#Reflections on Fall 2014 Semester

Blogging seems to be one of those things that ALWAYS gets put to the back burner. It’s funny actually, because I think that blogging has a vital place in academia and the world of research, but I just still can’t manage to find the time. Keeping this in mind, I though I would post a couple of thoughts from this semester where I knew I should have posted those thoughts here. The thoughts center around my research interests in the use of social media in social work education as well as the social media course I teach.

First things first, this semester Laurel Hitchcock and I had an amazing experience with our Live Twitter Chat. We partnered with the #MacroSW folks to promote the chat and had students from all over the country, and even a few participants from across the pond, participate in the one hour event about income inequality. Laurel provides a great follow up to the event on her blog, but I would definitely echo here statements about getting students involved and excited about policy/macro issues. Students not only participated in the chat but also were required to write a one page reflection on the experience of being involved in the chat. The reflections were fantastic with many students expressing their astonishment at how they could engage with so many people in different locations from very diverse backgrounds. The civility of the chat was also noted when students politely disagreed with statements and mentioned in the reflection how they felt like it was nearly impossible to have a “political discussion” in this day and age without it turning into a negative battle of seemingly intellectual wit. You probably know what they mean if you have ever engaged in a Political Facebook discussion with your uncle Jerry.

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Other students noted that they now see value in social media, Twitter specifically, and understand how they could possibly use it to augment their learning. For me, this is one of my foremost goals of integrating social media into the classroom. Students today are bombarded with selfies, viral videos, or other content that has little to no value other than for the ephemeral moment that may or may not bring about a smile. They don’t understand that there is a treasure trove of information on various social media platforms and that once they understand how to use social media in a professional context, they can connect with others to learn and expand their knowledge. Naturally, of course, we need to teach students crucial digital literacies such as judgement because not everything is accurate or trustworthy.

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But the point is that information is readily accessible and if you know how to search and use critical thinking then you can find a lot of very useful information. This is another one of my main goals in using social media in the classroom, that is teaching students critical digital literacies and how to research information or topics by connecting with experts online.

I have operationalized this in my policy class when utilizing collaborative learning groups or CLG’s. Breaking students into small groups and having them work on various questions related to the social security act left some groups wondering where to start. Yes, there is always the book but I knew that at least 2 students in each group had either a tablet or laptop to access the internet. I encouraged them to find any information they could related to their questions dealing with the social security act. I then put Twitter on the big screen in the classroom and simply searched “Social Security” to see what people were sharing and discussing about online. It didn’t take long to find an individual I follow who had actually tweeted a link to a news piece from NPR. The piece directly related to some of the questions and I encouraged the group with those questions to use this source and share it with the class.

I want to reiterate that it is important to use critical thinking and digital literacies when finding information online, whether through social media or that Google machine. Part of my argument for using social media over Google lies in connecting with experts. A small example from my social media class this semester involved tweeting to Beth Kanter and Allison Fine, authors of the Networked Nonprofit and the textbook I use in my social media class.  Beth and Allison are expert social media users so it’s almost no wonder that they responded back but it is still great to connect with individuals online.   Screen Shot 2014-10-15 at 3.27.51 PMI brought this up in class and also had several students throughout the semester share how they thought it was cool when experts or celebrities favorited or Re-Tweeted their tweets. It does feel good and it can be great to connect with these experts to engage in a conversation about a specific topic and then have that conversation impact your research.

One other thing that happened this semester in my social media class was getting our course hashtag #SOWK388 trending nationally on Twitter. It took place when the class was viewing the documentary Pink Ribbons Inc. and live tweeting their reactions to the film. I have written about tweeting with documentaries previously and I have an article that will be published based on this blog post sometime in 2015. I was probably more surprised than the class was when I got the notification in our Twitter feed and I shared with the class. Although they did immediately turn to Twitter to see…

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This is a screen shot of the Trends, along with an arrow to our course hashtag. I was alerted to the hashtag trending because of a service on twitter that provides these notifications and some basic stats. Here is another screen shot:

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A hashtag trending on Twitter means that it is one of the most tweeted about topics at that time. It’s being tweeted about so much so fast that Twitter picks it up in the trending pane. This was never a goal of tweeting documentaries but there are some potential educational benefits of having the course hashtag trend nationally and it can actually relate back to how I use live twitter chats. Because the hashtag was visible, we could have had a broader conversation on the topic of Cause Related Marketing, which is part of what Pink Ribbons Inc. is all about. We did not actually have anyone chime into our live tweets that morning but I think it could have been valuable to process with students and others on Twitter the reactions to this film and the topic of the week. This is essentially providing the application of theoretical learning that typically takes place in the classroom. In other words, using social media provides for an actual avenue where students can apply their learning.  I appreciate the opportunities afforded through connected learning and students have really begun to see the importance of social media in their lives. Especially beyond the selfies.

Now it’s time for the Holiday break and because I have a new prep for next semester I am going to unplug and enjoy my kids and everything that goes with the Holidays. Thanks for reading my blog and see you next year.

 

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

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