Category Archives: Classes

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

googledrive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Log into Google Drive or create an account.

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

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

google-doc-1

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

google-drive-share-2

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

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

bit.ly/SMClass_Activity1_Team1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

-Matt

Google Drive Logo is Copyright of Google

Sharing my Social Media Release Assignment

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

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

Press Release for the Web Assignment

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

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

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

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

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

Cheers!

-Matt

Books I am Using This Fall for Social Media and Writing Across Platforms

Happy Friday! We are wrapping up our first week of classes here at Shepherd University!

This semester I am teaching 2 classes related to social media and strategic comm: Social Media (syllabus), and Writing Across Platforms (syllabus).

I find myself using textbooks less and less. Perhaps this is because i am not finding what I am looking for, or maybe I am just not looking in the right places. Here are the books I am using in each class.

Social Media Class

1) Born to Blog by Schaefer & Smith

(I wrote a review of this awesome book a few months ago).

2) Likeable Social Media by Dave Kerpen

Recommended: Toa of Twitter by Mark Schaefer

Writing Across Platforms Class

Required:

Content Rules: How to create killer blogs, podcasts, videos, ebooks, webinars and more that engage customers and ignite your business by Ann Handley & CC Chapman

Recommended: 1) AP Stylebook, and 2) Public Relations Writing: Form & Style (10th edition) by Newsom & Haynes

I have only used Likeable Social Media before so am excited to see how they others go!: What books are you using? What would you recommend?

(Note, I put the Amazon links in here but this is not an endorsement of Amazon nor are these affiliate links).

Cheers!

-Matt

Teach PR Writing? You Need to Know about Google’s Updated Link Schemes

Google recently updated its link schemes and it means an important change to how we teach students to write press releases for the web. This is because the change directly targets articles or press releases distributed on other websites, like an online wire service.

I’ve written a lot on this blog about teaching students to write for the web. And this is the biggest change I’ve seen to what we should teach since starting this blog.

Google wants links to your site to emerge naturally, that is organically via its popularity on the web because others like it and link to it via Tweets, blog posts, etc. That doesn’t include a press release, because essentially a press release is seen by Google as an advertisement you are putting out to drive traffic to your site. Google calls this “unnatural.”

“Lots of links, lots of repeated key words, and multiple postings of a press release to different sites, are all red flags to Google under the new rules. Such actions are viewed by Google as blatant attempts to trick its algorithm into ranking a site higher than its allotted position,” writes Tom Foremski.

When Barry Schwartz of Search Engine Roundtable asked Google Switzerland’s john Mueller “Why were press releases called out?” during the July 29 Webmaster Central Google Hangout, Mueller replied: “It is something that a lot of people are doing to try to promote the website. That’s something that we want to make clear, that we essentially see this as an unnatural link…” Later in the hangout, Mueller likened a press release to an advertisement. He is saying this in the sense, again, that the purpose of the press release distributed on the web is to drive traffic to a client’s site, the way an online advertisement does. I.e., an “unnatural” link. Of course, the purpose of a press release is to do more than drive traffic to your site, but not in Google’s eyes.

You can see this exchange by watching the first 10 minutes or so of the below video:

So what to do?

Having keywords be linked has been Best Practices for press releases over the past several years (in fact, if you have old press releases up it is best to go change them to the new format or risk hurting your client’s PageRank). I was planning to go into my Writing Across Platforms class (See syllabus. See other blog posts about the class) this fall with the advice to optimize keywords with links in the Social Media News Release assignment. As a result of this change by Google, this is what I’ll be telling my students:

Be safe:

Link Sparingly

nofollow all URLs in press releases and distributed articles on web.

Code for no-following:
nofollow-google-linkschemes
Why I’m telling them this:

I spent a great deal of time researching this new change and reading through varying opinions and reactions to the new link scheme update. While opinions differed slightly, Mueller’s own advice seems to be to no-follow all URLs just to be safe.

The penalty for upsetting Google? Possibly having your client’s site drop in ranking on Google search results – and no one wants that! In fact, in an article with the alarmist title “Did Google just kill PR agencies?” Tom Foremski warns ” PR agencies could be held liable for the damage they caused to the online reputation of client businesses through the execution of normal practices. It could lead to legal action and compensation claims on millions of dollars in lost sales. ”

So it seems best to me to not risk it.

Some great articles to learn more about this change and see what others are advising (note: I got many of these from a great podcast on For Immediate Release last week – listed below):

image CC Schmector

Blog Better with Born to Blog by Schaefer and Smith (Book Review)

I owe this blog to the book Born to Blog: Building Your Blog for Personal and Business Success One Post at a Time by Mark W. Schaefer and Stanford A. Smith.

For some time before starting Social Media Syllabus, I’d thought about blogging again the way I think about getting back in shape to play lacrosse again or making homemade bread like Kelin and I used to – as a distant and improbable ‘wouldn’t it be nice’ scenario. I had started a blog briefly in graduate school, but being too busy, I shut it down. And honestly, my first blog lacked focus and intent. I hadn’t really thought through who I was writing to and why they should read my blog. I just wanted to blog and so I began. Needless to say, it didn’t go anywhere. Isn’t that the case with so many blogs?

So when I got my hands on Born to Blog after first hearing about Schaefer’s Tao of Twitter, I was excited and anxious. Clearly I wasn’t “born to blog,” I thought, reflecting on my first blogging failure. So I wasn’t really planning on starting a blog again. But a few chapters later I found myself plotting out Social Media Syllabus and telling myself, ‘this time it will be different.’

The book Born to Blog offers readers 3 important things:

  1. The “how to” and motivation to become a successful blogger
  2. A clear understanding of the value of blogging
  3. A roadmap for planning, launching, and maintaining a successful blog.

The first part of the book focuses on motivating the reader and explaining what it takes to become a successful blogger, emphasizing the 5 common types of bloggers: dreaming, storytelling, persuading, teaching, and curating.

Readers are encouraged to determine what type of blogger they are and to harness their strengths to be themselves (not surprisingly, I found myself to fit the ‘teaching’ type). The writing style makes the book approachable and friendly. The reader can tell that the authors want to help, want you to be successful, and want you to not only have the knowledge to succeed but feel that you are capable of succeeding at blogging. The authors offer a number of great examples of brave bloggers sharing their story as well as their own personal anecdotes. This book is not filled with hype or promises that your blog will be successful. There are many out there selling snake oil in the social space.   There are no illusions or “get rich quick” schemes. The plan the authors put forward clearly requires a great deal of work and commitment on your behalf. Mark and Stanford are clear that blogging is a marathon, not a sprint, telling the reader they will need tenacity and encouraging them to “not give up.”

Secondly, the authors concisely explain the value of blogging for a business in clear terms. The focus of the book is primarily on the use of blogging as a tool for business, a la content marketing. (There is a brief section in the back on personal blogging that I wish was placed earlier in the book).  In this section, the authors tackle many of the common questions or concerns that companies face from “How often should we blog?” to the possibility of negative comments, or maybe worse no comments at all!, to potential legal issues

While the book isn’t quite as in-depth in terms of offering advice on how to create a content plan and calendar as Content Rules, it offers a great overview and enough to get you started. The authors do a strong job in the middle section of the book tackling important issues surrounding finding and nurturing blog contributors, developing a content plan, uncovering valuable content within your own company your readers want, and more. Readers should keep in mind that this is a shorter book tackling blogging specifically. I would recommend Content Rules, a book we’ll be using in my Writing Across Platforms class, as a supplement to this book.

I appreciate the emphasis on the theme in this book that blogging is a journey of personal growth. As bloggers, the authors remind us that we cannot expect to be perfect. We are constantly growing, learning, and hopefully improving. I have used Born to Blog as a guide and have turned to the book on many occasions for help with questions I’ve had along the way.

if you’re looking to get into blogging or improving an existing blog, whether personally or for a business, I highly recommend this book. I plan on using it for my social media class this upcoming fall (see social media syllabus. You can also learn more about the class) as the text for our class semester-long blogging assignment. I hope the students will find it as approachable, motivating, and informative as I have!

Do you have any great books you recommend for bloggers? If you’ve read Born to Blog, what did you think?

If you enjoyed this post, please share. Cheers!

– Matt

What’s Changing? Plans for My Social Media Fall 2013 Class

Neon_sign,_-CHANGE-

I often find myself at the end of the semester saying “I wish we’d had time to talk about X!” Or, “when I planned this class, Y wasn’t even on the map!”

The great thing is, the relative shortness of a semester enables constant innovation.

Having taught social media for a number of years as a standalone course, there are a few things I plan to change for this upcoming semester.

When I first taught a social media class, I taught it as a hybrid class, half in person and half online. Our major project that semester was the #UVUSOCIAL speaker event featuring Cory Edwards of Dell. Last fall I taught the class based on the team-based learning teaching model (Here’s the syllabus). Students completed in class modules and at the end of each modules completed in in class project designed to put to test the various things they learned during the module. The projects were applied scenarios and students were forced to analyze situations and solve problems over the course of two class periods. While this approach had many benefits, I felt somewhat limited by it.

So what am I planning on doing differently this fall? Here are the major changes that are in the works:

UPDATE: A copy of the syllabus for this social media class is now available as 1 of the resources on this blog!

  • Hootsuite University program & Certification – We’re participating in the Hootsuite University Higher Education program, and students will get “Hoostuite Certified” via their exam certification process. Last semester we used Hootsuite in the class, but weren’t part of the program. t love Hootsuite and am super excited to be a part of this awesome program! It will be a great resume builder for the students.
  • Semester-long blogging project – I’ve wanted students to get hands-on experience with social media. The trouble is, often organizations are a bit wary of turning over the keys to Twitter or Facebook to a professor and his college students. And I completely understand. Unfortunately, to know social media students need to use social media. So much of learning social media is through planning and audience analysis, trying out engagement strategies, building relationships, monitoring, metrics, and evaluation. One way I’ve gotten around this in the past is to host our own social media event. This year, I realized another way to get around this issue was to have students author a niche-based blog on a topic they’re passionate about related to their career interests. I consulted a number of people on who have done this project before, and heard many professors found it to be very successful (I got lots of great feedback from the Teaching Social Media Marketing Linkedin group – Thanks!)
  • Metrics – While we touched on metrics last semester, this semester students will get a chance to set real goals, monitor their very own traffic (as opposed to hypothetical scenarios), etc.
  • Optimization of Posts: Days and Times – Last semester I talked about this quite a bit. Students even read Zarella’s Hierarchy of Human ContagiousnessThis semester, students we will discuss the topic and provide some examples. But instead of doing exercises, students will use a modified version of Professor Jeremy Floyd’s social media metrics spreadsheet to track their posting schedules and see what days and times are most effective. Thanks to Jeremy for sharing this awesome tool!
  • Social Media Audit – Last semester my Politics of Social Media class did an in-class social media audit activity of an organization we were working with. I was also planning on having them complete a full social media audit. However, due to how busy we were working on our #ACFF12 campaign, that never happened. So this semester in Comm 322 Social Media, students will complete a social media audit on a brand of their choosing.
  • Infographics – More and more it seems that visual storytelling is what’s winning on social media. I was considering integrating infographics into the Writing Across Platforms class I’ll be teaching next semester. Unfortunately, there is just too much to cover into writing class. I’m going to have to do the project in the social media class instead.
  • Lastly, A New Book – I’m dropping Zarella’s Hierarchy of Human Contagiousness, and adding Born to Blog by Mark W. Schaefer, a great companion for the blog project and 1 of the books from my social media book summer reading list.

What do you think? What recommendations do you have? I hope to finish up planning for the class this week and to get a copy of the syllabus up sometime soon. I also plan to offer some more in depth explanation of some of the projects and topics I’ve mentioned in this post.

If you are teaching a class on social media, what are you planning to cover this year? Are you making changes from previous semesters? If so, what? Drop a comment in the comments below or shoot me a Tweet (textbox on the right)!

I’d love to know!

photo CC By Felix Burton (Flickr), via Wikimedia Commons

Teaching Keyword Competition with Google Adwords (Activity)

This post is long overdue!

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

The Competition!

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

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

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

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

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

Day 2: Set Up: (10 minutes)

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

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

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

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

Scenario:

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

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

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

Why headlines are so important

9 Proven Headline Formulas that Sell Like Crazy

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

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

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

Related lecture slides are below!

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

Day 2: Google Trends and Keyword Competition

Day 3: Headlines

photo CC Team Traveller