audience are reading on.

Your audience is chock-full of individuals with different reading habits, interests, and demographics. Maybe my audience is full of Apple fanboys and every one of them reads my newsletter on their iPhone. Well, then the subject line they see might need to be shorter for their small screen. Or maybe my newsletter is geared toward businessfolk who mostly run Outlook. In that case, maybe a longer subject is more acceptable.
— MailChimp

Like so many things, it comes down to understanding your audience. Which takes us neatly on to...

How can I measure and track the impact of my email?

There are elaborate things you can do with Gmail to track open-rates of emails, but I think that's much more important in traditional business than it is in non-profit comms. More important is to measure and track the impact - essentially, do people ACT on the email, and can I influence how often this happens by changing when I send the email, the subject line, the tone, the length and so on?

If your email is a just general update, measuring impact is very hard to do. If, however, it includes a Call to Action, and that action has a website involved - e.g. 'Try our new online resource [link to resource]' or 'Come to our workshop [link to booking form]', it becomes possible to see how effective the email is by measuring the Engagement Rate. This is the number of clicks on the link divided by the number people who received the email - so take a really basic example, if you email 100 people and 30 click the link, the Engagement rate is 30%. 

How do you find out how many people click on the link? You use a unique URL created especially for the email via bit.ly. Bit.ly is a URL shortening service (useful in itself) which provides two fantastic functions for Comms purposes - it allows you to customise the URL, and it counts the number of times that specific customised URL is used.

(So for example, at the end of the 10 Tiny Tips for Trainers slidedeck from a couple of weeks back, I put in a customised bit.ly URL for people who found the presentation on Slideshare, and wanted to read the blogpost which accompanied it on here - a lot more people see my slides than see this blog. The reason I used bit.ly was just to make a short, memorable URL - I chose bit.ly/10TinyTips which is a lot easier to fit on a slide in large letters than http://www.ned-potter.com/blog/2014/8/8/10-tiny-tips-for-trainers! - but it also gives me the stats. So I know that 225 people clicked on the link in the slides, because that link didn't appear anywhere else.)

So going back to the email newsletter - if you're launching a resource or promoting an event, and you want to know how effective your email has been, use a customised bit.ly URL to see how many people clicked your link. If half the people you email click on the link you've included, that's a pretty fantastic rate of return as these things go. Build on whatever formula you used and do it again! If only 5% click, then do things differently next time - perhaps change the subject line, or make the call to action more prominent, or email at a different time of the day or week.

Incidentally, another possibility bit.ly allows is to compare effectiveness of promotional activities. So you have one bit.ly URL for your new resource that you use in emails, one that you use on Facebook, and another you use on Twitter. Then you compare the stats for each, with the overall stats for the resource, and see which communication method is the best way to get people to use your stuff...

Should I care about email preview panes?

If your audience are young (University students, for example) then yes, this matters a little bit. According to ConvinceandConvert, 84% of 18-34 year olds use an email preview pane. I am 34 and I do this! I have a preview pane in both Outlook and Gmail for work, where I can - but not in Yahoo for my personal email, where I've never worked out how. I much prefer a preview.

This means these users will see the first few lines of the email (depending on how big they've set their pane) BEFORE they click to open. Worst-case scenario is they dislike what they see so much they never get as far as opening the email. The best-case scenario is they are enticed or inspired by the preview, and when they open the email they are fully engaged with its contents. So, as with so many media in the web 2.0 age, the important thing here is to hit the ground running. No long intros, no scene setting - just useful, headline information right at the top. It's using the journalism model, rather than the academic paper model - put your conclusions at the start.

Are there any useful email tools I should know about?

I think MailChimp looks great for non-profits. You'd probably need to use the paid-for version, but if email is an important part of your marketing strategy, and you can afford it, then MailChimp is worth it because of the level of control, and of impact measurement, it gives you.

I'm a big fan of Scribd (as a creator rather than a consumer - don't be put off by its homepage which is aimed at the latter!) - it takes PDFs and turns them into web documents. So if your email newsletter is a PDF, I cannot stress enough how people don't click on and open PDFs nearly as much as we'd hope they do, so put in a link to a Scribd version (or embed it in the email if that's possible with the tools you use). Not only does this make the newsletter more easily accessible, it allows it to be discovered on the web, and it gives you built-in usage statistics for how it much it's being read too.

Good Email Communication needs to be Timely, Targeted and (well) Titled

 

Email feels very old-school sometimes, and it's tempting to think it's no longer relevant. But actually for a lot of Libraries and other non-profits email remains an essential tool for good communication, and if you think about it it's easy to see why.

You have mass coverage (not EVERYONE uses email but a huge percentage do, and it's not a tribal medium like social media where people pick and choose to be on some platforms and not others); you have a captive audience (once they've given you permission to email them); the message goes directly to your audience; it waits for your audience until they're ready to see it (unlike asychronous media such as Twitter for example); and it's very easy for people to ACT on an email, by clicking a link within it.

Where Email falls down is in sharability (it's much less intuitive to share useful information contained within an email with one click, than it is to share information contained on a specific URL) and, like so many other forms of communication, over-saturation. We all get too many emails. They can easily become part of the White Noise.

Over the years I've read a ton of advice and guidance about emailing, and a lot of it is either over-complicated or related directly to chasing leads and converting sales and all sorts of other things we don't need to do in the non-profit sector. In fact, for me, it comes down to just three things, and, as it happens, they call begin with T: emails must be Targeted, Timely and Titled.

I wanted to experiment with Piktochart for work purposes, and I always feel you have to actually make something to completion with a tool to get a feel for it, so here's the Keys to Good Email Communication as a mini infographic:

Click to view the much larger Creative Commons version on Flickr

Click to view the much larger Creative Commons version on Flickr

These three things really do matter - TO ME. Every audience is different, so while I'd advise you try to work by the Three Ts, you may find your users respond differently to mine.

Certainly targeting is something which I find works very well for me - the response rate (people doing the things I'm asking them to in the email) increases massively if I subdivide my audience into smaller groups and customise the content somewhat. The stat above relates to the MoreBooks campaign at York, mentioned int the White Noise presentation (slides 47 - 52, as displayed here).

The title is so important - it makes the difference Open and Delete Unread on so many occasions (think about your own policy of reading emails from organisations). The stat there comes from convinceandconvert.

In the past I didn't think being Timely mattered - the idea of sending an email at 3pm because that's the 'best' time to send it seemed mildly absurd to me. But I've changed my views on this - what is beyond doubt is that people are more likely to engage with an email if it comes with some distance either side of it, than they are if it comes with 10 other emails at the same time. You don't want to be part of a virtual pile, you want undivided attention. 3pm being the best time to send is a stat you hear everywhere, but in this particular case I got it from the sherpablog.

There's another dimension to being Timely, around when to send emails in general (rather than the specific time of day), which will be covered in part 2 of this post later in the week.

When I was promoting LISNPN, the New Professionals Network (check out their ace new site, by the way) I kept stats on which promotional avenues resulted in the most people signing up for the site. Email won every time. Articles in the professional press, newsletters, face to face presentations - these all helped, but ultimately people need to CLICK on something right away after they hear about it, or most of them will soon forget it entirely.

Email allows you to put in a call to action which people can heed there and then.