Teaching Social Media: One Week In!

I’ve just wrapped up my first full week of teaching my new class, Social Media in Society, and I have to admit I’m pretty excited with how it has progressed so far. This is a 400-level undergraduate class (see syllabus here), so I’ve structured it to be focused less on me lecturing and more on class interactions, and so far the students have exceeded my expectations. This is my area of expertise, so I’m not surprised how much I’m getting into the lesson preps, but social media is also so important in college students’ daily lives, that I’m too not surprised that they have many opinions. I’m just glad so many are voicing those opinions! Next week is going to be a fun week as we talk about online identities. Tuesday, I’m going to spend a fair amount of time talking about the nymwars and some of the fallout from Google+’s real-name policies. There’s been some great posts so far on this topic by danah boyd, Alice Marwick, Bernie Hogan, and others. There are so many great questions when thinking about the benefits and potential problems of being fully identifiable online; I’m especially interested to hear opinions from people who grew up in the Facebook age. For them, they’ve always had their real names associated with their online identity, at least in one location (which is probably the one they use the most).

This week, the most interesting thing to emerge from our class discussions is an obvious generation gap in terms of how we perceive email as a communication medium. Across the board, the students in the class saw email as communication for older people; it is slower, more formal and less social than other forms of communication like sending a text or posting on someone’s Facebook Wall. They associate email with work; one student said his immediate thought when he gets emails from certain people is, “what did I do wrong?” Meanwhile, I check my email every five minutes, send and receive several dozen emails every day, and can’t imagine communicating without email as a prime player in my communication¬†repertoire.

I’m trying to incorporate social media into the class, although I’m already finding it difficult to successfully do without making use of a specific social media site a requirement. For example, about 2/3 of the class says they have a Twitter account so I’ve begun tweeting about the class with the hashtag #tc401; I’ve also encouraged them to tweet in and/or outside of class with questions. So far, it hasn’t caught on, but I’m hoping a quick walkthrough on Tuesday will pique their interest. As a class, we’re also trying an experiment involving Twitter: we’re creating a Twitter account and seeing how many followers we can get by the end of the semester. The class will make all decisions regarding the handle, image, description, and tweets. I really hope the class stays interested in this so we can see it through; they’ve already come up with a great concept for the account.

In other news, research continues to move forward, with work happening on my dissertation, a CHI paper, an iConference poster, and two journal articles.

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