Challenges to EAIE's 'New Era of Communications Efficiency (Hopkins)

To Support, Encourage, Stimulate, Cooperate, and Enhance ...
Challenges to EAIE's 'New Era of Communications Efficiency'

John D. Hopkins
EAIE Newsletter, March 1997

1996 was a landmark year for electronic networking in the EAIE, the beginning of 'a new era of communications efficiency.' Through the cooperation of Secretariat staff and the "Electronic Networks and Information Sharing Committee" (ENIS), 1088 EAIE members from 52 countries (as of mid-January) are now linked with the Secretariat and with each other through our EAIE-L e-mail list <>. With the majority of EAIE's membership on the list, EAIE-L now provides the capability for us to work together more effectively in professional development activities, as well as to relay almost instantly to colleagues worldwide information relevant to European educational mobility.

Popular EAIE Website

A new EAIE website has also emerged, to expand and replace the gopher archives. By autumn the address via the Center for Scientific Computing in Finland was already well familiar to EAIE members with WWW access, but use of the EAIE website rocketed during October and November in the run-up to the Eighth Annual Conference in Budapest. Over 900 'hits' a day were recorded on EAIE web pages, especially on four items that had never before been available on-line:
  1. Conference registration and hotel reservation forms that could be downloaded from the website and then completed and forwarded to Amsterdam or Budapest for processing;

  2. A list of participants in the Eighth Conference (with their titles, institutional affiliation, and telephone, telefax, and e-mail address data) which was updated biweekly from October onwards and eventually even daily in late November as the registrations continued to flow in;

  3. Updates on the addition of new sessions, changes in the presenters or schedules for some events, the availability of remaining space in pre-conference excursions and workshops, and other refinements of August's printed pre-Conference program; and

  4. Individual pages, on an experimental basis, for five ENIS Track workshops and sessions that included more background on the focus and objectives of each event than could be printed in the regular Program, plus biodatas for the Chairs and Presenters, full texts or abstracts of their presentations, and WWW hyperlinks to further information on the topics covered, papers presented, and related conference sessions.

The greater availability of such new communications tools, and increased use of them by EAIE members, was not just coincidence. It follows from the grip of new information technologies on the imagination of educators worldwide during the past two years. Within Europe, it follows the need for improved communications that is essential for greater cooperation among European higher education institutions.

Within the EAIE, improved electronic networking capability was also one of the goals of 1996 President Marianne Hildebrand. And while much was accomplished last year, much still remains to be done. Even as Marianne commended ENIS' 1996 efforts during her 'Report from the President' at the Budapest General Meeting, she also reminded us all that we have only taken our first steps down the road toward effective use of new information technologies throughout the Association.

As Marianne put it in her Opening Plenary address, one of the key roles for EAIE members should now be to use our new electronic capability to SUPPORT and ENCOURAGE each other, STIMULATE ourselves and the Association toward increased professional development, and aspire to COOPERATE more fully in, and ENHANCE more effectively our efforts toward a greater integration and wider global outreach of European higher education.

Challenges Ahead

This is a worthy challenge as the Association approaches the tenth anniversary of its founding, two years hence. It prompts the question of what needs to be done to meet this challenge. How can we better support, encourage, stimulate, cooperate and enhance each other through our communications tools? What is lacking at present? What are the immediate tasks at hand?

One might examine the impact of Budapest Conference information in the new EAIE website last October and November for a context of where and why we need to improve. Electronic information can reach a larger audience much more rapidly and cost-effectively than traditional print communications. For an Association like EAIE, faced with a continually-expanding responsibility for the timely dissemination of information to its members at the same time as it is forced by budgetary realities to keep overhead cost in check, there is little option but to increase its reliance on electronic communications. And if one considers the possible impact on conference registration, the significance of on-line information is apparent.

For the Budapest conference, a number of the registrations received were printouts of on-line forms in the website. One could assume that most came from people who had not received printed conference information via regular mail since they were not on the Association's mailing list. They may not even have heard of the EAIE before. However, once learning of EAIE and its conference via the website, they were able to download and complete the forms and submit their registrations without incurring the additional cost and further delay of obtaining printed forms by airmail, fax or courier. The availability of the forms and conference details in the website enhanced EAIE's outreach to non- (but potential) members and those who had not attended an EAIE conference before.

The on-line participant list can also influence conference attendance. The original intention was to facilitate networking among registered participants, as well as to allow participants to check their registrations. However, potential participants were also able to use the list to see who had already registered. Did this ability to see on-line the total number of attendees, plus who they were and which institutions, agencies and/or countries they represented, result in additional registrations? How many participants used the on-line listings to arrange appointments with colleagues in advance? The result in either case is a more effective and productive conference.

Without proper analysis, one can only speculate about what may seem to be 'causes and effects', but it has already been planned that in 1997 we will endeavor to make more information available on-line via the EAIE website subdirectory that has contained since November 1996 the announcement and Call for Papers for the Ninth Annual Conference in Barcelona next November.


It has also been decided that two of the most urgent priorities for ENIS in 1997 will be to help EAIE members use EAIE-L and the EAIE website more effectively, and to work with the leadership of EAIE's Professional Sections toward getting a substantial volume of PS expertise into the EAIE website. And with an eye on Barcelona, ENIS also hopes to work with one or more Sections in a larger-scale experiment toward getting more workshop and session information on-line, using the ENIS track example from Budapest.

The need to improve in these areas is vital for the Association, and a direct result of the (apparent) effectiveness of the data we already have on-line. If EAIE's electronic media are indeed often providing 'first contacts' to the Association for potential new members, or other future partners, it is essential that we project a balanced picture of EAIE resources and activity.

Balance is Lacking

At present, this balance is lacking. Visitors to the website or list may be influenced as much by what they don't see, as that which they do. As only one example, with the growing volume of Secretariat and Conference information in the website, the activity of EAIE's Professional Sections is conspicuous by its absence. The eight Professional Sections are among EAIE's most significant sectors, our principal venues for professional development activity in their areas of educational mobility.

The EAIE Website

During the past eight years, the Professional Sections have each compiled a rich treasury of position papers, working guidelines, proficiency skills, survey results, orientation models, and other expertise. This is mostly information that would be available at no cost beyond what is required to disseminate it, and if made available would be an invaluable learning resource and public relations benefit to both the Professional Section(s) concerned and to the Association as a whole. It would be evidence of our past activity and accomplishment, and of considerable appeal as we progress on expanding our membership base.

Yet at present the website contains none of this. Why is it vital to add it? What might the implication be of an absence of such broad resources of member activity for potential new members and new conference attendees who look to the website for information on the Association? Judging by the evidence before one on-line, visitors could be left with the impression of a Secretariat that is abuzz with activity but a membership that is dormant. Such an impression would not be flattering, or accurate. Yet where is the evidence to show that it is wrong?

EAIE-L: Our Association-Wide E-Mail Forum

A similar situation prevails on EAIE-L. By sending the 'index EAIE-L' command to <> any subscriber can obtain a list of EAIE-L archive logs dating back to the list's founding in 1993. Copies of every posting ever sent to EAIE-L are available in the logs for whoever wishes to read them. Should one check, one would see that fewer than 2% of all EAIE-L subscribers have ever posted a message to the list, and that some of our basic activities have never had any message relayed via the list. The potential of EAIE-L has hardly begun to be used. Again, where is the evidence of EAIE's member activity?


The need to address these concerns is clear. We must learn to use our new technologies. At the same time, the NEWNESS of these 'new technologies' must be borne in mind when looking at areas where improvement is needed.

The EAIE website is less than a year old. While it does provide a new and cost-effective means of disseminating our expertise, it is not a simple task to collect the vast reserves of member knowledge from the past eight years, translate this into a format suitable for the web, upload it to the website, and organize and administer it effectively. How to do this will require much discussion during the coming months.

Likewise, most EAIE-L subscribers have only recently joined the list. Time is needed for each subscriber to become comfortable with how (s)he wants to use the list. And to say that we should use EAIE-L more is not to suggest that everyone must send regular postings to the list. There is nothing wrong with using EAIE-L primarily to receive Secretariat information and read the views of others. Quality should prevail over quantity on the list, and we must also consider those whose capacity for e-mail is limited.

Yet we do need to project a more balanced picture of EAIE history, activity, resources and involvement through both the EAIE website and EAIE-L. And for the Association to grow and to prosper, we must learn how to share our knowledge and to support each other better through our electronic media.

There Is Much Still to be Done

There is much still to be done as we begin our 'new era of communications efficiency', and face the challenge given us in Budapest to "support, encourage, stimulate, cooperate and enhance." The first step has been taken: we now have the technologies to use. Our next step is to learn to use these technologies responsibly and effectively toward our common cause.

Top of This PageSelected Publications by John D. Hopkins