Category Archives: Classroom Activities and Exercises

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Integrating The Metrics Into the Semester-Long Assignment

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

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

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

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

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

-Cheers!
Matt

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in A Class Project? (Part 3 of 3)

In the previous two posts in this series, I talked about steps I take to set teams up for success in group class projects.

The first post looked at group contracts. The second post looked at peer evaluations of one’s team.

In this final post, let’s look at the more dramatic tool that I use to set teams up for success in group class projects: The ability to fire teammates from a group.

Photo CC by Sean MacEntee
Photo CC by Sean MacEntee

As I said in my first post in this series, you may be thinking that this letting students fire teammates is fraught with danger. Some of you may think it is too harsh. Others of you may be thinking this is only natural, as being fired is a real possibility for failure to do one’s work in any job.

I understand all of these sentiments. My approach is that students should have the right to expect great work from their peers. They should be empowered to hold their peers accountable and that one should be accountable to their peers. By learning these lessons as young adults, students are learning to advocate for their interests in a professional manner when the actions of others adversely affect them in a work environment.

I recently received an email from a faculty member wanting to know more about the firing process, as I had mentioned it in passing in a blog post a while back.  So, there may be more people out there that are curious about what it means to let our students fire each other.

The purpose of this post is to explain to you how and why I choose to use this tool. I’ll also explain a minor modification I’ve made since then.

How Firing Works and Some Safeguards:

Students cannot fire a teammate at any time or for any reason.

As I said, the reasons that a team could fire a member are derived from the group contract, discussed in post #1. Of course, there are other circumstances where one could warrant firing a teammate even thought teams might have failed to put it on the contract. But, I try to stick with the contract as much as possible.

In terms of timing, getting fired at the end of the semester before a major project is due would be a major blow to a student’s grade. So, a few safeguards are in place.

At the start of the semester, I briefly explain the process of how to fire a teammate which I will outline below. The documents discussed below are on the course website where students would download them and fill them out. The documents themselves provide the instructions students would need, if they forgot.

First, I set a deadline in the semester that students have to first issue someone an official warning by before they can fire the person. Another way to do this, is simply tell students that they have to give someone a warning, say, 2 weeks before they can fire them.

What is a warning? A warning is simply a written complaint that a team files with me that makes a complaint against an accused student. It serves to officially put that student on notice that if he/she does not change their behavior, then he/she will likely be fired.

The reason I believe in the warning first, is that it usually solves the problem without the drastic measure of firing the student, because it gives the accused a chance to right the ship. I find that, just like in most conflicts, people often just want the other person to know how they feel. The grievance has been aired and everyone in the group is aware that the warning exists. I keep a copy of the warning and give a copy to the accused.

In order for a team to be able to issue a warning, the majority of the remaining teammates must agree to issue the warning. So, if there are 4 students in a group, 2 of the remaining 3 students would have to vote in favor of issuing the warning.

Here is a copy of the Issue a Team Member a Warning document.

Requiring the majority of teammates agree to a warning helps reduce ‘he said, she said’ scenarios where two people are simply not getting along and one is using the group as an outlet for what is really an interpersonal conflict. However, it could result in a student feeling ganged up on.

Once a warning has been issued, if the team decides that the accused hasn’t changed, then they can file a Petition to Fire A Team Member. The process is similar to what is used in the warning. The majority has to vote for the firing. A specific reason has to be given as to why they are electing to fire this teammate. I make the final decision to ensure the cause is justifiable.

Here is the Petition to Fire A Team Member sheet

How Does This Affect The Person Who Got Fired?

In short, if the person gets fired, he/she keeps all grades that their team earned during the time they were a part of that group. The student’s choice going forward is to, either find a new group (time permitting and assuming another group will take them in) to work on any remaining assignments, work alone on the project, or fail the remaining assignments.

Some Thoughts

The process seems a bit litigious. But, it makes firing a teammate procedural and takes some of the emotion, potential for perceived favoritism, and conflict out of it. And, because it is a bit of work to fire someone, teammates are not firing one another left and right. Said another way, the process protects teammates from each other.

It isn’t so much that students can fire one another that is empowering so much as it is the knowledge that they have the right to fire someone who is not doing their work.

In fact, what I’ve noticed is that students often don’t want to fire another student, at least in our department because it is small. So, they know that they will see this student in another course and that would be awkward.

As such, I have since added the ability to come to me as a group and request that a student does not receive credit, or receives only partial credit on a team assignment, but is not fired for the rest of the semester.  I’ve noticed our students tend to feel better about doing this. They aren’t casting a fellow student off the island, but they’re also aren’t allowing any freeloaders. I don’t have an official form for this. But, I make it known on the syllabus and group contract form on post #1.

Summary:

In summary, there are 4 tools students have to control outcomes in their group and ensure everyone is getting credit or not for their group involvement. They are:

1) The group contract – setting norms & expectations from the group (see post #1 in this series).
2) Team evaluations – which I range in value from 12-18% of their final grade, depending on how much group work there is (see post #2 in this series).
3) Ability to fire a team member (after a warning) – this is the most drastic step.
4) Ability to request that a team member’s grade be reduced or that the student doesn’t receive any credit on an assignment that the student didn’t do any or sufficient work on. This is the middle ground.

How Often Do People Get Fired?

It happens only in the most drastic of circumstances. I’ve seen #4 done twice last year and once this year since I introduced it. I’ve seen #3 done one time in my 3.5 years here at Shepherd and twice in the two years before that.

I hope this series of posts provides some insight in how I seek to set up my classroom for success in group projects. It is not a perfect model.  There are still some people who slack off and others who are frustrated by their teammates. And I will continue to tweak with an effort to reduce these issues and maximize group effectiveness.

How do you empower students to take control of their teams and build success?

 

A Guide To Setting Up Classroom Groups for Success: Team Evaluations (Part 2 of 3)

This is the second post in a 3-part series on how to set up teams to be successful.

I started this series with a question:

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in a Class Project?

Again, in my classes, the answer to that question is “yes.”

setting-up-class-teams-for-success-peer-evaluation
Creative Commons Hernan Pinera

The first post looked at group contracts. If you haven’t read it, please go back and read it. If you have read it, let’s jump into the second, vital instrument I use to set groups up for success: Team evaluations (which I refer to in my classes as group report cards, but I will use the term team evaluations here).

A significant chunk of a student’s grade in my class is based on the evaluations made by her peers.

The more group work, the more I make these worth. A quick point about these before explaining how they work:

I do not release this grade to the students.  This is important because if a student thought her peers would know how she evaluated them, the student is less likely to be candid in her evaluation.

Team evaluations are based on research on team-based learning and the work of Larry Michaelson. I saw Michaelson present on this a few years ago during a pedagogy event held at Utah Valley University and have used this system ever since (note: the team-based learning approach I learned from Michaelson has had a big impact on how I approach teaching. For example, his work inspired my 2014 post on enhancing teamwork and in-class discussion). This is how I do it:

I provide students with a simple sheet of paper (an example to a similar scoring sheet can be found on p. 7 of this document) that includes instructions and scoring guidelines. They fill them out confidentially, and return them.

You can do team evaluations after each team assignment, or halfway through the semester and at the end, however you wish. The thing that makes these team evaluations unique and powerful is the unique math approach of the evaluation.

Usually, when you ask students to evaluate one another, there is a tendency to score everyone fairly well.  I’m not sure the reason why. Maybe it is that either they don’t want to be mean to someone else, that they simply don’t think too hard about it, or something else. Whatever the reason, a team evaluation where everyone receives about the same mark isn’t helpful to you, the professor.

In the way I do my evaluations, a student evaluates everyone but himself.  The student takes the total number of people in the group and subtracts himself. If there are 5 people total in the group, the number is 4. There is 10 points per student to distribute. So, in our example, multiply the number of students that one student would evaluate in a group of five, which is 4 (everyone but himself), by 10. There is a total of 40 points.

The student must distribute the 40 points among the 4 other students in his group (i.e., the students he is evaluating). And there’s only 1 rule: at least 1 student must get a 9 or lower, and at least 1 student must get an 11 or higher.

Why? This forces the students to really think about who did the most work, and who did the least. Giving points to one person is to take points away from someone else. This scarcity gets the students to take the evaluations seriously.

But your students probably won’t be happy about this. They’ll say, “Well that’s not fair.” So I explain them how and why, from my perspective, it is. A person who did more work deserves a better grade. And, I’ll explain that when I didn’t use a system like this, the students gave inflated scores to everyone in their team that did not reflect the reality they experienced. Importantly, I make a point to tell them that by giving someone a 9 you are not banishing that person to the Land of Bad Grades (this will make sense when you see the below).

Here’s how it works. In each example below, the team has 4 people in it. So each person is evaluating 3 other people:

If everyone did about the same work, students will score each other very closely.

Example:

John 11, Sally 10, Jim 9 (Jane is doing the evaluation)

But if someone was clearly doing a lot, or a little, it shows up:

John 7, Sally 10, Jim 13 (Jane is doing the evaluation)

Students get to explain their scores if they like.

Once collected, I add up the scores (from each evaluation of a student in a group) and divide by the highest score. Example: The highest score was John, he got a total of 28 points. Jim got a total of 22 points. So, John got a 100% (he did the most work, and went above and beyond others) and Jim gets 22/28=78%. That is, students are compared in relation to the person who does the most work. The person who does a lot of extra work, sets the bar high. Other students suffer if they also do not work hard. This is fairer to the student who does a lot of work.

If the work is distributed fairly evenly, then everyone is probably happy and they scored everyone like this:  John 11, Sally 10, Jim 9 (In fact, some very happy groups will conspire so that in the end everyone has the same score. I don’t stop this).

In this case, let’s say John has 33 (he got all 11s from the 3 people evaluating him). Jim ended up with 27 (3 9s, which is the lowest score possible if no one dipped below 9). He still got a B-, at 81.8%. And it is very unlikely that 1 person gets all the 11s and 1 person gets all the 9s in a group like this. And, if so, it’s because the team is saying Jim did less work.

In summary, this team evaluation approach is the fairest and easiest to conduct team evaluation I have ever done. The math takes care of itself and what emerges is a clear picture of who really did the extra work and who did not.

To me, using team evaluations throughout the semester on multiple projects is one of the most powerful tools i have. It is the ‘great equalizer’ that empowers those who did extra to level the playing field when it comes to grades. And, it is a shot in the arm to the students who did not pull their weight.

To see a sample evaluation form similar to what I use, see page 7 of this document from the team-based learning website.

Depending on how much of the grade you make team evaluations worth, it can sway students grades a one half of a letter grade, a full letter grade, or possibly more.

Now that students have the power to evaluate one another, they are also given the power to fire a teammate who is not doing his fair share of the work. In the next post, I’ll show you how firing a team member works. And, I’ll explain the modification I’ve made to offer students more options than just firing someone.

– Cheers!

m@

References: The above-mentioned pedagogy speaking event at Utah Valley University by Larry Michaelson used information drawn from his (2004) Team-Based Learning: A Transformative Use of Small Groups in College Teaching. As stated above, the evaluation method described above is derived from that presentation and this book. I highly recommend checking out the website.

Here are 2 approaches to team evaluations from the team-based learning website.  Also, here are some criticisms of the zero-sum approach to team evaluations, such as that which I use.

 

A Guide To Setting Up Classroom Groups for Success: Group Contracts (Part 1 of 3)

Spoiler alert: The final blog post in this 3-part series about how to set up your class for success when working with groups will be titled:

Should Students Be Able to Fire Teammates in a Class Project?

In my classes, the answer is “yes.”

socialmediaprofs-cc-scaled500

If a student is not doing their share of the work in a group project, their teammates are empowered to fire that person.

I know what you’re thinking. “Are you serious!? What is this, The Apprentice? My students would be firing one another left and right.”

Put simply, my classes live and die by the success of groups. Every class I teach relies heavily on group work. That’s why I put a great deal of effort into team building and establishing avenues, assignments, and protocols to hold groups accountable.

The good news is that I have only had a group fire a team member a very few times in the 5.5ish years I’ve been using this (2 at UVU, 3.5ish here at Shepherd). And I do a lot of group projects.

To me, there are two reasons why I haven’t seen a lot of instances of a student being fired from a group. They are:

1) The way I set up groups in my classes

2) The fact that I teach in a small program where students will see each other in many classes and thus may not want to risk social ties in an intimate learning environment.

In the below post and in two follow up posts, I will explore both of these concepts. First, let’s look at how I set up groups for success:

Setting Up Groups For Success

At the beginning of the semester, when we form our groups, I start with an ice breaker. I use something fun. But the key is that everyone in the group has to arrive at one answer for the group. For example, I’ve had students write a group haiku on how they spent their summer. Or, I’ve had them come up with their collective answer for the greatest movie, TV show, and album of all time.  I’ve had them come up with the one meal they would all eat if they were stuck on a deserted island and the survival tools they’d agree to bring. With this in place, some of the walls have been broken down and the group environment is relaxed and welcoming.

Next, I have students write group contracts. It’s group building 101. These set group norms and empower the group to set expectations and a culture of inclusiveness.

What goes into group contracts:

  1. Names and contact info
  2. The dates they are available to meet outside of class – to eliminate excuses.
  3. Group rules

In terms of group rules, I tell the students that the rules they set in these are the basis of what they have to fire someone else. For example, if they say “don’t miss meetings without letting others know,” and someone repeatedly misses meetings, he/she could be fired for that offense. If someone is doing something in the group and it wasn’t in the contract, then did they really break a rule (save, not doing their work, of course)? In a lot of ways, this essential step mitigates the likelihood that we will have any group problems in the future.

Therefore, in making their group contracts, students are keenly aware that the contract is directly tied to their ‘survival’ in the group.

Students spend a good 10 minutes or so talking these things through. The really powerful thing is that students will express what frustrates them about group work BEFORE it becomes an issue. I hear things like, “I really hate it when people ignore your texts and a project is due the next day. Even if your reply is simply to let everyone know you are sick and can’t do the work or be at the meeting, just reply. Be honest. And tell everyone. That way, we can make a plan.”

The students are, in short, putting their cards on the table in an open, collaborative environment where they aren’t being judged because no one has broken a rule. This open communication lets everyone know the things they could do that would bother or harm a fellow teammate. Armed with this information, they have greater respect for group members and an opportunity to reflect on how their behavior could impact others. This simple 10 minute exercise can reduce the likelihood that such behaviors happen. That saves your students time, produces better work, and saves you time and headaches.

I collect all of the group contracts and make a photocopy so everyone has one. I keep the original, signed contract for each group.

The group contract  sheet is below! I’ll be discussing items #2 and #3 in upcoming blog posts. Item #1 is a department-wide policy. Note that the term “group report card” in the sheet below is synonymous with team evaluations.

The second instrument I use is team evaluations. A significant chunk of a student’s grade in my class is based on the evaluations made by their peers.  In the next post, I’ll talk about group evaluations and the unique way that I use them.

Then, in the third post, I’ll get into the drama – how I empower my students to fire one-another from their teams and what happens when they do.

In the meantime, remember: “Empowered students do powerful things.”

— Cheers

m@

 

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:

 

Using iPads for Survey Data Collection in the Communication Research Class

Surveys are a common method uses in communication research class projects. Since I started teaching this class at Shepherd University, I’ve added a fun, cool feature that really brings the survey data collection process to life!

Students in my Comm 435 Communication Research class (see all posts on Comm 435; see syllabus) now use iPads for data collection in the field. My students grab a department iPad and go around campus to recruit participants. The participants complete the surveys on the iPads, and the data is synched to the cloud where it can be downloaded and analyzed.

ipadsurveys

Overview

For the final of three hands-on projects in my class, student teams identify a problem or question they have pertaining to Shepherd University or the local community. They design a study to research that problem. In my first two hands-on projects, students don’t design the methods or the measurements. They are based on scenarios I set up and materials I provide. For example, here’s a discussion of my computer-assisted content analysis assignment.

As a part of the assignment for today’s post, students are required to conduct 1) surveys, and 2) either focus groups or interviews. Let’s talk about the surveys:

After discussing surveys as a method, with a particular focus on survey design and considerations, each team designs a brief survey.

In the lecture before they create the survey, I lecture on important considerations in survey design. And then students do an in class activity to practice putting these concepts into motion using a mock scenario. I then provide feedback on their survey design, and help them make improvements.

The class the following time we meet is dedicated to helping students design measurements that meet the research objective and research questions they’ve developed that will help them get the answers to the questions they want to know. The day is also dedicated to helping them write effective survey questions (as well as interview or focus group questions, for that part of the assignment). I started dedicating an entire class period to measurement design after spotting this as a major weakness in the projects last semester.

Next, rather than using paper & pen, or surveymonkey.com (which limits students to only 10 questions), teams program their surveys into ONA.io. It is a free, open access web survey tool designed by folks at Columbia University. So, we spend the 3rd day learning how to use ONA.io to program their surveys. I’ll talk in detail about that in the next post.

During data collection week, students check out department iPads, load the survey onto their iPad, and go out into the field to collect data. A group of students will check out several iPads and hit up the student union, library, or campus quads and collect data fairly quickly. The data syncs automatically over our campus-wide wifi! That means, when all students get back to the computer lab, their data – from each iPad used – is already synced to ONA.io where it could be downloaded and analyzed.

Pretty cool, huh? It is my favorite project that we do in my communication research class and the students seem to really enjoy using the iPads for surveys.

There are a few caveats.

  1. After the data is collected, in order for it to be analyzed in SPSS it has to be cleaned. If you do formhub, you’ll notice that the data you get doesn’t quite fit in with the format SPSS needs. So, I spend a few hours before we meet as a class to look at the data that was collected and analyze it.
  2. This year, Formhub.org seems to be moving painfully slow. I’ve had trouble last week getting the website to work. And am still having trouble this week. With data collection set to start tomorrow, I am stressing that it may not work! – update: I’ve read in several places about ongoing stability issues with Formhub. I’m now using ONA.io instead which works the exact same way! I’ve updated verbiage above to reflect that.

I’ve provided a copy of the assignment below. Enjoy!

On my next post, I will provide info on programming surveys into the XLS forms format, which is a bit tricky. I spend a day in class teaching this. I’ll also show you how to load the surveys onto the iPads and get them synced up to the computer if you aren’t on WiFi when you collect the data.

photo: CC by Sean MacEntee

Teaching College Writing Using the Hemingway App

If he were alive today, would Ernest Hemingway be great at writing Tweets?

I like to think that he would. After all, he is attributed with writing the famous 6-word novel: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn” (though his authorship of the story is speculation).

ErnestHemingway

We’ve all been assigned one or more Ernest Hemingway novels in school. It is there we were introduced to his minimalistic style of writing, known as the ‘iceberg theory’ of writing. The iceberg theory, or theory of omission, can be summed up with the following quote (which I share with my students) from Death in the Afternoon:

“If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them.  The dignity of movement of the iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

Hemingway, there’s an app for that:

My Writing Across Platforms class (syllabus) teaches students to write news releases, for social media, content marketing blogging, and white papers. As stated in my Spring 2015 overview of the course, it is my goal to help my students focus on writing concise, specific, clear, powerful text across their assignments.

Enter, the HemingwayApp. This free online tool helps “make your writing bold and clear” (There is a paid desktop version, too). The app is easy to use.

Type or paste your text into the website and click “edit.”

The app highlights the following:

  • Wordy or convoluted writing.
  • Unnecessary adverbs
  • Unnecessarily complex terms
  • Passive voice

HemingwayApp

A readability score is assigned based on the above.  The app assigns a readability score (thanks Hemingway app!)

The app is great. You can see the improvements to your score based on changes you’ve made, allowing for quick feedback and improvement throughout the writing and editing process.

How I’m using The App and emphasizing concise communication:

In my writing class, I talk on the first day about the power and importance of each word. I use a blind date or another situation where first impressions count. I have students write the first 2 sentences they’d say in the situation, providing a specific goal they want to achieve – e.g., make a positive first impression to set the tone for the date. This fun exercise gets them thinking about goal-driven writing and what all they need to communicate – overt and subtle – with only a handful of words.

We then discuss how this applies to other forms of writing – from news releases to Tweets – where first impressions mean everything and failure to grab attention means failure, every word counts.

I have students write 3-4 sentences about where they’d go if they had a car full of gas, but no money.

Then, I provide a quote that we discuss including writing tips to achieve this:

The quote (from the Elements of Style – a great read) is: “If your every sentence admits a doubt, your writing will lack authority.”

Tips, derived largely from Elements of Style, include:

  • Active Voice – subject performs action.
  • Rewrite/reorganize whenever possible to convey the message with fewer words.
    • “ought to” = “should”; “It would be good if you” or “I was wondering” = “Will you”
  • Clarify the vague .
  • Replace adjectives with precise verbs.
  • Specific examples should replace vague or unspecific nouns.
  • Replace vague pronouns.
  • Remove NEGATIVE writing – when they say ‘not’ put it into the positive.
    • Example: “Not good.” replace with “bad”; “not present” replace with “absent”

Students switch their writing with a partner. Their goal is to use the writing tips I provide to remove any unnecessary word and strengthen sentences. We talk about how much they were able to cut from their partner’s writing. (Note: Sometimes they cut too much – which ties to the Hemingway quote below, and can be discussed with the quote).

In a follow-up class, I introduce the Iceberg theory and we chat a little about Hemingway’s style, as most students have read his work. I provide the quote above, and point out the below part of the quote I omitted when I first introduced the quote above, and we discuss this critical point and the trouble of knowing what to omit, from the exercise above:

“The writer who omits things because he does not know them only makes hollow places in his writing.”

After this, I have students implement the Hemingway App in their writing exercises in class. I provide strict word limits, such as for a news release exercise we did in class last Tuesday.

So far, we’ve just started using the app. And already I see students tinkering to strengthen their writing. It is my sense that the app will be a great help as they move along, so long as they commit to using it.

I plan to continue to remind them of the goal for concise, clear, powerful writing with new angles or tips during writing exercises throughout the semester.

I plan to continue to use the app for my own writing, too. I tell my students that becoming a great writer is a lifelong journey we all must be on.

Have you used the Hemingway app to teach writing? How have you found it? What tips do you have?

Fiction Aside:

So what’s my favorite Hemingway novel? If you’ve read my bio, you know I prefer Fitzgerald (a great book on their friendship turned sour is Hemingway vs. Fitzgerald). But I loved the autobiographical A Moveable Feast – perhaps because there is a section on his adventures with Fitzgerald! 😛

What’s your favorite Hemingway story?

photo of Hemingway in public domain; screen grab of Hemingway app