It was a long shot, but TED was hosting open casting calls this year and I figured with my background in speaking and seven years of validated content, I have a thing or two to say about education…specifically when it comes to outside the classroom engagement, which is sorely missed in the education reform talks. Guess I’ll have to wait for them to personally invite me to speak .
Like Joseph Campbell’s famous Hero’s Journey philosophy, we like to divide college students into 5 different stages of engagement based on the Engagement Pyramid below…
Each stage is defined by a different set of characteristics of an individual. Fully engaged individuals display a different set of characteristics than apathetic/uninvolved individuals. Thus, the way we interact with individuals in each stage should be different. A “5″ doesn’t want to be treated like a “Neutral.” And treating a “Neutral” like a “5″ might be too much too soon and thus demotivating.
Once we’ve recognized an individual’s stage, then the next step is to move them gradually up the Engagement Pyramid step-by-step. In our Dance Floor Theory program, we call this X+1. “X” being the stage an individual currently is in and “+1″ being the next step that is challenging enough for that indivdual, but not too challenging (e.g. +3) which might be demotivating. If you think of it like a video game, video games do an amazing job of knowing your current level and knowing what the next motivating challenge is for you. That’s the same thing as X+1.
The hardest step on the Engagement Pyramid is moving someone from a “Neutral” to a “1.” Where a “Neutral” is someone who doesn’t care and is indifferent to anything you do and a “1″ is someone who actually pays attention and is curious. Once someone is a “1,” it’s much easier to continue to move them towards a “5.”
Ask most educators and they will tell you student apathy is huge on college campuses. Campuses are filled with “Neutrals,” however most of the activities we do on campuses are geared towards “1″ through “5″ people because they are the ones who will pay attention to our flyers, emails, and Facebook invites and take the extra effort to actually show up to an event. But what about the larger percentage of our campus that are “Neutrals?” What can we do to engagement them, to give them their X+1 moment, and to move them from a “Neutral” to a “1?”
Enter Free Hugs…
Well actually, Free Hugs is just one example of thousands of examples of events we call Blender Events. Blender Events serve two purposes…
Cause people to have a pattern interrupt throughout their day. Or as we say in Dance Floor Theory, get people to go from “Meh” to “Hmmm.”
Build peer-to-peer relationships by mixing people together with near-peers. Near-peers are people who are models of success that are just a stage or two ahead. In the Engagement Pyramid, a near-peer to an “X” would be a “1.”
Every time we host a Blender Event on campus and cause a “Neutral” to have a pattern interrupt in their day, or get them to go from “Meh” to “Hmmm,” or connect them with a “1,” then we are supplying them with an X+1 Moment. The more X+1 Moments they have, the harder it will be for them to stay a “Neutral” as they will start to display characteristics of a “1″ whether they want to or not. And once they are a “1,” then we can work on getting them to become a “2.”
So there you have it, That’s the ‘why’ behind Free Hugs. As you may have noticed, it has very little to do with the actual Free Hugs event and more to do with the introductions/connections/relationships that happen from the Free Hugs event.
Last week, before my soccer match, I watched a little league softball game on the field next to us. Surrounding the field was a collection of parents multitasking between the game, their blackberries, and babysitting their, even younger, offspring. One parent in particular was having a hard time keeping her little one under control. Her kid kept racing up and down the sidelines while mimicking a train. He put his hand in the air, pumped his fist, and as he passed us let out a loud, “Choo Choo!” Then 30 seconds later he’d come steamrolling back. The kid clearly had extra energy and needed to let it out. The parent, and most parents would agree, didn’t try and stop him from running, instead she calming kept looking a few yards ahead to clear away any dangers that might be in his way. The little kid was motivated to run, so instead of trying to stop him, the parent took on the role of laying tracks for him to keep running.
My brother and I were playing Frisbee Golf and he lodged his frisbee square in the middle of a mud pit. I quickly looked around for a large stick and without much thinking took two steps into the mud pit, reached out my arm, and started to retrieve his frisbee for him. With my foot half covered in mud, my brother said, “never get in the way of a motivated individual.”
At this year’s ACPA conference in Philadelphia, the conference organizers hosted a special social media strategy session with several individuals to talk about how they could better leverage social media for the ACPA community. Throughout the session it was clear that someone needed to step up and lead the charge. Looking around the room, there were many capable individuals, but the question was who was the most motivated and ready? Kathy Petras raised her hand and agreed to lead the group. Since then, she has been a wonderful leader, and had we had enough data to work with, probably could have predicted so because Kathy was already a trending leader in the community. She was a newer associate that recently took on a leadership position in another committee as well as led an ed session for the first time this year. If we were to tally up her actions, we would’ve seen she was a trending leader and was hunting for her next level of growth. In this case, leading the social media adoption committee was a perfect fit for her.
Every community can be broken up into varying levels of engagement. Based on a specific member’s engagement level, they want to be treated in different ways. A fully involved leader wants to be treated in a totally different way than someone lurking on the edge of the wall. An individual’s engagement level is constantly shifting though, with a hope of always trending towards more involvement. It’s up to the leaders of the community to thus recognize the individual engagement level of each member, and also to recognize how an individual is trending. Find out who the Kathy is of your community that is trending towards being a leader, then lay down tracks for her to continue to be great, because the worst thing a leader can do is get in the way of a motivated train.
Below is a picture of me walking two business owners through how to create, increase, and measure community engagement within their business. It’s a collumination of seven years of hands on work in the area and I have to say, it feels so damn good to have it connect together as well as it does. For those who’ve experienced a Dance Floor Theory training, or read the Swift Kick blog, will recognize some of the key points in the drawings below.
In our continuing quest to better help schools understand, measure, and utilize the increasing amount of campus engagement online, I wrote the article below on discovering your student life’s heartbeat online for this month’s NCSL NOW! magazine.
Discovering Your Student Life’s Heartbeat Online
By Tom Krieglstein
The Internet is a decentralized place, with a lot of small, loosely connected pieces, where individual engagement acts like a finicky firefly. Our traditional rules of on-campus physical student engagement need to be modified for an online world, or we’ll miss out on leveraging our best tools to increase and quantifiably measure and report on student engagement, both within our student groups and across the whole campus.
When talking about online engagement, my favorite place to start is offline, on the dance floor. We’ve all been to good dances and bad dances. A dance’s success is proportional to the number of relationships built up on the dance floor. It’s a simple idea; people are more likely to dance, have fun, and hang out longer if they have relationships with the people around them so that they can talk with these people or teach them new dance moves. So, if you host a dance party, your job is to connect people together around shared interests, increasing the number of relationships on your dance floor. It’s not about you, it’s about them connecting, learning, and growing from each other, and the more relevant the introductions, the more likely the relationships are to solidify. You are the facilitator of engagement, not the gatekeeper. After you’ve built up the relationships, you should be able to walk away from the dance and have it continue on without you.
Moving back to the online world, Web 1.0 was about a community having a central hub and a moderator, admin, or webmaster playing the gatekeeper of member engagement. Large sites would push content to their members who would then consume the content, and that would be the end of the engagement. In the Web 2.0 world, the most popular and explosive sites like Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, and YouTube don’t have a central hub. There is no gatekeeper of engagement. These tools all act as platforms to facilitate relationships among members. The more engaged the members are with each other, the more successful the site becomes.
Looking at three popular tools in particular — Facebook, Twitter, and blogging — the goal for increased student engagement online should be to move from 1.0 engagement to 2.0 engagement, where we make it about them, and we are simply the facilitators. Here are four recommendations for online engagement:
Instead of using a logo for your role as the facilitator of engagement among members, use an image that has a face, or a group of faces that shows you are actually human. Talk as if you were talking to someone at a cocktail party. A big logo head at a cocktail party would be odd. Being human also means you engage in the conversation as if it were a two-way street … because it is.
Instead of stressing yourself out trying to engage everyone, enlist hosts to take over some of the engagement and facilitating. Delegating small roles to members will make your job easier and give your members a stronger sense of ownership in the community.
The sense of ownership among the community members is amplified when the members get to populate a site with their own content. Support the sharing of real videos, photos, and stories from your members. This will increase engagement and will make a site feel more human. School-sponsored student bloggers are currently popular, and a step in the right direction. But make sure you allow them to write without censorship, and after their sponsorship is over, let them keep their blog and content.
Link Out, Link In
Because the Internet is a collection of small pieces loosely connected, no one tool will solve all your problems, but collectively, the tools leveraged together can have a big impact on engagement. While certain sites, such as Facebook, remain the most popular, students like to spread out and express themselves on multiple sites across the Web. Facebook is a limiting tool if you use it as your only source of online engagement. Make sure to link between all the tools you are using, and the tools your students are using. Following these four tips will support your success in engaging students and members online. Facebook, Twitter, and blogging are a start, and once you add up each piece and multiply by all your members, you will start to discover your student life’s online heartbeat.
Most student club advisors will tell you that club engagement goes through waves; some years are rockstars and others are duds. Almost every club starts the year with aspirations of rockstardom, but within a couple weeks, the excitement and motivation of the leadership team fades, and thus, the entire club activity withers. In pondering this problem, I’ve been talking more and more about an idea called engagement-based leadership (EBL), meaning that leadership is not a one-time elected thing, but rather an ongoing, ever-changing position rewarded based on engagement. Before I talk more about EBL, first let’s dissect the problem of why student leaders fade within a month of being elected.
Several years ago, I walked the second day of a 2-Day Avon Walk For Breast Cancer with my wife and some friends. Anyone who’s ever done the walk knows how grueling it is. Blisters alone are painful, but the average Avon walker can expect to endure multiple layers of blisters building up until his or her entire foot becomes one big blister. It’s disgusting and painful and makes the second day of the walk intense. The organizers know that completion of the walk is extremely difficult without a continuous onslaught of support from spectators and volunteers. That’s why for every walker, they commit to line the entire path with at least five cheerers. On the last leg of the walk, my feet blistered up and shot a pain through my body with each step. Mentally and physically I was ready to quit. My motivation was gone. But then, as we turned the corner, there was a smiling old lady sitting in a wheel chair, wearing a cap to cover her bald head and holding a sign that read, “I’m why you’re walking, Thank you.” Like a bolt of electricity, my whole body reenergized and plowed toward the finish line. Imagine if the only rewards for walking the race were in the beginning when they pumped us up, and at the end when we crossed the finish line? The attrition rates would be horrendous!
Like the Avon walk, student leaders begin the year excited and motivated about the idea of the journey they’re about to start. They might have just attended an award ceremony where the outgoing leaders were showered in praise for the hard work they did throughout the year, which further motivates the incoming leaders. So much support. So much praise. And then, let’s say within a month or so, reality sets in. The real work starts, and the “blisters” of being a leader build up. But unlike the Avon walk, with a motivational checkpoint waiting for you at every street corner, the next motivational checkpoint for student leaders most likely won’t be for another six months, during their outgoing ceremony when they are praised for all the hard work they did throughout the year. Thus, within the first couple months of being a leader, the excitement and motivation fade and the attrition rates go up.It should be noted that some leaders drop off for other reasons, such as class overload, work overload, or personal issues.
What’s a solution look like?
As the advisor, you could make sure to set up a collection of individual checkpoints for your leaders throughout the year, so you make sure they stay excited and motivated. At bare minimum, let’s say you create checkpoints that happen once per week for ten minutes where you praise them for the work they are doing and remind them of the bigger picture of student engagement. Just one leader multiplied out for eight months, that’s just under five hours of your time. Now expand that to 50-300 leaders. If you don’t think you have a life now…
Enter EBL. The goal is still the same, keep the leaders motivated on an ongoing basis so they can survive through the typical student leader burnout, but in EBL, the tactics change. In EBL, you are moving the motivational checkpoints away from you as the admin/advisor and pushing it to the students. EBL builds in a peer-to-peer motivational system that is ongoing and ever present. Now it doesn’t matter if you have 50 or 5000 student leaders. Actually, the more leaders you have, the better.
How does it work?
It’s no secret I’m a fan of Whole Foods (also known as Whole Paycheck). Because there’s a WF on my way home from work, I tend to frequently stop in and grab a few items. Over time, I realized that WF is one of the top five places I visit the most every week, which makes me a pretty darn engaged customer. In fact, WF should probably be rewarding me for being so engaged. Enter FourSquare, Yelp, and SCVNGR. For those unfamiliar with these three sites, they are, simply stated, mobile check-in tools. I can be anywhere in NY and check in that I am there via my mobile phone. Nothing special yet, until you start to receive prizes, titles, and recognition for checking in more often. For a while, I was crowned the Mayor of our WF because I was the most engaged customer. But then my speaking travel schedule picked up and for several months I disappeared and rightfully so, someone else took over as Mayor.
EBL rewards students based on their engagement. The more engagement “points” you score, the more rewards, titles, and recognition you receive. To repeat from above, leadership is not a one-time yearly elected thing, but rather an ongoing, ever-changing position that is rewarded based on engagement.
There certainly is much more to debate and discuss here, but consider this post only a surface-level introduction to the idea. I’m not interested in getting into the weeds just yet, so I purposefully left out many of the operational details.
The Value of EBL?
Admin/Advisor – Student Leader attrition rates will drop, which means student leaders will stick around longer and be more active in their clubs. The increased activity will make clubs more successful throughout the year. The admin/advisor also won’t have to do as much individual student leader motivational check-ins.
Student Leaders – Like a video game, the rewards and benefits built into EBL will keep the student leaders motivated throughout the entire year on an ongoing basis. They are going to have more fun because their clubs are more active and engaged. They also won’t feel as much guilt about dropping off the map and letting the club die due to some personal issues they didn’t plan for ahead of time. A new leader with the most engagement points is ready to step up to Mayorship.
Students – They will have a larger group of active clubs to join. After joining they don’t have to rely on a disengaged elected leader to keep the group going. Leadership is open to anyone who wants it and is willing to work for it.
EBL is a blend of game theory and student engagement theory. Every student affairs professional knows the pains of deadbeat leaders and thus dead groups. EBL is a new paradigm in thinking about leadership. If we want to break out of the normal student engagement levels of 16-40%, we have to think differently. The ideas, tactics, and tech tools we use have to embody this new way of thinking. It’s not just about making paperwork more efficient, that’s just extracting more energy from the resources you already know exists. It’s about exploring new potential energy that is sitting dormant in the 60-84% of the rest of your student body, that’s a massive untapped pool of energy.
After every training I give, a handful of students always come up to ask a variety of questions around entrepreneurship, education, and technology. I genuinely get excited when students get excited about doing more than just their school work, so I give each person my contact info and tell them to keep me posted on their progress and email me if they have any more questions. Here’s the ugly truth though, 99.99% of the students I give my card to never follow up or ask me any more questions. I’m not complaining about this because honestly if everyone did follow up with me, I wouldn’t actually be able to respond. The 99.99% rule is kinda a natural self filtering system in which the .01% that actually do contact me with questions are the ones who are most likely to act on my response thus I’m not wasting their time and they aren’t wasting my time.
Meeting With Students After a Tech Talk at Mitchell College
The graph below of total Red Rover page views shows an interesting pattern with online student engagement, in that, they don’t hang around online during the weekends. Well at least they don’t hang around their school’s Red Rover site on the weekends. It’s interesting to see how almost perfectly symmetrical it is.
Kevin and I started The Student Affairs Collaborative in 2005 to test our hypothesis that a decentralized, open system of peer-to-peer learning built around shared interests would increase engagement and retention.
We wanted to create a community in which everyone was a teacher at some level, and everyone supported each other to become more involved.
In the beginning, 100% of the content was written by me, Kevin, and our speaker friend Del Suggs. We then bribed our student affairs friends with cookies to help us write content, and slowly, over time, the site gained a readership.The SA Collaborative started to become the go-to place online for student affairs professionals to receive and share knowledge from their peers. The growth remained steady, and then Twitter came along…
In 2009, over drinks at Panera Bread Co with Debra Sanborn, I pitched the idea of a weekly chat via Twitter for student affairs professionals, which would mimic the already established #EDchat (for teachers) and #JourChat (for journalist). She nodded excitedly at the idea, and a couple weeks later, on Oct 8th, 2009, we attempted our first #SAchat.
I remember telling my wife how nervous I was that it was just going to be me and Debra tweeting back and forth for an hour, and it would never take off because there were no student affairs people on Twitter. I kept a shot of vodka close by to calm my nerves just in case .
The chat started extremely slow, but within 15 minutes a couple of people joined us from out of nowhere. Twitter hasn't opened up its history past Feb 2010, so the data can't be verified yet, but I remember the hour generating around 100 tweets and 10 people participating. 80% of those tweets came from me and Debra though :-/.
This week marks the one year anniversary of #SAchat, and the community has exploded in celebration. Last week, I jokingly declared that the SA Collaborative editors were bringing fireworks to the party, and fireworks they did bring! I've personally received tweets, emails, phone calls, faxes, and even postcards in celebration.
Where We Are Now
The last seven days of #SAchat'ter generated 2,500 tweets with 300 people participating! The hashtag #SAchat is the go-to place on Twitter for student affairs. Many people have the hashtag saved as a favorite search and keep it open all day on their 3rd party clients, which further solidifies its validity.
The SA Collaborative is now five years old, and has around 700 subscribed readers, 3,900 Twitter followers, 17 content contributors, and is the #1 ranking Google search for "Student Affairs Blog."
As expected, lots of additional niche student affairs chats are popping up with varying success. Most are initiated by the community, but some of the established organizations in the industry are launching their own chats. I say, the more the merrier! It makes sense that as the all-purpose #SAchat grows, sub chats with a more narrow focus will emerge. Once you've found the music fans, now you want to find the old-time-bluegrass-with-a-fiddle-in-the-band music fans because that is what you are really into.
A large percentage of the community only knows my name because of the generous outpouring of gratitude I've received over the past week. I tend not to overly participate in the weekly chats or blog. It's not that I don't care or have time, it's that you all will learn far more from your peers, who walk in your shoes 24/7, than from me being an outside supporter of student affairs. So I'll happily continue on from behind the scenes helping the community grow by facilitating as many relationships as possible, so we all continue to stay on the dance floor dancing together.
Why This Community Continues To Grow
Every community is comprised of champions, participants, and lurkers. This is also called the 90-9-1 rule in which 1% of a community will be the champions, 9% will participate, and 90% will simply lurk. Wikipedia is the most famous example of the 90-9-1 rule. The challenge of community organizers is to provide the right incentives to the right people so they stay engaged in the community. Champions want an audience to help and support, like they received when they were just starting off. Participants want an easy way to engage with people like them around relevant topics and to learn from the champions. Lurkers want a way to watch the activity between the champions and participants, and when ready, a way to easily test the temperature of the water.
I continuously work with the editorial team to make sure we are moving the community in the right direction. For the champions, that means making it easier for them to share their amazing knowledge to an increasingly larger audience. For participants, that means providing quality content, a fun atmosphere, and peers like them they can connect with. For lurkers, that means keeping the community as open as possible and providing baby steps of engagement like the TuesTally.
We're only a couple of weeks away from launching a directory for the #SAchat community that will further facilitate relationships and learning communities around shared interests. I want to help the student affairs graduate students find, participate, and learn from the #SAGrad community. I want to help women who work in housing find, participate, and learn from the #wihsng community. I want to help first year experience people find, participate, and learn from the #FYEchat community. I want to help the #RLchat (Res Life people) community grow, the #SAASS (assessment people) community grow, etc, etc, etc. The new directory will make all of this possible, and I predict it will challenge the established student affairs organizations to rethink how they engage their community. Heck, the #SAchat community has already turned some heads!
Challenge #1 – If you don't already have a blog, start one and add it to our student affairs blog directory. Write about your experiences at work so we can then share them with others who can learn from you. You're already a teacher to someone, they just haven't met you yet.
Challenge #2 – Help the community grow. Bring one new colleague to the next #SAchat. Email the SA Collaborative link to five new people. This party has just begun.
Challenge #3 – Think about how the lessons of this community relate back to your campus in terms of student engagement. How can you move away from being the gatekeepers of engagement and more toward being the facilitators of relationships around shared interests? How can you apply the 90-9-1 rule? How can you support more peer-to-peer learning among students? How can you help your students find old-time-bluegrass-with-a-fiddle-in-the-band music lovers like them? If it’s worked for you here in this community, there’s a strong possibility it will work for students on your campus.
My excitement for this community is overflowing. I believe we are pushing not just student affairs forward, but the entire educational field. We’re working our tails off over here at Red Rover to duplicate the successes of this community with the students on your campus. Wait till we launch the #SAchat directory, then you’ll really see what I’m talking about.
I created this deck to frame the conversation as to how Red Rover can support alumni departments with their goals. It's cross posted over at the Swift Kick/Red Rover blog. The slide show can also be viewed and downloaded here.