Category Archives: Classes

What’s Changing? A look at my Social Media Class for Fall 2016

And we’re back…

Summer flew by as it always seems to. It was such a pleasure to see all the talented and motivated familiar faces and make new connections at AEJMC. I got to see many innovative educators whom I admire and whose work I follow. I had an amazing time starting my role serving as the Director of ICBO One Global Digital Strategy for the partner organizations of the International Congress of Behavioral Optometry and traveling to Australia as part of that project.

While summer was truly an opportunity for growth and new experiences, the semester has begun here at Shepherd University. That means, back to blogging!

With that said, it is time for my annual post about “What’s changing” in my classes this semester (you can see past posts here). Today we’ll focus on a few tweaks to my Comm 322 Social Media Class (prior posts about this class. Prior syllabi).

This class is one of the most fun but also one of the most challenging as things keep changing. And, I’m always looking for small tweaks to improve how I run my class as well as the content and the assignments themselves. Here are a few highlights on changes I’m making to my Comm 322 Social Media class this semester.

social media campaigns kim

  • New Textbook! I’m a big fan of Carolyn Mae Kim at Biola University and have had the pleasure of working with her on prior projects. So when I found out she was writing a social media textbook (titled Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing), I knew it was something my students needed to read. Even though it just came out this summer, I made sure our university was able to get it in time for the semester. I had the pleasure of an early look at the book, and it is excellent. I’ve decided to replace Brito’s book. I liked his book quite a bit, but students seemed to struggle with it a bit. I believe Kim’s book will be a better fit into the class and thus more accessible. Our second book in the class will be the updated version of an old favorite, Likeable Social Media. Later this semester, I’ll do a book review of Kim’s Social Media Campaigns: Strategies for Public Relations and Marketing on this blog.
  • Slack For Teams – You’ve probably heard of Slack the app and web tool that’s aiming to replace email for teams. I’ve written a bit on this blog about teamwork and how much I rely on it in my classes. With that said, I began using Slack last semester with a group of students I’ve been working with informally outside of class. I found it a great tool for keeping everyone in the loop, sharing files and links, etc. So this semester, I’m going to continue using it with that team but also bring Slack into my Social Media class for team communication. Because the class is broken into different teams for different social platforms, in group and between group collaboration is important.  I know students may be a little reticent to use a new tool, when often they text or use Facebook Messenger to communicate with one another. I have a few ways in which I’m going to require use of Slack for class assignments. It should be an interesting experiment and testing it in this and another class will make for a great experiment in enhancing classroom teamwork. Look for a full blog post later this semester. I’ll also be presenting on Slack in Indianapolis during Super Saturday later this semester.
  • More with Metrics – I spent a lot of effort last year working on upping my metrics game. While I believe I’ve still got a ways to go, I’m planning to bring in professional social media listening tools into the social media class. We have access to Microsoft Social Listening now here at Shepherd. And may possibly have access to other professional tools.
  • Evolving But Keeping The Core of the Main Project – Due to the repeated success I’ve had with the semester-long project in this class (from student feedback, from my own evaluation and feedback from others), I’m not going to change anything structurally to it. However, with the ongoing evolution of social media I’m hoping for some fresh ideas from students on how to use tools like Instagram stories. With enough push from the students, I might even consider starting a Snapchat for our department. Though I’m not a Snapchat person myself, I was super inspired by Ai Zhang’s presentation on Snapchat at AEJMC (read about Dr. Zhang’s work on Snapchat).  If you’d like to see posts about that project, you can see an overview here and a reflection here.

A copy of the syllabus is below. It can also be found via the menu on this blog.

Altogether, it is going to be an exciting semester here! And I’m excited to be back in the classroom. I’ve got plenty of new things I’m doing to become a better educator and continue to improve my classes. I plan to blog about them throughout the semester. So stay tuned!

Hope that your semester is off to a great start!

-Cheers
Matt

 

What Happens When Students Write For BuzzFeed For A Class Project?

Earlier this semester, I wrote about a new opportunity and assignment for students in my Writing Across Platforms class: writing BuzzFeed community articles.

That post got a ton of shares and feedback. So I want to offer a follow up and reflection of how the project went. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to first get some background about the assignment via my post “What’s Changing? My Writing Across Platforms students will write for BuzzFeed and More in Spring 2016. Oh, And here’s the syllabus!

I was super impressed by the variety and creativity of the posts.  The topic was ‘spring break’ and the students came up with everything from “17 Outdoor Adventures You Need To Try This Spring Break” to “10 Things To Do When You’re A Broke College Student On Spring Break: As Told By Animals” to “Ten Locations You Dream Of Exploring Over Spring Break.”

The biggest success story, in terms of views and shares, came from Abby Buchanan’s “14 Things You Do When You’re Stuck In A Small Town For Spring Break.”  The post was featured on the Buzzfeed.com/Community page within 24 hours of being posted.

Click any image below to enlarge.

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 5.02.35 PM

Due to its success, it then was put on BuzzFeed’s main site.

buzzfeed-frontpage

By the end of 1 week, the student earned 29,000 views!

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For a little while, the post was also the first result in Google search when searching “spring break small town.” Congrats to Abby!

Overall Review

In review, the biggest challenge students faced was reaching their goal of 1,000 views in 1 week. Many students were stressing big time about this project, because reaching 1,000 views was part of their grade (20% of their grade came from views earned).

I spent some time considering why the majority of students struggled to reach 1,000 views.  Here are some thoughts:

  1. The topic had some drawbacks: The students posted their spring break articles after our university’s spring break, but some universities (and high schools) around the country were observing spring break the week their posts was posted. With that said, the spring break thing may have been a bit old by the time our students’ posts were up. Further, BuzzFeed didn’t seem as interested in spring break articles as it is in Valentine’s Day articles, which has a wider appeal. We had 1 student who had their Spring Break post on the main page of BuzzFeed community and of BuzzFeed.com – the home page – but I didn’t see too many other articles on either page during that week related to spring break.In addition, from analyzing all of the assignments against performance, there are a variety of reasons why students didn’t reach the mark:
  2. Lack of a thorough promotion plan. Students who rushed this part ended up paying the price in the end.
  3. Poor targeting: On a related note, students who didn’t have a robust picture of who their hyper targeted audience was.
  4. Focus: If the article subject lacked a clear focus or specificity to it, then it struggled. For example, if a student was trying to create an article that would appeal to ‘everyone’ or didn’t really hone in on what made their post unique.
  5. Poor or lack of iteration throughout the week: Some students did a great job of iterating in terms of their headline as well as some of their content. Students that took a ‘one and done’ approach and failed to improve their post as the week wore on, didn’t have success if their initial post didn’t catch fire.
  6. The student’s social media network: Some students do not use certain social networks for personal reasons. Students who suffered the most were those who do not have a presence on Facebook – which served as the primary driver for many of their peers.

buzzfeed-community-dashboard-2

Students who had success:

  1. Had beautiful or funny visuals
  2. Linked to other articles in their post – like national or regional parks. Then, they shared the post with the social media accounts of that location. That goes back to the promotion plan. Successful students had robust promotion plans targeted at influential thought leaders that would benefit from their content. For example,  the student who wrote “17 Outdoor Adventures You Need To Try This Spring Break” talked about the great adventures at nearby national parks. Then, she reached out to those parks on social media.  Smart!
  3. Tended to share across a variety of platforms. They thought of sites like Pinterest, Reddit, Tumblr, etc.
  4. Shared with different types of potential audiences – i.e., they did a good job of thinking of more than 1 audience that may enjoy their content and got the post into their hands.
    Made adjustments and changes to their headline or content, or shifting their focus on who would serve as a good opinion leader to share their content and thus who they reached out to.

In reflection, there are some pitfalls in how I executed this assignment and things I plan to improve for next year.

Pitfalls:

The biggest pitfall was the way views were incentivized.  Once students reached the 1,000 mark, they tended to give up – even if it was in just a few short days. For example, one student reached 1,000 in 24 hours and gave up (see below). After that, she stopped promoting it and only gained another 100+ views. The assignment doesn’t reward students past 1,000 unless they get to 10,000 views – which many likely see as impossible and thus they aren’t motivated to do so. Furthermore, I only gave 1 bonus point her 10,000 views, further reducing the benefit to cost.

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So what adjustments will I make?

Adjustments:

  1. Require students to draft the social media posts they plan to use to share their BuzzFeed article:
    Some students weren’t creative in coming up with different types of social media posts to attract their audience. Next year, students wil draft 3 different Tweets and/or posts to other platforms they plan to use to promote their post via your own social media accounts below. Students will be given some commonly used formats for writing social posts and will be told to use a variety of types from this excel spreadsheet of headline formulas or this list of headline formulas. The idea is to help students to learn to try different strategies for crafting the message.
  2. Headline writing: Though I spent a good amount of time talking about how to write effective headlines, this is something students still struggle with. I added the below info about the power of writing emotional headlines to the assignment for next time. Students will be told to read this article. Then, students will be required to use this tool to test the emotionality of their headline in order to iterate and improve it.

In sum, even though students were as successful on the whole as I’d have liked in terms of views, the assignment was a great success. The students had to think outside of simply turning in an assignment to me. They had to measure themselves against their own ability to plan a piece of hypertargeted content with the audience and promotion in mind, like they will do outside of the university. They learned from their successes and failures. I had a lot of conversations with a lot of students worried about not succeeding. I informed them that the purpose was to learn by doing – to adjust, adapt, and improve. And to me, that’s a big win.  I think much more was learned in this assignment than in the assignment I replaced it with.

As noted, we did have a breakout success beyond my expectations with a student landing her post on the main Buzzfeed.com site!

I plan to continue with this assignment next year when It each this class with the above modifications.

If you run this assignment in your class, I’d love to hear how it goes!

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.”

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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@

 

What’s Changing? My Writing Across Platforms students will write for BuzzFeed and More in Spring 2016. Oh, And here’s the syllabus!

Each semester, I like to highlight something that I’m doing different in one of my classes (for example, see last Fall’s What’s Changing post).

This semester, I’d like to highlight my Writing Across Platforms class (the syllabus is at the bottom of this post). I’ve been teaching this class every spring for the last few years. So, what’s changing?

Neon_sign,_-CHANGE-

There are two super awesome things I’m very excited about. Both of them are part of an effort to strengthen the emphasis on writing for hypertargeted, niche audiences online as well as an effort to provide more experiences for students that break down the walls of the classroom. I want to help my students get their work in front of more eyes and have better things to add to their portfolio.

The first new project is that my class will be teaming up with an up and coming niche publication that describes itself as ‘a social news and entertainment platform.’ The owner and editor of the publication will be visiting our class to discuss the publication and the sort of content he is looking for.  Using these guidelines, students will be tasked with creating content that the owner will have the option to publish. Therefore, students will be incentivized to give their best as the opportunity to earn a byline on this site would be a great line on their resume! It will be a challenge for students to essentially work for an editor and face the editor’s decisions, in addition to getting a grade from their professor.

But before students have this opportunity, they will go through another exciting challenge that will help them prepare. Students will be creating BuzzFeed articles via the BuzzFeed community. I am super stoked about this assignment! Students are going to not only have a chance to create a piece of content that – well, honestly – might actually be read by a sizable audience as opposed to just me, but they’ll also be working to promote and track the post’s metrics.

I first heard about the assignment a few years ago from Tweeting with Scott Cowley. Scott is a marketing Ph.D. student at ASU, a super nice guy, and a rising star. He published his BuzzFeed Valentine’s assignment. And I’ve been wanting to try it ever since. On his website, Scott lets you download the assignment itself and see his slides on how he set it up. Scott also wrote a great article detailing the assignment on Mark W. Schaefer’s blog (I’ve reviewed a few of Mark’s books on this blog. And Mark has been a guest lecture in my social media class).

I’m going to vary the assignment slightly from what Scott did. While Scott’s assignment focuses on Valentine’s Day, my students will be creating content around spring break. This is a bit of a risk and simply a matter of timing for my syllabus. I will be sure to write a post later in the semester about how the experiment goes.

What Did I Shift Around to Add These Assignments?

You’re probably wondering what I had to drop from prior semesters to fit these new assignments in. This class is, after all, packed with things to cover.

In the past, such as in my Spring 2015 syllabus, I have had a blogging assignment where students picked an organization of their choice. They created a content calendar of blog posts and social media posts. And then they wrote the 5 blog posts as though they represented that organization. In short, this was the assignment I did to focus on content marketing.

This semester, I am dropping the blogging part of this. I’ve also pulled back on the desktop layout requirements of my white paper assignment. I used to require students to learn basic desktop layout in Apple Pages during the last few days of classes while working on their white paper. I was never very pleased with this aspect of the assignment. It isn’t about writing, for one. Though, I wanted students to at least have some exposure to basic layout. That portion will be covered elsewhere in our department (I think we all face these sorts of issues. There is so much we want to cover and so little time. We sometimes try to force something in. We try to be superhero professors. 🙂 And, we are better off offering depth at the expense of breadth sometimes). With those days freed up, there will be more time to focus on these new assignments.

Here is the Spring 2016 Syllabus for my Writing Across Platforms course.

-Cheers!

m@

 

What Happens When You Put Your Students In Charge of Your Department’s Social Media? (My Fall 2015 Social Media Class Project In Review)

The new semester has started here at Shepherd University. There is a lot I have planned and am looking forward to. But first, I want to look back at my Comm 322 Social Media class from last fall, Fall 2015.

As you know, I’ve been teaching a social media class for many years. I was constantly tweaking the assignments. In Fall 2014, I took a new approach. The class was going to be put in charge of strategizing and creating content for our department’s social media (Twitter, Instagram, Blog). The way it works is, there are a series of assignments throughout the semester that all build towards  (You can learn more about the project and my rationale for it here. And you can learn about the first strategy assignment that goes along with that, here).

The project was a huge success and hit with the students. Students resoundingly responded that they learned a lot, loved the hands-on opportunities, and encouraged me to continue on with it in the future. Here’s a look at how the first year went! I decided to stick with the project this past fall, when I taught the course again.

Several professors have since contacted me asking about the project. So, I thought I’d review how things went in Fall 2015:

 

Original Content – This past semester, I really put an emphasis on creating original content. The year before, the Twitter team in particular, relied on curating content, such as memes and news article. While curating is a powerful and important skill, I wanted more. This year, students delivered 10 fold. You’ll see that in all of the below, but let’s focus on the Twitter team first.

The social media class assignment follows a theme. The theme for 2015 was that the Communication Department is “Shepherd University’s Best Kept Secret.” The reason is that our department is located in a part of the building that students don’t normally pass through. When students wander into our department they see our new TV studio and Mac labs, and say “Wow, I didn’t even know this was here!”

To address this, the Twitter team presented an idea to the class to produce a series of narrative episodes telling the story of a student who is being introduced to the communication department for the first time. They wanted it to be fun, silly, and a story – something students might actually relate to and watch (as an aside, I’ve got a blog post coming out soon about the importance of story in making ideas stick. Stay tuned!). They felt too many people try to show something with boring photos or videos. Ex: “This is our TV studio. It has x number of cameras, etc.” While universities feel good that they make these types of videos, students find them boring and tune out. On social media, people want to be entertained while they learn. So the students came up with the #CommCrusaders,  a series of 30-second Twitter videos (30 seconds is the max length) that were published throughout the semester about this student learning about our department. The videos were supported by teaser photos. Here’s the first episode:

In each video, the #CommCrusaders (a group of 3 students) introduce the new student to the computer lab, our TV studio, our classes, our classrooms, etc. For example, during the Halloween season a series of videos introduces the new student to each of our curriculum concentrations via a fairy visiting the new student in her dreams. In short, through the course of the semester the #CommCrusaders acculturate the student to our department, its culture, and what it has to offer.

For example, here’s a video they produced helping the new student prepare for finals week:

At the end of the semester, the student changes her major to Communication. The videos were a bit goofy at times. But, the class and I believed in the idea that the students presented and I wanted to encourage students to take risks and go for it – that’s what a university classroom is, a laboratory for experimentation. Plus, social media must “be a little weird” and take calculated risk to stand out. The videos certainly brought personality to the Twitter account, which had been lacking in the past.  I’m extremely proud of the planning, production, hard work, and execution of the students in the #CommCrusaders Twitter team. They were absolutely dedicated to the project and showed true imagination in problem solving.

Aligning Content With Strategy – The Instagram team wanted to change the look and feel of our Instagram account. In building their strategy and conducting a social media audit of other communication departments at similar universities, the students saw a gap. Our department is small and our space is small. But, communication students’ lives at Shepherd extends beyond the classroom. The Instagram team wanted to show the life of a Shepherd Comm student and the opportunities and experiences. The students brought more color and more life to the posts. Not only that, they developed a plan for a virtual tour around campus, called “A Day in the Life” to take fans to many places on and off campus that relate to the life of a Comm students. This tour ran throughout the semester. It consisted of a map teasing fans about what was to come, then a video post walking to that location, and then an interview with a key figure at that location.

Shepherd_University_Comm_Dept___sucomm__•_Instagram_photos_and_videos

Oh, and they had a fun video too.

 

Metrics – Metrics were up for our blog, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. Students were required to report their stats throughout the semester. They used Twitter analytics, Sumall.com (which changed to a paid model halfway through the semester) and WordPress blog stats.

SUComm-Halloween-contest

A major boost in followers and likes came for the Instagram team during their Halloween pumpkin carving contest. The students approached me and said they wanted to run a contest to promote the account. Persons were invited to carve a pumpkin and tag SUComm to enter. To promote the week-long contest, word was put out to via residents halls, comm classes, and the students were able to secure a promotional post on the university-wide Instagram account. The account picked up about a dozen followers from this fun activity, all of which were in our target audience: Shepherd students both inside and outside the department. Finalists were chosen, then a winner, and the winner received a goodie bag. She had her photo taken with our class. All of this was, of course, posted to our Instagram account.

Content Quality – The quality of the content has also continued to go up. In 2014, the Instagram team had some limiting audio issues with their interview videos. The production value was higher in 2015. All content, including the #CommCrusader videos were shot on smart phones and edited on a laptop.

Providing Value to the Audience Rather Than Simply Promoting – The blog team had a tough assignment. Students aren’t big readers of blog posts. It is fun to create multimedia. But, text?! The blog team, I think, was a bit envious of the other teams  (more on that below). Yet, they did a great job. One thing I really liked was their idea for #TechThursday, to provide tips for using software that is used in classes in our department. The blog team started off a bit too salesy and seemed to struggle a little with the idea of content marketing. But, their #TechThursday posts helped the team see how they can add value to the audience as opposed to hitting them over the head with the hard sell.

Areas For Improvement – One area of weakness, was that the teams did not collaborate as well as they did in 2014. For example, in 2014, the teams worked well with each other to create content that was cross-platform such that if an Instagram video was being created about a professor, there was a corresponding blog post, and Tweets that added additional information not available on the other platforms. This year, there was only 1 instance of different platforms working together. 2015 students got stuck in platform silos.

Another area that I need to think about is the blog. Twitter and Instagram are fun social media that the students engage with often. Driving people, particularly students, to a blog post is more difficult. So, I felt that the blog team got the short end of the stick in a way. I’ve stuck with the blog because blog writing is an important skill. And, also because I don’t want to start creating social media accounts on every possible social platform and then be stuck trying to run them or let them turn into ghost properties. It is simply a lot to manage. But, I need to think next year about whether to stick with the blog or try SnapChat, Vine, or a different social platform.

The 2015 students attacked this project. Each team took on extra work beyond what was required of them and produced extra work. The Instagram team planned and executed the Halloween contest and created extra content during the holidays not because it was required by me; they came to me with these ideas. The Twitter team created several more videos than what was required in the total amount of content they needed to produce. I believe this is a sign of a successful assignment. The students took their jobs as representatives of our department seriously. They integrated what they were learning in class into practice, and were held accountable to their metrics goals.

I’m so proud of all of the students in my Fall 2015 social media class. I’m excited to see what they will come up in other classes of mine in the future and the amazing things they will accomplish in their careers! I expect big things out of them!

I am also looking forward to continuing to build on this project and improve it.

If you have any questions about the project and how it all works, check out the blog posts linked above, or you can browse my 2014 syllabi that contains this project and all past posts about my social media class. You can always Tweet me if you have questions.

Hope your Spring 2016 is off to a great start!

-Cheers

Matt