Considering assigning your students the HubSpot Academy certification?

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Long-time readers of this blog know that I use the Hootsuite University certification program in my social media class.

Having students complete industry certifications are a great way to get students gaining hands-on experience with industry tools. Also, they extend the classroom and free up more time in class because many of the certification programs are self directed. That means, students complete them on their own time via following video demonstrations or lectures and completed a certification test or quiz outside of the classroom.

Certifications are also cool because they offer students resume-building credibility.  Having done research with other scholars on perceptions of the Hootsuite certification among potential employers, I know that employers appreciate such certifications.

So what other certifications are there available that can help our students prepare for the digital workplace?

This question came up in a recent discussion on the Social Media professors community group on Facebook.  Many online learning tools or certifications were mentioned including Twitter Flight School (this is new to me, I’m going to have to check it out!), Google Adwords, and Google Analytics (I did this a few years back but alas, it has expired). I’m bringing in a few Facebook Blueprint courses into my writing class this semester. Though a full certification is beyond the scope of what we’re doing.

But one that caught my eye was HubSpot Academy (Thanks to Tyler Thomas and Ai Zhang for recommending this!).

The Hubspot Academy offers several free online certifications that generally span a few hours and require passing an online exam to earn certification.

Currently, the courses that are free and which I believe may be interested to social media students include:

  1. Inbound Certification
  2. Email Marketing
  3. Content Marketing

See the full list of Hubspot certification courses.

Thus far, I have completed the inbound certification which was 12 video lectures across 4.5 hours and an exam that took about 45 minutes to complete.

The inbound marketing course provides a broad overview of subjects from SEO to creating content to solve customer needs, to building lead pages to the basics of email marketing, and beyond. The purpose of the course is to introduce the student to the inbound marketing method. While inbound marketing isn’t directly tied to what I teach, many of the concepts are salient.

For example, I was able to augment my discussion of SEO in my writing class with content from the Hubspot course. I was able to introduce students to the buyer’s journey as a consideration when crafting topic ideas and doing keyword research.  It was a greater refresher for many of the concepts we already discuss around keywords.

HubSpot Buyer's Journey

(Buyer’s journey image above is from HubSpot cited above)

With all of that said, I had thought it was best to start with the inbound certification before proceeding to the other courses. Though, I’m not sure if that was necessary.  Now, I wish I had jumped ahead to content marketing or email. It was my initial intention to assign students the inbound certification as an extra credit opportunity in my writing class.  However, I’ve decided not to. The reason for that is that the last few hours of the program are more focused on dealing with leads and sales. This information was great for me to learn about for a variety of reasons. But it was not particularly relevant for the purpose of my class. Given the level of commitment to earn the inbound certification, I don’t think it is a prudent use of students’ time in my writing class when there are many other things they can be learning.

Still, I’m glad that I completed this course. It gave me a great insight into the inbound marketing strategies that are used on us every day by online marketers. And having that knowledge, I believe, will make me a smarter and more critical consumer of online content. It has already helped me in crafting my own content. My hope is that the email marketing and content marketing certifications cover some of this useful content. If not, I may encourage students to enroll and at least complete the first 6 or so courses.

I’m hoping to find some time to complete the email marketing and content marketing certifications. I want to go through the certifications myself before possibly assigning them to students. My thinking is that the email marketing might fit in my Writing Across Platforms course. The content marketing may fit in that class or the social media class.

There’s only so much time in the semester, as one contributor stated in the Facebook discussion. With assignment creep a growing struggle for many of us as educators, it is a challenge to decide what to assign to students and what not to. With so many options and opportunities out there, I think we should be careful not to throw stuff at students in a horse race mentality.

From what I’ve heard, several professors are offering either extra credit or encouraging students to do some extra education outside of the classroom through such self-directed programs like HubSpot or Google academy.  I may take this tact with future certification opportunities.

While altogether, I didn’t get as much value out of this course as I had hoped from the standpoint of being able to offer new training to my students, I would encourage any social media professor to complete the course if time is available. If you teach more on the PR side than the marketing side, as I do, it is very helpful to get a deeper look into the marketing and sales side. It is very important for us to have that perspective. Most importantly, if writing for the web, SEO and keyword research are new for you or are areas you’d like to get a greater understanding of, definitely take this course.

-Cheers!

Matt

Are Your Classes Suffering from “Assignment Creep?”

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Are my classes suffering from ‘assignment creep?”

I’ve been thinking about this concept a lot lately as I’ve been teaching some of the same courses for the past few years.

You’ve probably heard of “feature creep.” A quick search of Google reveals this definition from Wikipedia:

“The ongoing expansion or addition of new features in a product, such as in computer software. These extra features go beyond the basic function of the product and can result in software bloat and over-complication rather than simple design.

We see feature creep in apps, websites, products. Think of your car. If you’ve bought a car recently, you’ve probably noticed how expensive they’ve become in the last 10-15 years. When my wife bought her Mazda years ago it was a fairly basic sedan. Shopping for a newer used car reveals that is comparable in that same class of car today costs over $10,000 more. Why is that? Prices have gone up, of course. But our old car and our newer car are quite different. Our newer car is filled with technologies, comforts, lights that turn with the road, safety mechanisms, etc. The sales person put it this way: “Cars today are basically  computers.” The manual on the car is so cumbersome I have probably learned 1/3rd of the features. The rest, I don’t even know exist yet. It’s overwhelming. But all I really want to be able to do is drive from point A to point B safely and use 1 technology: the ability to listen to podcasts and streaming music through Bluetooth.  I’ll probably never use or even be aware of the the rest of the many features the car has.

I believe our classes can suffer from ‘assignment creep’ – the bloating of a class with assignments, activities,etc. These additional assignments go beyond the essentials of the class and can result in over-complication of your class that interferes with student learning and can contribute to student fatigue and a lowering of student motivation.

Similarly, take a look at your syllabus. Has it grown from 4 pages to 8 with new policies and warnings?

This bloat comes with the best intentions. We want to keep our students learning the most relevant information and help them remain competitive when they graduate.

There is a struggle to balance preparing our students for the constantly changing media environment alongside the growing demands on students to be prepared for their careers and trying to balance student workload and what can reasonably taught in a semester.

If you’ve experienced it, it probably looks something like this:  You go to conferences and see all the amazing things people are teaching all of the wonderful opportunities they are creating for their students. So, you look at your class and say what else can I teach them? How else can I prepare them? But if we’re not careful, we may find we are adding too much stuff to our classes and its having a negative affect on learning.

For me, even when I think I’m being careful, I still fall victim to it. It happened this semester. And I can see that many of my students are overwhelmed.

Here are 4 things I believe you can do to guard against ‘assignment creep.’

  1. Realize it isn’t just the big assignments that can cause this – It’s the little things. From what students tell me, I have a reputation for giving a lot of work; not just big assignments, but little things I want students to do. This semester, I’m requiring my students to present their key messages to the class for feedback and then go out and test their key messages with their target public. I added this because last year students struggled with key messages and I wanted to improve in this area and make the student experience more in line with industry practices. So my intention is good. But I’ve added several other things to the class which are less critical and which have worn the students down. So, by the time we get to this important step, the students are worn out and some are rushed or put it in less effort. So the whole exercise is less effective. Be wary of “death by 1,000 cuts” when it comes to student energy & motivation. Which leads me to…
  2. Why are you adding this assignment, activity, etc.? It is easy to get caught up in new technologies and want to integrate them into class. I am very guilty of this. It’s important to step back and weight the benefits/costs of adding something new for the sake of novelty. When adding things to your class, your emphasis on goals and desired outcomes.
  3. Force yourself into a zero-sum game – Realize that students can only do so much work before they’ll get burnt out on your course and learning will suffer. Set a number of major assignments for the semester that is reasonable.  If you add a new project, you need to remove another. For example, I added a book review assignment to my Strategic Campaigns class. In the past, I had given a final exam. I determined it simply wasn’t practical to assume that students could manage both assignments on top of all of the other work in the class. So I had to make the call on which was most important to their learning – taking another exam in college, or providing a reason to ensure they read a book I believe is very valuable for them. But, even in this situation the amount work that goes into reading an entire book and writing a paper about it ends up being more work than studying for and taking an exam.
  4. Motivate with Empathy – When I was getting my Ph.D., I had a pedagogy professor who told me: “A student’s job is to get the best possible grade with the least amount of work.” And there is some truth to that. We all want the greatest return for the least amount of cost. I don’t judge anyone for that. But the truth is, many students really do want to work hard and give it their all. Yet we must realize that students today are more likely to be working while in school, have family obligations, etc. Students are facing burn out. I am always trying to motivate and encourage my students to work hard and be their best. But we must empathize and consider what’s reasonable. We have to be able to read our students, balance the feedback we’re getting with our expectations, and have the ability to make adjustments on the fly – shifting the tone, giving a little leeway on time or demands, etc.

When students are facing lack of motivation, and even the occasional irritability or even cynicism, it is hard to motivate and inspire.

It’s challenging to try and find that balance between giving our students a rigorous education that will prepare them for the future and keeping our expectations reasonable.

As someone who is a bit of a workaholic who loves what I do, I’ve always tended to push myself very hard and – by the end of the semester – wear myself out. So it is easy for that mentality to find its way into my classroom and affect my students.

But helping our students be there best isn’t necessarily the same as getting the most work out of our students. It’s about getting the best work out of our students. And sometimes the way to do that is by cutting back, simplifying, and focusing on what matters most.

Now, if I can just remember to take my own advice and heed the lessons I’ve learned this semester when planning for next semester. 🙂

-Cheers
Matt

 

 

How You Are Influenced By People You Don’t Know, Backed by Science (Book Review)

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We’ve all heard of six degrees of separation. The idea, proven through the research of Stanley Milgram, is that any one person is connected to another through 6 or less other individuals.  (If you’d like to see this idea in action, play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon where you can find if any actor is connected to Mr. Bacon through 6 degrees or less). But to how many degrees of separation does one person influence others?  Here’s a hint. It’s not 6.

connected-book

As educators in the social media space, we talk to our students about online influence and the great powers that thought leaders can have to diffuse ideas or realize the adoption of those ideas among social networks. But, while important, talking this way is in a sense, shortsighted.

We know that ideas spread not simply in a two-step flow, a la Paul Lazarsfeld’s groundbreaking research (way before Facebook!), but through a multi-step flow (or, later, diffusion of innovations) through a network of connected individuals.

The book Connected: How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do by Christakis & Fowler is a fascinating exploration of the role of social networks in the spread of everything from happiness, to perceived value in the marketplace, to sexually transmitted diseases, to my favorite example: la ola (the wave) at sports games.

But it is not simply ideas or diseases that spread. Who we are connected to has many subtle yet powerful influences on our lives: from who we marry, to how quickly we solve problems, to whether or not we’ll vote, to why we would act altruistically at the expense of ourselves, to why men benefit more from a marriage than women, to much, much more. And that is the central thesis to the book. While we like to think of ourselves as independent and autonomous, Christakis & Fowler take a sledgehammer to that notion. We are, as the authors put it, Homo dictyous (“network man”).

Interest in Social Network Analysis

Interest in social network analysis is on the rise in communication scholarship. Recent years have witnessed a growth in the analysis of large data sets of social media data (e.g., big data) to understand connections and the spread of ideas. As I’ve said before on this blog, this is an area I personally need to delve deeper into. And, I believe that’s true for all of us aiming to teach our students to thrive in the social media economy. Strategic insights can be gained by understanding social networks and we’re seeing a greater emphasis on that both in research and in professional applications.

Should You and Your students read Connected?

The book is a thorough and accessible look at social network theories and research. While this isn’t a ‘must read book’ like Made to Stick, I would suggest this book to anyone as we all live in a networked world. The book has given me a much greater appreciation for my place within the different social networks I’m apart of. It’s been one of my favorite reads of late. and I absolutely recommend it. Educators and scholars interested in a deeper appreciation for social networks would enjoy and truly benefit from reading this booth.

Should students read this book? This is a very readable, incredibly informative and sometimes humorous read that I believe students would enjoy. I would love to have my students read this book. However, I likely won’t use the book in my classes – at least for the classes I currently teach – simply because there are too many other books I want my students to read. But, this book would be great for any class specifically about social networks and more broadly for theory classes. It would be a great read to add to a data analytic course exploring online social networks.

Though the book is primarily about offline social networks with a chapter dedicated to online networks, Connected could be used as a suggested or supplementary reading in a social media class if the professor wants sufficient time or depth given to social networks (see my lecture and activity on social networks for my Social Media class).

Three Degrees of Influence

So back to our initial question. While we all may be connected by about three degrees of separation, through how many degrees does one have influence on another? The authors’ research indicates that influence generally travels three degrees. They state: “Everything we do or say tends to ripple through our network, having an impact on friends (one degree,” our friends’ friends (two degrees), and even our friends’ friends’ friends (three degrees)…. Likewise, we are influenced by friends within three degrees but generally not by those beyond” (p. 28).

Which begs the question: How are you influencing your friends’ friends’ friends?

How to use Microsoft Social Engagement software to teach social media listening (Post 2 of 2)

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This post is part 2 in a two-part series on how I currently teach social media metrics and social listening. You can see the previous post, which provided a spreadsheet that I use to empower students to track metrics for the social media accounts they manage in my social media class (2016 syllabus; and all articles about this class).

We’ll be using that same spreadsheet, though a different section of it, in this blog post. You can access it here.

In this post, we’ll discuss Microsoft Social Engagement and how I integrate it into the the social media class so students can engage in social listening.

About Microsoft Social Engagement

Microsoft Social Engagement, sometimes also called Microsoft Social Listening, is part of the Microsoft Dynamics Academic Alliance program via the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software package. In short, Microsoft Social Engagement is one of the pieces of software bundled into the full CRM. It appears the Microsoft Academic Alliance program has recently gone through some changes since when I signed up last spring.  The website itself is quite different. However, I’m not personally familiar with the nature of any changes to the program.  The language on the website aimed at educators reads: “Demonstrate thought leadership and differentiate your institution by integrating Microsoft Dynamics CRM and ERP solutions into your curriculum. DynAA helps you innovate and remain relevant when working with prospective students, current students, and potential employers interested in hiring new graduates. Your free DynAA membership provides access to software, support, resources, and community-building opportunities that will prepare your students for exciting careers. ”

Through the Microsoft Academic Alliance program, I have been very fortunate to get my students access to the Microsoft Social Engagement software.

So what is Microsoft Social Engagement? In short, it is a social listening tool that enables users to track metrics for public social media accounts or posts (e.g., keywords or hashtags) such as posts on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.  You can also track mentions forums and blog.

You do this by programming different ‘analysis focuses.’ That is, I can have 1 that searches one or a set of topics, keywords, social media accounts – say, my brand – and I can have another analysis focus that focuses on my competitors accounts, keywords, etc. From what I can tell, you can have as many as you want so long as you don’t go over your monthly quota of social data units.

For example, in the social media class we follow our social media accounts and mentions of them, and specific keywords surrounding our department’s brand, such as our hashtag.

The software enables you to quickly visualize several things such as key phrases, sentiment, social platforms or accounts that posts are coming from and their sentiment, posts across time, sentiment across time, geo-location, and geo-location across time. Below is a quick look at the main hub you see when logging into Social Engagement. In it, you can see sentiment in the top left. You can see the sentiment for each platform below that. In the center, you see the volume of posts across time for the keywords we are tracking. In the top right you can see the phrases being used related to those keywords. And in the bottom right, you can see the proportion of the posts that are being analyzed in this instance from each platform.

Click to enlarge.

There  are 4 main sections of the software: Overview (the page shown above), conversations, sentiment, location and sources. They are pretty self explanatory.

When you click on a pie chart or graph or keyword, it is interactive. What I mean by that is, it creates a filter in the app.

So, if I click a specific keyword in the phrases word cloud, I am filtering for only those posts that used that keyword.

For example, in the below GIF I am in the Conversations section of the software. I see all of the phrases surrounding our department’s social media accounts and blogs in the last month. That is, every post that mentioned 1 of our social accounts, our hashtag or our blog (Note: This is what I’ve selected for this analysis focus). I then click on the #shepcomm hashtag which filters for only those posts that contain that hashtag. So, I can see the other phrases that are in posts containing #shepcomm. You’ll see that the blog source gets filtered out because the 1 blog post does not contain the hashtag. Next, I click Twitter. Thus, only posts containing the hashtag and Twitter are being shown.  Lastly, I click on the neutral (gray) sentiment and we filter down to the 1 Twitter post that has neutral sentiment containing the #shepcomm hashtag. While not shown in the below GIF, in order to see what the 1 post was, I could click on the “posts” tab in the right-hand side of my screen to see the original Twitter post.

Click to enlarge.

For the sake of keeping this post length manageable, I will stop there. Suffice it to say, I am just touching the tip of the iceberg on how you can use this software. I will go into 5 key ways that we use the software in my class below which will further demonstrate its utility. And, you will get instructions on how to use the software for those 4 ways in the lab guide I provide my students which I will link to below.

Before doing that, a few notes: The reality is, there is a lot more than can be done with Social Engagement by linking it to other software within the Dynamics CRM. For example, as I understand it, it can be linked with other software for social media customer relations management. But I have not gone down that path yet.

One limitation of the software is that you have to program in what you want it to track ahead of time. Then, it begins tracking. For example, it isn’t like a Twitter search where you can go in and look into past 2,500 posts on a topic after the fact. If I know I’m going to want to track a hashtag or social media account, I have to program it and then I’ll get the data going forward from the time I programmed it. A second limitation is that it is not real time meaning that while you are looking at the software you don’t see the data changing if new Tweets are coming in.

How I integrated Microsoft Social Engagement into the social media class

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

As noted previously, students in my social media class are divided into teams and each team is in charge of running a social media platform for our department’s social media.

As I mentioned above and went over in depth in the prior post in this series, the students use a spreadsheet to track metrics for the social media content they create and post. Here is a copy of that spreadsheet as it was distributed in my Fall 2016 class.

Social Engagement is used to work on the “social listening” tab of that spreadsheet. In short, the other tabs in the spreadsheet are about tracking our own performance. The social listening tab is about, well, social listening – seeing what is being said about our brand. The spreadsheet asks the students to answer 5 questions each week. You can see them below. A hint is provided to students on where to look to find this answer by mousing over each question.

Click to enlarge

To help students learn how to answer each of these questions, I developed a lab guide (about lab guides). The lab guide teaches students how to use the software.

That lab guide can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/FSM_microsoftsociallistening

You will find that reading through it can teach you a bit more on how the software works and how it can be used to answer the above 5 questions.

In summary, these posts have provided an overview of how I taught social media metrics and listening my fall 2016 social media class. In my research class this spring we will be diving deeper into Microsoft Social Engagement and a few other tools for learning about social data. I am always looking to improve. I’m also looking to find new, cost-effective software solutions to expand social media measurement learning opportunities. If you have any suggestions, leads, or want to chat or collaborate, please Tweet me.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

– Cheers!
Matt

An Assignment and Spreadsheet for Teaching Students to Track Social Media Metrics in my Social Media Class (Post 1 of 2)

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In the social media education community, there has been a lot of discussion about teaching social media metrics and analytics to students. This has been a challenge and frustration for myself and many others. Access to industry tools is cost prohibitive for many universities, making it difficult for us as educators to prepare our students for this aspect of their careers.

I’ve worked hard over the last few years to try and enhance how I’m teaching these concepts. And I’m not where I want to be. But I know there are many fellow educators also on this journey with me. So, I’d like to share how I teach students to track social media metrics as part of a semester long assignment and a few modifications I have recently made to enhance that aspect of my teaching.

I’ve split this topic into two blog posts for length purposes. In both of these posts, we’ll focus on my social media class (2016 syllabus; and all articles about this class). In this post, we’ll talk about the spreadsheet for tracking metrics. In the follow up post, we’ll discuss Microsoft Social Engagement and how I integrate it into the metrics assignment portion of the class.

Update: The follow up post on Microsoft Social Engagement is now available.

My aim in my social media class is to introduce metrics to students both in lecture & discuss (which I’ve been doing for some years) as well as by use of software. Then, when students get into the Communication Research class (2015 syllabus; articles about this class), they will get more in-depth learning about analytics. I’ve increased/improved my focus on this area in that class for next spring. And my long term hope is to really build that part of the class out. During the upcoming spring semester, I will write a blog post about what we will be doing with analytics. And, at that time, I will share all of my assignments and handouts.

Okay, back to my social media class. In past years we’ve used Twitter Analytics – which has been the best, free tool. Unfortunately, other platforms have been limited in their analytics. We’ve used a slew of free tools that have been here today, gone tomorrow.

This year, we still faced the challenges of relying on Twitter Analytics and whatever free tools we could find. But I also added a brief introduction to Microsoft Social Engagement (which will be discussed in the next post in this series).

But first, let’s discuss how I teach students to track performance metrics in my social media class.

In my social media class, students are divided into teams. Each team is in charge of running a social media platform for our department’s social media. In the past, I had my students use a spreadsheet developed by Jeremy Floyd to track metrics. At the time, I modified the spreadsheet for our purposes. At the start of this semester I modified the spreadsheet further simplify it and to add a section on Microsoft Social Engagementƒ (again, which I will discuss in the next blog post).

Here is a copy of the spreadsheet as it was distributed in my Fall 2016 class which you can use in following along with the below post. You can also download a copy for yourself to modify and use as you prefer. Again, credit goes to Jeremy Floyd for the original incarnation of this spreadsheet.

In lecture, I teach students about the activity, engagement and performance metrics discussed in Kim’s book, Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing. I also emphasize the importance of choosing metrics that are tied to goals. (You’ll see a tab in the spreadsheet discussed below, where students are to determine their objectives and what metrics would be important to those objectives).

Student teams begin with the planning tab, then they establish their metrics goals to use the spreadsheet to establish benchmarks and KPIs for their platform and track metrics over the semester. They then move over to reporting tab to track weekly metrics.

Tip. You can see tips by mousing over the small triangles in the upper right corner of some cells, as shown below. I’ve created these to help students when working on their spreadsheets in groups.

In the image below, you can see the ‘reporting’ tab of this spreadsheet. We start tracking in week 9 of the semester, but you can modify this as you like. After each week, you’ll see the percentage change. Of course, you can also modify what you are tracking. I throw in a number of potential metrics to track for different platforms. But, students can delete all the rows they don’t need and modify the individual metrics for that platform as needed. The metrics identified in the spreadsheet are just a guide.

I’ve also divided the spreadsheet up into different platforms so each team can pick their platform (as shown in image below) for tracking the success of their posts. The idea here, is that by tracking these posts across time, students can begin to analyze these metrics for trends (though, I don’t have any ways to quickly analyze and visualize this data at this time). This could help them learn when the best time to post is. However, you could also add variables about the post that can help them identify which is the type of content that is most successful. Other spreadsheets I’ve seen track variables such as whether an image was used, what hashtags are used, if links are used, etc. So, again, you can modify the optimization section as you see fit. I discuss other variables to track, but focus on the ones in this spreadsheet so as to not overwhelm students. I’ve found if I ask students to track too many things, nothing gets tracked as they get overwhelmed. So choose what you want them to track, and stick with it.

I’ve relied on Kim’s metrics categories for metrics students can track. Also, please know the metrics I have identified isn’t perfect and modification of what I’ve identified may be needed – some of my initial metrics may not work, or changes have occurred.

Integrating The Metrics Into the Semester-Long Assignment

As noted above,  across the entire semester of my social media class, students are strategizing, building and executing social media for my class. As a part of that, they present their content to the class for approval at intervals throughout the semester.  In the latter half of the semester, the students present their current metrics to the class alongside the content they are proposing for the next content time period. At the end of the semester, we discuss their metrics, whether they met their KPIs and during what week they did, and what they learned from them.

While the above enables us to track interaction with our social content and extract some insights, it doesn’t account for listening to competitors, following trends, etc. It also doesn’t take deeper analytics and the extraction of insights into consideration. We don’t do anything to plot or discern specific insights – I am saving that for the Communication Research class this spring. Said another way, the assignment and use of this spreadsheet in my social media class, as I executed it in Fall 2016, was really more about tracking metrics, following change and teaching students  to see the impact (outcome) of their efforts on social media, while connecting those back to objectives and KPIs.

In the next blog post, I go into the “social listening” tab of the spreadsheet and discuss how students got a little hands on use with Microsoft Social Engagement in my social media class during fall 2016.

In the meantime, if you have any thoughts or suggestions or resources you’d like to share about teaching metrics to students, please share them with me and the readers via a comment in the post or Tweet me. This is an important journey for all of us as we work to enhance hands-on metrics learning for our students.

I hope you found this post helpful. If you did, please share it. It helps a lot.

-Cheers!
Matt

An Easy System for Keeping Your Daily Lessons Organized (Case #2 of Putting Systems Thinking to Practice)

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In a recent post, I discussed creating simple systems to help you work more effectively and reduce unnecessary cognitive load. It isn’t necessary to read that post to benefit from this post. But, I encourage you to save it to read some time. It is a bit long.

In the previous post in this 3-part series, I discussed how to save time by removing bottlenecks when setting up meetings with students.

In this final post, I’m going to present how I set up and keep my classes organized using a template system. For me, using this basic system means I can be prepare for today’s class with just a few quick minutes of review. Remember, systems are ideal for dealing with repeated, predictable problems. The problem we all face as educators is, “What are we doing today in class?”

First, some quick background. I’m a planner. I plan my classes (usually in the summer), meaning that I can look at my syllabus and know what we are going to cover on every day of the semester. This has its benefits but also some drawbacks. The benefits are related to 1) time management and 2) the ability to build the class to maximize the opportunity each day presents. It is of course easier to plan a class in the summer when you have less going on and focus on executing the class in the fall when there are many other demands on your time. Also, because I know what will happen each day, I can have semester-long projects with many parts that all inter-relate. And, the daily activities and lectures can be designed to cover the materials to support those projects. In terms of drawbacks, my approach allows for less flexibility when it comes to bringing in emerging topics, or adapting to student time needs, etc. So, I find it is important to build in a little flexibility if you take the approach I do.

In the sense that every day of the semester has a plan, I need a quick and efficient way to know what we’re going to be covering on any given day in class. There are many ways one could approach this problem. Here is how I do it.

I create a binder for each class. In the binder, I have a Word document for each day. The document is built using a template I created. I simply use a tab to mark what day of the semester we are on. And, before the class I open the binder to the page of the day of class we are on and review the day’s notes.

When I create my plan for each day of class, I simply create a file using the Word document template for that day. I save each day as a separate file, ordering the files by lecture number. So, the first day of class is lecture 1 and so on. This all goes into a folder named for the class.

The template contains 7 key components – many of which are not used every day. They are:

  • Topic – the lecture day number so I know what it is when it is printed and in my binder. I’ll also have a few words on what topic we’ll be covering that day.
  • Slides –I use Powerpoint slides for my lecture notes and for any in-class activities for which I will need instructions. For example, if we are doing a “simultaneous response” activity or any other educational activity or game, I put the instructions on the slides. So, if there is any lecture notes that day, I’ll have a slidedeck. Note: I name the Powerpoint for a day’s lecture the same file name as the Word document. So, Lecture 1.ppt, Lecture 2.ppt and so on (see example below). Thus, when looking at the folder on my computer, I see: Lecture 1.doc and Lecture 1.ppt one atop the other so that the Word and Powerpoint files are ordered sequentially in the folder.

example-lecture-folder

  • Supplies Needed: I provide the computer filename for any assignments, handouts or activities that I’ll be handing out in class that day. For example, if I am assigning a project and I know I need to print a copy of the assignment, I’d have the filename listed so I can easily find it in my “assignments” subfolder in the folder for that class on my computer. I’ll note any other needed supplies here as well such as if I need any props for class activities or any technology needs I need to bring.
  • Activities: I note any in-class activities we have planned. For example, if we were doing a “simultaneous response” activity or an exam review, it is listed here.
  • Assignments: There are 2 categories here. Assign and due. If I’m assigning something that day, I write “Assign” in front of it. If it is due that day, I write “Due” in front of it.
  • Notes: Random reminders and notes to self about the class that day. For example, I’d add notes if I need to remind students about an upcoming deadline, or if there was a website I wanted to be sure to show, or things we need to be sure to cover in class that aren’t on my lecture slides. I even put notes to myself. For example, I may remind myself I need to write an exam that students will be taking in a few weeks.
  • Under the notes section, I leave a blank space to put any announcements I need to post onto our course management system. By having these pre-written where possible, I can quickly post them to the course management page by loading the document on my computer and cutting and pasting the text into our CMS.

Below is an example of my “Lecture 14 – promoting social media offline” day from my social media class (syllabus | all posts about the class). A few quick explanations: Students give presentations during part of the class. So I need to bring a way of taking notes on their presentations. I have a form that other students fill out to give feedback to the group presenting. And, I need to provide students with the group report card so they can evaluate one-another. The “Content Period #1” assignment is due that day. The notes are to myself, reminding me that there is a brief lecture that day after presentations and that I need to grade the presentations to prepare for an upcoming class.

If you’d like to download a blank copy of the template I’ve discussed in this post, you can below.

As I said in my post on using systems: “Using your memory when you don’t need to unnecessarily uses your energy and time.” Using this template helps me quickly prepare for a day of class. I spend about 5-10 minutes before going into class reviewing the Word document plan for that day and doing anything needed to prepare, such as printing anything or loaded any announcements. During this time, I also load up the day’s Powerpoint slides and quickly review the lecture to job my memory.

In summary, as an educator you have too much going on every day during the semester to be scrambling around trying to figure out what you are going to be teaching in class. Good news. You can solve this repeated, predictable problem with a template system.

– Cheers!
Matt

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Why I No Longer Schedule Meetings with Students Over Email (Case #1 of Putting Systems Thinking to Practice)

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In a previous post, I talked about the power of systems to simplify recurring tasks in our jobs as professors.

In that post I mentioned that we can work to remove bottlenecks that unnecessarily slow down the completion of tasks. Here’s one such task that faces major bottlenecks: scheduling appointments.

calendar

A certainty in our lives is the fact that students will need to make appointments with us. In addition to meeting with students about class projects, I’m also an academic advisor and advisor to student capstone projects. Needless to say, students are wanting to schedule meeting with me fairly regularly.

The non-systematic way of scheduling student appointments:

In the old days, I didn’t have an effective system for scheduling appointments.  It went something like this. I put my email address on my syllabus and told students to email me to schedule an appointment. So I’d get a long, detailed email that I’d have to comb through before a student got to the simple fact that they wanted to schedule a meeting with me. Or, I’d get some kind of cryptic email about an appointment. I’d respond by telling them my available office hours and that if they couldn’t come by then,to let me know some times they were available. For those who couldn’t make my office hours, we’d go back and forth until a common time was identified. During all of this, a lot of time was wasted. I had to look over my calendar and think about when I was available and when I wanted to hold a meeting.  Then I had to suggest it to the student. And then read their response email and program the finalized time onto my calendar if a mutual time was found. And then I’d respond to confirm the meeting.. If no mutual time was found, we went back and forth like this until something was settled on.  You know this frustrating dance. Think of how many unnecessary decisions are being made here, how much time is wasted for both you and the student?

A Simple System for Scheduling Appointments

At the start of this school year, I decided to try something new. I found a free online meeting scheduling tool that integrates with my Google Calendar.

The tool I use is YouCanBook.me but there are many other tools that are very similar.

How it works:

After connecting my Google Calendar, I programmed what days and times I am available into YouCanBook.me.  For example, I don’t want to take student appointments before 10am or after 5pm. And I don’t take student appointments on Fridays since that is my research day. Note: My Google Calendar has all of my classes and appointments programmed onto it, so students can’t make appointments during those times.

While the free version of YouCanBook.me gives you less control over your availabilities, I’ve managed just fine by scheduling a recurring event on my calendar for lunch time when I don’t want to be bothered.

When someone makes an appointment, it syncs to my Google Calendar automatically and I get an email reminder (you can turn these off if you like). Thus, that block of time is no longer available on my calendar and it no longer shows up as available on YouCanBook.me.

Here’s a look at my schedule for one week. This is exactly what someone would see if they were trying to book an appointment with me:

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

With YouCanBook.me, you get a unique URL that you share with people so they can schedule appointments. So, I put it on my syllabus and course management site. And I tell students at the beginning of the school year that if they want to make an appointment with me, this is the only way. I tell them that if they send me an email trying to book an appointment, I’ll reply with a template email telling with the URL telling them how to book an appointment with me.

How It’s Worked:

I probably spent an hour setting up this tool before the start of the semester during a peaceful Friday afternoon.

I’ve had dozens of students schedule meeting with me this semester using this tool. I estimate I’ve saved a few hours of time that would have been spent going back and forth during a busy work day trying to schedule a meeting. And that is just in about 1/2 of a semester’s time. So I’ve already recouped the time I put in. And I can use this tool for years to come.

In addition to class-related student appointments, we recently had our 2 week advising period  where I had to meet with about 30 students over the course of two weeks to advise them on what classes to take next semester. I used YouCanBookMe for this as well and it was wonderful.

And of course, you can use tools like YouCanBook.me to schedule any type of meeting. I’ve used it to schedule appointments with folks on campus who’ve wanted to schedule a phone or in person meeting.

Considerations:

The number one thing I was concerned about when I switched to an appointment booking tool was losing control over my time. When someone emails you to schedule an appointment, you might be available at a time but simply don’t want to meet. So you don’t offer that time period for the meeting. With a booking scheduling tool, the person can see all the times you are available that aren’t busy with events on your calendar.

I thought I would find that really annoying. But, it’s a compromise I haven’t really been bothered by. Yes, there have been a few times that students have scheduled appointments when I wish they hadn’t. But, no big deal.

If you want to mark off times on your calendar when you don’t have a meeting or aren’t teaching class yet you simply don’t want someone to book an appointment during that time, schedule something on Google Calendar at that time. For example, I schedule a lunch time on my Google Calendar. But you could also schedule private time for grading or for any other reason.

Lastly, sometimes you need to plan a little ahead so someone doesn’t book an appointment at a time when you won’t be on campus.  If I know I have a doctor’s appointment, I’ll mark enough time before and after on my calendar to account for the commute.

In summary, an appointment booking tool is a great example of a simple system to deal with a recurring task: scheduling student appointments. It helps you save time and mental energy and puts you in control.

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