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!



#husITa14 and The Joint World Conference on Social Work, Education, and Social Development

I recognize that the title to this post is rather long and I hope it transfers to Twitter well. I have actually been back in the States for some time and meaning to follow up here in this space about my experiences at this amazing conference.

husITa14 Session

First, Australia.What can I say other than I love Australia and was so happy to be able to return to a country I love. It was great seeing old friends and meeting new acquaintances. I loved being able to taste the food, see the sights, and interact with the people. It was more than fun, it was truly spectacular. If you follow me on Google+ I will try to add some photos later 😀


The conference was my first international conference and first time presenting at #husITa14 and I must say I completely over-prepared. Ten minutes is not nearly enough time to discuss the topic of New Media Literacies and my specific research.  I simply ran out of time and did not get to discuss my results, which if you were in attendance at the presentation, I’m sorry and hope that this blog will suffice. There is also a post over on the husITa website with my powerpoint slides and abstract.  I have submitted a manuscript for this study to the Journal of Technology in Human Services and with any luck it will be published soon. I just wanted to share quickly what I didn’t get to during the short 10 minutes I had in Melbourne.

Accessing the link above about New Media Literacies (NML) really gives you the context for the study. What I actually did was replicated a study produced by Ioana Literat who is a doctoral student with Henry Jenkins. I wanted to replicate the reliability and validity of the instrument they created to measure self-reported New Media Literacies skills. You can still take the survey to see your New Media Literacy Score here, and if you feel so inclined it would be great if you shared your score with me via Twitter @Jimmysw. But it is totally up to you. I also wanted to assess the levels of NML’s of social work students and educators and see if there is a significant difference between the two groups when it comes to new media literacies.


The results indicated that the survey instrument had adequate reliability and that between this study and Ioana’s, seven similar subscales of new media literacies emerged. There was a significant difference between the new media literacies levels of social work students and educators where students had higher levels of NML’s. Examining the number of hours engaged with media may also explain why students scored higher than educators in new media literacies as students spend more time playing games online or on their phones. Despite the argument for distraction with this type of media, the NML’s theoretical framework and concept of participatory culture illustrates how students are learning differently in a digital environment. They are using the skills of multitasking, play, appropriation, and performance to achieve some desired outcome and the reality is that there are tangible skills being learned in gaming and digital environments. Naturally there are some limitations with this study, such as the need for a better recruitment strategy and sample because the current strategy relied heavily on using technology, which could imply an inherent bias towards individuals that may already have higher levels of media literacy.

The social work literature is replete with arguments for increasing the information and communication technology competency of students as well as educators. These digital competencies are important, but I think we also need to include the topic of participatory culture and specifically new media literacies. As social workers we respond to contexts that shape practice, use critical thinking skills augmented by creativity and curiosity, and engage in research-informed practice and practice informed research. These are skills that compliment the concept of participatory culture and new media literacies, and this study provides a starting point to discuss the place of NML’s in social work education.

Lastly, a common misunderstanding of technology is the focus on what the tools do and do not allow. The conversation on digital technology and learning needs to include a focus on the participatory aspects of this new digital culture and how increasing knowledge around new media literacies can address the challenges we face in an ever increasing digital world. Expanding our view of new media, digital technology, and understanding participatory culture will help us to build upon the skills students bring to the classroom. This is an exciting time with the opportunity to empower students to build upon those skills by incorporating new media literacies in a way that will expand knowledge, create opportunities for collaboration, and prepare students for practice in a new and diverse society.

Some of that last part was taken from the manuscript now currently under review. I hope that if you like what you see, you will visit this blog more often or follow me on Twitter, and seek out the manuscript IF it gets published. Fingers crossed!

#SWKTweets from #BPD2014

Just a quick note to share the link for the Live Twitter chat Laurel Hitchcock and I presented at BPD.

I had promised to post more on this presentation a few weeks back but the semester has been a little overwhelming. Laurel has written up a spectacular post on her blog, and you should definitely check it out if you are interested in this presentation and understanding more about teaching Professional Social Work Skills with Twitter.

#SWpolicy410 & Twitter Chats in Social Work Education

Last night President Obama gave his 2014 State of the Union Address. Because I am teaching social welfare policy, I wanted my students to watch and engage with this event outside of the classroom. I have written on this blog before about the use of technology and social media in the classroom, and specifically about Twitter (Twittering and Documentaries) and how we can use it to develop skills. I see Twitter as a very powerful tool to engage students outside of the classroom, and a tool which requires incredible critical thinking skills. Yes, I said critical thinking skills. But it also helps students develop digital literacy and other competencies that are useful in social work practice today and the future. Twitter is space where individuals can interact and share information. Disseminating information in less 140 characters of text may seem mundane but it actually requires one to organize their thoughts and articulate them in a meaningful way. This requires higher level thinking and may frustrate some, so be patient and remember to learn about Twitter and how to use it properly. There are some great resources to get started, such as Dr. Laurel Iverson-Hitchcock or Dean Nancy Smyth and others.

This post is meant to demonstrate how I used Twitter to engage my policy students in the State of the Union Address. I already require students to obtain a Twitter account as part of another assignment in class, so it was a natural fit to encourage them to Live Tweet during the Address. Live Tweeting is essentially sending out messages via Twitter during a live event, such as the State of the Union. I already discussed proper use of Twitter in the classroom, but I gave students some ideas on what to Tweet during the Address. Generally, I wanted to see their reactions or questions to what the President discussed. One main objective of this activity was to help students identify and begin to obtain an interest in policy and issues that impact the profession and our clients. I also made sure that students included the course hashtag (#swpolicy410) in their tweets so that I could archive the event later. I had about 13 students engage in the Live Tweet and I was amazed at the results. Below is a Storify story of the event.

One of the greatest benefits I see in doing an activity like this is that my students have the opportunity to interact with others from around the country and the world. For example, several of my followers started to engage into our Live Twitter Chat/Event by ReTweeting mine and students’ tweets. I think this gives students an opportunity to later connect with these individuals (like @MikeLICSW) and organizations (like @CRISPontheHill) for a variety of purposes. I hope that as we discuss this in class, students will feel comfortable reaching to these individuals/organizations to help with research and policy advocacy. This activity helps students build skills and become competent social workers.  I am not trying to imply that every social work course incorporate Twitter. That would be ludicrous. Assignments and activities should correspond to learning goals and objectives. Live Tweeting and Twitter Chats represent just one innovative way to engage students and help them learn and get excited about social work and social welfare policy. If you have any questions about Live Tweeting or simply want to leave a comment. Feel free to do so, and you can always follow me on Twitter.

Social Work Skills and Twitter


     This post is mainly to serve as a supplement to a presentation given at the Council on Social Work Annual Program Meeting in Dallas, Texas (2013).  Dr. Laurel Hitchcock (@LaurelHitchcock) and myself (@Jimmysw) shared with others how we use Twitter in our courses. The presentation involved explaining what Twitter is, as well as some of the symbols, meaning, and context that are often associated with interacting in the online space.  The presentation also utilized a Prezi, which can be viewed by accessing the presentation link:  utm_campaign=share&utm_medium=copy&rc=ex0share 

The presentation listed a number of resources that we wanted to share:

I would also point you to a blog post I authored on New Media Literacies, which I personally believe that new media literacies need and deserve as much attention as thinking about the ethics of social media and social work education (more on that later).

From the presentation abstract, we explain that Social workers need to be aware of and adept at using social media as part of their professional practice with clients and systems.

Social media includes applications and technologies on the World Wide Web and on mobile devices which create interactive dialogue among organizations, communities, and individuals (Richardson, 2006).  There is a growing awareness that social work practitioners, students and educators need to be adept at using social media and technology as part of their practice and interaction with clients of all system sizes (Getz, 2012; NASW & ABSW, 2005; McNutt, 2008; Perron et al, 2010).  Social media offers an opportunity for social workers to communicate and advocate around social justice causes, network with other professionals, and locate information and resources that will inform practice with clients. This workshop will cover how three social work educators from different parts of the country are using Twitter, a micoblogging platform, with their students in the classroom, and then how they collaborated to bring their students together via Twitter to engage in professional conversations about current topics relevant to social work practice.

Assignments and classroom tasks using Twitter help students learn about technology tools and resources available to communicate and interact with other professionals, and to stay informed about social work practice over time (Greenhow & Gleason, 2012).  Students benefit from using Twitter in two important ways.  First, they learn to communicate with professionals and each other in a new ways.  Using the parameters of Twitter (140 characters), students can easily share information with each other and their instructors about group assignments, research studies and current events.  Students also report the ability to communicate directly with social work practitioners and researchers via Twitter, and thus become more capable about how to communicate and interaction with professionals. While some students use Twitter for recreational or personal reasons, they can also learn how use the character limit, professional terminology and written skills to communicate in public ways using Twitter. Second, student learn to discover, disseminate and evaluate information related to important social problems and social work practice in new and very public ways.  For example, one of the presenters has students assess the quality of practice-based information received via Twitter, and then share this information with the instructor, each other and other professionals over a semester.  Classroom discussions about the Twitter assignment focus on topics such as privacy, public image, professional communication skills, becoming a life-long learner, and using social media as a way to give back to the profession, and reinforce the role of values and ethics such as social justice, competency and integrity in social work practice. Additionally, students learn how to approach and complete assignments that are publicly oriented (Jarvis, 2011). These examples demonstrate how Twitter can be used to address the educational policy and accreditation standards set forth by CSWE (2008). Specifically, students were able to engage in research and communication by discovering, interacting with and or engaging with different populations (EPAS 2.1.6 & 2.1.9).  Additionally, students used critical thinking and creativity (EPAS 2.1.3) to engage in the policy discussion.

Recently, the presenters conducted a live Twitter event as a collaborative effort between their universities to discuss gun violence and gun prevention. This was the First live multi-university social work Twitter Chat and the archive of the chat can be accessed by clicking here.  The purpose of the live chat was to demonstrate how social work students and educators can use technology to enhance policy analysis, macro practice, and online advocacy. Students were given instructions on how to participate as well as ground rules similar to those used in a group therapy session. At an appointed time, the presenters, their students and other social work practitioners “met” on Twitter to discuss a series of questions related to the gun violence. One of the presenters served as the moderator and used other social media tools such as HootSuite (to live stream the chat), YouTube (to record a video for future analysis) and Storify (to archive the discussion). The moderator closed the live twitter chat with a poll question to assess the reaction of the students who participated in the event. Out of the 30 people who answered the poll, over 70% stated they enjoyed the experience and felt it enhanced their learning.

Social work educators need to learn about and start using social media tools; not only to be role models for our students, but to facilitate discussions about the social work profession in a very public way. Twitter represents only one way in which social work educators can and are using social media in their classrooms. The literature is growing in regards to this area and much work still needs to be done.

Special thanks are in store to our esteemed colleague Deona Hooper (@DeonaHooper) at, who assisted in facilitating the Twitter chat event and put together the Storify Archive. Deona wasn’t able to make it to CSWE, but her contribution has been invaluable.

Feel free to leave a comment or you can always tweet 😀imgres

Here is the presentation link once again.


Council on Social Work Education. (2008). Educational Policy and Accreditation Standards. Washington, DC: Author.

Davidson, C. (2010, December). Twenty First Century Literacies. Retrived from

Getz, L. (2012). Mobile App Technology for Social Workers. Social Work Today, 12 (3), 8 -10.

Greenhow, C. & Gleason, B. (2012). Twitteracy: Tweeting as a new literary practice. The Educational Forum, 76(4), 464-478.

Hitchcock, L. & Battista, A. (2013). Social Media for Professional Practice: Integrating Twitter with Social Work Pedagogy. Journal of Baccalaureate Social Work, Vol 18 Special Issue.

Jarvis, J. (2011). Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. J., Weigel, M. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century [white paper]. Retrieved from

McNutt, J. G. (2008). Web 2.0 tools for policy research and advocacy. Journal of Policy Practice, 7(1), 81-85.

NASW (National Association of Social Workers)/ASWB (Association of Social Work Boards).
(2005). NASW & ASWB Standards for technology and social work practice. Retrieved on July 30, 2012 from

Perron, B. E., Taylor, H. O., Glass, J. E., & Margerum-Leys, J. (2010). Information and communication technologies in social work. Advances in social work, 11(2), 67-81.

Rheingold, H. (2012). Net Smart. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Richardson, W. H. (2006). Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for
Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

iPad Assignments for Social Welfare Policy

This post is mainly a follow up to a recent twitter chat I had with @laurelhitchcock about my iPad Policy course. Specifically she had asked about ideas for using iPads along with Wikis. If you have any suggestions, please leave a comment.

First off, I currently do not use Wiki’s in this course, although I definitely could and I see the pedagogical value in doing so. Pooling information/resources into a share space, collaboration, communication, and many other skills and benefits students could gain from this tool.  I am doing something similar, that is gathering resources and information, however, I am using a different tool. I will also not be using this tool again the next time around. Here is a description of my assignment from my syllabus:

Social Bookmarking assignment: Throughout the course of the semester we will collectively gather social media resources or digital apps and advocacy/analysis resources that relate to Policy and or Programs. Utilizing the social bookmarking website Diigo, each student is responsible for finding, evaluating, and discussing two resources. Students will need to provide links to articles on advocacy strategies or links to the identified resource on the course blog by the due date. Each student will discuss the resource they found in class by the date their assignment is due as well as sharing your resource using the course hashtag #swpolicy410 on twitter.

This is where I could insert the * about using Technology for any given purpose.  I really like social bookmarking and find the use of Diigo incredibly helpful….from a desktop or laptop. The mobile app is almost useless, but they do have a diigo browser app that adds in a bit more functionality for the iPad. I created a diigo group, to which each student has become a part of, and in this space we collectively bookmark information/resources/digital apps that relate to our course content and educational learning. So far it is going pretty well. Why then will I NOT use this app again?

Mostly because of the lack of functionality on the iPad. Next time around I will either use Pinterest or Spring Pad. I am more familiar with Pinterest, yes guys do use Pinterest, but I like the fact that SpringPad allows me or any user to take photos of things out in the world and share to my pads. I will be experimenting with this as a information gathering and dissemination tool in the future, but for now we are sticking with Diigo.

There are some Wiki apps available for the iPad, but unfortunately I have not really used them.  I found this post by LifeHack that might help those wanting to use Wiki’s on their iPads.

The other ways I am incorporating the iPad into Policy is through the Policy Advocacy project. This is a semester long project that encourages students to identify a policy or issue and create an awareness campaign.  I have been hesitant in providing too much direction regarding this assignment because I want students to be creative in what they develop and ultimately employ. I have sprinkled out some ideas as far as using digital storytelling methods and using social media, but I really want this to be organic and develop from the students perspective.

One last tool that I use in this class that makes use of the iPad directly is online quizzes using the app Socrative. I do have some issues with this app, mostly that I can’t weight my quiz questions, but for the most part it is really useful and cuts down on the amount of paper I would typically use for quizzes in class. Each week students take a quiz over the chapter we just covered.  I create the quizzes on the app and when students come to class I push the quiz out to their iPads via the app. It is really fairly simple. I can see live results so I know exactly when each student is finished with the quiz. The app then generates a report which is sent via email and I can open using excel which I can than save into my grade book.

I will be back later on to detail more about my experience of using iPads in the Social Welfare Policy course. Feel free to leave a comment or suggestion. I am always open to new ideas and methods of how to make Policy more interesting and meaningful for students.

Social Work Education and iPads

Well I am over 3 weeks into the new semester and more specifically into my Policy class, which has been selected as an iPad class this semester.  I haven’t shared much about this as it was really a pretty quick process of applying, getting approval, and revamping my syllabus to address learning with iPads.  I hope that as the semester continues I will come back to my blog here and share some of my initial insights. I do have plans to conduct a small evaluation of this project, so details on that will be forthcoming. For now, some initial thoughts as I am almost done with January.

When my course was selected I admit that I was over the top excited for my students. I was excited because I love integrating technology into my courses and being able to have an iPad mini for each student just seemed fantastic.  I also kept reminding, and still do, myself that just because I was excited and thought about how each student will use the iPad to augment  their learning and bring in relevant policy examples into our class discussions because they have access to the internet in the palm of their hand…That just because of all the potential I imaged, that it did and does not mean my students feel the same.  The truth is, and the literature supports this notion, that many students are mystified and nervous about using technology in the classroom.  I have asked my class and so far the sentiment of anxiety holds true. Partly for the fear of breaking or losing this free device, and partly because they recognize that they have never used a tablet for learning. I have tried to ease the anxiety by finding and sharing as many resources as possible about the iPad and how to use it. Mainly in the form of YouTube videos embedded in my Blackboard course. I think it has helped but time will tell.

I still have hope that some of the assignments I have designed to maximize the use of the iPad will yield positive learning outcomes, but again time will only tell.  I am still excited for the potential that these devices have in my class but I am also quickly realizing that I have my work cut out for me. That is the idea of challenging students’ thinking regarding learning with the iPad. Yes, I do have many students Facebooking through class or checking email or whatever. I don’t plan on implementing a policy stating they have to put the iPads away and pay attention, because the fact is that many students are using their iPads to take notes. I also think that if they are that bored in my class, then I need to engage them more in the discussion directly. I have them using twitter and it is fine if they tweet during class. I have to just keep reminding them to identify the relevance to the course as they do so.  This is perhaps one of my first learning moments, which I expected but did not fully recognize. This idea, again, that I need to change their perspective in regards to how to use the iPad for learning rather than just entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, entertainment is good, but I think it can also be educational. Stay tuned for future updates 😀

Participatory Culture and Web 2.0: Bringing New Media Literacies to Social Work Education

This post is largely to serve as a follow up to some information I presented at the 2012 Council on Social Work Education Annual Program Meeting. If you stopped by my poster and are now stopping by my blog to get more information about this topic, THANK YOU. Here you will find more information in regards to what Participatory culture is and how the New Media Literacies are critical skills that people should be aware of in their pursuit of social media. I encourage you to watch the videos, follow the links, and seek out more information on this topic as I believe it holds extreme potential to impact social work practice.  For those of you who have stumbled upon this blog via some other way, thanks for stopping by, and below is a brief introduction to what I presented at the Conference.

The Abstract:

Social media has transformed the way society is connected and interacts. Government, businesses, and nonprofits are adopting the use of social media by large numbers (Barnes & Matteson, 2009; Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). However, much of social media in social work centers on the tools and technology of what may or may not be possible. The interaction these tools allow is important but the interactivity is merely a property of the technology. Participation is a property of culture (Jenkins et al., 2009), and is preferred. As one actively participates, one is able to learn new skills and expand critical thinking (Jenkins et al., 2009). A focus on expanding access to new technologies is important, but it only carries us so far if we do not also foster the skills and cultural knowledge necessary to deploy these tools toward more positive ends (Jenkins et al., 2009). Social media can be used to impact social work education by exploring the concept of participatory culture and how new media literacies (Jenkins et al., 2009) can be adopted into the social work curriculum. Results on what nonprofit human service organizations are currently using and doing with social media provide the foundation for why new media literacy should be part of social work education.

Overview of the Literature:

The nonprofit sector has outpaced the public and private sectors in the adoption of social media (Barnes & Matteson, 2009; Barnes, 2011; LaCasse, Quinn, & Bernard, 2010; Young, 2012). Social media is used to demonstrate accountability, engage the community, advocacy, promote the organization and services, as well as for marketing and fundraising.  To date, nonprofits have had relatively little success using the internet and many have made recommendations on how to use the internet and social media more successfully (McNutt & Menon, 2008; Sargeant, Saxton & Guo, 2011; Waters, 2007). One study with a large and broad sample indicated 11% of nonprofits identified no goals for using social media (NTEN, 2012). Another study (Young, 2012), highlighted that 62% of human service organizations identified no goals for using social media.

This is really a scant overview of the literature and there is much more to be reviewed.  However, you can also read more about my own research, which I have posted here and a follow up here, or you can simply read my dissertation by visiting Virginia Commonwealth University here.

The issue I am trying to discuss with social media and social work is the idea of Participatory Culture and more specifically the New Media Literacies as identified by Henry Jenkins, Ph.D. You can find Dr. Jenkins on Twitter here or view his blog at  Confessions of an Aca-Fan.

What is Participatory Culture? Essentially Jenkins defines Participatory Culture as a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, where strong support exists for sharing one’s creations, there is some type of informal mentorship taking place where knowledge is being passed along from experienced to novices. A Participatory Culture is also one in which members believe their contributions matter, and feel some degree of social connection with one another. Participatory Culture is a culture that shifts the focus of literacy from one of individual expression to community involvement.

I am a visual learner and I value Rich Media Content. You can view the video below to see Dr. Jenkins explain in a much more effective way, what Participatory culture is and how it relates to civic engagement.

Although that video focuses more on civic engagement than new media literacies, I think you begin to get more of an understanding about what Participatory Culture is all about. The next video then outlines the New Media Literacies as identified by Henry Jenkins in is white paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century. A copy of this paper is available for download here.

The New Media Literacies (for those who choose not to watch the video) include:

  • Play– the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving
  • Performance– the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
  • Simulation– the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real-world processes
  • Appropriation– the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
  • Multitasking– the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus as needed to salient details
  • Distributed Cognition– the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand mental capacities
  • Collective Intelligence– the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others toward a common goal
  • Judgement– the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
  • Transmedia Navigation– the ability to follow the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
  • Networking– the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
  • Negotiation– the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative norms
  • Visualization– the ability to translate information into visual models and understand the information visual models are communicating as a key method for coping with large data sets and being able to make sense of the complexity of our environment

Again, this framework comes right out of the white paper, which can be accessed via the link in the previous paragraph. You can also access the Project New Media Literacies blog for more information.

The New Media Literacies help us as social workers to further understand the place of social media in our lives. I would also agree with Dr. Jenkins when he explains that it would be better for us to take an ecological perspective regarding this new digital environment. The ecological perspective resonates with us as social workers because it is part of the foundation of our profession. However, I would step back a minute and try to understand this through the lens of Media Ecology, which I briefly touched on in my dissertation research. Neil Postman (1970) explained that media ecology looks into the substance of how media affect human perception, understanding, value, interaction, and whether media facilitates or impedes chances for survival. “The word ecology implies the study of environments: their structure, content, and impact on people” (Postman, 1970, p. 161).

Of course this sounds familiar to us as social workers because we understand how the environment influences our clients, community, and world. I believe that as we take hold of these new digital technologies (specifically social media) that we can use the New Media Literacies as a framework to increase the knowledge of our students and educators. Ultimately, I would view this process as something that happens through collaboration between student and teacher. I think the teacher would essentially act as a guide, while recognizing that students bring valuable experience and knowledge to the process. In fact, this is a process through which I am developing a course for and hope to have going live next fall. Should you know of any social work educators using social media in this way, please leave a comment on this post. I would love to talk with them about their experience.

The question remains, what will this look like in social work education? THE ANSWER: I don’t know! I have an idea, but to be honest my idea could totally flop. I think that it is part of what makes this process exciting, the idea of learning from mistakes is incredibly important. However, I do have an example of how the New Media Literacies and Participatory Culture apply to social work education. Essentially my plan is to take a somewhat experiential approach to learning and use the framework to help orient assignments that contribute to the foundation of social work knowledge. These assignments can take on many forms so I will start with an easy example: Advocacy and Awareness. About two months ago, the National Association of Social Workers sent a tweet that contained a link to a document showcasing the 2012 Presidential Candidates position’s on several important areas. You can download a copy of the PACE chart here.

I have to say I was excited that someone had taken the time to put together information from the Candidates on key issues so that I could be a more informed voter. I followed the link and downloaded the chart only to discover several pages of text. Go ahead, download it and see what I am talking about.
Knowing what  I know about the Internet, I figured people would not be as interested in reading this lengthy, albeit important, document. I wondered why they couldn’t put in a format that was easier to understand, like an infographic. After waiting for a couple of weeks I decided to take the candidate position chart and create an infographic to visually display the information in a more dynamic way.

As you can see, I utilized the skills identified under the New Media Literacies framework to help me design and create this new chart. Unfortunately, I have yet to tweet it out because I have been to busy to finish it. The fact is I do not have extensive knowledge in Photoshop or even in design. I simply used the Internet to get some ideas (networking), experimented (play) with some software on my computer, and translated (visualization) the document into a graphic that captures the eye and draws interest.  The next steps, upon finishing, would be to share my creation with others via Twitter, Facebook, or any other social network. Participatory culture, namely a culture with relatively low barriers to artistic expression and civic engagement, support for creating and sharing creations, and the belief that this contribution matters motivated me to engage in this effort. The informal mentorship took place when I watched YouTube videos on how to use a software program to organize and create my Infographic. This is precisely the type of activities that students can easily engage in using digital technologies and more specifically social media. In fact, many students and other individuals already do this.

I understand there are still challenges to engaging in the new digital environment and I’m sure that many will comment on this post highlighting the dark abyss of the Internet and social media that accompanies such unscrupulous activities like cyber-bullying or the anything else that perpetuates negativity. I do not wish to minimize those challenges at all but I do think that if we begin to educate our students about New Media Literacies that we will see positive outcomes. I also believe that as we begin to educate the next generation of social workers who have grown up using social media, we will help them to understand how to use these tools in a way that promotes social justice. Furthermore, just because students have grown up using social media does not necessarily imply they understand how to use it for learning, positive social change, or social work practice. Anecdotally,  I have talked with numerous individuals in the human services sector that tell me they need social workers who have a diverse skill set including how to use social media within their organization. We as social workers are ethically obligated to be aware of the changing trends of social practice and to continually learn new ways of helping our clients. We should not shy away from social media, in fact we should embrace it; but only if we can do so using a framework that increases our understanding of how these new skills can help positively impact our practice.

Research is beginning to develop frameworks on how to best use social media, and the normative literature has numerous books and blogs devoted to the subject.  The response to social media has been positive and negative. However, social media is not going away as it presents another communication channel to connect with many others. Human service organizations are also beginning to adopt social media and social work educators need to understand how to prepare social work students with the necessary skills for effective social media practice. The key premise is that using social media in the classroom or in the field should not be so focused on what tools to use or what those tools allow, although this is important. Educators need to understand the participatory nature of social media and how new media literacies can compliment social work practice.

But beyond this, my hope is that people will begin to understand the importance of social media, which many have. However, I really think we need to focus more on the critical learning that these tools allow and help our students to use these tools to engage, promote learning, and promote positive social change. But if you still only want to share photos of your last vacation with friends and family, that’s okay too.

If you really want to get an idea of why I think social media can impact social work practice, perhaps I should share with you several of my favorite Ted Talks that have influenced my view of the Internet and what is possible with social media. I created a blog post about this awhile back, which you can access here. I should also include the work of the “Great Explainer” himself, Dr. Mike Wesch, and his Anthropological Introduction to YouTube.

Dr. Wesch also talks about Media Literacy here, but by now I am thinking you have plenty with which to explore 😀


Barnes, N.G., & Mattson, E. (2009). US Charities’ Adoption of Social Media Outpaces All Other

Sectors for the Third Year in a Row. Retrieved from

Hackler, D. & Saxton, G. (2007). The Strategic use of information technology by nonprofit organizations: increasing capacity and untapped potential. Public Administration Review, 67(3), 474-484.

Jenkins, H., Clinton, K., Purushotma, R., Robison, A. J., Weigel, M. (2009). Confronting the challenges of participatory culture: Media education for the 21st century [white paper]. Retrieved from

Kang, S., & Norton, H. (2004). Nonprofit organizations’ use of the world wide web: Are they sufficiently fulfilling organizational goals? Public Relations Review, 30(3), 279-284.

Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons, 53, 59-68.

Kietzman, J. H.,  Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P., & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, 54, 241-251. doi: :10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.00

Mansfield, H. (2011). Social media for social good: A how to guide for nonprofits. United States: McGraw-Hill.

McNutt, J.G., & Menon, G. M. (2008). The rise of cyberactivism: Implications for the future of advocacy in the human services. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 89(1), 33-38. doi: 10.1606/1044-3894.3706

NTEN, Common Knowledge, & Blackbaud. (2012). 4th Annual Nonprofit Social Network Benchmark Report. Retrieved from

Postman, N. (1970). The Reformed English Curriculum. In A. C. Eurich’s (Ed.), High School 1980; the shape of the future in American secondary education (pp. 160-168). New York, Pitman Publishing Corp.

Sargeant, A., West, D.C., & Jay, E. (2007). The relational determinants of nonprofit web site fundraising  effectiveness: An exploratory study. Nonprofit Management & Leadership, 18(2), 141-156.

Saxton, G. D., & Guo, C. (2011). Accountability Online: Understanding the Web-Based Accountability Practices of Nonprofit Organizations. Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, 40(2), 270-295.doi: 10.1177/0899764009341086

Saxton, G. D., & Guo, C., & Brown, W. A. (2007). New dimensions of nonprofit responsiveness:The application and promise of Internet-based technologies. Public Performance & Management Review, 31(2), 144-173. doi 10.2753/PMR1530–9576310201

Scearce, D., Kasper, G., & Grant, H.M. (2009). Working wikily 2.0: Social change with a network mindset [Electronic Version]. The Monitor Institute website. Retrieved October 9, 2009 from,

Waters, R.D. (2007). Nonprofit organizations’ use of the internet: A content analysis of communication trends on the internet sites of the philanthropy 400. NonprofitManagement & Leadership, 18(1), 59-76.

Young, J. (2012). The Current Status of Social Media use among Nonprofit Human Service Organizations: An Exploratory Study. (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from

Favorite TED talks

This post is meant to share some of my favorite TED talks with @HildyGottlieb who asked me to share with her via twitter. Because of the limited number of characters and the fact that there are so many talks I like, I thought I would post them here, for all to enjoy.

What’s possible in teaching Social Work education online

Many weeks ago I participated in an online learning institute, and I left there with several new ideas about teaching online. I also thought more about what is actually possible in teaching Social Work education online and this post is meant to pull together some resources in hopes of starting a conversation with many of you. The fact is, I believe that we can teach many aspects of social work online using an array of technologies. Whether it’s from Second Life to Blackboard, or Twitter to Skype. I am going to start by highlighting several social work courses and what tools could be used to teach those courses online. In fact, there are a number of Schools of Social Work around the United States that use many of these tools. The number one thing to remember, however, is that you should always think about your course, the content, and what you want your students to get out of it before you decide on which technologies to use.

The courses below are just some that are taught in BSW programs around the country. Each one will likely be taught a bit differently based upon the respective school. The list, therefore, is not meant to be representative. Rather it’s just to get you thinking about some of the possibilities that are out there.

Introduction to Social Work: Provides an overview of the social work profession including knowledge of the nature of social work, the fields of social work practice, target populations, and an overview of social work methods. Being that this is more of a general course, I thought I would provide some of the more general technologies that can be used here and in many other courses, often in concert with the technologies listed below. Learning management systems such as Blackboard are often the staple of online courses. Others may use Wikis or GoogleSites to be the central learning point or portal for the online course. The point is, it is important to have a central hub for your course, much like you would have a classroom as your central hub on the ground face-to-face. Additional tools that can be used here include Skype or some other form of video conferencing software to bring in outside presenters or meet with students for office hours. I should also note, that having videos, and not just lectures, but videos that demonstrate your uniqueness as a teacher to help engage the students in the course will also produce successful outcomes. This speaks somewhat to social presence online, but I will save that for another post.

Social Work Practice: Introduces students to the nature and work of the social work profession. There are many variations of this course which is also split into different courses based upon content ranging from micro to macro practice. The micro content of this course makes it somewhat controversial when moving into a digital environment because some would argue that it can be hard to assess students learning during role plays online. I’m not trying to argue one way or the other, rather just trying to highlight was possible. Several online schools use video conferencing technology to perform the traditional role play scenario. Technology such as Elluminate or AdobeConnect Pro are just some of the tools schools are using. A relatively new variation on this is using Second Life or Avatars. The USC school of social work has developed an impressive program to help students learn to work with clients who suffer from PTSD.

Nancy J. Smyth also wrote about using virtual worlds to help with PTSD on her blog, which you can read here.

For those who may not have the capabilities to develop such a program, the use of technologies like Second Life and some creative thinking can also help. Second Life is a virtual community where users can develop their own Avatars and identities in an online digital environment. Individuals have used second life in counseling practice and some schools hold online courses in Second Life as well. To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Second Life, but it sounds kind of intriguing. If you want to know more about using Games in therapy, a good resource is Mike Langlois and his blog Gamer Therapist.

Okay, I digress a bit so back to social work practice. Moving along to the macro part of social work practice and one area that seems fairly easy to use technology is advocacy. Implementing the use of Blogs and other social media like Twitter or YouTube can help students to understand how organizations and activists are using social media to advance their cause. Utilizing case examples or posting stories about how Twitter was used in Egypt and other places can really help students learn the power of advocacy. This also reaches into the realm of Policy as many in Congress actively use and monitor social media channels. Access to top ranking officials and the impacting Policy on varying levels has never been so easy.

Social Work Research: Provides an overview of the research process, including problem formulation, sampling, design, measurement, data collection, data analysis and dissemination of findings. The use of a learning management system like Blackboard, as mentioned above, or others will also aid in an online social work research course. However, I understand that not many social work students are interested in research. I know, shocking right, but it’s somewhat true. To make this course more exciting, try using some online tools to help demonstrate how to collect and analyze data. Google Forms or Poll Everywhere provide ways to create and share surveys. Once data has been collected, a Google spreadsheet can even perform some very basic statistical analysis. Using Poll Everywhere, survey respondents can either submit their responses via Twitter, text message, or on the web. If you use this in class, face-to-face, it is actually pretty exciting to see the poll update in real time. My students got pretty excited when I did this in class.

Field Instruction: I generally do not believe that a student can engage in their field practicum online. However, there are several technological tools that can help facilitate or supplement the student’s learning. Skype, Blackboard for ePortfolios and Seminar, and from an administrative perspective, I have seen several technological tools that help to manage field. One of the tools was develop at the VCU School of Social Work, and contains a matching component within the system to help make the work of placing students much easier. More information on the SInC: Student Intern Connect can be found here.

Okay, so there is just a smattering of the technologies that are out there and how they can be used. I will continue to post new ideas on technology in social work education, both online and face-to-face, as they come to me. Yet, I am really interested in hearing what you have to say. What tools have you used? What success stories or challenges do you have to share? Comments and questions are always welcome.

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