Friday, October 9, 2009

Carefully-Monitored Community for Students and Their Parents

I’ve spent most of my adult life on college campuses and an innovative approach to communicating with a college community always interests me. So I was interested in the Auburn Family site when a colleague sent me the link—thanks, Nancy!

First, let’s be clear about what the problem is. Colleges and universities don’t want parents and alumni to hear or see the raw, unfiltered accounts of what their students are doing; you know, the kinds of things that all-too-frequently show up on MySpace and Facebook. Students have the same problem; they don’t want their parents to know all of what they are doing at school. This problem led to the unceremonious closing of some of the early social networks that schools set up. This is well known in the higher education community, and schools have struggling with a way to give voice to their students—in a way that will not alienate their parents and the alumni of the school, the latter being donors, of course.

Auburn University has come up with a model that has promise. The concept comes from public relations professor Robert French and 30 of his design and management students designed and built it and currently do most of the posting. The site was launched on or about September 20 and at this moment it has 1,386 members. Take a look at the pictures; it appears to be a nice mix of students and parents. While you’re on the site you can hear the Auburn War Eagle fight song and, oh yes, there’s a link to the admissions office.

No secret is made of the fact that the site is under the total control of the students, their professor, and the University. Here is a quote from their site guidelines:

Because Auburn prides itself on its friendliness and thinks of itself as a family, and because this site will attract prospective students and visitors who want to know more about Auburn, photos, comments, and other postings must not be offensive or suggestive in any way. Since the space being utilized is part of the domain, the university reserves the right to remove any postings and content at any time. (this phrase is underlined in the original)
All posts and comments are moderated
on stories and videos posted here. Your posts will be moderated as soon as possible. The site is monitored throughout the day. (underline and bold theirs, not mine!)

They’ve got clear guidelines and people to do the community monitoring. According to the local newspaper, Prof. French:

wants to make sure the site is safe and clean for anyone to join, meaning anytime someone requests approval, there's a vetting process.

As you can see from the site guidelines, that applies to all content, not just to people who wish to sign up for the site. The goal is clearly to keep this a nice, clean site that no alumni donor can reasonably object to! Same goes for parents, especially parents of prospective students!!

Will this site be too controlled, too sanitized, for some Auburn students? Absolutely, it will. They have other places to post their commentary, pictures and videos. They may just be hoping that their parents don’t see those!

This is perhaps an extreme example of community monitoring and control, but I submit that it’s necessary for what Auburn wants to accomplish. What do you think?


Unknown said...

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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AYL said...

I agree, I think moderation is necessary to achieve their goals. I've been involved in a few discussions lately between these 2 groups: parents & students. Neither really understands the others perspective on social networks, so moderation should help smooth the way.
Quite coincidentally, I just created a very small social network for parents from my daughter's class. It will be pretty heavily moderated (by me!) because quite a lot of them have little or no experience on social networks. I used to think moderation was a no-no but I am changing my mind!

MaryLou Roberts said...

Good for all of you!