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When Brett Williams started an information technology blog in 2011 to help University of Wyoming students and employees with their technical questions, little did he know it would garner outside media attention.
Williams’ creation, UW’s The IT Blog, was recently named one of the top 50 IT blogs in higher education by EdTech magazine. On the magazine’s website, EdTech wrote, “The University of Wyoming’s IT blog is written primarily to teach students about campus technology resources, but its tutorials and question-and-answer format make it useful for anyone who wants to learn about emerging technologies.”
“Just to know that EdTech went out and found our site and compared it to others, we took a lot of pride in that,” says Williams, Help Desk manager for UW’s Information Technology Division since 2006. “It was a very proud moment to get that recognition.”
The blog, which has received roughly 45,000 unique hits in 22 months, includes “how-to” videos, profiles of UW IT staff, frequently asked questions and various contests. The most recent blog review examines the usability of the new Windows 8 software.
Some of the self-help videos explain how to register for a UW text alert, how to locate your computer’s network information and how to use WyoWeb, the university’s internal website. Williams hopes to draw even more interest to the blog with an end-of-the-year computing survey that offers potential prizes, including a Nintendo Wii, Apple iPod, an iPod Touch and a digital camera.
“It’s great to see this recognized nationally. We see the blog and social media taking an expanding role in providing more avenues for technology support across the institution,” says Robert Aylward, UW’s vice president for information technology. “It’s a great way to reach students, faculty and staff, and for them to reach IT. We hope students, in particular, in a crowd-sourcing, self-help manner, post solutions they have found to unique technology challenges they have encountered. Social media feedback also allows us to better focus on providing more meaningful online assistance and answers to common problems.”
To access UW’s IT Blog, go to http://uwithelpdesk.wordpress.com/
For EdTech’s article and list of 50 blogs recognized, go to http://www.edtechmagazine.com/higher/article/2012/05/deans-list-50-must-read-higher-education-technology-blogs
Creating a communications channel
In fall 2010, the IT Help Desk was looking for a way to communicate with students on campus and make its services more transparent, Williams says. Facebook and Twitter pages were created, and the blog, built using WordPress web software, soon followed.
“Our blog posts are geared to what’s new and cool in technology out there to help our students,” he says.
The blog does receive feedback, with a majority of students asking questions about new Mac products and how mobile devices, such as iPhones and iPads, are compatible with phone carriers in Laramie and with connections on campus and in residence halls, Williams says.
One blog specifically addressed how students and faculty could use their desktop computers remotely through their iPhones.
“You could be at the doctor’s office, get into your iPhone and keep working on your computer,” Williams says. “That’s good. You could read that blog and then go back and look at instructions on how to do that.”
Williams has an ambitious plan to stockpile blogs three to five months ahead of time to ensure the site is updated regularly with new information. The goal is to keep current readers and attract new ones. Coming up with plenty of ideas is relatively easy, he says, but the task of keeping up with the information has proven more difficult.
To assist him, Williams has called on IT staff and some of his Help Desk students to contribute blogs of 500 words or less that are “short and entertaining.” Since there are multiple writers contributing, he admits the challenge is to maintain a consistent voice to create brand recognition for the blog.
“Resume building-wise, especially with the attention from EdTech, it (writing blogs) helps students to show they’ve done some social media marketing,” Williams says.
Since the EdTech recognition, Williams says he started reading their blog and also has started culling ideas from other higher education blogs listed on the magazine’s top 50 list. One that has intrigued him of late: Fordham University’s social media communications plan that was in place for its students if the institution is ever without power. That scenario occurred when Hurricane Sandy recently pummeled the Atlantic seaboard.
“What was impressive, they already had a plan in place through social media to let students know whether classes were scheduled or canceled,” he says. “If there is no power at UW, how do students stay connected? They would have to access social media through their phones.”
Williams also plans to incorporate a separate web page on the blog that will list addresses of “phishing” emails that have infiltrated campus computers. Phishing emails are designed to corrupt computer systems using malicious software or to obtain personal information. He hopes that a list will cut down on calls to the Help Desk to address such problems.
“In higher education, as far as IT goes, we just can’t be good at one thing. We have to be good at everything,” he says.
The blog is designed to let UW know what IT is doing well.