Wednesday, November 05, 2014


Throwback Thursday

In the age of group texting apps, robocalls, email, electronic bulletin boards, social media, and untold varieties of wireless communication, we’re finding we get some of the best results by using…


Yes, the same postcards that colleges sent twenty years ago.  Ink on paper, snail-mailed to students’ homes.  

Postcards have several advantages.  They’re relatively cheap, they’re easy to mass-produce, and they’re well suited to simple messages.  But they also have two advantages that are unique to them, and that set them apart from most electronic forms of communication.

Anyone in the home can see them, and they’re easy to stick on refrigerators.

Letters are sealed, and therefore less likely to be read by others.  Electronic messages, in whatever form, are easily lost in the shuffle, whether that takes the form of a spam folder, an avalanche of other communications, or students’ changing phone numbers.  But postcards do a pretty good job of tracking students down.  And almost nobody prints out text messages and posts them on refrigerators.

Sometimes, the older methods still have some life left in them.  It’s worth keeping that in mind as we look for ways to address nagging challenges.

My personal fave happened a few years ago.  The library set up a quiet study room with no tech at all.  It’s really basic: desks, lamps, chairs, not much else.  I’m told it has a smallish, but devoted, clientele that enforces the expectation of quiet on newcomers.  For students with chaotic home lives, just having a reliable, quiet place to study makes a difference.  It’s hardly cutting edge, but it still works.  The rest of the library embraces technology in forward-thinking ways, and the group study area -- complete with single computers with multiple keyboards and large displays -- gets plenty of use.  But there’s still a market for the classic clean, well-lighted place.

With much of the latest tech, we’re at the stage of trying to figure out where the tech can help, and where we need to preserve or enhance the high-touch human element.  Anyone who has watched an email exchange degenerate over time knows that sometimes you have to interrupt the circuit and go to phone or in-person conversation.  The same holds for anything asynchronous.  Asynchronous conversation allows for convenience, and in the best cases, for reflection before and during engagement.  But it can also allow for stewing.  Having the option of switching back to an older mode -- even if you don’t use it all that often -- provides a safety valve.  After a half hour of “if the problem is with your home phone, press 5,” I just want to speak with a human being.  We’ve all been there.

Wise and worldly readers, what throwbacks have you seen redeem themselves by being surprisingly useful?

Bicycles are what, 19th century technology? Well let me tell you about the joys of promoting bicycle commuting:
1: Parking is super cheap (compared to parking structures, at least) and highly space efficient.
2. Other support tends to be super cheap as well (a bike repair stand runs about $1k a pop, which is generally some findable change for campus facilities). Bike routes have a much smaller space impact than regular roads.
3. Being a bicycle RIDER is super cheap. I probably pay a few hundred dollars a year to ride, where as typical costs of car ownership are generally several thousand a year. For students that are trying to be frugal, it's some big savings.
4. Promoting active transportation is one of the best things you can do to promote the general health of your students and employees. This helps keep health costs down for your employees.
5. Something something environmentalism.
In retrospect, this makes perfect sense. They get deluged on line, but almost nothing in the mailbox. In fact, if your campus p.r. people are anything like ours, the small number of really important messages from the college are buried under e-mail announcements that go to everyone. If faculty are annoyed, imagine what students think!

You just have to be careful that there aren't any FERPA protected items on that postcard.

Get any catalogs in the mail lately? We order on line, but ignore e-mail ads and promotions so catalogs still serve a purpose. Send them too frequently (Land's End, I'm talking to you) and they become more spam that goes straight to the recycle bin. Ditto for the one that arrives the week after an order. Time it right, and it will get noticed.
This might be more to residential or partly-residential campuses than to. SHUT THE PLACE DOWN AT MIDNIGHT! Some of the state schools in the Midwest (and I assume other regions) run their food service, athletic leagues, and other student activities on a 24-hour basis, which is not conducive to a healthy life. Student employees have to be ready to be scheduled for shifts that go from 11 PM to 2 PM. Bowling leagues get their lanes at 1 PM. And so forth.
Here is a throwback for you, from CNBC on Friday afternoon:

"The case for a liberal arts education"
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