Social Media, Digital Activism, and eCitizenship

Cyber-activismTwo years ago I developed a new General Studies course for the University entitled “Social Media, Digital Activism, and eCitizenship.” I have been teaching this course online and face to face for several semesters now and I thought I would share with others how I conceived of this class and how it has been evolving as I continue to teach it. I think some things work great and other things not so great.

From my syllabus it states:

The purpose of this course is to examine the role of social media in the human service and nonprofit sector and how to utilize social media for a variety of purposes. The course will identify what social media is and how it can be used for marketing, communications, and advocacy within human services in addition to how social media promotes civic engagement. Students will learn about participatory culture and new media literacies through the discovery of social media platforms as well as how to apply this knowledge, which promotes critical thinking skills, encourages collaborative problem solving, and acknowledges the role of social media in forming networks and affiliations that can strengthen civic engagement. The Capstone project enables students to employ social media to creatively design, organize, and evaluate an integrated strategy that promotes an organization, critical issue, or assists with marketing and communications.

Students are required to complete a Capstone project that requires them to evaluate information from more than one academic discipline, formulate logical connections between disciplines as they relate to the topic, employ the approach of more than one academic discipline in completing the project, synthesize knowledge related to the topic, and communicate effectively in the medium chosen for the capstone project. This is achieved by focusing on marketing and promoting as well as on advocacy or activism. The learning units and assignments are contextualized around the nonprofit sector and more specifically human service organizations.

There are four learning units:

  1. What is social media?
  2. Marketing & Communications in Human Services & the Nonprofit Sector
  3. Advocacy & Digital Activism
  4. Developing an Integrated Strategy

The funnest thing about this course is that because it’s a general studies course I often have a diverse array of majors. Many students have stated on the teaching evaluations that when they first enrolled in the class they did so to complete the Capstone Requirement and thought they already knew everything about social media because they use it everyday. I initially thought this would be and so I start of the course with a history of social media and try to present a different perspective on social media that many students may not have seen before. It’s fun, engaging, and students are usually surprised to learn they actually don’t know that much about social media. I really enjoy the lecture on identity development and how that identity is portrayed online where users can create an image of themselves that may be less than authentic.

Slacktivist or Activist

Unit two and three dig deeper into social media strategies and methods along with some discussions on appropriate or ethical use of social media and how organizations can use social media more effectively. The final unit brings it all together and I usually show several best practice examples of organizations strategic communications, advertising, or raising awareness using social media. In addition to these units and assignments geared towards social media, when I teach the class face-to-face during the semester I also bring in a focus on New Media Literacies and Participatory Culture. I have blogged about New Media Literacies several times but I always link back to this post. I incorporate the 12 New Media Literacies into class by using several of the skills to help students learn and master the content.

For example, one of the New Media Literacies Skills is Play, or the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving. I use games in class to help students get their brain activity up, which can be especially good for early morning classes. Once I have done this then I can move onto focusing on a specific skill, such as Collective Intelligence. This semester I use the Jelly Bean experiment to demonstrate how Collective Intelligence works. If you don’t know what the Jelly Bean experiment is, watch the video below. Collective Intelligence is the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal, much the way Wikipedia works. But I was interested in getting students to engage rather than just simply talk about Wikipedia. Using the video below as inspiration, I grabbed some jelly beans and put them into a jar. During class I asked students to guess how many jelly beans were in the jar. Then I asked them to share a photo of the jar to their various social networks in hopes that we would get a higher response rate. In the end, the experiment didn’t work as well as in the video but students were able to understand the wisdom of the crowd, and it was fun to engage their social networks in the lesson as well.

The not so great things about this class include some of the things I have written about before in regards to having an iPad required course. Specifically, the distraction that can exist because students are seemingly more engaged in their iPads than in the class. Fortunately for me, I am easy going enough that it doesn’t bother me, unless it is clearly distracting at which point I talk to that student. But this is also the reason to have a discussion or policy in the beginning outlining the expectations of the course. I do this every semester and remind students that they are adult learners, responsible for their own education. If they want to waste the class checking Facebook or playing Candy Crush, then they should have no misunderstandings as to why they did not receive the grade they expected. More importantly, I think this motivates or even mandates that I become a more engaging instructor. I try to have interactive lectures and videos that draw the students in from Candy Crush and into my lectures. This doesn’t mean everyone is awe struck by my lectures but at least some students seem very interested 😀

Overall, I think this is one of my favorite classes. Not just because I designed it from the ground up or because it is one of my substantive areas of research, but because the topic is extremely relevant. It’s also fun but can be serious when needed. I don’t know exactly where it will go in the future as I have several ideas for improvement, but I recognize that the improvement must take place within the confines of the course requirements. If you have any questions, feel free to email or reach out to me on twitter. I like to keep some of these posts short so I’m sure there is something missing!

 

 

Advertisements

About jimmysw
Assistant Professor of Social Work with a focus on Social Media, Social Work Education and all things technology.

2 Responses to Social Media, Digital Activism, and eCitizenship

  1. Pingback: Engaging Students in Online Learning #2014APM | Jimmysw's Blog

  2. Pingback: #Reflections on Fall 2014 Semester | Jimmysw's Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: