Category Archives: Classroom Activities and Exercises

Teaching The Applied Communication Research Class

Metrics, Metrics, Metrics! I hear it everywhere I turn. 🙂 More than ever, we need to be teaching our students research skills.

This Spring 2014 semester I am really excited to be teaching an applied Communication Research class!

For two years at Utah Valley University, I taught communication research with an emphasis on academic research. You can see the syllabus for that class. In that class, student groups planned, wrote up, and executed a semester long academic research study. Though many professors don’t prefer to teach this class, research is one of my favorite classes to teach. I’ve had numerous undergraduate students present their research at undergraduate research conferences and earn travel grants to do so. This is a super valuable experience for those considering grad school. Though it is very time demanding, and some feel teaching others how to conduct research is tedious, I didn’t find it that way at all. Seeing students get that “aha” moment in research and seeing them succeed makes teaching the class very rewarding.

This semester, I’ll be focusing on the more practical uses of research with an emphasis on using research for strategic purposes. This class emphasizes research across new media, legacy media, and interpersonal and online environments. Students will learn both quantitative and qualitative methods.

Our textbook is Paine’s “Measure what Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships.” I considered the Stacks book as well, but liked the emphasis on new media in Paine and felt her book may be more accessible to students, as students can be intimidated by a research class.

This hands on class will emphasize the following research skill sets:

  • How to conduct content analysis using a coding sheet.
  • How to conduct a computer-assisted content analysis
  • How to conduct interviews and focus groups
  • How to conduct quantitative electronic surveys using iPads

Students will work in teams to conduct 3 applied projects. The first 2 projects are real-world problems I set up and the students have to solve, and in the 3rd project they have to identify a problem, write a proposal, and execute:

  • Media placement evaluation – Answering questions such as, placement, share of voice, and whether key messages are included in media coverage and to what extent. Done via content analysis of media clippings.
  • Sentiment analysis of social media content – What are people saying about your brand on social media, and what is sentiment towards it? Done via computer-assisted content analysis of Twitter posts.
  • Audience Research – Focuses on 1 of the 5 key PR variables discussed by Stacks (2011): Confidence, credibility, relationship, reputation (which may include awareness), or trust. Students will choose 2 of the following: interviews, focus groups, and surveys.

Students will be introduced to the following software:

  • Computer-assisted content analysis (Yoshikoder will be used as it is free and easy to learn)
  • Digital Survey programming with XLS Forms
  • Open Data Kit Collector – field data survey collection software (we will be using this with the XLS forms on the free FormHub.com online form tool).
  • SPSS – We won’t get too far into SPSS due the other demands on the students time, but students will learn data entry, descriptive statistics, and correlation analysis.

I’ll be posting the syllabus for the class soon! As the semester goes along, I hope to get up a number of blog posts expanding on the class, assignments, and so forth. So check back!

Have you taught research – what do you emphasize in your class? How can I improve my class? What key skill sets should we be teaching  future practitioners?

-Cheers!

-Matt

– top photo CC by IntelFreePress

The Social Media Class Blog Assignment In Review

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

sciout

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the meantime, here are their blogs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 Great Benefits of the Hootsuite University Higher Ed Program

What tools are you teaching your students in your social media class?

Recognizing the need to teach students how to use social media dashboards, I began teaching Hootsuite in the classroom a few years ago.  However, I was disappointed in the limited amount of time I was able to spend teaching students social media dashboards. I felt I was underserving my students. I felt students weren’t getting a true sense of how the industry uses social media dashboards. But there were so many other topics that needed to be covered in the semester.

That’s why this semester I’m really excited that my Comm 322 Social Media class here at Shepherd is participating in the Hootsuite University program for Higher Education.

The Hootsuite University program offers students three very cool things:

1) Hootsuite University Education – Students get to learn how to use Hootsuite via this repository of online video materials, thus freeing up class time to focus on other topics. The education materials span from the basics of using social media on through the advanced features of using the Hootsuite Dashboard. The resource also includes advanced courseware including insightful lectures from industry leaders and useful case studies. Personally, I’ve truly enjoyed these lectures and case studies.

2) Hootsuite Certification – A major benefit to the students is the ability to take the Hootsuite Certification test and become “Hootsuite Certified.” This is a unique resume building benefit. Before taking the certification exam, students complete several courses that teach them the ins and outs of Hoostuite far beyond the basic skills that your casual user will know. The certification demonstrates to employers that one is proficient in Hootsuite and certified professionals have the option of being listed in a public database that potential employers could browse (DId I mention there is a cool badge that certified professionals can put on their blogs or websites?).

3) Hootsuite Pro – As part of the program, students get free access for 3 months to Hootsuite Pro, which includes advanced features such as analytics and the ability to add an unlimited number of accounts to one profile. Pro access normally costs $9.99/mo (list of benefits for Hootsuite Pro)

Some of the great social media educators I follow and admire participate in this program. It is a truly great program and If you are teaching social media in some capacity, I encourage you to check it out!

I’m looking forward to hopefully getting to continue participating in the program future semesters.

Want to learn more? Here’s a great article about Karen Freberg’s use of the program at the University of Louisville titled: “How University of Louisville is Teaching Social Media to Communications Students

Have a great week!

-Cheers!

Matt

Hootsuite images are copyright of Hootsuite

#TryThis! Using Google Drive for real-time in class team collaboration

googledrive

Note: Due to the news with Google link schemes, I got a little off track with my #TryThis! themed blog posts. Here is 1 of the other 2 I had planned.

Here is another great tool I love for engaging students in teamwork in the classroom – using Google Drive Documents (formerly Google Docs) for real-time classroom collaborative activities. Here’s what I mean. (Not familiar with Google Drive? Check out video below).

If you teach in a classroom where students have access to computers, Google Docs is a great tool to use for having students work on a common document in real-time. That’s because with Google Docs many people can work on a document at the same time, in real-time.

Here is a scenario in which I would use this cool tool.

Each team (3-5 students) gets a separate Google Doc that I created ahead of time and shared publicly so anyone can edit it (I’ll explain how to do that below).

In my social media class, I might give students a set of problems (questions) to solve. For example, maybe I am trying to teach about gathering social data through Hootsuite. I don’t want to just lecture them about how to do it. I want them to learn by doing. To stimulate that, I want them to work in a team to gather the data, and paste it into Google Docs so they can analyze it and look for any trends.

So, as a simple example let’s say there are 4 questions, one of which might be:

What are 5 examples where XYZ Company did not respond to a Tweet sent to them?

Students would look through their stream for Tweets @XYZcompany, find the 5 they  need and paste them into the document. Since everyone can see in real time what others are posting, it is easy for them to work as a team to answer the question. Alternatively, some teams tend to break up the work to answer all the questions more quickly. I don’t mind this. It saves class time (which is precious) and lets us get more quickly to the analysis and discussion of whatever topic we’re covering.

This is a simple example with a simple question, but you get the idea. The tool can be used for more involved questions. I like to use it to “gather evidence” that leads to a question(s) that involves analysis and decision-making.

Discussion and teamwork are encouraged by the real-time Google Doc set up.

In our simple example, perhaps students need to consider course content and then create their own responses to these Tweets. Since everyone doesn’t have to crowd around 1 computer in drafting their responses, it isn’t a situation where 1 person is “in charge” and everyone else can tune out. Students can also type in comments and interact on the document, like they do in their everyday interactions with others online.

After they are done, I can easily pull up their documents onto the screen (because I have their URLs), show them to the class, and give students the opportunity to explain their answers and the reasoning behind it. I can use this to encourage discussion, particularly if I compare their answers to another team’s.

How To Set Up Real-Time Google Docs for Team Success:

Log into Google Drive or create an account.

1) Create the docs and make sure they are set up so EVERYONE can edit them. Here’s how:

After creating the document, click “share” (upper right – it is a blue icon). Next, click “Change” next to the field asking who can do what with the document….:

google-doc-1

Choose “Anyone with the link”. For Access, choose “Can Edit.” Click save.

google-drive-share-2

2) Sharing the Document with Students – The URL for Google Docs is annoyingly long, not good for sharing. So use your favorite URL shortener to create uniform links for the assignment. I like Bitly but any works.

For example, if there are 4 teams and I set up the documents, each will have a URL something like:

bit.ly/SMClass_Activity1_Team1

That way, each team just types in the short link into their browser. Just note that Bitly links are case sensitive. I usually project these links on the board.

Students seem to struggle with going to the URL. But I have found consistent labeling works and they pick up on it after 2 or 3 Google Doc exercises.

3) Test it – go into your computer lab and make sure it is working. If too many people are on a document at once, it can sometimes freeze up. So open up the file on multiple computers and hop around from 1 to the other typing. Even with more than 4-5 people on the document, if your computers or Internet are slow this may not work for you.  (For me, most days I have no problems. But once in a while I do). Also, decide what browser you want students to use if there are multiple available on the computer. I found last year during a class that Google Docs worked in some browsers but not others and this confused students.

4) Test Copy and Paste Feature – If you want them to copy screen shots and paste them in the Doc, test that too. Different browsers work better with pasting images into Google Docs. I found Google Chrome unsurprisingly to work best.

5) Hold students accountable – what is the end result you are looking for with the activity? Technology for the sake of technology is not effective in the classroom. What do you want them to learn, to solve? Also, how are you going to grade them? Is this a participation assignment, and you are going to load their URLs after class for participation points? Truthfully, some students are only motivated by a grade, not the experience and outcomes of learning. So there are some students who won’t participate if they aren’t being held accountable. To try and curb this, I make activities worth participation points that add up over the semester. Or, I will have an activity today that builds up for an activity next class, the combination of which is a participation assignment. I also float around the room, look over shoulders, and ask questions or see if they have questions for me.

6) Expect a few hiccups – with any technology that is inevitable! But power through them! 🙂

7) Stick with it – Sometimes students aren’t as excited as we are to try new things. But once they learn how it is done and why, and you have some experience, things will flow smoothly.

That’s it! If you try this technique, have ideas for improving it, or have done something similar, I’d love to hear your experiences, advice, and thoughts!

Cheers!

-Matt

Google Drive Logo is Copyright of Google

Sharing my Social Media Release Assignment

Hope you had a great Labor Day weekend. I’ve been writing lately about the Google Link Schemes update – what it is, how I am teaching in response to it, and what I think about it. As promised, here is my assignment that is impacted by this change.

As I’ve said before, I’m not too concerned about this change at the macro level. But at the micro level, I think it is important that press releases now contain the “no-follow” tag. To learn how to tag with “no-follow”, read my former post. It also contains lots of links to great articles explaining the Link Schemes update!

Press Release for the Web Assignment

The emphasis on my Social Media Release assignment (which I may be better off just calling a web release), at its heart is on writing for the web – e..g., keyword research, SEO. And so, whether the press release “dies” or not, I feel my students will be adaptable.

This assignment is taught in Writing Across Platforms (syllabus | related blog posts). The topics this assignment emphasizes are of course covered in class through lecture, discussion, and brief activities.

There are 3 files in my Writing Across Platforms category on Scribd that I want to draw your attention to:

  1. Cover Page – The cover page is something I am using for all major written assignments in the class.  Someone deserves credit for this but I can’t remember where I got the idea (if you know, please tell me so proper credit can be attributed). The purpose is for students to have to think through the purpose of their written piece, who their audience is, and what is “in it” for the audience – why they should care.
  2. Social Media Release – Part 1 – This is prep work the students do, focusing on the keyword research and writing the release to conform to the scenario. An important thing for me is that students SHOW their research and highlight all keywords. Students bring in their draft to class and work with a partner on revisions. After, they proceed to Part 2:
  3. Social Media Release – Part 2 – This is where they take what they’ve written and put it into PitchEngine. By breaking it up into two stages, the students can focus on the research and writing first and foremost before they get swept up in the coolness of PitchEngine.

If you have questions about any of these assignments, how I teach the material, or ways i can improve them, please feel free to drop a comment or contact me directly. How do you teach these topics? How can I approve my assignment?

Cheers!

-Matt

Teaching Keyword Competition with Google Adwords (Activity)

This post is long overdue!

Several weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of teaching content marketing in the college Communication or Business writing class today. I followed up with a post about Search Engine Optimization and an activity for introducing students to the importance of keyword research using Google Trends. I promised a follow up brief activity with Google Keywords Adwords Tool. Then the end of the semester and life ganged up on me! I realized I needed a full post just to talk about Keyword Competition, using my own website title as an example.

The Competition!

Back to the Writing Across Platforms (syllabus) classroom activity I promised!

After teaching Google Trends and doing the activity, I plan to teach Keyword Competition and give my students a brief activity to get them practicing keyword competition research for their writing.

This activity is completed in small chunks across 3 class periods but could easily be done in 2 days! (if you’re really efficient: maybe 1!)

Day 1: Assign Homework (3-4 minutes to explain)

  • On the day I first introduce SEO, I assign students to bring to the next class: Brainstorm a list of 5-7 keywords (terms they think people might use when searching for this topic). The topic is: soup.

Day 2: Set Up: (10 minutes)

Note: I have also explained on this day what Keyword competition is (for a primer, see my activity on Google Trends and the below slides).

  • I first have students go to the Google Adwords Keywords Tool and we walk through an example on cars (we used cars in talking about Google Trends, so there is consistency).
  • I have students search for “fuel efficiency” and “car safety.” And then have them look at alternative keyword options, competition for each term, and search volume. We discuss.
  • Then I have students take out the 5-7 soup keyword terms I assigned the class before. We write some on the board so students can see the variation of ideas related to soup. This gives students a chance to see how others may search for soup, particularly in ways they didn’t think about.

Day 2: In Class Activity (~20 minutes):

I then present an in-class exercise. Here are the instructions:

Scenario:

  • You are going to write a post for your cooking blog.
  • When searching for keywords, think about things that would make for a good blog post subject.
  • Work with a Partner:
    • Go to Google AdWords (google: “google adwords keyword tool”) Select “Exact Match” (on left)
    • Search: soup
    • See what terms people search for a lot by looking at the column labeled “Local Monthly Searches.”
    • Identify and WRITE DOWN 5 terms related to soup with medium to low competition, and high search volume.
    • You’ll need these terms for next class.
  • After students spend 10 minutes or so researching with a partner on an in-class computer, I ask the class “based on your research, what would make for a good blog post subject about soup?” We discuss differences and similarities between what they initially thought up and what their research showed them.
  • I then tell them to bring today’s keyword back next class.

Day 3: Writing Keyword Research Headlines (Lecture: 30 minutes; Activity: 15 minutes, + class discussion).

On day 3, I teach the importance of writing headlines for online articles. I teach headlines first because they are relatively less complicated than thinking about placing keywords or using keyword research to write the article itself. The headline is but a handful of characters! But it encapsulates the blog topic and some say it is the most important part of your article. Headlines itself could be (and may become some day) another blog post! But here’s some great info on headlines:

Why headlines are so important

9 Proven Headline Formulas that Sell Like Crazy

To see the lecture on headlines, see the slides below.

  • After, I have students take out their 5 soup keywords that they discovered through research the class before.
  • I give them 10 minutes to write 5 headlines.
  • Each headline must use a different headline formula of those we discussed.
  • Under each headline they are to list: the keyword(s) used, name of formula.
  • Headlines must be less than 60 characters.
  • Pair and Share: Students exchange their headlines with a partner. The partner evaluates the headlines against what we’ve discussed over the past several classes. Partners then exchange notes and discuss.
  • To wrap up, we discuss as a class and address any questions / concerns students may have.

And that’s that! I’m excited to see how it goes this fall! Thanks for your patience on this. I hope you are having a great summer! If you enjoy this blog post, please subscribe and share! Please post any comments below!

Related lecture slides are below!

Day 1: The Set Up: What’s SEO and Keyword Research?

Day 2: Google Trends and Keyword Competition

Day 3: Headlines

photo CC Team Traveller

Introducing Students to SEO Keyword Research with Google Trends (Activity)

On my last post I talked about Why I’m teaching Content Marketing in the Writing Class. One of the reasons I gave was the close connection between social media, SEO, and content marketing.

Today, we must teach students to write for 2 audiences:

  • Humans – you know, those organisms you interact with on social media.. oh, sometimes in real life too.
  • Search Engines – Where wonders cease and answers are found.

seo_cartoon

For written assignments, students in Writing Across Platforms (see syllabus) will conduct keyword research to optimize their content for the web.

As one way to introduce my students to SEO and keyword research, I use the below in class exercise with Google Trends (formerly, Google Insights). Google Trends allows users to see and compare trends on what Googlers are searching for, by showing search volume across time. Users can break down trends by category, such as geography.

We also discuss keyword research via Google Adword Keyword Search Tool. But I like to talk about Google Trends first because it is easy to use and a bit more approachable with its visual layout, including interactive maps.

Google Trends Activity and Discussion (Time: 15-20 minutes). Note: Lecture notes at bottom of blog post.

In class, I explain how search engines like Google seek to rank content based on relevancy and credibility so they can deliver the best content to searchers. The algorithms for ranking content are complex and constantly changing. But the question for anyone seeking to get their content in front of the right eyeballs remains the same:

How can we optimize our content to increase the chance people will find it online?

  1. I explain how Google Trends can be used to see what characteristics or features of a topic people search for (you can see the slides below). I ask students to imagine they are writing content for a new Volkswagen. How can they know what features of the new car to highlight in their content?
  2. I use this example because Google already has a great video explaining the results of a keyword search topic. So after we discuss some popular features, I show them the video example.
  3. Then we go to Google Trends and try it for ourselves.
  4. I then give them an in-class activity with a similar scenario asking them to find out what people search for most regarding a particular topic. I prompt with:
  5. Imagine you work for a client who wants to promote a new gym. What do people seem to be most interested in?
  6. Look specifically at Maryland. What do they search for in Maryland?
  7. How could you apply this knowledge to target user interest?
  8. Students go to the following Google Doc (http://bit.ly/WAP_GTrendsEx) and follow the instructions and visuals to walk them through the steps on Google Trends.
  9. This brief activity is followed by discussion of what they found, and their thoughts on how this information could be used.
  10. In my experience (I taught this in a social media class in the past), students at this point are excited about this tool and want to compare a topic they are interested in – maybe ice cream flavors, celebrities, brands, etc. I’ll ask students to make predictions on what topic is being searched for most and why. Often, we are surprised by what we find, which makes for a great discussion. We have lots of fun spending a few minutes doing this kind of exploration!
  11. I end by emphasizing that one way to use Google Trends is to see what people care about the most when they search for a topic, whether it be cars, gyms, et cetera.

From there, we move on to discussing Google Adwords Keyword tool, which I’ll save for a future blog post.

Check out the associated slides for this class and the class before it where I explain SEO and linking below:

What is SEO and link building and why do they matter?

Keyword Research Activity: Google Trends and Adwords (relates directly to above blog post)

What do you think? How do you teach your students about keyword research and search engine optimization? Would love to hear your exercises and thoughts below.

Cheers!
– Matt

Related Posts:

  1. When Content Marketing Fails to Deliver: 6 Problems with Marketo’s Ebook
  2. Why We Should Teach Content Marketing in the Writing Class

top cartoon: Some rights reserved by seanrnicholson