All posts by profkushin

From Sydney Australia: Reflections on ICBO 2018 and my event app planning experience

The spring semester has come to a close!

I have recently returned to Shepherdstown from a 1.5 week trip to Sydney Australia. There, I had the amazing opportunity to execute the ICBO One app event experience for attendees to the International Congress of Behavioural Optometry event at the Sydney Convention and Exhibition Center.

The famous opera house in the Sydney Harbour near Circular Quay

The event app was a huge success, with 90% of attendees actively engaged on the app. So, our time promoting the 2018 ICBO event has come to a close. Over two years of work went into creating the ICBO One app. I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given to travel all over the globe to help promote the event and to provide the app to ICBO partner events in the U.S., Montreal and Toronto, Canada, Toledo, Spain, Vienna, Austria, and Sydney, Australia. I also got to travel to Budapest to help pitch the app and make it a reality as well as to Dubai to help promote the ICBO 2018 event.

The Sydney Harbour bridge. The opera house is in the background. Photo taken from ferry.

It has been a truly eye-opening, learning experience from event planning to digital communication strategy, to designing and executing a successful digital event experience, to working with sponsors, speakers, and event attendees from different cultures and countries. The professional development experience was truly one of a kind.  But, more than anything, I loved the opportunity to meet generous, kind, and motivated optometrists and vision therapists from around the world. As someone who is, of course, not in optometry myself, I learned so much about how much passion behavioral optometrists have for their field. I think it is fair to say I made many friends these last few years.

The walkway to Manly beach. Photos taken right before Anzac Day, thus the flags and signs. Pacific ocean in the background.

The ICBO One event app came out of my professional development experience at the ICBO 2014 event in Birmingham, UK. There, I created and executed the precursor, the ICBO Social event app.

The ICBO event apps are built on the Double Dutch event app platform.

Below are the main stats from the event. An additional 299 questions or comments were posted in the chatroom, which are not reflected in the data below.

An interesting trend, is that comments and updates were down slightly from four years ago, even when we consider the additional 299 chatroom posts. Part of this is likely due to the fact that attendance was down slightly (it is hard to travel to Australia) and we only created 1 account per exhibitor booth, rather than 1 account per booth attendee.  But, what’s interesting is the huge spike in likes. We can see that more than twice as many likes occurred this year than in 2014 (There were 13,812 likes in 2018 and 5,753 likes in 2014). I think this shows a larger trend in social media. Content overload has driven people towards greater likes and fewer posts.

With ICBO over and the 2017-18 academic year behind me, it is time to start planning for summer. Here are a few things I have planned:

  1. I am traveling to Portugal the week of May 14th to speak at 2 universities there. One of my talks will be at the Internet Day Celebration at the Universidade de Aveiro and the other at the Universidade Nova Lisboa. I am beyond honored and thrilled about this opportunity.
  2. Teaching an online summer class for the first time.
  3. Attending AEJMC in DC in August (and hopefully presenting a paper we submitted).
  4. Working on a few research studies, of course.
  5. Reading and writing.
  6. Working to stay current in social media trends and teaching
  7. Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail.
  8. Spending time with family.

With all of that said, I will be blogging very infrequently over the summer. As always, you can find past blog posts, assignments, and syllabi via the blogroll or the navigation menu in the upper right of this blog.

Have a wonderful, rejuvenating, and safe summer.

See you in the fall!

Missed the Social Network Analysis Basics Webinar? Here’s How You Can Watch It

Last Friday, April 13, I had a wonderful opportunity to participate with Kathleen Stansberry on a webinar about social network analysis basics.  The focus of the call was to introduce strategic communication and social media professors to social network analysis.

The idea for the call came out of a thread on my favorite resource for social media education: the  Facebook group  Social Media Professors Community Group.  (If you’re not a member, I strongly suggest joining! The people are generous, curious, and extremely supportive).  A member asked if anyone had insights on reading NodeXL network maps and the video conference call sprang from that.

Dr. Stansberry has some really impressive experience with social network analysis. As someone who considers himself a fan with much to learn, it was an honor to be invited to be on the call as a co-presenter with her.

I shared my knowledge of social network analysis basics and provided an assignment I teach in my Comm 435 Communication Research class. In that class, students use Netlytic.org, which is an accessible online social network analysis tool (See my blog post about the Netlytic assignment).

I learned a ton from Dr. Stansberry and was inspired to dig deeper into social network analysis so that I can bring my knowledge up and do more with this fascinating method!

If you missed the live webinar, you can watch a rebroadcast of it anytime in full [you may need to download a plugin].

Below, you can find the handout and assignment that I shared during the call and the slides I shared on the handout.

Thank you again to Dr. Stansberry for inviting me to participate! And a big thank you to Karen Freberg and the Social Media Professors group for hosting this call!

– Cheers!
Matt

Reflection on my first National Millennial Community Trip

Students and I in Lockheed Martin

Over spring break, I had an amazing opportunity to travel with 2 outstanding Shepherd University strategic communication students, Ellen Buchanan and Sarah Burke, to Philadelphia and Washington DC.  We participated in the National Millennial Community (NMC) trip, and met with executives from major brands such as Comcast NBCUniversal, Lockheed Martin, Nestlé, and WeWork, top agencies such as Tierney, Vault Communication, Burson-Marsteller, and government entities, including the White House, the RNC and the Office of Personnel Management.

The trip was an incredible learning experience for me. It was an intensive professional development experience. The opportunity to be exposed to the work these organizations and corporations are doing in the communication space helped in several key respects. Below, I will share some key reflections and takeaways from this amazing experience.

Group in Comcast NBCUniversal main lobby in Philly

This trip offered myself and our students a voice in helping bring positive change to the conversation around the millennial generation. We provided feedback on ways these organizations can better harness the talents of young people and helped to counter existing stereotypes. An executive in corporate communication at one organization said to me that she was very impressed by the millennial generation and their level of engagement and caring.

We learned by seeing the research and development phases of communication campaigns. These are skills that we teach our students. For example, in my research class, students learn to conduct interviews and focus groups. In my campaigns class, students conduct interviews and focus groups to test the messaging they are developing. It was insightful to see how different companies approached this process. We were able to participate in focus groups and brainstorming sessions with several of the companies that we met with.  We offered insights into the news and information consumption habits of millennials to help organizations better adapt to changing consumer habits and demographics. It was clear to me that the companies truly valued our feedback and planned to take it into consideration. To have that kind of input helped my students see how what they are learning is used in the corporate world and the impact these techniques can have.

Group at Burson_Marsteller

We were able to see how several of the organizations we met with were striving to address key social issues that we discuss in my classes. Having this exposure takes an abstract classroom concept and makes it real. I am able to walk back into the classroom and demonstrate how these issues are being tackled outside of the university setting. For example, two of the organizations we met with discussed the importance of bridging the digital divide and getting high-speed Internet access to low income and rural areas. One organization approached this issue from a corporate social responsibility standpoint and another approached it from an advocacy standpoint.

Also, my students were exposed to key life lessons in leadership and professionalism that one simply cannot get in the classroom. The students and I had several discussions about the leadership styles we observed from senior executives at various companies. Students received input from employees at various companies on tips for interviewing, finding a company that is a good fit, and professional development. In another case, we received advice from an entrepreneur we met at WeWork on ambition, seeking opportunity, and lifelong learning. In fact, he encouraged us to read two books that I am already using in my classes. (#ProfessorWin!)

Group on WeWork rooftop downtown Philly

Additionally, I can’t say enough about how impressed I was by all of the students I met from over 2 dozen universities from Alaska to Wyoming to Massachusetts. Each student was dedicated, passionate about the mission of the NMC, professional, and engaged. Everyone was welcoming and sincere and the entire trip was filled with an energy unlike anything I have experienced. I left the trip with an enormous respect for every student I met and for the hardworking people who made the trip possible.

I want to thank all of the companies, agencies and government organizations that took time out of their busy schedules to host us. I also want to thank the Shepherd University President’s Club for generously providing funding for this trip. And of course, I want to thank Eljay, Edith and Bill Imada for all their hard work in making the NMC and this trip a possibility.

I am very much looking forward to the next opportunity to participate in one of the NMC trips.

Oh, and #lifegoal accomplished! We got to go see the Rocky statue in Philly! Anyone who has taken a class from me knows what a big Rocky fan I am!

having fun at the Rocky statue in Philly

About the National Millennial Community

Founded in January 2016, the mission of the National Millennial Community is to change the conversation about millennials. The organization has 37 member colleges in 37 states plus the District of Columbia. The organization has taken 18 trips to visit with corporate, foundation, and nonprofit executives.

A Quick, Interactive Activity for Introducing the Concept of Digital Influencers

Last year I got the opportunity to present at the Accepted Student Day event at Shepherd University. This event offers students who have been accepted to the university an opportunity to visit our campus and get to know us better. As part of that, faculty give presentations on their area of expertise. Students and their parents attend the presentation that interest them.

My task was to inform the audience about some of the things we do in the communication department and give them a preview of what they can learn.  Naturally, I talked about professional communication and social media. Because the presentation needed to appeal to a wide audience, I presented on the broad steps anyone can use to build a brand on social media.

To get the students up and moving and to make the concepts come to life, I thought of an interesting and interactive activity that I’ll share below.

The purpose of the activity was to help someone who was not familiar to quickly become familiar with the concepts of 1) a digital influencer to see why influencers are an important part of any strategy, and 2) how information can spread via a social network based on ties.

Preparation

Before the presentation, I had 4 pieces of paper. Each piece had the name of a different pop artist on it. I secretly gave them to 4 different people in the audience and told them not to tell anyone that they had them.

The Set Up

When it came time to talk about influencers, here’s what I did.

I had a slide with the photos of each of the pop artists I had chosen. Above their photos was the question: “Which artist is the best?”

On the next slide, I introduced the set up for the activity, which was:

4 people have been secretly chosen to be “superfans” for each of these pop artists.

The purpose of the activity is to see which pop artist will become the most popular in the room in 30 seconds.

Then, on the next slide I showed the rules:

First, I told the audience to think of their network as consisting of anyone in the room with the same color on their shirt (Note: As long as they had the same color on some part of their shirt, they were in their network and thus people could be in multiple networks).

I told them to think of their network in this activity in the same way they think of their friend network online.

Audience members could only talk to people in their network.

Then, I explained the instructions:

Talk to up to 8 people in the 30 seconds, once the timer started. The goal is to become a fan of as many artists as you can.

Here’s how: Go around the room and ask people ‘who makes the best music?’

If a superfan is asked, she tells the person who asked her and the asking people become a fan. Once fans are asked, they too tell others.

If someone is asked who is not a superfan or who has not yet become a fan, they say “I don’t know.”

Non-superfans could become fans of multiple artists. So, once they became a fan, they could continue to try and collect more artists to be fans of.

Then, I started the clock and mayhem began.

What happened was, the more gregarious students who had been chosen as superfans were actively engaging with others in their network, spreading the information and becoming influencers. Also, networks that had more gregarious non-fans quickly became influencers, collecting artists to be fans of and spreading the information far in their quest to collect more artists. Thus, these non-fan opinion leaders tended to amass the most artists to be fans of.

Larger networks (shirt colors with more people wearing them) had an advantage, as well. This symbolized the idea that the superfan had a large online network.

Because the activity was only 30 seconds, the information stopped spreading. And, we were able to find out which was the most popular artist and trace it back to which superfan. We asked how many people became a fan by talking to that superfan. We also were able to see who collected the most artists. We then were able to ask these people who they talked to that made them a fan. We also looked at who never became a fan.

There was a good bit of diversity in terms of which artists became very popular and which did not, as well as who collected multiple artists and who did not.

The conversation could go on from there, and we could have discussed many concepts. But, this was just a quick activity as part of a larger presentation.

I told the students that, while this activity is a little simple and not a perfect illustration of the concepts, I asked them to think about why some artists spread a lot, and others did not.

Generally, now that the audience knew who the superfans were, the audience members would say things like: “The superfan for artist X was talking to a lot of people” or “the superfan was wearing the most common color, so she had the biggest network, that she could spread her info to.” Similar feedback came for those people who collected more artists by way of having multiple colors on their shirts (bridging social ties across networks) and/or who were more gregarious.

After the conversation, I reinforced some of the things we had discovered by bringing up a few concepts on the board. Also, I showed a simple network map to illustrate some of the things we saw.

Conclusion

This was a fun, simple, and interactive way to quickly introduce new concepts to a medium-sized audience (there was about 45 people, if I recall). An activity like this could be used as an introduction to build upon more nuanced concepts, such as in an introductory course. In this case, the prospective students seemed to enjoy it and I bet it stuck with them. We had an interesting discussion, and the presentation overall went very well.

If you wanted to try this with a smaller audience, you could reduce the number of superfans and the amount of time they had.

Give it a try and let me know what you think. There are lots of ways that this activity could be tweaked and built upon. If you come up with any, please share them with readers.

– Cheers!
Matt

 

Empowering Students to Deal With Smartphone Distraction in the Classroom: Phone Free Class Day Extra Credit

In my last post, I talked about smartphone distraction. I provided an activity I did last semester in my social media class. That activity was aimed at building a discussion about some of the concerns that social commentators, health care professionals, and former employees of tech companies have raised regarding the negative side of smartphones and social media. In this follow up post, I will share an extra credit opportunity I created to empower students to choose to not use their smartphones during class.

Background:

I came up with the idea for this opportunity last semester after having conversations with a few students around the topics discussed in the previous post mentioned above. In short, I asked them whether they would voluntarily give up their phone during class time. They said yes.  In fact, it would be a huge relief. But, they’d prefer an incentive, of course. Extra credit is always nice, they pointed out.

I realized, that some students would welcome an opportunity to remove themselves from the temptation of their smartphone. It would be a mini vacation from their otherwise tethered lives. One student told me that she really hoped I did something because it would give her a reason to put her phone away.

Here’s the idea.

Students would have the opportunity to give up their smartphones at the start of class for the opportunity to earn extra credit.

I decided to test pilot the concept in 1 class this semester. Not soon after I began implementing this idea, a friend shared an article on Facebook with the exact same concept. The article, by Pete Burkholder, Ph.D.provides an in-depth look at the concept and his results. I encourage you to check it out as it offers a more thorough analysis of results than I will describe below. Below, I’ll explain how I set my class up and the results thus far. You might find it helpful to see two slightly different set ups to same concept.

How it Works: Phone Free Class Days

Students can earn up to 10% extra credit on the final project. The final project is worth 21% of their final grade.

To earn the extra credit, students put their smartphones down on a side table in class for the duration of the class. For every 10 classes they do this in, they earn 5% added to the final project. They can do it for up to 20 classes, or 10% . There are 15 weeks in our semester here at Shepherd. We meet 28 times.

I chose 20 days as the max because I don’t start the opportunity until the second week of class, because of possible snow days and because we have a few lab days where I have a flexible attendance policy.

I like the concept of students having to reach a threshold before getting extra credit because it makes it easier on me to manage. I do not have to deal with incremental points and counting up how often a student did or did not participate.

I keep track of the students’ participation in a simple, easy-to-manage way.

I created little tokens (cut out pieces of paper with a little info on it) that I give to each student each day he/she participates. While the students’ phones are up on the side table, I place one token on top of their phone. The students collect the token. At the end of the semester, if they got 10 tokens they turn in those to me. If they got 20, they turn them in in 2 separate bathes by way of paperclips. This makes it quick and easy for me to grade. And, it places the onus on the students to keep track of their tokens rather than me having to count each day who did what.

Below, I’ve posted the simple document I created. You can print as many as you need. You’ll see that there is space for students to write their name. I initialed each token before giving it out to prevent duplicators (though, I’m sure a motivated student could get around my fairly generic handwriting. That may be a concern in a larger class. But, it is not something I’m worried about in my setting).

 

Results / reaction:

I’ve been running this extra credit opportunity for 5 and 1/2 weeks. On average, about half of the class participates each class period. It is the same students each time. A few times, students told me they couldn’t participate on a specific date because of the need to be available due to things like family emergencies.

A few students told me that they would like to participate, but needed to be accessible by family for personal reasons. A few others, simply chose not to participate for their own reasons.

In sum, the ‘opt in’ nature of this opportunity may advantage those who are the most motivated to start (and who do not need access to their phones for specific reasons, as mentioned above). So, it may not help some students who might most benefit from the opportunity.

I was careful not to push this onto students. I told them basically that this was an opportunity and it was entirely up to them. No judgments.

I may have higher results with some of those hold outs if I pushed it. But, that isn’t my goal. My goal is to empower students to make a choice that that they think will benefit them.

Final Thoughts:

It probably seems odd to you that a guy who writes a blog about social media education would ever reward his students for putting away their smartphones. Isn’t the concept antithetical to everything this blog is about? Aren’t I taking my class back into the dark ages? I don’t see it that way. I’ve always encouraged students to use their smartphones or computers to enhance their education in my classes. For example, I’ve encouraged students to look up information and bring it into the class discussion. Smartphones are a tool. Social media is a tool.

These things are not inherently good or bad, in my opinion. It is how we choose to use them, or how we allow ourselves to use them, that affects our lives. We should respect, understand, and appreciate the tools in our lives. A television is an amazing tool for learning and entertainment. It doesn’t mean we should have it on all the time, especially when we’re trying to focus on something specific. I’d rather have my students present in my class and learning, so they can go out and use these tools in ways that enrich their lives and help them achieve their goals.

I’ve seen a lot of posts online recently by professors who are struggling with the distractions that smartphones are bringing to the education setting.  I’ve seen other posts about smartphone detoxes, and lots of great discussion about bringing self awareness to our relationship with technology. There are many ways to try to address concerns if you feel that any tool is getting in the way of education. I have found that the smartphone extra credit opportunity I am providing this semester is a nice balance in that it gives the students the power to make the call. I am hopeful that those who are participating will see the benefits it may bring to their enjoyment of being present in the classroom.

In closing, I plan to run this same extra credit opportunity in a few more classes next semester. If students continue to participate, then I will continue to offer it.

Don’t forget to see the token sheet below.

– Cheers!
Matt

Above photo is creative commons.

Getting students to think about smartphone addiction (Classroom activity)

“Cell phone addiction” is a strong term that may or may not be appropriate to describe our current obsessions with our phones. But, now that I have your attention, I think it is important to bring into the classroom a discussion of the wider, perhaps unseen and perhaps deleterious, implications of cell phone culture in today’s society.

Indeed, there has been a lot of chatter lately on the potential negative ramifications of social media use in our society. For example, I recently shared on article on Pocket and Twitter that I came across from the New York Times titled: “Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built.”

While I am not an expert in many of these areas of concern (such as mental health, physical health, what constitutes cell phone addiction, etc.), I do think these broader questions are things we cannot ignore as social media educators. We are in a unique position to bring attention to the broader relationship between social media and life in today’s society.

With that in mind, I am doing a brief 2-part series on ways I have sought to bring the topic of social media concerns into my teaching.

In the first post, we’ll talk about an activity. In a future post, I will talk about smartphone distraction in the classroom.

Okay, let’s get into it!

I want to share a quick activity I did last semester with my social media class. The activity brought forward a great deal of discussion in the class. It was great to have students sharing the challenges and concerns that they have with their phones and social media.  I was surprised and inspired by the candid nature in which students took on this topic. It was one of the best discussions I felt we had all semester.

Here’s how it worked:

First, I threw up this statement on the board and asked students if they agreed or disagreed and why:

“You’re only as good as your next post.”

Then, we discussed this statement:

“Your phone is like your life.
You either control it, or it controls you.”

Infographic: Next, as a class, we took a look at some of the reported benefits and drawbacks of social media While there are a number of sources for such info, here is one infographic that is easy to show in class.

Pre-Test: Next, I had students do a little ‘pre-test.’ The questions are below

  1. Do you think you’re addicted to your smartphone and/or social media?
  2. What are the 3 primary benefits you get out of using your smart phone?
  3. What are the 3 ways in which your smartphone has a negative effect on you?

Video Prompts: After students completed this, I gave them the following prompt that led to a discussion after the videos. Note, I will share the videos mentioned in the prompt below:

  1. What are the most compelling argument(s) or stats presented in these videos?
  2. What do you disagree with?
  3. How much control do you think you have over your smartphone use?

Cell Phone Habit (or addiction) ‘Experiment:’– But, before I showed the videos, I also set up a little ‘experiment.’ I asked the students to do the following:

  1. Pick up your phone.
    Look at the last few posts you made, and check the stats.
    Write down the emotions you feel.

I asked them to share some of these emotions. Answers include: excitement, anxiety, boredom, etc. I then told the student:

  1. Turn your smartphone off and put it in your bag.
    Log off the computer (we were in the computer lab).
    Get out a scrap paper.
  2. We’re going to watch 3 videos.
    1. Every time you find yourself wanting to check your phone/ reaching for it:
    2. Stop. Make a check on the paper. Write down the emotion you feel.

So, the students were both analyzing the videos (the video prompts above) and paying attention to their habit of wanting to reach for their phones.

After each video, we stopped and went around the room and had students share how many checks they had on their paper, and how they felt about how things were going. After all 3 videos played, we discussed the merits of each video, how the students felt, etc.

The videos were hard to choose. There are so many great Ted Talks and other videos discussing some of the pitfalls of social media. Here are 3 videos I settled on. I chose these because each touches on a different argument related to smartphones and social media.

  1. Dopamine and smart phones
  2. Cal Newport’s “Quit Social Media” TED talk.
  3. This Panda is Dancing – Time Well Spent

Note, there is an engrossing TED talk by Tristan Harris that I also recommend showing. I show part of it in my Communication & New Media course, however. So I did not want to repeat it in my social media class. Tristan Harris is mentioned in the New York Times article above, and his foundation created the “This Panda is Dancing” video.

After this, I asked students to look back at their pre-test results and their prediction of how much control they felt they had over their cell phone use. In other words, how aware are people of how much they use their phone? Were they surprised at the frequency with which they found themselves wanting to reach for their phone during the videos?

As we began wrapping up, I asked the students to jot down:

  • What is 1 thing you could do between now and next class to curb your smartphone use, as it relates to the negative effects you identified
  • Between now and next class, I want you to try and do that 1 thing.
  • How likely do you think you’ll succeed at that one thing? (Scale of 1 to 7 from Not at all – very likely)

Then, I gave the students some tools and tips to try and help them.

I encouraged students to download a free phone usage tracking app. Here are a few:

  • Moment (Apple)
  • MyAddictometer(Android)

For the following class, I asked them to provide the stats on their usage. Specifically, I was interested to know: how much time they used their phone each day, the number of times they checked their phone each day, and the top 2-3 apps they used.

Lastly, I provided some additional tips for helping take back control over cell phone usage that are provided in the Time Well Spent website Harris helps run. Note: The organization has since changed its name to HumanTech.

Conclusion

This exercise was a thought-provoking activity for my students and for me. I don’t expect that it is going to have long-term effects on cell phone use behavior by my students. But, I think it brought the issue in front of them and I am hopeful that it nudged them to be a little more mindful of just how engrossing our phones are.

Our discussion really brought out the struggle we all have between our hopes that we had a little more control and our love for the convenience and experiences our phones give us.

I left the students to wonder about whether they used their devices intentionally and were thus in control, or whether they allowed their devices to dictate the terms.

For the experiment, I went along with the students by monitoring my phone usage. I was appalled at how many times I go to use my phone. Seeing the statistic pop up when I first went to use the phone, helped me curb my usage some. I thought I only used my phone 45 minutes to an hour a day. Turns out, I was quite wrong.

Each year, I try to have a few goals and a theme. One thing I’ve been working on, is trying to be more mindful of how I spend time. I’ve never been one to waste too much time, or so I thought. I’ve learned there are many ways in which distractions are ‘scheduled into our lives,’ as Harris puts it.

I think many of us struggle with control over our time. Yet, time is all we have in life.

I was listening to a great interview on NRP with Tim Wu about a book I hope to find the time to read some day, Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. In it, citing William James, Tim said the following:

“… we must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or by default. We are at risk, without quite fully realizing it, of living lives that are less our own than we imagine.”

I think he’s  profoundly right. I printed this quote and put it above my desk to help me remain mindful of how I’m spending my attention.

– Cheers!
Matt

p.s. If you’d like some additional content related to the above blog post, check out:

above photo is a free stock photo from pexels.com

Here’s My Communication Research Class Assignment on Analyzing Media Placement

In my opening post to the Spring 2018 semester, I reviewed several new assignments and activities I will be bringing into my classes this semester.

In this post, I will discuss the quantitative content analysis assignment that students will complete in my COMM 435 Communication Research course. The project simulates an analysis of earned media placement.

[Here are all the posts about that class, including discussion of past projects].

Background: About the Class

My aim with the communication research class is to offer our students experience learning about a variety of approaches to conducting research. My goal is to mix methodology (i.e., the study of research methods) with practical applications that students may run into in their careers. This course is not a graduate school prep course. It is designed for students who are planning to go into industry.

I think a struggle that many of us have is that there is a sense that we need to prepare students to be able to do the “new and cool stuff” (e.g., social media data analysis) in the research class, while balancing educating students about the research process, research ethics, designing measurements, building methods, gathering data, analyzing data, interpreting data, etc.

Unfortunately, we only have this one research class in our department as we are a small department serving a wide array of needs. I know that some other universities have advanced research or analytics courses. Thus, for me, I need to fit in both emerging methods and what some might see as traditional, evergreen methods:  content analysis, surveys, focus groups, interviews.

With this in mind, my students complete 3 assignments in the class, with each assignment focusing on a different topic. Each assignment is situated in a hypothetical, but plausible situation. I present the situation to the students via the assignment, and then we go through the steps of learning how to solve the problem put forth in the assignment. The assignments explore:

  1. Content analysis of media artifacts (in the form of an analysis of earned media placement)
  2. Social data analysis
  3. Surveys, interviews, focus groups.

Each project is done in teams. This blog post will focus on project 1, content analysis of media artifacts.

As an side, if you’re interested in learning about the social data analysis assignment, last year I wrote a 4-part series on that assignment that I’ve gotten a lot of comments and questions about.

Project 1: The Set Up

Learning research methods is a challenge for anyone new to it. Undergraduates sometimes express a strong aversion to the topic.

I’ve found that a content analysis of media artifacts is the most approachable method for introducing students to the systematic nature of doing research.

During the first few weeks of class, students are learning about research (e.g., the process, concepts such as reliability & generalizability, what research methods are, sampling, etc.).

After that, I introduce a hypothetical situation that the students will have to solve for their first project. Each year, I change up the situation a little bit. But the nuts and bolts have remained the same for the last 3 years.

I use the format from the Stacks book to set up the hypothetical situation students will address. You can see the entire text for the situation in the assignment at the bottom of this post. I will be referring to it in the paragraphs below.

The hypothetical is that the students work for an agency representing Netflix. Netflix is facing greater competition from other online streaming services like Amazon. To keep its competitive edge, Netflix is working to create shows that will appeal to a key market: 30-somethings. Stranger Things is one such show. Season 2 just launched.

Because the success of Netflix shows is widely influenced by critical acclaim from media, a media relations campaign was undertaken to position Netflix positively relative to itself competitors as a streaming service by way of the show.  The objectives of the campaign were to gain positive coverage of the premiere of season 2 of Stranger things.

The students enter the situation after the campaign has been executed and the campaign is now in the evaluation stage. Their job is to evaluate whether the media coverage was earned and what the nature of that coverage was.

Data Collection

I used to gather a sample of news articles from LexisNexis and provide them to the students. This semester, the students will gather the data set themselves using the Meltwater social intelligence software. I’m excited about this because it gets the students into Meltwater and thinking about the use of the tool’s dashboard features. In addition, students are learning that they have the ability to pull down data for further analysis outside of Meltwater.

[You can learn more about the Meltwater University program in this blog post.]

The Meltwater software enables users to gather news articles from a given time period. Searches are conducted using keywords. Stranger things season 2 launched October 27, 2017. So the data set is built around the season premiere. I don’t have a strong research justification for the exact date range chosen. Rather, I chose it because it produced a manageable number of articles for each student to have to code.

Also, please note that I do not operationalize what “top news sources” are from the assignment objectives. Instead, for purposes of the exercise, I have students pick the top 5 sources related to their search results to analyze.

You can see the procedure for gathering the data via the Meltwater for Media Article Content Analysis lab guide I created.

Data Analysis

There is a lot you could do with Meltwater to analyze the articles related to the launch of season 2 of Stranger Things.  If I had more time for this project, we’d dig into a lot of the dashboard tools. For now, students are only focusing on the quantitative content analysis of news articles.

I provide the students with details about specific research questions they are trying to answer related to media coverage: placement, share of voice, and whether or not the campaign’s 3 key messages made it into the press.

The data analysis is a simple quantitative content analysis of media artifacts. A simple coding sheet is provided. We discuss inter-coder reliability. And each student codes his/her media articles by hand using the coding sheet.

In class, we go over the coding sheet. And, in addition to the items on the coding sheet, which align with the research questions, students come up with their own item to code and to report in their paper. I do this exercise to get the students thinking about other things they could look for in the articles that might be useful.

It is worth noting that during a class activity earlier in the semester, students design their own coding sheets to evaluate car commercials and they learn quite a bit about the ups and downs of creating coding sheets. But, for the project, I create and provide the coding sheet. The operationalizations from the coding sheet are based on our class text, Paine’s “Measure what Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships.” For example, in class we discuss what we mean when we say that share of voice is “exclusive” or “dominant.”

While some of the coding can be done in class, students finish the coding as homework.

You can see the coding sheet that we will use this semester at the bottom of this blog post.

The students take their coded data and enter it into a spreadsheet so that we can quickly run frequency reports using SPSS.

The Project Write Up

With project 1, the write up that students produce is limited to providing a problem overview, the results, and a brief discussion section along with an appendix of their coding sheet. In the second and third projects students are asked to produce more and more of what a research paper might look like. But, because this is not an academic research class, I try to balance introducing students to a more academic style of research writing with a style that is more suitable to a report they might right in industry. I use a similar format to the format presented in the Stacks book.

I provide students with several handouts to help them write up their results.

One opportunity this assignment always presents, is a discussion about the limitations “simply measuring” the items on the coding sheet without looking at any context. As such, students are to go into their data and identify the features of the articles that support their results. Thus, they find example headlines and quotes to demonstrate, say, an example of a key message that was amplified.

Some Limitations

This project is, of course, limited in several rather important respects. However, I’ve created this project because it provides a great opportunity to introduce students to research, what a content analysis is, how to use a coding sheet, inter-coder reliability (invariably there are disagreements into how aspects of articles should be coded), and more.  Further, the project presents these learning opportunities within the context of learning a little bit about how one might evaluate earned media coverage. For example, students have learned about key messages in other classes. Now, they are learning about how those key messages may make their way into media articles and how the media represents them.

The project accomplishes this while situating the assignment in a campaign that is hypothetical but that is based on real events: Stranger Things Season 2 is real. Many of my students love the show and have watched it. They are reading real media articles about the show.  Further, students are situating this project as a campaign evaluation because the entire project is situated within the narrative that the students already executed the campaign and now they are evaluating it.

A Thought About the Key Messages Portion of the Coding Sheet

Each year I have changed up the Netflix show that we analyze and have thus changed the hypothetical backstory that accompanies it.

The key messages on the coding sheets are messages that I made up. They do not change much year to year, other than to bring them into the context of the show we’re evaluating. For example, this year I changed key message number two to emphasize the theme of nostalgia, which relates to the 30-something audience we are trying to target. I write the messages to be purposefully broad enough that they always end up achieving a good amount of frequency in the data set. The key messages are based on my general knowledge of Netflix. This year, it is possible that we won’t get many hits on key message number two. But, we’re bound to have some success with all three. However, if you choose to do this project and have some time, a better way to write the key messages would be to read through the data set ahead of time and develop them based on your own content analysis of the articles.

I hope that you found this blog post interesting and helpful. If you have ideas on how I can improve this project, please leave a comment or Tweet me. If you decide to use a version of this project in your own class, please stop on back and let readers know how it went or ways that you built upon it.

Don’t forget to check out the assignment below and the accompanying coding sheet.

Cheers!

– Matt

Project 1: Media Placement Assignment Handout

Project 1 Coding Sheet

Note: The hypothetical situation above uses the names of a real brand, Netflix, and its product. However, the situation is entirely made up and exists for educational purposes. Netflix logo is copyright Netflix.

What’s Changing? Hubspot Academy, Google Analytics, Meltwater software and more!: Spring 2018 Class Updates

I hope that everyone had a relaxing and rejuvenation winter break.

I’m going to kick off Spring 2018 with something I like to do on this blog at the start of the semester: Offer a preview of some of the changes and updates I’m making to my classes (Here are all past “What’s Changing” blog posts). Some of the things I will share below are items that I have blogged about recently. However, most of these items are new topics that I I hope to expand upon with blog posts during the course of the semester.

COMM 321 Public Relations Principles

Last semester was the first time that I did not teach this class in a few years. Here are a few things that I did lats year that I want to improve or keep working on in the class:

See all past posts about my COMM 321 Public Relations Principles class.

COMM 435 Communication Research

I teach this class once a year during the spring. Each semester, I have made modifications to the class. But, at this core, this class aims to prepare students to conduct applied research using both new (e.g., analyzing social data) and traditional research techniques (e.g., content analysis, surveys, focus groups and interviews). We touch on both qualitative and quantitative approaches.  Students complete 3 projects, each aimed at addressing a different hypothetical situation that they may face in their careers.

  • For the past few years, the first project in this class has been a basic quantitative content analysis of media artifacts assignment. I find that teaching content analysis first is a good way to get students warmed up to conducting research. The content analysis method is used to address the following situation: A media campaign has been run to promote a new Netflix show. The class project begins after the campaign in the evaluation stage. The students need to assess the coverage of news articles to see how effective the campaign was in getting media placement. We look at share of voice, placement within the article, whether our hypothetical key messages made it into the article, etc.
    In the past, to get the data, I gathered news media artifacts via LexisNexis and distributed them to the students. It was not the most hands on learning experience. This semester, I’m super excited because the students will be using Meltwater social intelligence software to create their own search for articles they will be analyzing. This will enable students to have a data set comprised of both traditional news as well as newer, online publications. Adding this little touch will improve the learning experience, provide a better data set, and make things feel that much more ‘real.’ It’s the seemingly small but powerful improvements like this that make all the difference! A big thank you to @Meltwater and Carol Ann Vance, director of university relations at Meltwater!
    As frequent readers of this blog know, I had the opportunity to use Meltwater in my COMM 322 Social Media class last semester. I am pumped to bring it into my research class this spring.
  • There has been a lot of discussion about certifications in the social media professor’s Facebook group. Like many of you, I’ve been wanting to get my students to complete certifications that have been created by industry. Students will be given the opportunity to complete the Google Analytics certification this semester in the class. I’m approaching this as a beta test. I’ve been wanting to get my students trained in analytics. However, my class is so packed already that I haven’t dared bring it in. The compromise I’ve decided upon is to let students complete the analytics assignment outside of class on their own in place of the research analysis paper that I traditionally assign in this class. Thus, the decision is entirely optional. And my goal is to assess feedback from these students on how it went. From there, I’ll decide how to approach the certification in the future.

COMM 335 Writing Across Platforms

I teach the writing class every year during the spring. If memory serves, this is the 5th year in a row that I will be teaching this class. Each semester, I have tried to change up at least one of the major writing assignments in the class, while making tweaks and improvements to all of them. Here are the big changes that I have in mind:

  • The BuzzFeed assignment will continue. But, this semester we’re going to do the BuzzFeed assignment as the first major writing assignment instead of as one of the last assignments. Therefore, I will be shifting the focus of the assignment from spring break to a new topic. Students will need to write about West Virginia, or their home state.
  • I will be removing the Facebook ad writing assignment (and moving it to the social media class next fall). Last year, I had my students write a Facebook ad promoting themselves. The assignment was based on Dennis Yu’s lecture to my class from several years ago and his unique approach to Facebook ads: The $1 a day strategy.  The assignment was great. But I’ve decided paid social needs to be covered in the social media class.
  • I’ll be adding how to write for paid search in its place. Students will be learning about paid search using the Mimic Intro simulator. Paid has become increasingly important. And I’m finding that many employers are seeking students who have knowledge of paid. I’m interested to see how the software simulator goes, as I’ve never done something like this before in one of my classes.
  • To keep up with my push to increase the certification opportunities in my classes, students in my writing class will now complete 1 of the Hubspot Academy certifications. They’ll have the choice of completing the email marketing or the content marketing certifications.  Students can get extra credit for completing both. (I wrote about my experience with the Hubspot Academy here).

These are the major changes coming to my classes in the spring that I’m excited about. It looks like Spring 2018 will be busy! If you have experience with any of the certifications or activities above, I’d love to hear your input or recommendations.

I hope your semester is off to a great start!

Cheers!

– Matt

 

Fall 2017 Strategic Campaign Client Presentations: Reflections and Learning Opportunities

This semester, my COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns students had the opportunity to take on an international non-profit as a client. That non-profit was Children of Uganda.  Children of Uganda seeks to give a hand up to women and children in Uganda. Among its efforts, Children of Uganda helps put Ugandan children through school and provides micro-funding for income generating projects for Ugandan women.

It was an amazing learning opportunity to partner with the passionate and dedicated team at Children of Uganda. It was very inspiring for me. And I believe it was for the students as well.

The Pitch

On Thursday, December 14, the students had the opportunity to pitch their completed campaign plans to Children of Uganda. The students were nervous. I was too.  They worked all semester to research and plan their campaigns and had worked hard to address the client’s earlier feedback on their proposals. It was time to see what the client thought.

campaign-class-presentations
Students presenting their campaign projects in Dec. 2017

As a professor, you work for years to help the students grow, mature, and learn. You push them to believe in themselves and to realize what they are capable of. The campaigns class is the culminating class in the Strategic Communication concentration in our department. It is where the students have the opportunity to transition from being students to being professionals.

Both presentations went very well. The team at Children of Uganda expressed sincere satisfaction with, and excitement about, both campaign plans. After the presentations, the client asked great questions and the students handled them very well. It was a #proudprofessor moment for sure!

When it was all over, I could sense a feeling of excitement and relief emanating from the students. I sensed that they were almost surprised in how well they executed and how well their ideas were received. I sensed that the students were impressed with themselves, and rightly so. They did an awesome job!

I’ve taught the campaigns class in the fall for the last four years (here’s the syllabus from the first time I taught it in Fall 2014). I always find that it is the most challenging class to teach and for students to take. Further, preparing students to give a pitch presentation is hard. I’ve shown different slide decks, talked about strategies, etc. We did a few trial runs and had the students work on ironing out the weak points.

I reflected on this a bit.

I realized that I had missed a teaching opportunity.

As an educator who has been teaching at the college level now for over 10 years, I’ve come to see my mission as: to help my students self actualize.

It is not enough to me that my students do well. I want them to feel good about doing well. I want them to believe in themselves and know that they can accomplish things they didn’t think they could. I think that, to many of us educators, the information we help the students learn is at the surface of how we are hoping to help them. Beyond knowledge, I think that for many educations, educating is about helping people push personal boundaries, enter new spaces, and grow confidence in those spaces.

I believe that one way to do this, is to help heighten student awareness of how they are perceiving themselves and/or a situation and how that can limit their growth.

Was the students’ nervousness before the presentations justified? Was mine?

Of course.

Presenting before a client is a scary proposition, especially when you’re a student doing it for the first time. It is of course natural and perfectly normal to feel nervous. We all feel that way from time to time.

But, I want to help my students begin to take control of this feeling so that they can continue to become more comfortable giving presentations and pitching clients. I believe that the more at ease one feels in these settings, the better they will enjoy them. The more they enjoy them, the better they’ll go.

One way to do this, is to examine the evidence when facing a high-pressure situation. Students could look at what they thought might happen that would be bad. A thought might be: “What if the client hates the idea and tells us so?” Afterwards, they could look at the evidence as to whether it actually happened. Since, most things we fear never come to fruition, chances are that things will turn out better than one expects.  When one sees that things turned out better, I think it has the power to break those limiting perceptions about one’s abilities.

Here’s what I’m going to do next time:

1) Have students write down on a scale of 1-7 with 1 meaning “terribly” and 7 meaning “amazingly”: “How well do you think this presentation will go?”

2) Have them write down a brief description of what they think might happen that wouldn’t be good.

3) Write a statement to counter those negative thoughts – such as, what might go well.

4) Give the presentation.

5) Use a scale of 1-7 to answer how well the presentation went, with 1 being “terribly” and 7 meaning “amazingly.”

6) Have the students identify the number of things that they thought might happen that wouldn’t be good that actually happened.

7) Have the students write a positive statement about how the presentation went, such as identifying things that went well.

Afterwards, we will discuss their answers to these questions, with the goal of having them reflect upon the positive of what they did. My hope is that it will help them start to break any limiting perceptions that they may have. I hope this will accelerate their comfort with presenting so that their comfort is in line with their abilities.

Closing out 2018

I think for all of us, when we face a challenging task, there is a tendency to focus on what might go wrong. As I look forward to 2018, a goal I have for my classes is to continue to shift the narrative for my students to focus on what will go right. These students are amazing people with wonderful talents. I’m super impressed with how they performed this semester!

Congrats to the December grads and to the students who have taken their final course from me.

Lastly, on behalf of the class, I want to thank Professor Larson and the students of COMM 406 Advertising & Imagery. For the first time, my class partnered with Professor Monica Larson’s class. The Ad & Imagery students created all of the graphic design work for our campaigns. The campaign students decided what they wanted created, and they worked with Professor Larson’s students to flesh out the ideas and refine them. Then, Professor Larson’s students did the graphic design work.

About half of the students were in both classes.  My class had two different groups, each working on their own campaign. Half of Professor Larson’s students worked on creating media materials for 1 of the groups in my class and half of the students worked on creating media materials for the other group. Thus, each student in Professor Larson’s class created their own version of the media materials my students requested. The best 3 designs were chosen for each campaign.

Professor Larson is a very talented, amazing professor. Having the opportunity to work with her class elevated the experience for the students in both classes, I believe. I know that it  greatly enhanced the quality of the final product in my class. Her feedback in helping the students refine their pitches was instrumental in their success.

– Cheers
Matt

 

 

 

 

Teaching Students to Create an Online Personal Branding Strategy

Lately, there’s been a lot of buzz about Mark W. Schaefer’s new book: Known: The handbook for building and unleashing your personal brand in the digital age. For example, Ai Addison Zang reviewed it.

I haven’t read the book. But, after reading those reviews, it’s officially on my Christmas list.

[Read book reviews I’ve written about Schaefer’s other books: Return on Influence and Born to Blog]

With all the buzz about personal branding online, I’d like to share a personal branding assignment I started incorporating in my Public Relations Principles class last semester.

The assignment is based on the assignment Dr. Karen Freberg presents in her book A Roadmap for Teaching Social Media. But first, some thoughts.

[Read my review of Dr. Freberg’s book]

My Struggle in Teaching Personal Branding

Personal branding is something I’ve struggled to successfully bring into my classes. When I first started teaching social media at Shepherd University, I had a personal branding project. In short, students developed a personal branding plan. Then, throughout the semester, the students worked on executing the plan. For example, one student started a video gaming blog focused on retro RPGs. At the end of the semester, students  presented their outputs and their results in brief presentations.

I loved the idea. But, I found that students didn’t take too well to it. Most students didn’t put the time and concentration into the project that I had hoped. A number of students didn’t do much of what they planned to do such that at the end of the semester they didn’t have too many pieces of content – whether that was video posts or blogs – to show for it. I wanted to know why the project didn’t succeed as I had hoped. So I asked. Several students expressed some skepticism as to the value of what I was trying to get them to do. And, some simply didn’t want to have an online presence.

That was in the fall of 2012. After that experience, I pulled back quite a bit on online personal branding. And I’m sad to say that, perhaps out of fear of it not going well again, I stopped requiring my students to do online personal branding. I didn’t so much as require students to participate in a Twitter chat – though I certainly encouraged it as extra curricular activity.

In all honesty, when I reflect on my teaching over the last 5 plus years here at Shepherd, I think that not emphasizing personal branding in my classes is the one thing I wish I did better.

Steps Back into Personal Branding

After reading Dr. Freberg’s book, I got the bug again about teaching students personal branding. I decided to start small with a project in my Public Relations Principles class. I first gave this assignment last spring as a final project in the class instead of the paper I used to have them write.

As I noted above, this project is an adaptation of the assignment Dr. Freberg puts forth in her book. I modified it down. The purpose of this project was for students to strategize how they would build their personal brands online.

The assignment is broken down into a few parts.

First, I provide students with Dr. Freberg’s checklist for personal branding. I encourage students to work through the list.

Next, I require students to identify a job or internship that interests them and answer some questions about how they relate to the position.

Then, I have students map out their personal brand. Lastly, students must create a LinkedIn or About.me profile branding themselves.

Because I gave this assignment late in the year, I did not ask students to build out a plan for building their personal brand nor did I ask them to have executed one. Rather, I asked them to start taking little steps towards executing a personal brand and provide me evidence that they are moving in that direction.

I’d like to grow this into something more where the students need to go out and truly prepare a detailed strategy and execute it for weeks or a few months  – similar to what I was originally doing in my social media class. I’m not sure where I’d fit this in as my social media class is pretty packed right now. But, I’m going to think about it further this summer, read Schaefer’s new book, and see what I can come up with.

If you’ve got tips or examples of how you’ve gotten your students to find success in personal branding, I’d love to hear them. Tweet me @mjkushin or comment on this blog.

You can see the full assignment below.

  • Cheers!
    Matt