NEACUHO Reslife 2.0: TechSpeak

As college administrators we spend our days working alongside young techno savvy students.  We live and breathe education and innovation by working in a university environment.  Being in such an information rich workplace sometimes it is hard for us to acknowledge that we “just don’t get it.”   This is especially the case with new technology.  I’ll be the first to admit that the social media landscape is changing so quickly that it is hard to keep up with all of the terminology.

Let me give you an example that might feel familiar.   You hear two of your colleagues speaking about an upcoming conference. One says to the other, “What we really need to do is to set up a back channel during this presentation.” She responses, “Great idea, afterward let’s set up a wiki and crowdsource the problem.”  You are simply thinking, “huh?”  In your own situation the terms may be different, but the feeling is the same.  Let’s take a little time to demystify some of the terms you may be hearing in your office or from your students and next thing you know you’ll be the one throwing out the newest terminology!

In the spirit of social media sharing, definitions are taken from web sources cited at the bottom of this article (as labeled), commentary that follows each definition is my own.

  • Web 2.0 is a term coined by O’Reilly Media in 2004 to describe blogs, wikis, social networking sites and other Internet-based services that emphasize collaboration and sharing, rather than less interactive publishing (Web 1.0). It is associated with the idea of the Internet as platform. (A)For those of you who read my blog regularly, you will already be familiar with this term.  Your students will likely not know what this term means because this is the only kind of web they’ve known!  Ask yourself, is our own departmental website 1.0 or 2.0?  How have you tried to engage students on the web?
  • Back channel communications are private emails or other messages sent by the facilitator or between individuals during public conferencing. They can have a significant effect on the way that public conversations go. (A)This one is fairly new to me.  A couple of my techno-idols often use back channel communications to create more interactive presentations.  This type of communication can also be used in the classroom setting. Prof. Rey Junco has shown how using twitter in the classroom can assist in student engagement and raise student’s GPA!  Got your attention?  View a video on how his experiment worked.  Interested in creating a backchannel during your next presentation? (Lambert, 2010) Visit NEACUHO member, Mike Hamilton’s blog to see how and why you might try it.
  • A wiki is a web page – or set of pages – that can be edited collaboratively. The best known example is wikipedia, an encyclopedia created by thousands of contributors across the world. Once people have appropriate permissions – set by the wiki owner – they can create pages and/or add to and alter existing pages. Wikis are a good way for people to write a document together, instead of emailing files to and fro. You don’t have to use wikis for collaborative working – they can just be a quick and easy way of creating a web site.  (A)This is one of my favorite resources for work places and organizations.  If you are looking for a great way to organize front desk office information, or keep your RAs informed, wikis are the way to go.  My favorite is google’s sites, but there are plenty of free wiki creators out there and it’s easy to get started.
  • Crowdsourcing refers to harnessing the skills and enthusiasm of those outside an [organization] who are prepared to volunteer their time contributing content and solving problems. (A)According to Jeff Howe (2008), editor of Wired magazine “online communities are the building block of crowdsourcing.”  Places like facebook are allowing people to come together informally and share ideas.  When they come together around a topic of interest to you, they can help you solve problems in a very collaborative way.  You might consider crowdsourcing when creating your new office logo or simply to determine the dining menu during finals week.
  • Lurkers are people who read but don’t contribute or add comments to forums. The one per cent rule-of-thumb suggests about one per cent of people contribute new content to an online community, another nine percent comment, and the rest lurk. However, this may not be a passive role because content read on forums may spark interaction elsewhere. (A)Chances are that you are a lurker in at least one online community.  That community could even be, which provides many ways for its readers to contribute.  Don’t worry, lurking is okay! “Lurking is learning” as NEACUHO member @CindyKane tweeted (Ginese, 2010)
  • A tag cloud (or weighted list in visual design) is a visual depiction of user-generated tags, or simply the word content of a site, typically used to describe the content of web sites. Tags are usually single words and are normally listed alphabetically, and the importance of each tag is shown with font size or color.[1]  (B)As a graphic design fan, tags clouds are a favorite of mine.  The typical tag list is generally not very interesting looking, but convey content information in an interesting way.  A tag cloud made by a site such as is beautiful AND interesting.  The wordle I created from entering the words in this article is shown at the top of this page.  Think about using a wordle next time you write a newsletter article, or to display the results of a write in survey!
  • is a free URL shortening service that provides statistics for the links users share online. is popularly used to condense long URLs to make them easier to share on social networks such as Twitter. (C)If you don’t use twitter this term might be a new one for you.  But its use does not have to be limited to twitter .  If you have a really long link to a survey or webpage, try a url shortener instead.  Shorteners also have the added benefit of tracking how many people click on that link.  Google’s shortener is
  • A meme is an idea that, like a gene, can replicate and evolve.  A unit of cultural information that represents a basic idea that can be transferred from one individual to another, and subjected to mutation, crossover and adaptation. (D)As someone who doesn’t spend a lot of time poking around YouTube, this term was new to me as well.  Whether you know what it is called or not, you’ve probably seen one.  Remember that “Leave Brittney Alone” YouTube video that came out in 2007?  According to “the video gained over 2 million views in the first two hours, eventually accruing 29 million views by January of 2010.”  The memes are the parodies and response videos that come out of a viral video or online post.

I hope you enjoyed the journey through a few tech terms and will feel a little more comfortable next time your colleagues are engaging in techspeak.  Feel like I missed a term that fellow Student Affairs practitioners should know?  Send me a message and I’ll cover it in a future article!

Jessica Faulk is the Director of Residence Life at Simmons College in Boston, MA.  She can be reached at or via twitter @jessfaulk

Definition Sources:
A.    Socialmedia – A-Z of social media
Wilcox, D. (2006-2011). Social Media. In Key terms in social media and social networking. Retrieved January 30, 2011, from
Multiple Authors. (January 29, 2011). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. In Tag cloud. Retrieved January 30, 2011, from
C.    The Ultimate Glossary: 101 Social Media Marketing Terms Explained
Bodnar, K. (June 23, 2010). Inbound Internet Marketing Blog. In The Ultimate Glossary: 101 Social Media Marketing Terms Explained. Retrieved January 30, 2011, from

•    Ginese, J. (October 13, 2010). The Student Affairs Collaborative. In 5000 tweets….. Retrieved January 30, 2011, from
•    Howe, J. (July 2008). YouTube. In Jeff Howe – Crowdsourcing. Retrieved January 30, 2011, from
•    Lambert, A. (December 1, 2010). In Dr. Rey Junco finds Twitter, social media useful in the classroom. Retrieved January 30, 2011, from


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