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WebU – The Second Term (and a first draft of possible changes)

 Background

WebU grew out several months of
consultation and planning, a process that brought together staff and
managers from companies right across the Metroland West Media Group -
dailies, weeklies, shows and magazines. That process identified a
diverse series of skills, knowledge and attitudes we wanted to impart
to a broad swath of the company – outcomes that were crystallized into
curricula for some 29 different courses to be delivered to five
separate streams of students during sessions that varied in length from
2 to 5 days.
In our first ten weeks we’ll have graduated 107
students, and should hit the 150 mark before Christmas. Just 350 more
to go after that.
While this draft document is focused on improving
the courses we teach, it’s important to first understand that the
success of WebU stems not from the clever courses or curriculum, but
arises directly from the quality of it’s teachers, 25 Metroland staff
and managers who have chosen to take on the additional burden of
teaching, while continuing to shoulder their "primary"
responsibilities, i.e. their jobs. Many also add to that commitment of
time by commuting long distances to Hamilton to teach. That effort does
not go unnoticed, nor unappreciated. Where WebU succeeds – and it has
been succeeding – the credit lies with the teachers. Period.
Thank-you, all of you.
It
is has come time to assess our work, to see if what was imagined last
summer has come to pass, to examine if the courses we built are serving
the needs, not just that we imagined or learned of in consultations,
but the needs that staff and managers who come to the course are
expressing in real time, now.

Feedback

Every
week at WebU ends with a feedback lunch, a 70-90 minute session where I
feed the students pizza and they feed me with information: the highs
and lows of their week, the things we need to add, the things we could
do without. I’ve used that feedback daily to make changes to courses on
the fly, to offer teachers suggestions and improvements and to modify
the way the week plays out.
So how are we doing?
The
short answer is that, by and large, we’re hitting the mark most of the
time. Although a not insignificant number have arrived with that "show
me" look on their face, apparently convinced that WebU was going to be
a waste of their time, without exception they report learning skills
and encountering ideas that will have direct benefit and impact on
their daily work.

  • They love the hands-on portions of the
    week – the time spent making and editing video, the bear-pit Ad sales
    sessions, and they see value in meeting and learning from the other
    streams, the people whose work they might depend on, but rarely get to
    meet or hear from.
  • To differing degrees, they generally find Monday too theory and talk heavy. (Mea culpe)
  • The
    ad reps enjoy helping out with the video (and many wish they could be
    included in the creation process) but are less than happy with the
    half-day return in the schedule — several have suggested it’s not the
    best use of their time – this in a business where their time means
    money.
  • They’d like to see (and discuss and debate) more
    examples of the kind of web work we’re talking about (advertising and
    editorial) and many want to be inspired by examples of really good work.
  • Consistently
    they ask for more flexibility, more opportunity to cross out of their
    stream and into someone else’s – although this wish is more commonly
    expressed by advertising and marketing than editorial or creative
    stream members.
  • There is a constant friction arising from
    teaching single courses to such a mixed group, people with widely
    varying jobs, skills, backgrounds and experiences.
  • The single biggest complaint is probably this: they fear they’ll have no opportunity to try out their ideas, their new skills.

As I said, we’ve made many changes on the fly to deal with this feedback:

  • Teachers have been asked to incorporate more real world examples in their work
  • The
    indigestible 3 hour lump of Web Gone Wild has been broken up with more
    time spent visiting and exploring  the cool web sites we’re talking
    about.
  • Six different news websites are examined in depth by students
  • All
    students learn about social networking by joining the new WebU social
    networking site – WebSalad  that I built and
    there they try their hands at blogging, posting photos and videos,
    jumping into forum discussions and finding and messaging friends.
  • Students have been allowed to cross streams and we’ve even juggled the schedule a bit to help make that possible.
  • Teachers in specific courses were asked to spend more time offering hands-on help and less time on theory.

But there is still much more that we can do.
And to that end I’m offering some changes to the curriculum itself to try and better meet the needs I’m seeing
The
changes that I’m offering for your consideration are suggestions, not
edicts, and are based on those weekly feedback sessions and numerous
conversations I’ve had with you, with students and with managers. None
- not one – of these changes are any reflection on the skills or
performances of the teachers. I’ve sat in on every course now and
listened carefully to the feedback and where I’ve seen or heard of
weaknesses, I’ve addressed them directly with the teacher; that has
only happened a handful of times.
These changes are, I hope, modest and represent a mid-course correction more than anything else.
Your
feedback is critical, please be generous with it, i.e. the more the
better. You are all experts in your field, that’s why you’re teaching.
I need to hear that expertise brought to bear here.
Come to our
lunch on the 22nd (at 12:30) and tell me in person, or put down your
thoughts in an email or pick up the phone.  Your thoughts and advice
mean a lot to me.
Thanks for taking the time. My suggestions follow below.

Bill Dunphy
WebU Manager
bdunphy@metrolandwest.com
905.526-3262

Draft Suggestions

Create new courses:


Innovation 101
- a "how-to-innovate" course that leans heavily on the Newspaper Next
project and Clayton Christensen’s principles to teach staff some
practical ways to search out areas to innovate in, while offering them
tools to help pitch and test their ideas. (All streams)
Online Ad Innovation -
We’re still mostly selling "space" on the web, (banners and boxes and
buttons) duplicating what we do in print. Increasingly,
innovation in web advertising is focusing on targeting user location
and behaviour. It’s delivering messages and opportunities via SMS (text
messaging), and seeking to harness the power of social networking.
It’s rewarding those who hook up buyers and sellers  by tracking
buyers and apportioning commissions accordingly. Let’s offer a provocative look at
where advertising is headed online. (Advertising/marketing streams)

Crowd-Sourcing the Web
- A look at what does – and doesn’t — work in the much bally-hooed
world of "user-generated" content with a focus on exploring practical
ways to encourage and integrate community contributions to web content.
From simple photo and video sharing sites to the
GasPrice
sites to
Are
You Being Gouged
these projects are already being run, already popular, just
not recognized as journalism by mainstream journalists. Another, more "serious"
example can be found in the
Wired/New
Assignement
(Jay Rosen) collaboration,
Assignment
Zero
.(All Streams)
Mashups and Mapping -
News, advertising and marketing can greatly – and very cheaply -
improve the content they offer by harnessing the power of interactive
maps and other "mashups". We look at examples from each of these
spheres and teach students how to build their own. (All Streams)
How to build an Online Ad -
A practical, hands-on course on the specific technical requirements of
a simple static web ads, using tools like Photoshop, Illustrator etc. (Creative Stream/Advertising)
Using the Web to extend the Show/customer relationship
- How can we apply the lessons of the web (building communities,
getting jobs done, audience convenience and control) to create Show
websites that act more like publications – with revenue possibilities -
than mere billboards for an upcoming event. (Advertising/marketing streams)
Beat The Spec -
An end of the week, facilitated brain-storming session where two groups of students try to create a
functional blueprint for a local news website that could blow the
Spectator.com right out of the water. Students apply the lessons and
principals they’ve spent their week learning and open the idea
floodgates to see what they can create. MWMG managers are booked to
attend and help facilitate the sessions (and stay for the graduation
ceremonies that follow). (All Streams)

Revamp, shorten or cut existing courses:


Transitioning readership
- The course is well researched and presented, but students say it is
too highly Spectator and daily specific. It also focuses on the merits
of paid
subscription models at a time when the model has been all but abandoned by the newspapers on the web.
Can we rejig this to make it more relevant for those coming from
non-Spectator properties?  Or, since the circulation staff have
essentially finished, should we retire the course? I really would like
to expose everyone to Monica’s plans on loyalty rewards, however.
Thoughts? (All Streams)
Metroland West Media Group Overview -
Students feel they are being preached to or they are being spoon-fed
information they already know. In feedback sessions students say they’d
rather learn about what technology plans MWMG has for their newsrooms
and companies — and on what schedule they can expect improvements.
Let’s roll this information into a slightly enlarged introduction -
giving students handouts — with a page of web links — to cover most of
the details. (All Streams)
Web Gone Wild – At three hours the course is too long, too theoretical to swallow at one go. Cut it to two hours. (All streams)
Online Mix – is
almost redundant and can probably be covered "across the curriculum"
meaning the information can be delivered through courses like Web Gone
Wild, Writing for the Web and in the Uploading Lab’s news web site
examinations. Cut it. (All streams)
Advance Camera Technique
– No need for this course when students
are learning and encouraged to use "Pro-sumer" cameras that are
essentially fully automatic. Higher level shooting techniques will be
taught in a post-grad week. Let’s cut it. (Photographers)
Ethics -
Reduce it from it’s current two hour for editorial and one hour for
advertising and marketing to a single joint hour-long course that
outline how our old ethical principals help us deal with new ethical
challenges posed by the web. Includes group examinations of 2 different
ethical issues. (All Streams)
-30-

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