Category Archives: Classroom Activities and Exercises

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

A Look at My Social Media Content Strategy Assignment

Several weeks ago I mentioned that a big change in my Comm 322 Social Media class this semester (syllabus), is that students will be working to create the social media for our department’s Twitter, Instagram, and a brand new blog.

getexcitedI want to share a little about the first assignment students do towards this project. My goal with this project is to provide students opportunities to apply what they are learning in class to planning and executing social media content plans for an organization.

One of my main emphases is getting them intermediate experience planning and thinking strategically about social media content strategy. They get advanced experience with these things in the campaigns class. So social media class is a great stepping stone.

So here’s what I did. I assigned a strategy plan assignment that students complete as the first step in the class. This gets them creating a plan for the type of content they want to produce, and how that content will align with our target audience, theme, and key messages, which I provide for them and emphasize repeatedly. The purpose is for them to learn to align their content plans with the overarching framework for our content – where we want to go.

For example: One of our key messages for the Comm Department’s social media is: “Department classes are exciting, dynamic, relevant and innovative”

(As a note: A senior completed an original plan for our department social media for a capstone project in a previous semester. I worked with that student to create some of this background planning, and some of it I created or modified)

They then produce goals and objectives (or adapt from the goals & objectives a student created in a project he completed), create a channel purpose statement, and create a team workflow for how they plan to get their work done. I provide a series of roles for this, which you can see in the assignment below.

To go along with their plan, they present to the class some sample content that aligns with their strategy plan and that they would like to see posted to our department social media. Other classmates complete an evaluation sheet of their peers, assessing in part whether the content is consistent with our class-wide goals, theme, audience, and messages. They also provide feedback on what content should be posted or not. And we only post the best content that aligns with our theme, messages, and hits our target audience.

So, for example, does the content your team is proposing creating align with our key messages such as the one I’ve shared above?

From there, I give students feedback on any adjustments to their plans or the type of content they want to create. And from there, they begin working on creating content that aligns with their plan – which they do 3 more times during the semester (creating the content, not redoing the plan). They present the content they created for a given time period class their content several weeks later.

So far I am really enjoying this project. I truly believe students are getting to think through what they are learning and apply it. This way, they can see it put to practice, learn about the roadblocks and challenges, and get the benefit of the successes. Students have done a great job collaborating across teams to ensure consistency across different social channels, which is something else I emphasize in the class – the importance of consistent messaging and content experiences across multiple screens, which Brito talks about in Your Brand: The Next Media Company (one of our course books – thanks to Karen Freberg for recommending this text!). I’ll talk a little bit more about how the teams are organized, and share the content they’ve created in an upcoming post!

Here is the assignment! Let me know if you have any questions, or thoughts on how i can modify or improve it!

Social Media Class Fall 2014: Class Project Overview

At the start of each semester I try to share relevant syllabi for classes I’m teaching that semester (hint: see all my syllabi in the menu on the left). Here are my plans for my social media class this semester. I’d like to discuss the major project that students will work on this semester, that has a series of assignments tied to it. Then, I will post the syllabi in an upcoming post.

I’ve taught this class differently each time I’ve taught it. And this is my 4th time teaching this class. Maybe my 5th. I always find myself wanting to try something new.

Recently, I’ve had projects that span the entire semester. Last year students were responsible for writing niche blogs across the course of the semester. (here’s the syllabus from last year) They were responsible for planning the blogs and then promoting them, as well as writing them of course – here’s my review on that project at the  end of the semester. This year I’m doing something different and unique – and a bit risky. And I’m interested to see how it goes. My students will be responsible for planning and creating content for our department’s social media.

Here’s my thinking for this. I want my students to get hands on experience planning a social media campaign. And I want them to get experience executing it and dealing with the results of the campaign – having opportunities to see how their content goes over with an audience (what works, what doesn’t, why?), interacting with the audience, and seeing the results of their work. I also want them to be able to have experience directly influencing engagement and measuring it.

I could partner with an organization to do this. But I’m not. Students do this in our Strategic Campaigns class, where they are working this year with an awesome client (I’ll talk about that in a future post). Those students will put together a plan for that organization. When working for someone else, there are a number of limitations. And the campaigns class focuses more heavily on how to put together the campaign plan from scratch. The students will present their plan and hopefully the client will like it and go on to use it. But students in my social media class are in a preparatory stage for the campaigns class. I want them to go into that class already with some experience.

Running the social media for our class enables me to create a laboratory of sorts where we can experiment and I can have close oversight of what we’re doing. Since I have access to all the accounts, I will have editorial control over what we publish. And because there is no client involved, managing this process and channels of communication will be much more simplified.

This also ties into our goals as a department. Our department here at Shepherd University is small. And we don’t have a lot in terms of a social media presence at the moment. We decided as a department that we ought to change this and discussed a number of ways to get students involved in the process like capstone projects, a club, etc. We recognize the importance of social media in connecting with alumni, attracting new students, and keeping our current students engaged and excited for what we offer. And so I decided, what better opportunity to help my students learn by doing than to empower them to help us build this social media presence that I can manage.

And I know you are thinking there are a number of risks involved in this, like, what if the students create poor quality content? What if the content isn’t appropriate? I’ve built in a number of incentives and checkpoints (e.g., I’m the gatekeeper of what gets posted, and students and myself decide collectively what the best content is – I’ll try and discuss how that will work in a future post) But, I think we need to encourage our students to take risks and I think as professors we need to take risks. If we don’t push and try new things, then how can we expect to cultivate students who are innovators? If we don’t let them take control and learn by doing, how will they be able to do it when they get out in the work force and suddenly the responsibility of, say, Tweeting for this non profit or that brand (See: the interns take the blame for social media slips)?

I look at my classroom as a laboratory for experimenting and trying new things. Perhaps this model will work excellently or perhaps I’ll find that the classroom isn’t the best place for this and a social media club is a better solution. But I’m so excited to see how it goes and I think students are going to feel empowered and thrilled to be the ones communicating with and building a relationship with their peers! In fact, this is a major benefit – students understand and relate to their peers better than I can. They, in theory at least, should be able to come up with content that more closely matches what will be attractive to their peers.

So in quick summary, here’s how it will work: A former student put together a strategic plan for our department’s social media for his capstone project. Students will take the foundation of and build off of his plan – SWOT, goals, objectives, messages, social media channel purpose statement, etc – and do their own planning, such as original audience research, build strategies and tactics, etc.

Each team will be in charge of a different social channel – e.g., Instagram, Twitter. They’ll work over a series of weeks to build content that they’ll present to the class. We’ll decide as a class what content will be posted – only the best, and only content that is consistent with our plan. They must demonstrate how the content they are proposing is consistent with our class plan. We’ll then schedule the content out. And they’ll begin creating more content, that they’ll present, we’ll vote on. The cycle continues.

I hope this provides students a focused, strategic, and hands on learning opportunity where the results are tangible and something they can take pride in.

I’ve spent a lot of time planning this out, and all the accompanying in class activities and assignments. I will write more about these activities and assignments this semester and expand on how this is all planned to work. Right now, students are in the planning stages and I am trying to teach them about the stages of audience research and planning content that meets objectives, is consistent with our messages, fits consistently platforms, and meets our project theme – that the Communication Department at Shepherd University is “the best kept secret on campus.”

What do think? Is this a good idea for a class project? Why/Why not? What recommendations or thoughts do you have? Would you do something like this in your department? Why/Why not?

 

  • Cheers!
  • Matt

graphic: CC Sean MacEntee

Sentiment Analysis using Content Analysis Software: Project Assignment

In the last two posts, I’ve been discussing the Yoshikoder sentiment analysis project in my Communication Research class here at Shepherd University.

My first post looked at the project in general. And the second, most recent post, looked at how to teach computer-assisted content analysis using the Yoshikoder computer-assisted content analysis software and the activities I provide my students to prepare them for the project.

I encourage you to check out those posts for background and set up! Ok, now on to sharing the assignment itself and providing a brief overview of it.

As I’ve stated elsewhere, the purpose of this assignment is to

1) give students a hands-on look under the hood of sentiment analysis – that is, to understand HOW it works and its flaws.

2) To teach students via hands=on experience about quantitative content analysis, particularly computer-assisted content analysis

3) To teach them how to conduct a computer-assisted content analysis using software (Yoshikoder)

So here’s the set up to the assignment (which you can see below). This hands-on learning project is based on a real brand and a realistic but made up scenario. I do this with both this assignment, and my first project in this class.  Specifically, I provide The Situation or Problem / Campaign goals and objectives (of an imaginary campaign that is ongoing or happened) / benchmarks / KPIs.

In this case, the situation had to do with a popular online retail brand and rising customer complains and dissatisfaction as the brand has grown beyond its core base of loyal customers in recent years.I’ve redacted the brand and the situation from the below assignment. But you can fill in your own.

I rely on Stacks (2011) model for writing the problem, goals, objectives.  While I provide the research objective(s) in my first project, in this project students must come up with the research objective(s) and RQ(s).

I then provide some benchmarks. In this scenario, at a certain point in time sentiment was strong (let’s say, 70% positive). And then after the hypothetical situation, it dropped (say, to 50%). The students have been recently introduced to the concepts of benchmarks and KPIs via a brief lecture, so this is their first experience with these concepts. They are given 1 KPI (let’s say 65% positive sentiment) against which to measure their success. Keep in mind that the situation assumes that a campaign already took place aimed at addressing decreased customer satisfaction and negative comments on Twitter addressed at the brand of choice. We are now seeking to assess whether this campaign that happened successfully increased sentiment towards the brand (at a deeper level, repaired relationships and the image of the brand among the online community).

There are other important considerations students must make:

1) Since we’ve discussed sentiment and its flaws, they need to think about the valence of sentiment (The AFINN dictionary scores terms from -5 to +5), and they need to research and understand how AFINN was designed and works (I provide some sources to get them started). If you’re not familiar with the AFINN dictionary, it was designed for sentiment analysis of microblogs.It is a free sentiment dictionary of terms you can download and use in Yoshikoder. 

For more details on the assignment, check out the assignment embedded below and the requirements for what must be turned in.

As I’ve noted in a previous post, this project isn’t perfect. But it is a fairly straightforward and accessible learning experience for students who are in their first semester of experiencing how research can be conducted. It covers a wide array of experiences and learning opportunities – from discussion of what sentiment is, to understanding its flaws, to understanding the flaws of quantitative content analysis, to learning to apply a number of key research terms, as well as providing exposure to how to write research reports. The project itself is bolstered by several lectures, it comes about 1/2 way through the semester, and takes several days in the classroom of hands on learning. Students of course finish the writing up outside of class. But we do the analysis all in class to ensure students are getting my help as the “guide on the side.”

My previous post covers some activities we do to build up to this assignment.

So that’s all for now! Please feel to use this assignment, to modify it, and improve it. If you do, come back and share how you have or how you would improve upon it and modify it in the comments below!

If you want to know more about my Communication Research class, please see this post which includes the syllabus.

Teaching Computer-Assisted Content Analysis with Yoshikoder

Last blog post I discussed the second project in my applied research class, a sentiment analysis of Tweets using Yoshikoder – a free computer-assisted content analysis program from Harvard.

As promised, I want to share my assignment, and my handout for students that teaches them how to use Yoshikoder. Before we do the project, however, I do a brief in class activity to get students learning how to use Yoshikoder. So let’s start there for today’s post. And next post, I’ll share the assignment itself.

PART 1: THE SET UP

What I like to do, is present the problem to the students via the project assignment. Then, we go back and start learning what we’d need to do to solve the problem. So, after lecturing about what sentiment analysis is and why it is important, I get students introduced first to the idea of constructing a coding sheet for keywords by taking a list of keywords and adding them to categories.

First, we talk about the idea in class, and I show them some simple examples, like: If I wanted to code a sample for the presence of “sunshine” – what words would I need? Students brainstorm things like  start, sun, sunny, sunshine, etc., etc.

We discuss the importance of mutual exclusivity, being exhaustive, etc.

I show an example from my dissertation which looked at agenda setting topics on Twitter.

On the class day before I introduce Yoshikoder to the class, students do a practice assignment where I give them a list of random terms related to politics and elections. They then have to create “positive” and “negative” content categories using the terms. The terms aren’t necessarily well fit for this exercise, which gets them thinking a bit… They then hand code a sample of Tweets I provide about two different politicians. I tend to use the most recent election. So, in this case Obama and Romney. They are frustrated by having to hand code these Tweets – but a little trick is to do a search for the exact phrases in the Tweet files on the computer and they are done fairly quickly. Ok, so on the next class period:

1) Practice with Yoshikoder We do the same basic task, but this time they learn to program their “positive” and “negative” categories into Yoshikoder. They then load the Tweets (which I have saved as a txt file) and analyze them for the presence of their positive and negative content categories. This is a great point to stop and have students assess the reliability between what they hand coded and what the computer coded. Often, there will be discrepancies. And this makes for a great opportunity for discussion.

Here is the activity that I use in class. I also provide Tweets that I’ve downloaded using the search terms for the politician/candidate I’m using in the activity (e.g., Obama; Romney) in plain text format so Yoshikoder can read it. Also, see the below handout which I provide students to show them how to use Yoshikoder and how to program, and run the analyses I just described.

As I mentioned above, I create a handout that I like to give students that explains the different functionalities of Yoshikoder and how to run the analyses. As I’ve discussed elsewhere, I like to provide handouts. And the one below isn’t one of my more elaborate handouts. But it provides a quick overview with some screen shots to show what buttons need to be clicked. This is super helpful if you are trying to learn Yoshikoder, or want to use it alongside the activity (discussed in this post or the project discussed in my last post, and which I will provide in my next blog post).


Enjoy! .

EDIT: The assignment is now up. See the post.

If you’d like to learn more about using Yoshikoder, I found this great tutorial:

– Cheers! Matt

#TryThis! A Technique For Enhancing Teamwork, Discussion In Class

This is the 3rd and final #TryThis! post I had planned from several months ago. I never got a chance to post it… until now!

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to get students thinking about topics, discussing them, taking a stance, and then having to defend that stance and engage in critical discussion with their classmates? Wouldn’t new ideas emerge, different ways of evaluating a problem be presented, and overall learning be enhanced?

Of course! Students would get practice examining case studies, solving ethical or legal scenarios, and making decisions about real-world situations they may face in the workplace. The possibilities are inspiring!

If we follow Bloom’s Taxonomy, then we should strive for our students to not only understand information, but be able to to analyze and evaluate information.

But it sometimes feels hard to find strategies to motivate students to talk in class. And, let’s be honest: it is just easier to lecture and have students regurgitate on a test, isn’t it? These things, and fear of what will happen when we let go of the “power position” in the front of the classroom, may keep us from truly developing the active classroom we strive for.

One strategy to encourage analysis, evaluation, and discussion in class that I have found helpful is: simultaneous response. I learned about simultaneous response at a pedagogy seminar I attended a few years ago on team-based learning (TeamBasedLearning.org) featuring a very well-known educator Larry K. Michaelsen. Now, I admit I don’t execute it perfectly. Larry had a # of very important rules for its effectiveness. But I’ve managed to lose them over time. Still, I apply the general concept.

It works like this:

The professor poses a question to the class (I usually have it on a slide).

The question asks the students to evaluate a problem/scenario and arrive at a solution. The question usually follows a brief lecture on the related material.

Multiple choice answers are given – usually 3-5, but you can do yes/no, true/false, or agree/disagree as well.

In teams, students discuss the question and arrive at an answer. Students are able to discuss differing opinions related to course content, notes, etc.

Teams write their answer (A, B, C, D, etc) on a piece of paper.

When given the signal, all teams hold up their answer simultaneously.

Why it is Effective

First, students get to discuss the problem in a group – so they discuss the problem and related concepts. I let them use their notes, so they are actively discussing and learning. It is a competition so they want to get it right – they are motivated – and arrive at a group answer. The critical element of discussion gives them time to evaluate the merits of alternative answers they are leaning toward.

Because all teams must hold up their answer simultaneously, they cannot shy away from what they’ve committed to. Normally, quiet students or students who aren’t sure of themselves will just not talk in class. As a result, the most talkative students tend to dominate class discussion – and only 3 or 4 students are talking. But with this technique, their team is forced to defend itself. Naturally, discussion occurs and students see different ways of looking at things. In fact, I’ve found that students get a bit more talkative in this scenario, perhaps because they feel a sense of competition or a need to assert themselves.

Here is a simple example I’ve used in my Principles of PR class.

The topic was law and social media. The activity was predicated with a brief lecture on legal issues PR practitioners must consider, and an article highlighting how new media have posed new challenges to issues like defamation. http://bit.ly/PPR_Defamation . In the real life scenario, Horizon Realty sued a tenant for tweeting the below quote, claiming defamation. The lawsuit against a tenant was thrown out because the defendant merely suggested that Horizon thought it was “ok” for her to sleep in a moldy apartment. The judge ruled that the tweet was too vague to satisfy the strict test for defamation.

Question: In your assessment, do you agree with what happened in the case where Horizon Realty sued their tenant  for Tweeting “You should just come anyway. Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s ok.”? (Be ready to explain!)

A. Agree.

B. Disagree.

While this is a question asking their INFORMED OPINION, students are reminded after the discussion that the burden of proof is on the defamed and therefore, if one was to follow the law as it is applied, then one would would be inclined to agree.

Questions such as this raise great discussions and empower students to express their knowledge and their opinions about what should have been done in a scenario, or in regard to an issue, law, etc. Of course, other types of questions can be asked where one’s opinion does not come into play. This technique is adaptable. I used it here in a lower-division course, but it can also be used in upper division courses for just about any subject matter. The purpose is to drive students to use their knowledge of a subject to analyze material and make real-world decisions.

I use this technique a lot and I love it. It is one of my favorite because students engage with it. Of all the techniques I have used, it has been the best way of getting all students involved!

Key Things to Keep in Mind:

  1. The question is important – I have written a few duds myself and am always looking to find ways to write better questions for this exercise. To me, a good question is one that 1) challenges the students to think about the application of materials and how they come together for the problem, and that 2) inspires student discussion.
  2. Teach them the rules – This is essentially a game. Students are getting to compete! But it is probably something quite different from what they’ve done in other classes. So it is important that you clearly explain how the exercise works. I like to have a few practice questions – 1 or two “easy ones” that are unrelated to course content to get them to understand how it works.

That’s all for now! If you use this technique or try it, I’d love to hear your thoughts!

Cheers!

-Matt

photo credit: Bob Xu via photopin cc

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