All posts by profkushin

Teaching Social Network Concepts: Fun Class Activity

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what I did:

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

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

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

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

Example: I introduced Mom to my wife.

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

This took another 2-3 minutes.

drawing edges in a social network
Click to enlarge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A) Telling 1 of your 5 best friends

B) Telling an acquaintance in class.

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

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

Okay, on to that last fun part I promised.

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

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

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

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

Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

 

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

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

 

How Guest Professors Build Bridges For Students

Building bridges.

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

So how can we do that?

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

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

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

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Dr. Sisson’s presentation on online reputation management.

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

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

    2015-11-10_11_16_39-1
    Dr. Freberg discussed crisis communication and social media
  3. It makes the classroom “real” for students – Hearing Dr. Freberg’s experience as a Plank Center Fellow with General Motors helped students see real world applications of concepts we discuss in class.  Hearing Dr. Sisson discuss tips and ideas for relationship management from her own experiences working in the health care sector, helped my social media students think about their own class project creating the social media for our department and how we can overcome some of the challenges we face in building and maintaining relationships. These bridges push students forward.
  4. It creates a networking opportunity for the students – Both Dr. Freberg and Dr. Sisson are incredibly giving of their time, their expertise, and their social capital – offering to help students learn and build their professional network. Several students have already taken action, engaging with both professors and I was proud of their motivation to capitalize on the generous offerings by both professors. Which leads me to…
  5. Breaking Down Walls. While this post is all about building bridges, it is also a tale of breaking down classroom walls. This is at the center of much of what we are trying to do: Bringing the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. Having another professor come into your classroom does just that. We have to keep in mind that students are just beginning to build their networks – many don’t have a professional network at all.  Getting a chance to meet faculty from other universities opens doors to the resources of those faculty. And, all great faculty have something in common – they are here to help students grow and succeed. It doesn’t matter if the students are enrolled in their class or yours. They want all students to thrive and realize their dreams.

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

 

 

What Faculty Can Learn from Dennis Yu, a Leader in Social Media Marketing

Yesterday, I had the amazing opportunity to have a true industry leader speak with students in my Social Media class here at Shepherd.

Dennis Yu, the CTO of BlitzMetrics, kindly donated his time to share his insights and experiences. The result?

It is safe to say that all of us left the room energized and inspired.

I’ve learned so much from Dennis in the few weeks we’ve been chatting over email and have found BlitzMetrics site to be a wealth of educational tools.

The focus of the chat yesterday was on personal branding, social media, and becoming a leader. Here are a few things I took from talk that I believe all of us, as professors, can incorporate.

Elevate Others

Dennis reminded us that credibility is not what you say you are. And neither is your personal brand. Your personal brand – your entire social identity – is what others say you are.

In other words, to have credibility you need to “get influential people to say good things about you.” So how do you do that?

Dennis has a great talk on YouTube in which he discusses the idea of using your power to elevate others.  Rather than blasting photos of our food, Dennis says we should use social media as a way to help other people. Seems intuitive, right? Unfortunately, it often isn’t.  Many have maligned the social media generation as being self-interested, motivating by one single idea: “Look at me.”

Shift: Instead, we can make a simple shift in our behavior that can pay dividends: We can focus our social media attention to get people to “look at others.”

As faculty, we are in a natural position to help people “look at others.” Here are 3 things we can do:

  • Highlight amazing work of our students and bring attention to their successes. We are our students’ greatest advocates and cheer leaders. Social media serves as an amazing sounding board for highlighting our current and former students. No one is doing this better, in my opinion, than Karen Freberg with her awesome #ProudProf blog posts highlighting the work her former students are doing.
  • Bring attention to other faculty. Many in academia look at academia as a zero sum game, where in order for me to gain you need to lose. I think the ‘publish or perish’ mentality hammered into our heads in graduate school cultivates this competitive atmosphere. But, the truth is, I’ve had my greatest successes by building relationships with others, not trying to beat them to get published or gain recognition. My greatest scholarly achievements and productivity has come from working with brilliant scholars. Two of the many great scholars I’ve had a chance to work with, I met in graduate school: Francis Dalisay and Masahiro Yamamoto.  The impulse may be to think, “look what I have accomplished.” I think we’re all better served when we think, “look at who has helped me accomplish.” Because, without others, how far can we really go?
  • Seek opportunities that benefit others. One of my absolute favorite things is when brands and software companies help higher education. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a huge fan of Hootsuite University. And the reason is because they create opportunities to help students and faculty by providing them with free access to Hootsuite Pro and an awesome online education tool. Of course, this helps me. And, it helps my students. But, you don’t have to be a large company like Hootsuite to help others. If you have a skill or knowledge, share it. If you are a faculty member and you aren’t blogging, start doing so. If you create lesson plans, lectures, and syllabi, share them on your blog, on LinkedIn, or sites like SlideShare or Scribd. For example, Don Stanley, who teaches at UW Madison, does an awesome job of posting educational videos about social media on LinkedIn. If you create research tools, open them up to the community to learn from. Recently, I learned a ton about data visualization from Deen Freelong’s website that contains tutorials, curated lists of software, and more.  It is not about competing to be the best professor, it is about helping all of us help advance scholarship and help our students.
  • Be Thankful. There is a lesson to be learned when amazing, super busy, and highly sought after people like Dennis take time out of their schedule to chat with a small class of students. I am more than happy to tell the world about my positive experiences with BlitzMetrics and Hootsuite University. Whenever others help us, we have the power to thank them in a social way.  So, thank you Dennis!

In his talk, Dennis said: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.” In other words, the better you make those around you, the better off you are. I couldn’t agree more!

 

My Fall 2014 Social Media Class Project In Review

shepherdcommunication-socialmedia
Typo! What happens when I Tweet from my phone while in a rush. 😛

In the last few posts, I’ve been writing about my Social Media class and the semester project we’ve been doing. To recap, students create a social media content strategy for our department’s social media (the details of the assignment are on the previous post). They then use this plan to create content for the department. They create content 3  times, each time they are creating content for a certain time period. The content is presented to the class and then goes through an editorial process (i.e.., I grade them and make any needed mods) if needed before being published.

With the semester winding down, I want to share some of the work the students have been doing!

Students have done a great job across the semester and have worked hard to try to create content that will resonate with students while also targeting our goals and conveying our key messages. Running an account for a small university department is a unique challenge. Although as professors we are exhilarated by what we teach and have a love and passion for school, it is a bit tougher to get students excited about, well, that part of the college experience responsible for all the work they have to do. 🙂 Believe it or not, school is the last thing some students want to be thinking about when they aren’t in class. 🙂 And I think having to try to overcome the challenge of promoting school is a great experience for students. I’m very pleased with how the students have done in the face of these challenges. The semester began with very little content on our accounts, and few followers.

Students have done a particularly strong job working between groups to create content that works across platforms. For example, you’ll see how some of our blog posts tie into our Instagram and Twitter in regard to profiles of students and faculty.

Our class was divided into 3 groups:

Twitter – Prior to the class starting, we had a Twitter account but it was rarely posted to. Now, we have a variety of content from the informative to reminders of important dates to community-building memes and humorous posts students in our department can relate to.
Blog – The blog is brand new and our department hasn’t done much to publicize it yet. But students have done a great job getting it going. We’ve had highlights of students and insights into classes and events students are apart of. Note: Part of the reason it hasn’t been publicized, is the university is in a tradition stage with its website. And we are waiting to see how that will impact our online presence.
Instagram – Similar to Twitter, Instagram was something we had set up. But hadn’t done much with before the semester. Our Instagram team  began creating videos to highlight professors and students (we’ve had a few sound issues, but are working them out). These videos are accompanied by photos of the individual “behind the scenes.” There are also other photos of other events.

Students have one more round of content they will be turning in this week. And that content will be scheduled to carry us through the winter break.

Altogether, I’m very pleased with how students have worked to help humanize our department and enable current students to connect with one another and perspective students to get a look at who we are and what we do.  I feel we are moving in the right direction.  In the last few days, interest in our content has really taken off as students have reached out and begun highlighting the work their fellow students are doing. I am excited to see how the department’s social media grows and advances in time.

Is this a project I would do again? Absolutely. Students really bought into this project and worked hard to see it through. They expressed to me that they learned a lot from the class and doing this project. And, they said they enjoyed the opportunity to get hands-on experience. It was a very fun semester! I had a great bunch of students and I am very proud of all of them! I plan to continue with this assignment next year.

I’m not teaching Social Media next semester. So where will the department’s social media content for Spring 2014 come from? I’m not entirely sure yet. But I’ve got some ideas in the works and a strong foundation to build upon!

Thoughts? Questions? Recommendations for this project? Would love your comments and feedback below or send me a Tweet.
– Cheers!
Matt