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One More on Generalists

A few days ago, I wrote about the problems with breaking coherent web platforms down to delivering only a specialized kind of content. The kind of attitude that knowledge shall be brought to you by Blackboard, while your marketing website is okay to run on Drupal or WordPress. When technologies are siloed, we not only isolate the teams who end up only managing a specific platform for its specific function (teaching and learning, marketing or research…), but we also exclude many potential audiences from finding out or learning more about the topic.

How little do we know! Here is a question for you: is thischangedmypractice.com (TCMP) a research, marketing, teaching and learning website or professional development tool? I would argue it is all of the above! It is written by medical practitioners, discusses various health issues in an open environment, and contributes to the general public’s knowledge and understanding of those issues. Four out of six UBC values are covered here: Advancing and Sharing Knowledge, Public Interest (open blog, written in popular format); Excellence, Integrity, (done by medical experts): check, check, check, check!

It all looks good, but there is a catch: it is very uncertain whether there would be such a buy-in from busy doctors if there were nothing in return. No free lunch, as usual: upon publishing in TCMP, contributors to the site get study credits from the College of Family Physicians of Canada – the body that regulates licenses of medical doctors in Canada.
In my mind, this creates a great symbiosis of sustainable approach to promoting and sharing knowledge with the doctors’ need to keep their professional license! This model (along with many possible variations) is something that should come naturally to the university; the multipurpose, integrated approach should be the standard and not the notable exception to common practices of creating sites that are designed to deliver to one audience only.

It is a great marketing website as well – it has thousands of subscribers, it created quite a buzz in the medical community, it shows up high in Google searches. By driving a lot of traffic to UBC, it promotes the University’s work, excellence, impact and value to the community… and attracts potential students!

The best possible marketing for the university is the work of its people – so let’s make more of that visible. By doing so, we are also helping faculty, staff, and students promote their work and build portfolios and future careers. We are contributing to the public domain and sharing knowledge that would otherwise stay locked behind the secure doors of a closed LMS and then erased at the term’s end.

So, the university’s key engagements – teaching, learning, research, creation, and also, its practical need for marketing and promotion – should all happily cohabitate to deliver on the university’s key values – to connect to the community, make an impact on the local and global scale, etc.

And this is where we go back to our generalist story – generalists are not paralysed by too narrow of job description; with their many different skills are able to draw subtle connections between marketing and research, learning and networking. They can design balanced interfaces, and continually deepen and enrich the interactions around knowledge that is created, nurtured and shared in open, and provide a fantastic opportunity for the university to (besides saving tons of money on waste) promote itself in a more meaningful and community-oriented way, reinvent itself and at least try to find its niche in the new rich online landscape that seems to be reshaping fast and getting ahead of us at an accelerated rate.

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