UK has leveraged the Big Blue (online) Nation in the past, most recently for renovations to Commonwealth Stadium, which were smartly packaged with campus upgrades to the Business College and a science building. The #BBNUnited campaign was extremely effective in utilizing the UK fan base to improve academic needs. However, once the funding was approved, that effort has fallen by the wayside and has not been used in subsequent funding requests (much to the delight of Frankfort, I'm sure).
While I think the BBNUnited campaign should be sustained specifically , the larger point is that UK is in the unique position of having fully understood and leveraged the Internet for an element of our campus, arguably better than any other university in the world. While not all of that knowledge and skill in the athletic space is internal to the university (Matt Jones and KSR, for instance), it is part of our larger community here at UK. On the media side, I would argue we are already putting that knowledge and skill to some use on the rest of our campus, but there is still plenty of room for improvement. Our Facebook page, for instance, currently has the 11th most followers just ahead of MIT and UCLA, but behind several of our SEC colleagues (although we could be doing a lot better on Twitter).
But, even if we assume our news department is doing a decent job, how are we utilizing the massive Internet presence directly for teaching and learning? I would argue that we are not, generally, putting the Big Blue Nation to work when it comes to our online learning opportunities or programs. In that area, in particular, UK is currently far behind. To put it in Final Four terms, if there were an NCAA tournament for online learning, UK would not have even qualified for the NIT.
How can a school so digitally dominant in one area be so lacking in another?
Thus, improving our digital teaching and learning presence is where we must focus. If we can bring the lessons of the Big Blue (online) Nation to bear, we could attempt to position ourselves as a learning resource for the millions of fans of the University of Kentucky both within the state boundaries and far beyond. Thus, as the Big Blue Nation fan base expands, those new Wildcats can be linked directly with academic opportunities wherever they reside on the planet.
Of course, I must acknowledge, there has been recent movement in this direction. Our Board of Trustees has provided a clear message that online learning will be a priority in the coming years, although not specifically how it will be a priority. Also, we recently launched our first official Massive Open Online Course, in chemistry. Further, our technology unit at UK has quietly begun the conversation of a new structure for accessing online content at UK, including a very serious conversation about the right online learning management system.
As we begin to think about improving our digital academic presence, though, we must approach it with the same passion with which our fans approach the Wildcats. Perhaps even more pointedly, we must also approach our online infrastructure with the same vigor with which we have approached our onsite infrastructure. Our president's office just announced that since his arrival in 2011, with the latest round of funding from the legislature, over a billion dollars will have been invested into upgrading our physical facilities. Consider if even half of that amount was invested into upgrading our digital facilities.
When I am out working with local P-12 educators to build "Next Generation" schools, one of the first things we help them with is to understand what "great" looks like so that they may (1) understand how far away from it they might be and (2) consider how to set a reasonable course to get there. Here at UK, we already have an example of what "great" looks like in the digital world through our athletics program. What a lovely place in which to start the conversation about what "great" would look like in our digital teaching and learning world as well.