The Social Media Class Blog Assignment In Review

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It is finals week! We’ve had a good amount of snow here, as Scout can attest, and I’ve been busy catching up on grading. With a few minutes of down time before the next batch of final projects are due, I thought I’d begin reflecting on this past semester.

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Every semester that I’ve taught a Social Media course, I’ve done things a bit differently.

This semester (see syllabus), the major project that ran the length of the semester was a team-run niche blog. I talked about why I chose to do this assignment on a post from before the semester, “What’s Changing? Plans for My Social Media Fall 2013 Class

This proved to be a very involved project that many students found challenging. While there were some grumbles on account of how involved it was, it also provided a great opportunity for hands-on learning. We can talk about a lot of concepts, such as metrics, but to me there is a much greater learning impact when one sets their metric goals, tracks them while seeking to drive traffic to their site, and has an opportunity to reflect on whether they met their goals and why.

I enjoyed this project. There is a lot I liked about it. But there are a few things I wasn’t completely satisfied with. Here are a few general reactions / things I took away:

Tumblr was a bad choice – I wanted my students to use the industry standard Google Analytics to learn metrics. Most job postings discussing metrics, mention GA. I wanted my students to use a free blogging platform. WordPress unfortunately does not enable GA at the free level. So I went with Tumblr. But the Tumblr culture just didn’t fit our project. I think we’d have had more success if we’d used Blogger.

Learning metrics was challenging, and so was teaching it – More and more jobs are requiring interns and employees to understand and know how to track and report web and social metrics. While I’ve long been interested in analytics, and did my GA certification a few years ago, I hadn’t previously taught how to use metrics. I had discussed them, their importance, etc. But never had students actually tracking metrics. I modified a great spreadsheet from a fellow social media educator, Jeremy Floyd, and required students to use it to report, and thus track their metrics from Google Analytics. But, between all the other things we were doing in the class, and teaching students with no prior metrics experience how to interpret Google Analytics, how to choose appropriate metrics, and getting them to report an array of metrics on a consistent basis, It proved overwhelming. I simply made it too complicated. I should have simplified the spreadsheet, and focused on a better understanding of a few important concepts as opposed to spreading it too broad, and thus too thin. I think students would have gotten more out of it. So next time, I’ll simplify the spreadsheet and focus the students attention on a few metrics.

I’m still glad I taught them metrics – A number of students said that, prior to taking my class, they were not aware of metrics, their importance, and how to track and interpret them. And while I think the way I approached it made it difficult, I’m glad the students learned these things. They have basic knowledge of Google Analytics and experience with tracking, interpreting, and reporting metrics. And as I said above, this is an important skill set to be developing in college.

Students are incredibly creative – This isn’t something new I learned. But it was something I again was happily reminded of. Students came up with great blog topics, and created a ton of great posts!

“I got a lot out of the class” – a quote from a student during his final presentation – Call me biased, but I agree with this student and believe students got a lot out of this project, whether their blog was the “success” they hoped it would be or not. Students had to identify and study a specific niche, create a plan for meeting the needs and interest of the niche via a blog including objectives, audience persona, content calendar, and then go out into the community to gather the info they needed to create content, then deliver it throughout content throughout the semester for their audience. Meanwhile, they had to track blog traffic metrics and social media. That’s a lot to ask. For many, this was their first experience executing these concepts. And I’m proud of what they accomplished!

“Blogging is a lot more work than I thought it was going to be” – quote from a few students during their final blog presentations – This relates directly to the above. I’m glad students got the opportunity to realize this as a first-person experience. Because many of our students will go on to create content, lots of it – whether for blogs, social, or other means. And there is no better learning experience than to be responsible for planning, creating, and sustaining an entirely novel content plan – its like building a mini brand. If you can do it here, you will be able to do it for the company that hires you! When we don’t have first person experience with something, I think we often underestimate what all goes into it. Students were able to see how much planning and continuous effort went into creating and sustaining engaging social content.

With all these things said, it is my hope that all of the students feel a sense of accomplishment for what they did, and truly understand what all they learned. This was not the only assignment in the class by any means. Much else was asked of them. And I’m sure they’re relieved for the class to be done. I hope they all realize what they learned and accomplished.

As I often find myself doing, the niche blog wasn’t one assignment, but a series of related assignments. In the upcoming post, I’ll explain each assignment, and how the assignments built on one another.

In the meantime, here are their blogs!

BeYOUtiful – a live positively blog for young people. Lots of great advice and motivation!

The Beastern Panhandle – A great Going Out guide to our rural Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

LevelUp – An RPG video game fan blog, with lots of great analysis on the RPG game genre.

The Triple Play – College students talking sports, music, and movies!

The Reenactor – A blog for people in the reenacting community, focusing on men’s fashion from the early to mid 20th century.

The Starving Student – a video blog following one college student’s goal to start eating healthy while facing the poor food choices all around him.

DoItYourself Natural Products – A do it yourself personal care website, based on frugal, environmentally friendly personal care.

Baking It Simple – simple recipes for college students and young professionals on a budget.

What are some assignments and projects you taught in your social media classes this semester? I’d love to hear. I’m always looking for new ideas to try out!

Hope the end of your semester is not too stressful! – Cheers, Matt

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