What’s Changing? My Writing Across Platforms students will write for BuzzFeed and More in Spring 2016. Oh, And here’s the syllabus!

Each semester, I like to highlight something that I’m doing different in one of my classes (for example, see last Fall’s What’s Changing post).

This semester, I’d like to highlight my Writing Across Platforms class (the syllabus is at the bottom of this post). I’ve been teaching this class every spring for the last few years. So, what’s changing?

Neon_sign,_-CHANGE-

There are two super awesome things I’m very excited about. Both of them are part of an effort to strengthen the emphasis on writing for hypertargeted, niche audiences online as well as an effort to provide more experiences for students that break down the walls of the classroom. I want to help my students get their work in front of more eyes and have better things to add to their portfolio.

The first new project is that my class will be teaming up with an up and coming niche publication that describes itself as ‘a social news and entertainment platform.’ The owner and editor of the publication will be visiting our class to discuss the publication and the sort of content he is looking for.  Using these guidelines, students will be tasked with creating content that the owner will have the option to publish. Therefore, students will be incentivized to give their best as the opportunity to earn a byline on this site would be a great line on their resume! It will be a challenge for students to essentially work for an editor and face the editor’s decisions, in addition to getting a grade from their professor.

But before students have this opportunity, they will go through another exciting challenge that will help them prepare. Students will be creating BuzzFeed articles via the BuzzFeed community. I am super stoked about this assignment! Students are going to not only have a chance to create a piece of content that – well, honestly – might actually be read by a sizable audience as opposed to just me, but they’ll also be working to promote and track the post’s metrics.

I first heard about the assignment a few years ago from Tweeting with Scott Cowley. Scott is a marketing Ph.D. student at ASU, a super nice guy, and a rising star. He published his BuzzFeed Valentine’s assignment. And I’ve been wanting to try it ever since. On his website, Scott lets you download the assignment itself and see his slides on how he set it up. Scott also wrote a great article detailing the assignment on Mark W. Schaefer’s blog (I’ve reviewed a few of Mark’s books on this blog. And Mark has been a guest lecture in my social media class).

I’m going to vary the assignment slightly from what Scott did. While Scott’s assignment focuses on Valentine’s Day, my students will be creating content around spring break. This is a bit of a risk and simply a matter of timing for my syllabus. I will be sure to write a post later in the semester about how the experiment goes.

What Did I Shift Around to Add These Assignments?

You’re probably wondering what I had to drop from prior semesters to fit these new assignments in. This class is, after all, packed with things to cover.

In the past, such as in my Spring 2015 syllabus, I have had a blogging assignment where students picked an organization of their choice. They created a content calendar of blog posts and social media posts. And then they wrote the 5 blog posts as though they represented that organization. In short, this was the assignment I did to focus on content marketing.

This semester, I am dropping the blogging part of this. I’ve also pulled back on the desktop layout requirements of my white paper assignment. I used to require students to learn basic desktop layout in Apple Pages during the last few days of classes while working on their white paper. I was never very pleased with this aspect of the assignment. It isn’t about writing, for one. Though, I wanted students to at least have some exposure to basic layout. That portion will be covered elsewhere in our department (I think we all face these sorts of issues. There is so much we want to cover and so little time. We sometimes try to force something in. We try to be superhero professors. :) And, we are better off offering depth at the expense of breadth sometimes). With those days freed up, there will be more time to focus on these new assignments.

Here is the Spring 2016 Syllabus for my Writing Across Platforms course.

-Cheers!

m@

 

Where is the missing Google Cardboard Photo Sharing App?

Everyone seems to be talking about VR these days.

For Christmas, my brother gave me a Google Cardboard. It took no time for me to see why VR is all the rage and is set to take off in 2016.

Simply put: Google Cardboard = Amazing.

one-cardboard

While the Cardboard isn’t perfect – I can’t wear it too long without getting a bit of a headache and the picture is blurry – the experience is amazing. I’ve been disappointed that I haven’t found anywhere to share Google Cardboard photos. The camera itself doesn’t offer a photo sharing social network. And I haven’t found any despite a few hours of searching. The best possibility seems to be Google Street View. But that experience is a bit impersonal, aimed at locations rather than the intersection of people and locations.

As a hiker, I love the idea of being able to bring the experience of Maryland Heights to others. I’m expecting that a social network for exploring the world in VR is right around the corner. And I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to offer a more intimate photo sharing experience than what’s available via Instagram and other 2D apps. The ability to feel that you are a part of the world someone else has captured is to step into their experiences, their memories, their world.

Right now, there seems to be a few panorama photo sharing networks, like SphereShare.net but it lacks VR.  And YouTube has some amazing VR videos. Seene lets you use Cardboard to see 3D images, but they are the result of an effect and not a fully immersive, 360 experience. Flickr has a VR app coming for Oculus (If a social VR photo app does exist and I’m just not finding it, let me know!) And vTime is supposedly going to be the first VR social network, where people can build virtual realities and travel those created by others.

In the meantime, for fun, I thought I’d share a VR photo I took using Google Cardboard Camera during a hike to Maryland Heights, the famous overlook at the Harpers Ferry National Park near where I teach.

Download the photo here.

If you want to view the photo in VR, you’ll need the Google Cardboard app on IOS or Android. Follow the simple instructions here to download it for viewing in your Google Cardboard Camera app.

About the photo:

The photo was taken atop Maryland Heights in January, 2016. Across from you is historic Harpers Ferry, WV. Maryland heights is a famous hike in Maryland that is part of the Harpers Ferry National Park. The river between you and Harpers Ferry below is the Potomac River. The river to the south (to the left of Harpers Ferry) is the Shenandoah River. Virginia is on the other side of the Shenandoah River. So, in this photo you can see three states. This is the confluence of the two rivers and the river continues as the Potomac, the same river that Washington, D.C. is on many miles downstream.  Enjoy!

What are your thoughts and predictions for VR in 2016 and the years ahead? How will VR marry with social networking?

Clearly, we are on the tip of the iceberg when it comes to VR.

-Cheers

Matt

 

 

What Happens When You Put Your Students In Charge of Your Department’s Social Media? (My Fall 2015 Social Media Class Project In Review)

The new semester has started here at Shepherd University. There is a lot I have planned and am looking forward to. But first, I want to look back at my Comm 322 Social Media class from last fall, Fall 2015.

As you know, I’ve been teaching a social media class for many years. I was constantly tweaking the assignments. In Fall 2014, I took a new approach. The class was going to be put in charge of strategizing and creating content for our department’s social media (Twitter, Instagram, Blog). The way it works is, there are a series of assignments throughout the semester that all build towards  (You can learn more about the project and my rationale for it here. And you can learn about the first strategy assignment that goes along with that, here).

The project was a huge success and hit with the students. Students resoundingly responded that they learned a lot, loved the hands-on opportunities, and encouraged me to continue on with it in the future. Here’s a look at how the first year went! I decided to stick with the project this past fall, when I taught the course again.

Several professors have since contacted me asking about the project. So, I thought I’d review how things went in Fall 2015:

 

Original Content – This past semester, I really put an emphasis on creating original content. The year before, the Twitter team in particular, relied on curating content, such as memes and news article. While curating is a powerful and important skill, I wanted more. This year, students delivered 10 fold. You’ll see that in all of the below, but let’s focus on the Twitter team first.

The social media class assignment follows a theme. The theme for 2015 was that the Communication Department is “Shepherd University’s Best Kept Secret.” The reason is that our department is located in a part of the building that students don’t normally pass through. When students wander into our department they see our new TV studio and Mac labs, and say “Wow, I didn’t even know this was here!”

To address this, the Twitter team presented an idea to the class to produce a series of narrative episodes telling the story of a student who is being introduced to the communication department for the first time. They wanted it to be fun, silly, and a story – something students might actually relate to and watch (as an aside, I’ve got a blog post coming out soon about the importance of story in making ideas stick. Stay tuned!). They felt too many people try to show something with boring photos or videos. Ex: “This is our TV studio. It has x number of cameras, etc.” While universities feel good that they make these types of videos, students find them boring and tune out. On social media, people want to be entertained while they learn. So the students came up with the #CommCrusaders,  a series of 30-second Twitter videos (30 seconds is the max length) that were published throughout the semester about this student learning about our department. The videos were supported by teaser photos. Here’s the first episode:

In each video, the #CommCrusaders (a group of 3 students) introduce the new student to the computer lab, our TV studio, our classes, our classrooms, etc. For example, during the Halloween season a series of videos introduces the new student to each of our curriculum concentrations via a fairy visiting the new student in her dreams. In short, through the course of the semester the #CommCrusaders acculturate the student to our department, its culture, and what it has to offer.

For example, here’s a video they produced helping the new student prepare for finals week:

At the end of the semester, the student changes her major to Communication. The videos were a bit goofy at times. But, the class and I believed in the idea that the students presented and I wanted to encourage students to take risks and go for it – that’s what a university classroom is, a laboratory for experimentation. Plus, social media must “be a little weird” and take calculated risk to stand out. The videos certainly brought personality to the Twitter account, which had been lacking in the past.  I’m extremely proud of the planning, production, hard work, and execution of the students in the #CommCrusaders Twitter team. They were absolutely dedicated to the project and showed true imagination in problem solving.

Aligning Content With Strategy – The Instagram team wanted to change the look and feel of our Instagram account. In building their strategy and conducting a social media audit of other communication departments at similar universities, the students saw a gap. Our department is small and our space is small. But, communication students’ lives at Shepherd extends beyond the classroom. The Instagram team wanted to show the life of a Shepherd Comm student and the opportunities and experiences. The students brought more color and more life to the posts. Not only that, they developed a plan for a virtual tour around campus, called “A Day in the Life” to take fans to many places on and off campus that relate to the life of a Comm students. This tour ran throughout the semester. It consisted of a map teasing fans about what was to come, then a video post walking to that location, and then an interview with a key figure at that location.

Shepherd_University_Comm_Dept___sucomm__•_Instagram_photos_and_videos

Oh, and they had a fun video too.

 

Metrics – Metrics were up for our blog, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Students were required to report their stats throughout the semester. They used Twitter analytics, Sumall.com (which changed to a paid model halfway through the semester) and WordPress blog stats.

SUComm-Halloween-contest

A major boost in followers and likes came for the Instagram team during their Halloween pumpkin carving contest. The students approached me and said they wanted to run a contest to promote the account. Persons were invited to carve a pumpkin and tag SUComm to enter. To promote the week-long contest, word was put out to via residents halls, comm classes, and the students were able to secure a promotional post on the university-wide Instagram account. The account picked up about a dozen followers from this fun activity, all of which were in our target audience: Shepherd students both inside and outside the department. Finalists were chosen, then a winner, and the winner received a goodie bag. She had her photo taken with our class. All of this was, of course, posted to our Instagram account.

Content Quality – The quality of the content has also continued to go up. In 2014, the Instagram team had some limiting audio issues with their interview videos. The production value was higher in 2015. All content, including the #CommCrusader videos were shot on smart phones and edited on a laptop.

Providing Value to the Audience Rather Than Simply Promoting – The blog team had a tough assignment. Students aren’t big readers of blog posts. It is fun to create multimedia. But, text?! The blog team, I think, was a bit envious of the other teams  (more on that below). Yet, they did a great job. One thing I really liked was their idea for #TechThursday, to provide tips for using software that is used in classes in our department. The blog team started off a bit too salesy and seemed to struggle a little with the idea of content marketing. But, their #TechThursday posts helped the team see how they can add value to the audience as opposed to hitting them over the head with the hard sell.

Areas For Improvement – One area of weakness, was that the teams did not collaborate as well as they did in 2014. For example, in 2014, the teams worked well with each other to create content that was cross-platform such that if an Instagram video was being created about a professor, there was a corresponding blog post, and Tweets that added additional information not available on the other platforms. This year, there was only 1 instance of different platforms working together. 2015 students got stuck in platform silos.

Another area that I need to think about is the blog. Twitter and Instagram are fun social media that the students engage with often. Driving people, particularly students, to a blog post is more difficult. So, I felt that the blog team got the short end of the stick in a way. I’ve stuck with the blog because blog writing is an important skill. And, also because I don’t want to start creating social media accounts on every possible social platform and then be stuck trying to run them or let them turn into ghost properties. It is simply a lot to manage. But, I need to think next year about whether to stick with the blog or try SnapChat, Vine, or a different social platform.

The 2015 students attacked this project. Each team took on extra work beyond what was required of them and produced extra work. The Instagram team planned and executed the Halloween contest and created extra content during the holidays not because it was required by me; they came to me with these ideas. The Twitter team created several more videos than what was required in the total amount of content they needed to produce. I believe this is a sign of a successful assignment. The students took their jobs as representatives of our department seriously. They integrated what they were learning in class into practice, and were held accountable to their metrics goals.

I’m so proud of all of the students in my Fall 2015 social media class. I’m excited to see what they will come up in other classes of mine in the future and the amazing things they will accomplish in their careers! I expect big things out of them!

I am also looking forward to continuing to build on this project and improve it.

If you have any questions about the project and how it all works, check out the blog posts linked above, or you can browse my 2014 syllabi that contains this project and all past posts about my social media class. You can always Tweet me if you have questions.

Hope your Spring 2016 is off to a great start!

-Cheers

Matt

 

 

 

Three Types of Goals Academics Should Set for 2016

As I look back, 2015 has been a great year for me professionally. I’m always amazed at how much can change in a year and how much we grow in our profession in such a short period of time. As our careers progress in academia, it is as important as ever that we set goals and use winter break to push ourselves forward.

I’ve always been one to set goals both for the short and long terms.  And I attribute a great deal of my productivity and success to goal-setting. Here are 3 types of goals I value.

How to set goals in academia

First, and often overlooked, are the goals that focus on process; the things we must do to achieve the desired results, Without these, we cannot achieve outcomes. But many people set goals focused solely on outcomes without thinking of the day-to-day things they must do to realize those outcomes. Second, are outcome goals – goals in our direct line of sight that focus on attainable outcomes.  They result from the processes we do. Third,  are bigger picture “dreams”; the sort of thing that you don’t quite have a plan for exactly but they’ve been in your mind and you feel like you are working towards them in one way or another. It is important to have long-term goals that extend beyond a year and/or big picture dreams, because without these we can lose sight of what inspires us. Put another way, the only way to “be big” (accomplish big things) is to “think big.”

In the spirit of new year’s resolutions, I’d like to briefly share examples of each of these types of goals that I have. I hope that by sharing these, they get you thinking about your academic goals for 2016.  Below are 2 process goals  – the things it takes to achieve our goals, 2 outcome goals – things I want to accomplish, as well as one “think big” goal that is rolling around in my head.

Process Goals:

  1. Staying Relevant As Social Media Matures – The field is constantly changing. It is both a blessing and a curse. I’ve worked hard this past year to make small adjustments to stay on top of things going on in the field as well as trying to take advantage of some of the amazing opportunities that have been presented to me. Often times,  the small changes are easier to realize than the big ones. But, that doesn’t’ mean small changes are easy to do.  Often time complacency is the curse of progress. We get comfortable where we are and before we know it, enough time has passed that we have fallen behind. As a professor, it is easy to look at the syllabus from last year and just stick with what we’ve been doing rather than updating. That is why I  feel it is a priority to be constantly scanning the environment and staying proactive in making these small changes – such as to my syllabi and course content. Doing so, means avoiding major problems down the line. I spent the first week of winter break working on updates and changes for next semester. Of course, I’ll share some of them this upcoming  semester on this blog. :) One activity I’m really excited about is the BuzzFeed writing assignment we’ll be doing in my Writing Across Platforms class.
  2. Becoming More Effective With My Time – Productivity is something I think a lot about . As someone who is a bit of a workaholic, I’m never sitting still. I live on Wunderlist. I’m always thinking of things I’d like to or need to get done. There are so many exciting things to learn and do, and I like to think I’m interested in interesting things. :) I feel I’m very good at completing tasks ahead of time, staying organized, and always doing what I say I will. But, with so many distractions today, I’ve found myself becoming less productive with my time. Time spent working doesn’t always equate to tasks completed. Too, I tend to focus very heavily on details and am a bit of a perfectionist – I think that’s the curse of being an academic. :) So, the goal for 2016 is to use time more efficiently. If I can do that, I can increase productivity, opening time for new opportunities as well as to enjoy personal time. I’m exploring a few different ways to do this.  I read that one way to do this, is to track how you spend your time – the way you track your personal finances – to see where your resources are being spent. That way, you can get a baseline and see opportunities to optimize. So, I’m playing with using a time-tracking app such as Time Meter. I’ve also recently downloaded a fun little game called Forest that motivates you to not fall into the habit of ‘phone distraction.’  In recent months, I’ve gotten particularly bad at this. I think we can all benefit from taking back our time!

Outcome Goals:

  1. Maximizing Educational Opportunities for My Students  –  Related to #2 above, I’ve been very fortunate that some new opportunities have presented themselves. Continuing to grow and build connections, in the end, creates opportunities for students. And that’s what I’m all about. This past year, I improved on bringing in some amazing outside professors and professionals as speakers in my classes. I’ve continued to grow and build relationships for internships and hands-on learning opportunities here in the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. As our Strategic Communication concentration finishes out its first cohort of students this spring, I’m aiming to continue to build in this area. Next fall, I’m hoping to possibly teach a new class, thus deepening the education I’m providing my students.
  2. Tenure – This one is out of my hands at the moment. :) I’ve already put in my application for tenure this past October. Needless to say, a long term goal for the past 5 and 1/2 years has been to earn tenure. This spring is when I’ll find out!

Big Picture Dream:

Finally, I spent a good deal of time this past semester thinking about that “next step” for the strategic communication concentration as it grows past the graduation of our first cohort this upcoming spring.

  1. A Social Media Listening/Command Center –  Picture a place where students can go to monitor social media, track trends, perform analytics and more. Think of your favorite brands. In all likelihood, they have such a command center.
    I would love to build a small social media listening or command center for the students here in our department. We currently use Hootsuite Universitiy for our Social Media class, which is an amazing tool for monitoring and scheduling social media. But, it is not a metrics platform. I’d love to add to that an analytics tool for looking at trends. Several larger programs have such command centers, such as Clemson and Illinois State’s SMACC (by the way, Nathan Carpenter who runs SMACC is amazing. He was so generous with his time telling me about their impressive initiative have developed programs like this. His energy, knowledge, and initiative are extremely motivating). We’re a small program and the biggest hurdle is access to metrics software.  And so it is going to take some creative problem-solving to make this listening center a reality for my students (I’m very open to your suggestions, ideas, or interest in this project – Tweet me). I wrote about the need to up our offerings for teaching metrics back in February and expressed some ideas and frustrations on the issue. I believe integrating a command center with classes and extra-curricular opportunities is a worthy, long-term goal that will have  an enormous impact on our students and our community.

The year ahead is filled with promise. And these are some of things I would love to accomplish. I hope this post helped you think about your process, outcome, and dream goals for 2016!

Let me know what your goals are in the comments. If you have suggestions on how I can optimize my goals, please let me know.

I hope your 2015 was amazing, productive, and rewarding. Best of luck in 2016!

-Cheers!

Matt

photo CC credits Celestine Chua

Exciting Feedback for Strategic Campaigns Class Helping #StartCT

Students in my COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns (syllabus from previous year) had a big surprise last Tuesday when they presented their campaign plans to the client, a local non-profit, Charles Town Now.

The purpose of the class is to teach students the campaign planning process. In learning that process, students take on a client and complete all of the background research (e.g., client analysis, publics analysis, situation analysis, etc.) and come up with a plan to address the client’s problem. This includes the opinion leaders, key messages, objectives, goals, strategies and tactics as well as all of the content that would be needed to implement their plan. That means they create any materials that the client would use to execute the plan, whatever that may be. Think of it as a ‘turn key’ situation where the client would be able to take over the plan and execute it. This semester, both student teams determined that hosting an event was the best solution to the client’s need. So, students planned the events and needed materials to execute the events. But, because the class is focused on teaching the process, students don’t go out and execute their plans (now that they know campaign planning, students plan and execute campaigns for their individual capstone class projects).

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

However, the president of the non-profit loved both proposed events so much that at the end of the presentations he asked  how Charles Town Now could work with the students to put their plans into action. The board agreed, and, since the class is over and we can’t do the project as a class project, now the students are going to get the opportunity to work as interns next semester for Charles Town Now!

The students were super excited and pleasantly surprised! I’m extremely proud of these students. This is their first experience with campaign planning and they had a very tough problem to address.

Charles Town Now is seeking to build a relationship with 17-30 year-olds in our rural county here in West Virginia. The aim is to bring young people to downtown, a downtown on the rebound from years of struggling. It is a downtown that primarily caters to older shoppers with a lot of antique and second hand shops and several vacant storefronts. That’s no easy task.

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

The great folks at Charles Town Now are energized and forward-thinking. They are working to revitalize the town, attract new businesses, and help make it a central destination for local residents, like it once was.

So what were the solutions the students came up with?

  1. #TrendingTown 5k, “Putting Charles Town on the Map” – More than just a 5k, #TrendingTown aims to help young people see Charles Town as their place to start a trend. It is designed to harness hashtags and start a conversation. It is both a 5k through town and fun-filled all day event with local music and local vendors. It is a fundraiser for the town aimed at bringing to the exercise community in nearby counties to Charles Town.
  2. Champion of Charles Town High School Football Parade & Tailgate – Charles Town sits between the two high schools in our county. When the two teams play in football, it draws a big crowd. Yet, neither team is really associated with any one town in our county; for example, there are no homecoming parades through downtown (much different from where I grew up, where each school represented a town). The students’ idea is to bring the spirit of high school sports into downtown by hosting a tailgate and parade involving both schools when they play one another. The team who wins the game, is the champion of Charles Town – the place that divides the two schools – and holds the rivalry trophy for the year. By tapping into the existing local sports  culture and exploiting the fact that there isn’t a big cultural tradition like a homecoming parade to excite and involve the students, experience for the band, the Champion of Charles Town offers a new tradition. It creatively addresses the problem of getting 17-30 year-olds because it can bring in members of both schools’ football, cheer leading, band, and color guards, as well as their siblings in the target market. The secondary audience of parents and others who follow the local sports will also come downtown for the event. There are promotional tie ins between the town and the school sports, and local restaurants will be vendors at the tailgate.

This is the second time I’ve taught Strategic Campaigns. Last year, students worked with Charles Town Now on a different project. But, this is the first cohort of students that started at Shepherd when I started here and that have gone through the Strategic Communication concentration that I created and that was launched in my second year at Shepherd. So, this is a milestone for me and the concentration. And, I’m extremely proud of the hard work, willingness to learn and push themselves, and successes this group of students has had.

There is so much I want to accomplish here at Shepherd in terms of creating opportunities for my students. And I feel like we are beginning to build some great traction and establish our students’ reputation among non-profits and companies in the region. I’m looking forward to watching these students continue to grow and succeed and to future opportunities in 2016.

-Cheers!

Matt

Teaching Social Network Concepts: Fun Class Activity

I’ve been teaching social networking concepts in my Social Media class at Shepherd University for the past several years.

And it is something that students have always seemed to struggle with or not take a great deal of interest in. This is unfortunate, because these are really important concepts for our social media students to be learning. So this semester, I wanted to try and see if I could make it a little more fun and thus succeed in making the concepts a little more sticky.

Here’s what I came up with. it worked like a charm! Students were up on their feet, they were comparing their network with their classmates, all while saying ‘this is hard, Dr. K.” But, at the end of class, one student summed the activity up, saying, “this was fun!”

To start, here are the concepts I wanted to teach in this lecture:

  • Social Objects
  • Social Capital
  • bridging and bonding social capital
  • Granovetter’s famous study on the ‘strength of weak ties‘ – That is, strong ties and weak ties.

I also wanted students to get a small sense of visualizing their networks, though I didn’t get into any concepts of data visualization that I’ve been learning in my free time this semester.

Here’s what I did:

At the start of class, I asked students to write out the names of the last 10 people they talked to on the left side of a blank sheet of paper. In a column to the right, I asked them to write what their relationship was with each person in the last. For example, was that your roommate, your brother, your best friend, your professor? In a column to the right of that, i asked them to write out the name of the person who introduced them to that person (if someone did and they could remember who it was). For example, if the person in your list is your boyfriend, and you introduced your boyfriend to your mother, you would write down “mother” in the 3rd column for that entry. Creating this list took about 5-7 minutes for the students to do. Many found it tough but interesting to think about.

I then asked the students to flip the paper over. On the other side, I asked them to write out the names of the 10 people they had last spoken to (the same 10 that is the first column on the other side of the sheet) so that they were spread out all over the paper, like a big circle. I told them to then draw a line from 1 person to another if person 1 knows person 2. I gave them a few minutes to do this.

At this point, some students started to say “Wow, everyone knows everyone.” For other students, little clusters emerged. We talked about this because it came up spontaneously – how some networks may have small groupings and how there may be an individual – such as you – that brings the different groups together. I explained that would be like a ‘bridge’ – a concept we’d be discussing soon.

Next, (and this part you could skip if you wanted to for time – but I think it adds a fun layer if you do want to go into direction between nodes), I told the students to turn the lines into an arrow from YOU to person b if YOU introduced person A to person B (this is column 2 and 3 from the other side of the paper). Here’s the example I put on a slide:

Example: I introduced Mom to my wife.

ME —- > Person A: My Mom —-> Person B: My Wife.

This took another 2-3 minutes.

drawing edges in a social network
Click to enlarge

I stopped there, and then showed the #Hokies Twitter visualization I did (discussed in this blog post) with the point of showing a much larger network of people interacting and the different smaller clusters of groups. But, you could skip this part or feel free to use mine!

Click to see larger or download.
Click to see larger or download.

Then I lectured on the concept of social objects, discussed here by Hugh MacLeod . The purpose is to help students start to think about 1 way in which socialization is not random, but purposeful.  That is, that our networks are not just a random group of connections. We then discuss other things that can lead us to be connected with others – like proximity, religion, family association.

After, I returned students and asked them to write any social object they have in common with the people directly connected to them.  They were to write the social object on the line or arrow connecting them to someone else (that is, the edge). Examples may include: hobbies, this class, music, movies, sports, books, etc.  They had fun thinking of this. Some had questions like, “What I put for my Mom?” And I told them in cases like that, probably you talk about family matters broadly. I provided this visualization to help:

Drawing social objects in a network
Drawing social objects in a network

I then lecture about social capital, and explain it includes the resources of those you are connected to as well as the resources of the resources of the people those people are connected to. The students can look at their networks and see a sense of their capital – who are they connected to? Who are the people they are connected to connected to?  That is, who can they draw upon if needed?  We talk about bridging and bonding social capital. This is where we talk about that idea of how some students have networks where everyone knows everyone – one example was a student in a sorority and she had spoken to her sorority sisters that morning and they all knew one another. And, some students have their work group, their school group, and their friends. And the student is the bridge between them. This ties directly to the strength of weak ties research. So, ask students:

Which person is more important for spreading NEW information to as many people as possible?

A) Telling 1 of your 5 best friends

B) Telling an acquaintance in class.

We discuss their answers. And, I explain that the answer is B, though it may be counter-intuitive. I explain the strength of weak ties, and that strong ties tend to share similar information so there is a lot of redundancy. But, weak ties – like the student who has a group of workers and a group of friends – would be the ideal ‘bridge’ to spread info about a new job where they work to their friends. Aha! Students can look down and see the bridges/bonds, the strong/weak ties.

After some fun discussion about how all of these concepts we have discussed relate to what they drew on their network map, we move on to the last, and probably most fun part! But, let me say again, that being able to look down at your own map as a student illustrates these concepts in a way that is relatable to the student.  It isn’t abstract. It occurs in their very own life. Students get to call out examples of the concepts from their own networks.

Okay, on to that last fun part I promised.

Next, I find 3 students in the class who don’t know one another outside of the class. This was easy to do in a class of 16.

I give each a marker and ask them to draw their network on the white board so that each is next to each other. For time purposes, I don’t have them bother with the arrows or naming the social objects. They simply draw step 1 – them, and a line between everyone who knows everyone in their network. If you have a large enough space, all 3 can work at the same time. This takes maybe 5 minutes.

The students sit down. And, I ask the class, “If you know that any person on the board knows another person who is on the board, then please come up and grab a marker and draw a line between them to connect them.” (Example: Jon is is one student’s network on the board.  Sally is in another student’s network on the board. And a student in your class knows that Jon knows Sally. She gets up and draws a line connecting Jon and Sally, thus connecting the two separate networks. You’ll see the final product from our class in the image below). Several students get up and draw these lines. When no one else can connect any two people, we’re done! And we sit back and look at how interconnected our network is – where the bridges are between the two networks, who has a ton of connections (e.g., potentially has a lot of social capital). It is fun to look at. We had one student who knows tons of people from all 3 networks.

Want to see what our network looked like? Several students snapped photos so they could show others. Here’s one of them!

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

 

In summary, this activity brought to life concepts that students in past semesters seemed less interested in. The trick was that the assignment was about the students and their lives. They learned something that directly applies to them, and they could see it directly as they were learning it.

If you’d like to see the slides for this entire lecture, I’ve uploaded them to my account on slideshare.net and embedded below:

 

How Guest Professors Build Bridges For Students

Building bridges.

That’s something we professors strive to create in the minds of our students. You might say it is the core mission of everything we do.

So how can we do that?

Recently, I’ve had a few amazing experiences that have really helped me to take a second look at one truly powerful way to help students build bridges between the classroom and the larger world. And, it is a simple solution: Guest lectures via Skype with leading professors in the field.

This past Tuesday, students in my Public Relations and Social Media classes each had the opportunity to hear from expert educators and leaders in the field. In the morning, Dr. Karen Freberg of the University of Louisville gave an inspiring look into the world of crisis communication and social media to my Principles of Public Relations class. In the afternoon, Dr. Diana Sisson, assistant professor of public relations at the School of Communication & Journalism at Auburn University, – an up and coming star – provided an insightful and thought-provoking look into reputation management in the social space. It was a true pleasure to expose my students to both of them.

Having had such wonderful professors into my class has sent me a clear message: This is something I need to do more of.

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Dr. Sisson’s presentation on online reputation management.

Here is what I learned about the power of sharing your class with awesome professors:

  1. It’s A Phenomenal Use of Class Time. While I’ve been a guest lecture in many classes over the years, I haven’t done a lot to bring in other professors into my classes. I think it stems from the “But, I have so much I want to cover and so little time!” feeling. I’m the world’s biggest micro-planner when it comes to classes. Every moment of my classes has (at least in my mind) a purpose building towards the next lecture. I have this nagging anxiety, “what if we don’t talk about X!? Then they won’t understand Y!” as though it will create this massive cascade, and everything I hoped and dreamed of teaching after that day will fall apart. But the truth is, it doesn’t. In fact, bringing other faculty into your class has some very powerful effects that outweigh any anxiety about not educating your students.
  2. It reaffirms concepts you are teaching your students – Of course, having a guest exposes students to new areas of expertise that you as a professor may not be the expert in. Isn’t that a major reason of bringing someone in? But, along with learning new things, students hear ideas you’ve already discussed in class sprinkled in. And this repetition from a different, outside source acts as a 3rd party endorsement for the construct. I could see it in the eyes of some students when things they’d heard came back up. It was as if they were saying, “Oh, so this other professor said it too, so it must be true.” And hearing a concept in a different context from a different authority helps students build bridges between what they already know and the new information they are being exposed to.

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    Dr. Freberg discussed crisis communication and social media
  3. It makes the classroom “real” for students – Hearing Dr. Freberg’s experience as a Plank Center Fellow with General Motors helped students see real world applications of concepts we discuss in class.  Hearing Dr. Sisson discuss tips and ideas for relationship management from her own experiences working in the health care sector, helped my social media students think about their own class project creating the social media for our department and how we can overcome some of the challenges we face in building and maintaining relationships. These bridges push students forward.
  4. It creates a networking opportunity for the students – Both Dr. Freberg and Dr. Sisson are incredibly giving of their time, their expertise, and their social capital – offering to help students learn and build their professional network. Several students have already taken action, engaging with both professors and I was proud of their motivation to capitalize on the generous offerings by both professors. Which leads me to…
  5. Breaking Down Walls. While this post is all about building bridges, it is also a tale of breaking down classroom walls. This is at the center of much of what we are trying to do: Bringing the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. Having another professor come into your classroom does just that. We have to keep in mind that students are just beginning to build their networks – many don’t have a professional network at all.  Getting a chance to meet faculty from other universities opens doors to the resources of those faculty. And, all great faculty have something in common – they are here to help students grow and succeed. It doesn’t matter if the students are enrolled in their class or yours. They want all students to thrive and realize their dreams.

If you haven’t had either Dr. Sisson or Dr. Freberg chat with your class and you are teaching social media or PR, I highly recommend you do so!

 

 

A Social Media Education Blog by Matthew J. Kushin, Ph.D.