Enhancing Student Employability Through The Peer Review Of Professional Online Presences Video

Here is a video version of my talk from the Birmingham City University RESCON Conference 2015. You can see the slides from the original talk and a short discussion here.

The RESCON talk was given a short time slot and hence delivered at a hectic pace. I tend to provide rather more material of interest than is strictly necessary. As is usual with these things, recording the video allowed me to explore and discuss the findings from this small research study.

I do have plenty more material available relating to Professional Online Presences, including plenty of motivational examples and details of good practice. I’m always happy to share these as part of research seminars and training suitable for both students and staff looking to improve how well they are perceived online.

Enhancing Student Employability Through The Peer Review Of Professional Online Presences

I’ve previously shared my work on integrating student Professional Online Presences into teaching at various conferences and invited talks, but it’s a couple of years since I’ve provided a research update.

The ideas are now much more accepted and mainstream when they were when I first started working in the field. Many students realise that their digital information is now available to the public and to employers – although that does not mean that they are taking responsibility for the information that is posted about them.

I’ve recently started adding an element of peer review to assess and improve the Professional Online Presences that students are producing. I used Birmingham City University RESCON 2015 to showcase a few of my favourite initial findings (although many more are available and there is further analysis that I would like to undertake before forming this into a formal academic paper).

The slides for the talk are available for access online. These can be viewed on my SlideShare account, or you can also see the slides below.

In the brief time we had for questions, I did receive an interesting idea for further analysis of LinkedIn, to see how closely student profiles match the requirements of industry.

That idea is available as an undergraduate student project if anyone would like to take on creating an automated method of analysis?

Improving The Professionalism Of Student Emails

As a modern academic, my email inbox is continually overflowing with emails from students, asking questions and seeking advice. However, many students seem completely unaware that sending emails brings with it the need for a form of etiquette. This is not the same as sending a quick chatty message to a friend.

Bad email habits are not only frustrating, but they stand a real danger of ruling students out from work opportunities. There is an art to sending an email. My belief is that this needs to be taught at school and reinforced at university in a similar way to writing formal letters was taught in former years.

All too often, bad emails do not even make it into my inbox.

The university I work for currently has a clear format for staff emails, but many students ignore it, choosing to abbreviate my name, or attach it to be student email domain. None of these approaches will ever reach me (in fact, the latter will likely end up with a student who is unlucky enough to share the same name as me).

Likewise, our university spam filter is very unforgiving for emails that are short or not properly structured.

Here are a few tips for students who are sending emails to academic staff and who would like a sensible and considered reply.

1. Is an email really necessary?

Being a university student, there is an expectation that you should be able to research and find information. I continually get sent emails asking questions that are clearly answered in module notes, or which could be solved by a quick search on the internal university systems.

2. Is the email going to the correct person?

Again, this is one of those questions that can often be answered through some quick research using the university systems, but it is pointless sending me questions about assignments on modules taught by other people, because I am not equipped to answer them (and even where I have some idea of the answer, it would still not be appropriate for me to take the place of, and possibly contradict, another member of staff). Likewise, the university has a large team of people to deal with administrative issues.

3. Not every email can be dealt with immediately

Sending an urgent message a few hours before a deadline will not always lead to a response. Likewise, sending an email that requires a lot of work, or needs to go to another person, will be put to one side until the right amount of time can be devoted to it. Likewise, whilst I personally have been known to check emails at odd times of the day and night, this can’t be an expectation, and there are often times when I am traveling and unable to answer emails (or at least the associated information needed for a sensible response).

4. Email is not a substitute to class attendance

I can’t reteach a class that has been missed using email. Period. If this has been missed for some unforeseeable reason, such as illness, I will try and help to recap important points at another time, but there is a limit to how much support can be provided through email. This is particularly true for mathematical and technical subjects, which do not translate well to email.

5. Don’t send the email in the form of a video

This is one of those growing trends, to record a video and send this to be watched and responded on. It’s very unlikely I can do this. My desk in the office isn’t set up to view videos, and frankly I don’t have the time to deal with this. In order to have any chance of answering emails, I also answer them on my phone when I’m away from my desk.

6. Treat every email as if it would be viewed by an employer

That means that it needs to be written using correct and sensible English, with capital letters in the right place. I have great difficulty deciphering emails sent with abbreviated words.

7. Send all academic contact from a professional email address

Generally, all contact should come from a student email address. Not some random Hotmail account. Otherwise, there’s just no way to decide whether this is the correct students asking for information, or someone else trying to fish out information. Likewise, I also can’t respond to questions about progress from parents and guardians, since this is an environment full of adults and it would be a breach of data protection to give out that information.

8. Provide the information necessary to receive an answer

When I get sent a short email saying something like “when it the exam?“, it’s impossible to answer it. Students often assume that I only teach one subject, when in fact I am currently coordinating five modules this year (plus the BSc Computer Science course at Birmingham City University). The largest module I coordinate has 370 students on it. That question could relate to any of those subjects. That is before the fact that anyway I will refer students to their individual exam timetable, since I have no direct access to see what rooms have been allocated.

9. Don’t overload me with information

Brevity (within the bounds of politeness) is important. That’s one reason why many staff are starting to communicate directly with student groups through Twitter, rather than by using email at all. This also means that emails should be kept to the point. This is particularly true when sending attachments. I get students every year emailing massive project reports which take a while to download and open, and for which it is then impossible to comment with any depth. As well as filling up my inbox, potentially meaning that emails from other students are not received, this is inconsiderate. a short attachment, with a set of associated questions is fine, or alternatively these can be saved until a more appropriate time such as a scheduled class or meeting.

10. Use a community to answer where possible

I find that one of the best places to ask questions is on the Moodle site for each of my modules, or in another similar community. That means that all the staff and students involved with the module can help to supply an answer, rather than just me alone. It also means that there is often no need for students to continue to ask similar questions.

11. Include a subject line

Although options for contact like Facebook messaging do not require a subject line, a traditional email does. I have rules set up to help me to automatically filter and manage my email. I also scan subject lines to help me to find emails I can answer quickly, so that simple question are not kept waiting, as well as to find information I need in my email inbox at a later date. Every email should have a clear subject line covering the topic of the email (not blank, and certainly not a subject line like “Hi”).

12. Focus the emails for one person

Another trend I’ve seen is students simply including a load of staff names in an email and sending it out to all of them. The net result? It’s likely that staff will assume that the email is not intended for them, or that someone else will answer. Then, no answer will ever be received. Likewise, sending the same email to multiple staff, but sent separately, is also frowned upon. It’s just wasting staff members time and duplicating effort.


What Do You Think?

Those are just some of my observations about poor quality emails. I’m sure there are a lot more I could include, as I come across bad examples of emails every day (but I would not want to share them, to protect the guilty).

What other help would you offer for students looking to send emails? Do you feel that this is a problem? Do you have any good Open Educational Resources to share? Feel free to share your thoughts, and perhaps there will be enough material for a follow-on article.

Teaching Undergraduate Research Methods Using Action Learning Sets – Video Post

This video presentation explores the methods that I’ve been using with my undergraduate students to help them to gain a practical understanding of research methods and to become prepared to use research within their final year project.

The presentation is part of the current Higher Education Academy project on Innovation In The Assessment Of Social Science Research Methods. Although my approach is geared around my experiences with Computing students, I do feel that the techniques are applicable to other academic disciplines, and I’ll be interested to hear any thoughts and ideas.

The slides are also available on my SlideShare account.

Using Professional Online Presences To Enhance Computing Student Employability

At the HEA STEM Conference 2013, I presented on the work that I’ve doing helping students to develop a Professional Presence, as well as some initial evaluation about the success of that approach towards helping students to become more employable.

The research showed that students were engaging with setting up LinkedIn profiles, creating their own websites to present their skills and making placement applications. But there are still challenges to overcome to get all students engaged with this aspect of work.

The slides are available hosted in my SlideShare account (Thomas Lancaster on SlideShare).

One of my plans for the upcoming year is to look at incremental improvements and the language that students use to market themselves online. One observation I’ve made is that, whilst a student may carefully check their CV for mistakes, they seem less inclined to do this online materials. And yet, the online materials are much more immediately visible than a CV ever is.

I had some interesting conversations at the conference with academics who had been offered international speaking opportunities on the strength of a prof

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