Category Archives: Classroom Activities and Exercises

Looking for social media class assignments, activities, and exercises?

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See all of my blog posts that contain social media class assignments, activities, and exercises. Just scroll down to access them. These are great public relations class assignments and work well as marketing class assignments, too. Enjoy!

Use this Worksheet in Your Class to Design a Message Map and Key Messages for a Communication Campaign (Part 2 of 2)

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Teaching Students to Develop Message Maps

In the first post in this series I provided an activity to teach students what key messages are and how they can begin learning to identify and extract key messages. If you haven’t read it, please do so before proceeding.

Below, students take the brainstorm activity and go out and get some feedback for their key messages. Then, they develop a message map.

Teach-Key-Messages-Class-Activity

Testing Key Messages

Once key messages are developed (as described in the previous post), students present them to the class in a casual presentation. The purpose of the presentation is to solicit feedback from their peers. Each group gets about 15 minutes or so to stand in front of the class to ask questions and get reactions and advice from their classmates about their key messages.

As part of this exercise, I require my students to have a core message, which is an overarching idea that applies to all publics in their campaign. For example, “milk is a healthy necessity no home should be without” or “Everyone’s a hero at XYZ Camp.” That core message is the thing that holds the other messages together. It unifies, or sits above, all other key messages. This will be discussed further in the message map exercise in the next post.

Once students have gotten some feedback from their teammates, they can refine their messages. From there, they are required to go out into the field with their refined messages and test them via a focus group or a series of one-on-one interviews with members of of their target audience. They then take that feedback and refine their messages once more.

I require my students to provide a brief write up their notes from their presentation to the class and the focus group or interviews. They must then explain how the feedback they got from the presentation helped them refine their messages. Then, they must show how the feedback they got from their focus group/interviews helped them modify and improve their messages.

What is a Message Map

Next, students turn their message ideas into a message map.

A message map is a way to visualize a core message, key messages, and any message support. It helps your team quickly share and communicate around your messaging.

A great way to introduce your students to this concept is to show this quick overview of how to build a message map.

 

Try having your students replicate this process quickly with their client. For example, give them five minutes to create a core message with three key messages. The key here isn’t for the students to get a great set of messages in five minutes. It is to warm them up to how this model works.

Message Map Exercise

Students are now going to lay out their message map. I require students to create a message map for at least 2 target publics, with messages tailored to those publics. For each public, they briefly describe the public and provide the goals or desired benefits that we have for that public. This keeps them focused on aligning messages with who they are targeting and why. They also list the message support alongside each key message.

Because my students are working on a campaign as well, they must also provide a campaign title and theme. From a messaging point of view, a campaign is a central unifying call to action. The title is the name used to describe it.  Just like a theme for a party, campaign theme is the current of energy or creativity that runs through the campaign. A theme permeates all aspects of a campaign the way a party theme permeates the food, the decorations, the place settings, the dress, and the music and mood of a party.

In addition to the campaign theme and campaign title, students provide their core message.

Message Map Worksheet

Because I tend to think from top to bottom as opposed to visually, I have set up the below message map worksheet with a series of tables in MS Word. However, if you like things to be laid out differently, feel free to modify the worksheet.

All told, students are required to put everything described in the above section on one sheet of paper for ease of access. It gets all of their ideas quickly in one place. It lets me quickly see where they are coming from.

See the below printable, my message map activity worksheet.

Next Steps: Teaching Key Messages

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-Cheers!

Matt

 

How to Teach Key Messages to PR and Marketing Students: Activity Included (Part 1 of 2)

This post may contain affiliate links, meaning at no additional cost to you, if you click a link and make a purchase, I will make a commission. Please read my disclosure for details.

Teaching Students to Develop Key Messages is a Great Public Relations Class Activity

As a kid, I paid more attention to the lyrics than the rhythm or the beat. I also probably spent more time thinking about how authors expressed the ideas in a story than the story itself.

Maybe that’s why messaging is one aspect of brand building and campaign planning that has always fascinated me. While people often find the process of building key messages tedious, I see it as the fun kind of tedious.

This is part 1 of a two-part series on how I teach students to develop key messages and build a message map in my Strategic Campaign class.

See part 2 on Teaching Students to Develop Message Maps

Teach-Key-Messages-Class-Activity

What Makes for Good Key Messages?

Key messages are the ideas that encircle your communication efforts. They help professional communicators focus and articulate important information in a way that is clear, accurate, and consistent.  I like them because they are versatile. For example, they can be used to develop talking points and can also be used develop social media content.

According to the article Key Message Development: Building a Foundation for Effective Communications on the PR Say blog, key messages should be (the below list is directly quoted from the article):

  • Concise: Optimally three key messages on one page; each statement only one to three sentences in length or under 30 seconds when spoken.
  • Strategic: Define, differentiate and address benefits/value proposition.
  • Relevant: Balance what you need to communicate with what your audience needs to know.
  • Compelling: Meaningful information designed to stimulate action.
  • Simple: Easy-to-understand language; avoid jargon and acronyms.
  • Memorable: Easy to recall and repeat; avoid run-on sentences.
  • Real: Active rather than passive voice; no advertising slogans.
  • Tailored: Effectively communicates with different target audiences, adapting language and depth of information.”

Teaching Message Design to Students

Key messages are part and parcel of any campaign plan. I introduce them in the PR Principles class and they come up in just about every class I teach. For example, students in my Social Media class [See the syllabus | All posts about this class] use key messages that were developed for them. But, they have to learn to create content that executes on those messages. As discussed below, Students in my Strategic Campaigns [Syllabus | All posts about this class] develop and test key messages for our client.

Key messages are also discussed in my Communication Research class [Syllabus | All posts about this class] when students work as part of the media placement analysis assignment.

In this exercise, we are going to focus on the campaigns class. By now, students at the very least should already have been introduced to what key messages are and what makes effective key messages (e.g., the list above). Students should also be shown examples of key messages and message support from real brands. Message support is the evidence or proof points that support your key messages. Here’s a simple example:

  • Key message: XYZ shoes are super comfy.
  • Message support: the insoles of XYZ shoes are made out of the world’s softest organic fabric, called ABC fabric.

What is Key Message Support and why do you need it?

The message support is needed, thus, to prove the claim in the  message. Otherwise, the claim is unsubstantiated and won’t hold up to scrutiny. You may also choose to talk about ‘reasons to believe’ (RTB) when discussing messaging. I was introduced to the concept of RTB by Maggie Bergin of RP3 Agency when my National Millennial Community Chapter invited her to speak to our communication department last year. Learn more about reasons to believe (RTB). I really like the idea of helping students develop ‘reasons (for the target public0 to believe’ in their messaging.

Different key messages can be developed for different publics. For example, messages aimed at doctors are likely going to differ from key messages aimed at patients as both have different information needs.

You can find examples of key messages and message support via a quick Google search. Another great idea is to find past Bateman campaign winners and share their key messages with your students.

Students in my campaigns class also have to read a great book on effective communication called Made to Stick. (Read my review of Made to Stick to see the core concepts students are learning). I have my students integrate what they are learning from made to stick in their message design.

Key Messages Brainstorming Activity

Creating key messages is a challenge for anyone. Because it is new to students, it can be particularly challenging.

One way to help someone understand how to identify the right message, is to do the below exercise:

Tell your students that a presentation was given about the topic they need to develop key messages for. For example, the campaign for your class. Or, you can use a case study as an example. In the below example, X is the topic.

Step 1: Tell students…

  • If you were leaving this room, and someone asked you “What is X about?” what would you tell them? Write it down.
  • Example: “I heard I missed a lecture about message maps in Dr. K’s class. What’s a message map?”

Note: This is a summary of the big idea. It might be the core message (discussed below).

Step 2: Tell students…

  • 2. After you tell that person what X was about, they respond: “Cool, what do I need to know about X?”
  • First, identify your goals in responding to this communication request.

Note: These goals are the communication goals – or the benefit to the audience. They are what you want to achieve with your messaging.

Step 3: Tell students…

  • 3. Next, write down the 3 most important things that you’d need to tell this person about X.
  • Example: The person responds to you: “Oh no! I bet it’s going to be on the test. What 3 things do I need to know about message maps?”

Step 4: Tell Students…

  • Let’s pretend 1 of the 3 things you told this person was that, “Message maps help you align your communication so you make sure you get your big idea first and then show how your big idea works with the details.”
  • They responded, ‘give me an example of what you mean?”

Note: They’re asking for the supporting evidence for that message.

Repeat step 4 for the other messages.

If done correctly, you’ve used a story to show your students the everyday life application of key messages and message support.

The students just developed:

  • Part 1: A core message, or at least a summary of what the topic is that can be boiled down to a core message.
  • Part 2: A communication goal which helps them focus in on what they are trying to accomplish with their messaging.
  • Part 3: Three key messages – or, the most important things they need to be able to share about the topic.
  • Part 4: Message support, or proof points that act as evidence to support the key messages.

Students should now have some practice applying their knowledge  to the extraction of what’s important about a topic.

Because this is a campaign class, by the time students are ready to work on developing key messages, they have already done a bit of background research on our class client. Using that knowledge, I ask the students to begin to brainstorm key messages for the campaign. So, have your students start brainstorming key messages [Note: I discuss several brainstorming techniques in my book, Teach Social Media].

Key Messages Worksheet

Below, I’ve provided an activity students can use to help brainstorm and develop their messaging. This message design brainstorm activity was built several years ago primarily from the book Made to Stick.  The checklist on page 2 is my version of a series of key facets of message design extracted from Made to Stick. However, other information from my research on key messages is also included, including the above-mentioned article from PR Say and from Maggie Bergin’s guest lecture.  I apologize for not having a full list of sources that were used to develop this activity as they have been lost to time.

Next Steps: Teaching Message Maps

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My New Book, Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love, is Now Available on Amazon!

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Teach Social Media Book

I am beyond thrilled to announce that my new book, Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love, is now available on Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

It has been a long and exciting journey. I am so glad to finally be able to share this project with you. It is one of my most ambitious undertakings. I can best describe it as an organized “brain dump” of my knowledge about teaching a social media class for students interested in careers as professional communicators (e.g., public relations, marketing).

Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love

Grab a copy of Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love through Amazon now!

The book is available in paperback and Kindle eBook formats. The paperback version comes with the ability to access the Kindle eBook version for free so that you can access the live URL links in the book via a Kindle, the Kindle Cloud Reader on desktop, or a Kindle app on a smartphone or tablet.

A Book With Social Media Class Assignments, Activities, and Exercises Organized into a Class Plan

This 9-chapter, 216 page book is an end-to-end plan for creating a social media course for students studying public relations, marketing, and related fields. In it, I walk you through a 15-week semester.

The book contains chapter appendixes with social media workshop exercises, social media class assignments, and lesson plans. It contains a social media syllabus with all of these assignments and activities integrate into it.

Each chapter builds upon the preceding chapter. Thus, the social media exercises and lessons in one chapter teach students skills that they apply in later chapters in new exercises and assignments.

What Makes This Book Unique

The book is not a textbook and it is not a workbook. It is written in a ‘how to’ style. It is built around the What, Why, How, Do, Reflect (WWHDR) framework that I wrote about earlier this year. The book contains chapter appendixes with assignments and activities that you can use in the classroom. The book also contains access to digital copies of these assignments and activities.

Several friends and colleagues encouraged me to write a book at the 2018 AEJMC. The problem is that these very friends and colleagues  – Carolyn Mae Kim, Karen Freberg, and Keith Quesenberry – have already written stellar social media textbooks (I’ve discussed Dr. Kim’s textbook here and the accompanying workbook for Dr. Freberg’s textbook here). I knew I wanted to contribute in a different way, but I wasn’t sure how.

So I talked to several folks and thought about what it is I could contribute to the conversation about preparing students for careers as professional communicators today. I evaluated my strengths and my passions. I knew I wanted to write something that was true to the mission of this blog. I also knew I wanted to write something different than I had ever read before.

  • Textbooks are for students but we faculty read them to learn and prepare our classes.
  • Education pedagogy books give you advice on how to manage a classroom.
  • Workbooks give you assignment that you can use in your classroom.

My book is a little of all three of these genres. I wanted to tell the story of how to organize and execute an entire class. This blog, after all, has mostly been about social media assignments and activities. My Google Analytics data tells me that the posts I write about assignments and activities are the most popular. But blogs, as a medium, are limited. Blog articles are single units. At best, they can be strung into series – which I’ve done quite a bit of. But writing blog posts about disparate assignments cannot bring together the meta-organization that goes into planning a class.

Teach Social Media seeks to accomplish what could not be accomplished on this blog. It combines my obsession with organization, detailed assignment plans, and well-planned classes with a broader vision that can only be accomplished with the length and freedom a book offers.

While some of the content in Teach Social Media has been touched upon on this blog, most of it hasn’t. Further, I’ve never publicly organized my social media assignments and activities together in a systematic way that explains how to plan and execute an entire class.

There are two ways to use my book:

  1. Follow the book as an end-to-end guide for teaching your class. You will find that the book is designed around a social media project that spans the entire semester. All of the topics, assignments and activities in this book are integrated into a social media project and therefore each chapter (and each assignment) builds upon the chapter before it. If you follow this approach, you will want to read the entire book before starting to plan your class.
  2. Picking and choosing assignments and activities to integrate into your existing class. Call this the à la carte approach. You don’t need to build your class around the semester project to apply the information in the book. Pick what works for you.

Thank you for your support over the years. Thank you so very much to all of the people who have cheered me along over the last many months as I worked through drafts of this book. I want to thank Brad Hamann, the designer of my book’s cover. I also want to thank the Shepherd University Foundation for providing financial support this summer – support that made this book possible.

I hope that Teach Social Media is like no other book you’ve read! Most importantly, I hope that you enjoy it and find it helpful. For me, this is a dream come true!

The book’s table of contents and a sample chapter (appendix not included) are available below. Note that the document will say “error! page not defined” for the table of contents because the sections have been redacted as this is only a sample chapter.

Practice writing news headlines and news leads: Re-write the headline and lead of a news story by focusing on the most interesting part [in-class activity]

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News Headline Writing and Lead Writing Practice Exercise

News headlines – or the titles of news stories – and news leads are vital parts of a compelling news story or news release.

But, what makes for an interesting story? That’s an important question and if we are going to prepare our students to be professional communicators, we should be having this conversation with our students in many of our classes.

Today, I am going to share an in-class activity that I have done the last few years in my writing class, COMM 335 Writing Across Platforms [see all posts about this class | see the syllabus]. That activity asks students to identify the most interesting part of a news story.  Then, students re-write the news headline and news lead by focusing on that most interesting part.

Here’s how the exercise works. But first, some background.

Image public domain from Pexels

How to Write a News Lead

In my writing class, I teach students how to write news releases.  We talk about things like the inverted pyramid, headlines, leads, formatting, and AP style.

It is the lead, perhaps, that students struggle with the most. So we examine leads, talk about different types of leads, and spend a good amount of time working on our leads.

While I introduce leads during the part of the class that we are working on news releases, knowing how to write leads is an important skill that stretches into other types of writing. Think of an interesting blog post that you read. How did it start? What grabbed your attention? Did you get a clear sense of what was at stake; what the important information was?

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of having Andrew Springer [@springer], who is now the senior director of digital development at NBC News, visit my class. My students were participating in writing pieces for a project of his, WeHeartWV.com. But he and I also sat down outside of class to chat about creating content for the web, changes in news consumption, and more. During that time, he suggested I assign my students an activity: re-write the lead of a news story that has been published by a well-known news source by focusing on the most interesting part of the story.

Andrew, no doubt, knows his stuff.  And I was very appreciative of his generosity with this idea. So a big, big thank you to Andrew for sharing this idea and helping me better prepare my students.

The following year, when the time came, I started implementing this as an in-class activity. I also required students to re-write the headline to continue to practice their headline writing skills. I think the assignment really helps the students see that there are may ways to see a story; that there are many interesting avenues into any situation.

Why Teaching Students to Write News Leads is Important

The thing is, that a good news lead and a lead that will grab someone’s attention in an online post are not always one in the same.  By focusing on what makes a story most interesting to the student, the student gets the opportunity to literally re-write the news the way they would have told it. I believe the practice of looking for the angles on a story is helpful to the students as they look for the angles in the news releases they are writing. It helps them learn to turn the story on its side and see what aspects of it are appealing while also gaining more practice constructing headlines and leads.

In a way, I also think this activity provides relief because I have gotten the sense from some students that they feel that there is only ‘1 correct way’ to write the news release assignment they are working on. I want them to see that they could read three different articles about the exact same news event and find three entirely different approaches.

The News Lead and News Headline Activity

I have really loved this participation activity and have continued to dedicate a day of class for students to work on this activity as I come around and offer assistance and feedback. The activity usually takes about 50 minutes for students to complete. I talk students through their headlines and leads in class and offer suggestions. But I also read through all of them after class and give each student a few words of feedback, focusing on the most important thing I would like them to take away as they continue to work on writing effective headlines and leads.

Download a copy of the in-class activity below or see it on SlideShare.net. You will note that I have selected several well-known news outlets from across the country as well as the news aggregator Google News. Feel free to modify these to your liking. I chose a range of credible sources plus the news aggregator to give students a range of choices. But you may want to focus on your local or regional news. This is the first year that I hand selected the news sources. In the past, I would let students choose their own news sources and some students would only focus on sports news, soft news, or sources that may focus less on news and more on editorializing. This year, I was happy to find that by pointing the students to sources all of the students picked fascinating, hard news stories.  Because of this, I think the exercise went better.

One last thing to point out is to be sure to explain to your students what you are looking for. You are not asking them to re-write the existing lead but rather to find an entirely new lead based on what they find interesting. In the past I did not take the extra step to emphasize this point and some students simply re-wrote the existing lead.

News Lead and News Headline Assignment Worksheet

What activities do you have to help students learn to write headlines and leads? Please share them with readers via the comments below.

Cheers!

-Matt

 

What’s Changing? Creative Briefs and Using Story Arcs in Pitch Presentations

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It’s that time of year. The tradition must continue! It is time, of course, for my ‘What’s Changing’ blog post to start off the semester. I’ve been writing these posts for years as a way to highlight key changes I have in mind for the semester ahead. For example, here’s last semester’s post.

So, without further ado, here are a few things that are changing, new, or worth noting for the semester ahead. Specifically, this post is going to focus on my COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns [see the syllabus] class as there a few things small changes that I have in mind which I think will have a big impact on student learning.

COMM 470 Strategic Campaigns

This year my campaigns class will be taking on Adopets, a startup based in Boston that is building a new way to connect animal lovers and rescues to improve the pet adoption process. I am thrilled about this opportunity as we’ll be taking on Adopets during an exciting time for the company. Working with startups is an incredible opportunity for the students. They get to witness firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit, creativity, and hard work that must go into building a successful venture. It also creates a powerful opportunity to for students to have a real impact.

A focus for me this semester in the campaigns class is trying to help students ideate more effectively when brainstorming their ideas for their campaign. I’ve noted that in the past, students tend to get stuck ‘in the weeds,’ lost in the minutia of goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. They are so concerned with correctly creating and formatting these steps that they appear to get stuck when it comes to seeing the big picture and creating powerful ideas that will drive their campaign. It is akin to having writer’s block because one is too concerned about what nouns and verbs are and is thus unable to focus on the idea one wants to convey. In other words, I’ve noticed that students seem to struggle to come up with creative ideas because they are so concerned about writing their campaign plan. So this semester I am trying to recenter the focus on the ideas. I am telling the students that writing up their strategies and tactics will flow from that. One way I’m doing that is by focusing on the creative brief.

Last semester, students in my social media class had the eye-opening opportunity to have Keith Stoeckeler (Twitter | LinkedIn) Skype in.  Keith has been an advocate for helping better prepare college students for careers in digital and has graciously donated his time to talking to many professor’s classes. Keith also shared a copy of the creative brief document he uses to develop campaign ideas.

This got me to take a twist on my approach. One thing I work on in the campaigns class is having students deconstruct other campaigns. So I redesigned my approach, developing a creative brief document inspired in part by Keith’s. While students have written strategic briefs in the social media class, they are a bit loaded down with questions and requirements (to get the students doing a lot of things I want them to learn). Said another way, those briefs weren’t super, well, brief. In my campaigns class now, the briefs are…  you guessed it, much briefer, and thus more focused.

This semester I’m having my students reverse engineer the campaigns they explore via in class activities by completing a creative brief about those campaigns, as if they were crafting them from scratch to be pitched. Later, I’m going to have the students use the creative brief handout when building out their own campaign ideas. My hope is that by keeping the students focused on this one single document  the students will feel closer to the process of creating a brief because they will have practiced it through reverse engineering. This is a different tact than I used in the past. In the past when students were deconstructing real campaigns, I would give them worksheets that I created with questions tailored to that day’s topic, such as formative research or target audience.

In the end, I am hoping that by keeping the students focused on this brief they will better be able to brainstorm their campaign ideas and then they will do a better job of extrapolating from those ideas into the necessary, organized components of the campaign. A big thank you to Keith for the inspiration!

Another change I am making in my campaigns class has to do with teaching students to pitch to a potential client via a pitch presentation.

In my campaigns class, students pitch their campaigns to the client. Each team is competing with one another. Teaching students how to pitch can be a challenge. I’ve been teaching it in both my PR Principles and my Strategic Campaigns classes for years and I am always looking for ways to improve. It just seems that students struggle with translating the ideas in their campaign document into a presentation.

Recently, I came across a great post by Keith Quesenberry about teaching students to use a dramatic storytelling arc when pitching. Definitely check it out if you haven’t read it yet. Keith’s work is fantastic and the content he creates is always inspiring to me because he offers a clear and fresh perspective with an emphasis on the actionable.  In the post, Professor Quesenberry provides a great graphic demonstrating the dramatic arc and how it corresponds to the stages of the pitch. (Keith is also the author of a great social media textbook, Social Media Strategy: Marketing, Advertising, and Public Relations in the Consumer Revolution).

I’m showing Quesenberry’s dramatic arc graphic to my students this semester. Further, Keith’s post got me to update the slides I use to teach pitching to my students. I also created a handout to give my students to help them format their presentations, based on my experience teaching public speaking way, way, way back in graduate school.

Keith’s post also got me thinking about how I could better structure my class to help students prepare for their pitch.  So, I re-organized the class schedule in an attempt to address this.

In the past, I had students pitch their campaign proposals about midway through the class. These pitches were just to myself and the other students. Then, at the end of the semester, each team pitched the client on their finished campaign. I did this because I thought the practice would pay off. Yet, what I found is, the proposal presentation was actually hampering the students’ final presentations of their campaigns. Rather than refocusing their presentations when creating their final presentations, students tended to try and add on additional information to their already long proposal presentations. Thus, the final presentation was like a Frankenstein version of their proposal presentation and not a smooth, flowing, focused pitch. Said another way, I think the way I was doing things was inadvertently leading students to produce a long, boring, unfocused presentation.

If you look at the spring 2019 syllabus, you’ll see that I dropped the proposal presentation. In its place, I took the newly-gained day of class and put it towards a student presentation walk through. In the past, I have had students do a practice run of their complete presentation to my class prior to presenting it to the client. We are still going to do that. But the added walk through ate is a time where student teams are meeting just with me to go slide by slide through their presentation to offer feedback. After that, they will do their practice run in front of class, and their final run in front of the client.

I am hopeful that this new approach will help students stay focused on telling the story of their pitch, a la Quesenberry’s arc discussed above. In so doing, I hope that it will help the students focus on sharing relevant details in their pitch at strategically chosen times, rather than getting bogged down in the distracting details.

I am excited to see how my campaigns class goes this semester. I’ve got a good bunch of students, students who are bringing energy and enthusiasm to this project.

Cheers!

– Matt

Communication Research Class Media Placement Assignment, Part 2: Doing Data Entry and Creating a Data Legend

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Communication Research Class Assignment Review

This post is long overdue (I feel like I say that a lot!).

It is a follow up to a post I published in January titled “Here’s my communication research class assignment on analyzing media placement.”  Recently, I received a public comment on that post from a professor I greatly admire, Kelli Burns, pointing out that project assignment (see the bottom of this post for that document) notes at the bottom of the document that additional work will be assigned the following day. But, I never discuss what that entails in the blog post.  I apologize to everyone who read that post because, in that sense, it was incomplete in terms of explaining the project.

Thank you to Dr. Burns for bringing this to my attention. With this in mind, I’ve decided to do a much-delayed follow up post, turning that initial post into a two-part series.

So, if you haven’t read the first post in this series, I encourage you to go back and do so. If you just want to know about teaching students to do data entry from coded data and to create data legends, then read on my friend!

The Set Up

In review, in the first post I provide an assignment where students download a data set of media articles using the Meltwater social intelligence software. Their task is to conduct a quantitative content analysis using a coding sheet (which I’ve provided in that first post). They are then told to do all of the coding at home, dividing up the articles to code as evenly as possible among their team.

On the second day of class, students come back with the coding sheet coded for the number of articles they needed to code. I instruct the students to download the coding sheet, copy it onto a new page in their document for the total number of articles they need to code and code them by highlighting the answers on the coding sheet. For example, a student who needed to code 30 articles would return with a digital copy of an MS Word document with 30 pages, each page containing a completed coding sheet.

Problems

All good right? They just need to get their coded data into something that SPSS can read… because that always goes smoothly! 😛

This whole project is aimed at introducing students to quantitative research and all we’re doing is running descriptive statistics. But here’s the problem:

As you probably remember learning in a quantitative methods class some years ago (let’s not age ourselves), the numbers in a data set don’t mean anything themselves. We, the researchers, assign meaning to them. This is an idea that we have to teach the students.

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say that we are coding for eye color. We assign the following numbers for coding purposes:

  • 1 = brown
  • 2 = blue
  • 3 = hazel
  • 4 = green
  • … and so forth until we have an exhaustive list.

But when a student runs the mean and find that variable 1 has a mode of 3, they ask “what the heck does that mean?”

The problems with this are are:

  1. They don’t know what variable 1 corresponds to on their coding sheet (in this example, eye color).
  2. They don’t know what a mode of 3 represents (that the most common eye color is hazel).

Oh, and keep in mind that the students haven’t done any data entry yet. They don’t have their data into a spreadsheet format yet that can be imported into SPSS. So, there’s another problem. Most students have never entered data into a spreadsheet before.

What They Need to Do

  1. Get their coded data into a spreadsheet format that can be analyzed in SPSS.
  2. Create a data legend so they can interpret the SPSS output

What They Need to Know About Measurements First

In my class, students need to know the four common types of measurement – nominal, ordinal, interval and ratio – , as the Netflix assignment (and other assignments to follow) use them.  Students in our major are not required to take any statistics class and thus this is new information to the vast majority of them. If your students know this, you can skip it. If you need a refresher on these, here is a quick summary that explains each measurement type and its strengths and limitations.  I teach them these concepts with a lecture and in-class activity to test their application. I do this earlier int he semester before we get into the Netflix assignment.

Teaching Students Basic Data Entry

This part is pretty simple. As a reminder, the students are working in teams on this project. So the team needs to create a shared Google spreadsheet in which they enter all their coded data from their coding sheets.  They just need to open Word and open the shared Google spreadsheet and enter the corresponding numbers from the coding sheet in Word for each article coded. The key thing is that in this spreadsheet the columns are the questions (i.e., variables) on the coding sheet and the rows are the individual articles (such as in the image below). Otherwise, it won’t import into SPSS correctly (Note: You can import a CSV file through SPSS. So, I have my students download the Google Spreadsheet in CSV format and import that into SPSS).

But, before they can enter their data they need a data legend. So..

Teaching Students to Create Data Legends

A data legend lets the researcher quickly put meaning to the variables and numbers in their results.

Creating a data legend can be done in SPSS. But, for time purposes and because students wont always be using SPSS, I prefer to do it another way. It is quite useful as I can have the data legend right in front of me on a piece of paper.

Simply, have your students type or write up their data legend and keep it handy.

Each variable needs a descriptive label that’s under 13 characters (13 characters is the max that SPSS allows you to use in describing a variable).

Each possible numerical value of that variable needs a name, which is the simplest possible description of what that number means. So, in our example above, if 1 equaled brown eye color, 2 equaled blue eye color and so forth, then we write it up to look like this:

variable:

eyecolor  (1) brown, (2) blue, (3) hazel, (4) green.

In the above, I have given the variable for eyecolor the label eyecolor. The numbers in parentheses represent the numerical value that I have assigned to the possible responses.

For scale questions, the number equals the number on the scale. Example: On a scale of 1-7 where 1 means not at all, and 7 means very much so, how much do you like string cheese?

stringcheese    (1) not at all, (2) 2, (3), 3, (4), 4, (5), 5, (6), 6, (7) very much so.

So, the instructions for creating a data legend are quite simple:

On a separate file or paper:

  1. Assign each variable a label (max 13 letters). So, “schoolstatus”, “favicecream” and “rankicecream” work.
  2. If it is nominal or ordinal label it in parentheses (this is optional, but I like to do it to help students remind what type of variable it is)
  3. With each label, make a list that indicates what # we have assigned to each term within our measurement, by placing the # in parentheses.

Of course, there are some caveats when dealing different measurement types, such as ordinal data. Indeed, ordinal data and ‘check all that apply’ questions are tough.  These can be a bit frustrating when doing data entry. That’s why I’ve provided below a handout I created and use in class to teach students how to create data legends using the different types of measurements. This walks them through how to not only create a data legend for that variable but subsequently how to enter that data correctly from their coding sheet into their spreadsheet so that the spreadsheet can be analyzed in SPSS or elsewhere.

Activity

Once you walk students through this process, you can give them an activity to test for understanding and application. If the students don’t enter their data correctly now, it is going to be a mess when they try to import it into SPSS. So while this may take some valuable class time or may serve as homework, I recommend assigning the data entry and data legend activity (see below) and making sure the students entered their data correctly.

In the activity, it is important to clarify to students that, in part 2 of the activity, the survey responses are separated by semi-colons such that the first respondent’s answers are: a) digital film, b) freshman, c) 4, and d) Domino’s, Pizza Hut, Pizza Perfection.

Once the students have created the data legend and entered it into the table on the activity sheet, their answers should look like this

Data Legend

Spreadsheet

Once your students got this down, set them loose to do their data entry. You may want to assign that as homework. You can give them a lecture on descriptive statistics and work with SPSS or whatever software you’ll be doing the analysis in. Help the students interpret what the data means by pointing them to their data legend.

I hope this blog post was helpful. Again, if you have not yet done so, check out the first article in this post to learn more about the Netflix media placement assignment. If you want to know more about my applied communication research class, you can see all blog posts related to communication research here.

Data Entry and Data Legend Handout for Students

Data Entry and Data Legend Activity for Students

Project 1: Media Placement Assignment Handout (from previous blog post cited above).

-Cheers!

Matt

credits: Photo public domain from Pexels

Facebook Audience Insights Class Activity: Introducing Students to Social Media Audience Research Via Facebook

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Teaching Facebook Audience Insights in the Social Media Class

Lately, I’ve been writing about the importance for students to learn more about paid social media as part of the media mix.

In the below post, I’m going to share a new in class activity I did this semester in my COMM 322 Social Media class [see all posts about the class | see past class syllabi] to help students further explore paid social media.

One thing I struggle with in my social media class is finding a way to bring this into the class in a manner that helps students gain hands-on experience. In the past, I did an assignment where students identified a target audience and mocked up a Facebook ad in the Facebook Creative Hub. The purpose of the ad was to promote themselves in some way.

This year, I took a slight turn with the assignment. I backed away from the creation of the ad and placed more emphasis on what we can learn about Facebook users by exploring audience data and how that might inform ad planning.

Specifically, I wanted my students to understand what they could learn with Facebook Audience Insights data. I thought it would be very insightful to have them peel back the curtain and see what a business can see with Facebook Insights. While it would be best to have access to the Facebook page of an organization, this is not necessary to explore Facebook data.  Instead, any person with a Facebook account can explore user data through the Facebook Creative Hub by accessing the Insights tools.

About Facebook Creative Hub and Facebook Audience Insights

If you haven’t played around with the creative hub before, it is a series of tools that help advertisers research and plan ads for Facebook and Instagram. You can create ad mockups to share with others so that they can see what a potential Facebook or Instagram post would look like on the native platform. You can manage ads for clients that you manage. You can create Facebook ads and run campaigns. You can research and learn about Facebook users. You can do several other tasks to track behavior between Facebook, events, websites, and apps.

In my class, I wanted to focus on the tool within the creative hub that lets you do audience research on Facebook users. This part of the tool is called Facebook Audience Insights. You can read more about it here and watch a brief overview of the Facebook Audience Insights tool.  Now, it is a little confusing because Facebook also has an audience insights webpage called Facebook IQ that publishes brief reports based on Facebook data. They have a section about insights into Facebook audiences.

So, think of Audience Insights as the tool you can use to gain insights about Facebook users. Think of Facebook IQ as a resource for reports from Facebook about their user data.

Accessing the Facebook Audience Insights tool is a bit of an in-direct path. The link they promote in several webpages does not work for me and has not been working for the past month. It is: https://www.facebook.com/ads/audience_insights

However, you can get into the Audience Insights tool via logging into the Creative Hub.  Here’s how:

Once you’re in the Audience Insights tool, you can conduct research on people who like your pages (that is, pages that you manage via the Facebook account you are logged in with). Or, you can search data about all Facebook users.

In this video, which I made for my students, I play around with searching for data on Audience Insights. As you can see, you can search by demographic information, interests, affiliations, and the like.

The Facebook Audience Insights Class Activity

I wanted my students to try and deconstruct what data might be helpful to an advertiser planning to create a Facebook ad.  The rationale was for students to be thinking about how the Facebook audience data could inform decision-making.  So I had students work in teams and pick an existing Facebook ad from the inspiration gallery that Facebook provides. You can find the gallery here: https://www.facebook.com/ads/creativehub/gallery/.

For example, a team of student could pick the Audi Facebook video ad.

I then told the students to search a little bit about the ad campaign to see if they could find any information about it. For example, through some quick Googling I was able to find that the BMW 4in4 ad campaign was done by the FCB Inferno agency.

I then had the students go into Facebook Audience Insights. There, they researched a bit about the type of people who like the brand for the ad they chose. Now, there are a number of ways one could approach researching to create an ad on Facebook for a brand. But, what I wanted to do was have students try to learn 1) what they can do with Facebook Audience Insights and the kind of knowledge they can glean, and to learn 2) a bit about the type of user that already likes a brand with the rationale being that there may be some interesting insights here that could inform the creation of an ad based on people who are already interested in that brand. You could, of course, do a twist on this. For example, one of our groups was interested in an M&M ad and decided to search ‘chocolate’ as an interest to cast a wider net for the type of person that might like their product.

To search an interest, go to the ‘interests’ parameter on the left and type a topic. In the below image, I’ve searched “Audi,” If you return to the video I created, I show you how conducting this search will filter your results for Facebook users who have an interest in that topic. You can see demographic information, other interests, other pages liked, etc.

I asked students to put together a brief, impromptu presentation for the below questions.

I asked students to provide a breakdown of key takeaways of their audience across demographics, page likes, location and activity. Here, students were sharing screen grabs of their findings with the class.

Then, I asked students:

  • Given what you know, if you were creating a new Facebook Ad targeting this audience (explain briefly for each below):
    • What age range would you target?
    • What gender(s) would you target?
    • Which is the primary country and city you would target?
    • What is a bit of information from the page likes, interests, etc. that might help you in targeting or planning your ad?

In addressing the sections above, I asked students to consider these questions (see credits at the bottom of this post):

  • What would you do with this information?
  • What are the main points we should be aware of?
  • What ideas can we get from this data?

How It Went:

The students expressed interest in this and said it was cool to be able to explore Facebook or Instagram ads and think about who they were trying to target. They said it was also cool that they got to dig into Facebook Audience Insights as none of them had ever dug into this data before. One student, who owns his own small business, was very interested in looking at how he could use the data to help his business grow. He and I talked a bit about ways that he could use this data to do more research about his potential audience as well as ideas for how he can better use Facebook to advertise.

I think an added bonus was that this activity got students thinking about how their own data is used to target them on sites like Facebook. In peeling back the curtain, they could begin to see how the things we do on social media are used to target us.

I was particularly interested in a presentation that one group gave about Häagen-Dazs UK. They found that more women than men tended to like the brand on Facebook. The same was true for other ice cream brands. They noted that the Häagen-Dazs ad targeted women for a Wimbledon campaign. However, when they researched the brand’s other ads, they noticed that romance was a major theme, including a US campaign with Bradley Cooper. How would they use this information? They argued that they would create a campaign aimed at getting men to buy ice cream as a romantic gesture, targeting the men in one set of ads. They would also target the women with a different message to emphasize the brand as a desirable romantic gesture.

Things I’d Like to Expand Upon:

Altogether, I think this was an eye-opening activity and a hands on learning opportunity for the students. I think there is more that I could do with this next year. My students have little to no prior knowledge about paid social media before taking my classes. I feel there is more that I want to be doing in this space.

This activity took the entire class to complete, with 20 minutes that the end of class for each team to get up and deliver their findings.

In the future, I’d like to bring in Facebook IQ into the activity. I’m looking for a way to have students do some research on the reports in the Facebook IQ website. Then, I would like to eventually expand this out so that students are using the knowledge they gained to mock up their own ads. I would also like to get students thinking about searching for the brand itself as an interest, but possibly comparing a brand with its competitor’s audience.

How are you using Facebook Audience Insights in your classes? Or, more broadly, how are you getting your students thinking about paid social?

Update 8/14/19:

Facebook Audience Insights is discussed in chapters 4, 8 and 9 of my book, Teach Social Media: A Plan for Creating a Course Your Students Will Love.

– Cheers!

Matt

credits:
Top photo is in the public domain. Other image is a screen grab I created.

Note that, according to my admittedly somewhat messy notes of ideas and inspirations for class projects , the above 3 questions are inspired from and direct quotations of questions on an assignment that Kathleen Stansberry shared with me. Dr. Stansberry is a leading professor teaching social networking and data analytics in the field of communication. I love how these questions force the students to think about data and decided to incorporate them when creating this assignment. 

What’s Changing? Hubspot Social Media Certification, Persuasion Class and More!

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Fall 2018 is underway and I can’t believe it is already September! To keep the trend up, I’m starting the semester off by sharing some of the things that are changing this semester in my classes. As I look at former “What’s Changing” blog posts from past semesters, I’m surprised to see that I’m not changing a whole lot this year.  Still, some fun things are in the works:

Comm 321: Public Relations Principles

This is the first course students in the Strategic Communication concentration take.

  • Assessing the strengths and weaknesses of our seniors when they leave the program has led me to try and improve 2 areas in this class. Specifically, these past few semesters I have been working to 1) improve student skills for generating creative ideas to address real-world communication problems, and 2) improve student skills in articulating and building interest in those ideas (i.e., pitching and presenting ideas in a succinct and powerful way). Thus, I am walking back on “content-packing” my classes a bit and increasing more in-class exercises and guided brainstorming activities. In the past, I have let brainstorming be a bit of a ‘free for all.’ But I picked up a few brainstorming games while visiting a few agencies during an NMC trip last February. I plan to implement them in both my principles class and my campaigns class.

Comm 322: Social Media

  • The big change this year is that I’ve switched over from the Hootsuite certification to the Hubspot Social Media certification.  I considered assigning both, but because I have also added some of the Facebook Blueprint educational materials and a new assignment to the class, I felt that it would be too much to ask the students to do both Hootsuite and Hubspot. After all, the class is stuffed already with projects. So, this year I’m going to see how the Hubspot cert goes and make a decision of which I prefer. It seems the Hubspot cert is more strategy whereas the student-version of the Hootsuite cert has been narrowed in recent years from its original broad scope to just the Hootsuite software. I got excited about the new Hubspot cert after hearing that two folks that I’ve always admired, Karen Freberg and Ai Zhang, both helped with it.
  • The other big change is the addition of a Facebook IQ case study assignment. With paid now well-established as a central component of digital communication strategy, I have been looking for ways to increase students’ education in paid (see my comment about Stukent below).  Coupled with that, I’m always looking for ways to help students gain further exposure to analytics and data.  As Facebook IQ offers a treasure trove of interesting data, I thought I’d create an assignment around that.  I’ll be sure to do a blog post about that sometime son.

Special Topics: Persuasion and Message Design

A big change this year is that I’m teaching my Persuasion and Message Design class for the second time ever. I first taught this class in Fall 2016 as a special topics class. I am teaching it again as a special topics class. I’m really excited to be teaching it again, because students told me 2 years ago that the course really helped them with the campaigns class and their capstone projects.

While this class is not directly about social media or technology in general, it is a relevant class for communication educators broadly and PR, advertising, and marketing professors specifically.

The course description is: “Persuasion plays a central role in both our personal and professional lives. This class explores an array of theories, approaches, and research findings about how and why persuasion works. The course emphasizes the ethical application of persuasive messaging and strategies, with an emphasis on how persuasive strategies can be used to design communication messages and applied in communication campaigns. The course also seeks to prepare the student to deconstruct persuasive messages and become a more critically-minded receiver of the persuasive tactics one encounters every day. “

I wrote about this class in a past blog post where I explained my rationale for creating this course at Shepherd. But I haven’t yet shared the syllabus. So I thought I would in this post in case it is of interest to anyone.

Other Notes: Frustrations with Stukent

While I am not teaching the Writing Across Platforms class this semester, I was disappointed to see that Stukent has now limited access to their Mimic Intro SEM simulator (which serves as an intro to SEM) to large classes of 80 or more students and to classes that are “Principles of/Intro to Marketing courses.” This is according to an email I received on August 17.

Therefore, I will be looking for something else to do in that class next semester. If you’ve got ideas, I’m all ears. Tweet me!

While Stukent offers other products (I know many of us in the Social Media Educator’s Facebook group have discussed using their software in our PR and social media classes. Granted, much of that discussion has been around their social media simulator), I feel that this decision by Stukent is limiting and fails to consider smaller programs and programs outside of marketing. Because I put a great deal of time and effort into planning to incorporate the Mimic Intro software into my class last semester, I am frustrated to find that I won’t be able to use it again this upcoming spring. Had I known that Stukent was going to make this change, I would not have spent all that time planning to incorporate Mimic Intro into my class.  I would have found something else. I do think that, as educators, we need to be aware that anytime we are using an outside product, we must understand that there is no guarantee of longevity.  As such, I must balance my feelings of frustration with this understanding.

I had been planning to write up a blog post about how things went with the Stukent assignment I created in my writing class last semester. In fact, students seemed very happy to be learning about paid search. I am debating whether to bother writing this up or not as it appears it would be of little use to readers of this blog.

That aside, I’m excited for the year ahead. I have a few ambitions of up my sleeve that I’m hoping I can find some time to work on this semester.

Have a great semester!

-Cheers!

Matt

Empowering Students to Deal With Smartphone Distraction in the Classroom: Phone Free Class Day Extra Credit

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Cell Phone Addiction Lesson Plan Review

In my last post, I talked about so-called cell phone addiction. I provided a cell phone addiction lesson plan that I did last semester in my social media class. That cell phone addiction worksheet and activity was aimed at building a discussion about some of the concerns that social commentators, health care professionals, and former employees of tech companies have raised regarding the negative side of smartphones and social media.

In this follow up post, I will share an extra credit opportunity I created to empower students to choose to not use their smartphones during class.

Background:

I came up with the idea for this opportunity last semester after having conversations with a few students around the topics discussed in the previous post mentioned above. In short, I asked them whether they would voluntarily give up their phone during class time. They said yes.  In fact, it would be a huge relief. But, they’d prefer an incentive, of course. Extra credit is always nice, they pointed out.

I realized, that some students would welcome an opportunity to remove themselves from the temptation of their smartphone. It would be a mini vacation from their otherwise tethered lives. One student told me that she really hoped I did something because it would give her a reason to put her phone away.

Here’s the idea.

Students would have the opportunity to give up their smartphones at the start of class for the opportunity to earn extra credit.

I decided to test pilot the concept in 1 class this semester. Not soon after I began implementing this idea, a friend shared an article on Facebook with the exact same concept. The article, by Pete Burkholder, Ph.D.provides an in-depth look at the concept and his results. I encourage you to check it out as it offers a more thorough analysis of results than I will describe below. Below, I’ll explain how I set my class up and the results thus far. You might find it helpful to see two slightly different set ups to same concept.

How it Works: Phone Free Class Days

Students can earn up to 10% extra credit on the final project. The final project is worth 21% of their final grade.

To earn the extra credit, students put their smartphones down on a side table in class for the duration of the class. For every 10 classes they do this in, they earn 5% added to the final project. They can do it for up to 20 classes, or 10% . There are 15 weeks in our semester here at Shepherd. We meet 28 times.

I chose 20 days as the max because I don’t start the opportunity until the second week of class, because of possible snow days and because we have a few lab days where I have a flexible attendance policy.

I like the concept of students having to reach a threshold before getting extra credit because it makes it easier on me to manage. I do not have to deal with incremental points and counting up how often a student did or did not participate.

I keep track of the students’ participation in a simple, easy-to-manage way.

I created little tokens (cut out pieces of paper with a little info on it) that I give to each student each day he/she participates. While the students’ phones are up on the side table, I place one token on top of their phone. The students collect the token. At the end of the semester, if they got 10 tokens they turn in those to me. If they got 20, they turn them in in 2 separate bathes by way of paperclips. This makes it quick and easy for me to grade. And, it places the onus on the students to keep track of their tokens rather than me having to count each day who did what.

Student Cell Phone Use Reduction Worksheet

Below, I’ve posted the simple document I created. You can print as many as you need. You’ll see that there is space for students to write their name. I initialed each token before giving it out to prevent duplicators (though, I’m sure a motivated student could get around my fairly generic handwriting. That may be a concern in a larger class. But, it is not something I’m worried about in my setting).

Results / reaction:

I’ve been running this extra credit opportunity for 5 and 1/2 weeks. On average, about half of the class participates each class period. It is the same students each time. A few times, students told me they couldn’t participate on a specific date because of the need to be available due to things like family emergencies.

A few students told me that they would like to participate, but needed to be accessible by family for personal reasons. A few others, simply chose not to participate for their own reasons.

In sum, the ‘opt in’ nature of this opportunity may advantage those who are the most motivated to start (and who do not need access to their phones for specific reasons, as mentioned above). So, it may not help some students who might most benefit from the opportunity.

I was careful not to push this onto students. I told them basically that this was an opportunity and it was entirely up to them. No judgments.

I may have higher results with some of those hold outs if I pushed it. But, that isn’t my goal. My goal is to empower students to make a choice that that they think will benefit them.

Final Thoughts:

It probably seems odd to you that a guy who writes a blog about social media education would ever reward his students for putting away their smartphones. Isn’t the concept antithetical to everything this blog is about? Aren’t I taking my class back into the dark ages? I don’t see it that way. I’ve always encouraged students to use their smartphones or computers to enhance their education in my classes. For example, I’ve encouraged students to look up information and bring it into the class discussion. Smartphones are a tool. Social media is a tool.

These things are not inherently good or bad, in my opinion. It is how we choose to use them, or how we allow ourselves to use them, that affects our lives. We should respect, understand, and appreciate the tools in our lives. A television is an amazing tool for learning and entertainment. It doesn’t mean we should have it on all the time, especially when we’re trying to focus on something specific. I’d rather have my students present in my class and learning, so they can go out and use these tools in ways that enrich their lives and help them achieve their goals.

I’ve seen a lot of posts online recently by professors who are struggling with the distractions that smartphones are bringing to the education setting.  I’ve seen other posts about smartphone detoxes, and lots of great discussion about bringing self awareness to our relationship with technology. There are many ways to try to address concerns if you feel that any tool is getting in the way of education. I have found that the smartphone extra credit opportunity I am providing this semester is a nice balance in that it gives the students the power to make the call. I am hopeful that those who are participating will see the benefits it may bring to their enjoyment of being present in the classroom.

In closing, I plan to run this same extra credit opportunity in a few more classes next semester. If students continue to participate, then I will continue to offer it.

Don’t forget to see the token sheet below.

– Cheers!
Matt

p.s. If you’d like some additional content related to issues of cell phone addiction and the intrusion of technology in our lives, see:

Above photo is creative commons.

Getting students to think about smartphone addiction (cell phone addiction lesson plan)

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Cell Phone Addiction

“Cell phone addiction” is a strong term that may or may not be appropriate to describe our current obsessions with our phones. But, now that I have your attention, I think it is important to bring into the classroom a discussion of the wider, perhaps unseen and perhaps deleterious, implications of cell phone culture in today’s society.

Indeed, there has been a lot of chatter lately on the potential negative ramifications of social media use in our society. For example, I recently shared on article on Pocket and Twitter that I came across from the New York Times titled: “Early Facebook and Google Employees Form Coalition to Fight What They Built.”

While I am not an expert in many of these areas of concern (such as mental health, physical health, what constitutes cell phone addiction, etc.), I do think these broader questions are things we cannot ignore as social media educators. We are in a unique position to bring attention to the broader relationship between social media and life in today’s society.

With that in mind, I am doing a brief 2-part series on ways I have sought to bring the topic of social media concerns into my teaching.

In the first post, we’ll talk about an activity. In a future post, I will talk about smartphone distraction in the classroom.

Okay, let’s get into it!

Cell Phone Addiction Lesson Plan

I want to share a quick activity I did last semester with my social media class. The activity brought forward a great deal of discussion in the class. It was great to have students sharing the challenges and concerns that they have with their phones and social media.  I was surprised and inspired by the candid nature in which students took on this topic. It was one of the best discussions I felt we had all semester.

Here’s how it worked:

First, I threw up this statement on the board and asked students if they agreed or disagreed and why:

“You’re only as good as your next post.”

Then, we discussed this statement:

“Your phone is like your life.
You either control it, or it controls you.”

Cell Phone Addiction Infographic: Next, as a class, we took a look at some of the reported benefits and drawbacks of social media While there are a number of sources for such info, here is one infographic that is easy to show in class.

Pre-Test: Next, I had students do a little ‘pre-test.’ The questions are below

  1. Do you think you’re addicted to your smartphone and/or social media?
  2. What are the 3 primary benefits you get out of using your smart phone?
  3. What are the 3 ways in which your smartphone has a negative effect on you?

Video Prompts: After students completed this, I gave them the following prompt that led to a discussion after the videos. Note, I will share the videos mentioned in the prompt below:

  1. What are the most compelling argument(s) or stats presented in these videos?
  2. What do you disagree with?
  3. How much control do you think you have over your smartphone use?

Cell Phone Habit (or addiction) ‘Experiment:’– But, before I showed the videos, I also set up a little ‘experiment.’ I asked the students to do the following:

  1. Pick up your phone.
    Look at the last few posts you made, and check the stats.
    Write down the emotions you feel.

I asked them to share some of these emotions. Answers include: excitement, anxiety, boredom, etc. I then told the student:

  1. Turn your smartphone off and put it in your bag.
    Log off the computer (we were in the computer lab).
    Get out a scrap paper.
  2. We’re going to watch 3 videos.
    1. Every time you find yourself wanting to check your phone/ reaching for it:
    2. Stop. Make a check on the paper. Write down the emotion you feel.

So, the students were both analyzing the videos (the video prompts above) and paying attention to their habit of wanting to reach for their phones.

After each video, we stopped and went around the room and had students share how many checks they had on their paper, and how they felt about how things were going. After all 3 videos played, we discussed the merits of each video, how the students felt, etc.

The videos were hard to choose. There are so many great Ted Talks and other videos discussing some of the pitfalls of social media. Here are 3 videos I settled on. I chose these because each touches on a different argument related to smartphones and social media.

  1. Dopamine and smart phones
  2. Cal Newport’s “Quit Social Media” TED talk.
  3. This Panda is Dancing – Time Well Spent

Note, there is an engrossing TED talk by Tristan Harris that I also recommend showing. I show part of it in my Communication & New Media course, however. So I did not want to repeat it in my social media class. Tristan Harris is mentioned in the New York Times article above, and his foundation created the “This Panda is Dancing” video.

After this, I asked students to look back at their pre-test results and their prediction of how much control they felt they had over their cell phone use. In other words, how aware are people of how much they use their phone? Were they surprised at the frequency with which they found themselves wanting to reach for their phone during the videos?

As we began wrapping up, I asked the students to jot down:

  • What is 1 thing you could do between now and next class to curb your smartphone use, as it relates to the negative effects you identified
  • Between now and next class, I want you to try and do that 1 thing.
  • How likely do you think you’ll succeed at that one thing? (Scale of 1 to 7 from Not at all – very likely)

Then, I gave the students some tools and tips to try and help them.

I encouraged students to download a free phone usage tracking app. Here are a few:

  • Moment (Apple)
  • MyAddictometer(Android)

For the following class, I asked them to provide the stats on their usage. Specifically, I was interested to know: how much time they used their phone each day, the number of times they checked their phone each day, and the top 2-3 apps they used.

Lastly, I provided some additional tips for helping take back control over cell phone usage that are provided in the Time Well Spent website Harris helps run. Note: The organization has since changed its name to HumanTech.

Conclusion

This exercise was a thought-provoking activity for my students and for me. I don’t expect that it is going to have long-term effects on cell phone use behavior by my students. But, I think it brought the issue in front of them and I am hopeful that it nudged them to be a little more mindful of just how engrossing our phones are.

Our discussion really brought out the struggle we all have between our hopes that we had a little more control and our love for the convenience and experiences our phones give us.

I left the students to wonder about whether they used their devices intentionally and were thus in control, or whether they allowed their devices to dictate the terms.

For the experiment, I went along with the students by monitoring my phone usage. I was appalled at how many times I go to use my phone. Seeing the statistic pop up when I first went to use the phone, helped me curb my usage some. I thought I only used my phone 45 minutes to an hour a day. Turns out, I was quite wrong.

Each year, I try to have a few goals and a theme. One thing I’ve been working on, is trying to be more mindful of how I spend time. I’ve never been one to waste too much time, or so I thought. I’ve learned there are many ways in which distractions are ‘scheduled into our lives,’ as Harris puts it.

I think many of us struggle with control over our time. Yet, time is all we have in life.

I was listening to a great interview on NRP with Tim Wu about a book I hope to find the time to read some day, Attention Merchants by Tim Wu. In it, citing William James, Tim said the following:

“… we must reflect that, when we reach the end of our days, our life experience will equal what we have paid attention to, whether by choice or by default. We are at risk, without quite fully realizing it, of living lives that are less our own than we imagine.”

I think he’s  profoundly right. I printed this quote and put it above my desk to help me remain mindful of how I’m spending my attention.

Recommended Cell Phone Addiction and Related Readings

Fortunately, there are a lot of very bright people thinking about the issue of smartphone addiction and/or the outsized role technology is playing in our lives today. If you’d like some additional content related to the above blog post, I recommend forming a reading group at your school and exploring the below:

Next Tasks

Check out my follow up post which provides an extra credit opportunity to empower students to take control of their classroom cell phone addiction. A worksheet for the professor is included to track their behavior.

– Cheers!
Matt

above photo is a free stock photo from pexels.com

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