The one time it's acceptable to stalk your students on Twitter

On campuses across the country, final exam season means higher-than-usual volumes of students taking to the internet at all hours of the day—and night—to cram in last-minute studying.

And for many schools, wireless networks aren't used to that volume. School WiFi networks slow down. They malfunction. They crash.

And students complain about it on social media.

While aggressive, accusatory tweets from students about their schools' WiFi issues might seem like a nuisance, IT experts say they can actually be valuable when it comes to troubleshooting the issues.

Though most IT departments encourage students to open official tickets through a help center to explain any technical issues, Eric Dover, the director of Arizona State University (ASU)'s help center, says they rarely do. Since IT departments rely on the details provided in the tickets to pinpoint the specific source of the issue, students' failures to submit the tickets can pose a barrier to solutions.

But the whining tweets can actually provide a great deal of information, Diane Schaffhauser reports for Campus Technology.

Kerri Testement, the senior public relations coordinator for Enterprise Information Technology Services (EITS) at the University of Georgia (UGA), told Schaffhauser that in most cases, students' complaints about WiFi occur at odd hours and in their residence halls. EITS employees can easily glean time and location data through the students' angry tweets, then use it to narrow down the problem.

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At UGA, valuable information from students' "mean tweets" has sparked an initiative to upgrade WiFi service in residence halls.

Dover and his colleagues at the ASU help center keep tabs on student complaints for the same reason—and have set up notifications through Twitter to alert them any time a student tweets with the keywords "ASU" and "WiFi."

Dover says that these alerts are often even more telling than any sort of official ticket or WiFi tracking infrastructure.

"Monitoring what students are saying can give you a heads up even sooner than some of the [official] tools," Dover told Schaffhauser.

He also points out that while Twitter in and of itself isn't always the best way to follow up with students to discuss the WiFi issues further, responding to students' tweets with the contact information for the help desk has been an effective way to publicize the service, and in turn, garner even more information.

When ASU replies to students' angry tweets with the phone number for the help center, Dover says the students who complained don't always call the hotline—or follow up at all. But since the tweet becomes viewable to the public, that is, other ASU users, the number gets out there. Other students call it.

Going forward, both Dover and Testement urge IT departments to pay closer attention to students' twitter remarks, and using that information to deep dive into some of the bigger issues with the campus network.

"It's very easy for people to dismiss negative comments," Testement says—but these very comments can help schools solve the network issues keeping their students from studying for their exams (Schaffhauser, Campus Technology, 5/11).

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