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Grading Social Media

Later this week, I’m giving the keynote address at the University of Southern Indiana’s Communications Symposium, and while I’m there, I’ll be meeting with a number of their communications classes, including Intro to Interpersonal Communications, Special Events Promotions, Internet Communications, and several others. If you’ve kept up with this blog, you know that I’m really interested in the intersection of social media and education, and my old Public Relations 101 professor now teaches in the USI communications department, so I’m particularly excited for this opportunity.

While I’m sure I’ll be having a ton of conversations with both students and faculty, about a lot of different topics, one of the things that I’m interested in learning more about is how (and if) social media has had any impact where it really matters at the collegiate level – student grades. In last week’s #SMCEDU chat, we discussed the issue of grading students in classes that teach social media. If you’re teaching social media, how do you grade your students on how well they’re using it? What about those classes that aren’t teaching social media, is there a place for social media in those classes too? How should social media fit into the world of academia? What’s the real-life impact of social media on the integrity of the academic process?

I remember back when I was in college, social media wasn’t really used yet – the closest we had was AOL Instant Messenger and Wikipedia. My campus didn’t even have cell phone coverage until after I graduated so no one had cell phones either. Grading the use of social media was a non-issue. But now, with social media such a huge part of public relations, advertising, marketing, sociology, and even biology, it’s becoming even more important that the next generation not only understands how to use social media, but how to use it for more than just organizing fraternity mixers or keeping in touch with your classmates.

The question then becomes – how do we teach our students to use social media? Do we even need to, or is this a case of the students knowing more than the teacher? Is it better to have a separate “Social Media 101” class, or to integrate it into existing classes? Do you teach all students, or just those in particular disciplines? And then, how do we grade them? What makes one better at using social media than another – more fans/followers? Higher quality posts? Greater engagement?

I tend to subscribe to the theory that social media should be:

  1. Weaved into how the students work – More and more professors are starting blogs, using YouTube in the classroom, and even tweeting.  When students see their professor using social media tools as part of the normal day-to-day way of doing things, it makes the students look at these tools not as “cool new things,” but a normal part of doing business. When email first came into vogue, how did students learn how to use it? They learned it from their professors – they knew that the professor was going to be using email throughout the class and unless you used it as well, you weren’t going to get a good grade. The use of email itself wasn’t graded, but you were at a severe disadvantage if you didn’t use it.
  2. Integrated into the class rather than as a separate class unto itself – If you’re a communications major, I think you should learn about social media’s impact to communications. If you’re a biology major, you should learn about social media’s impact on biology. I don’t see a need for a “Social Media 101” course, primarily because everyone will use it differently, especially across disciplines. Would you have a Social Media and Communications 101, a Biology and Social Media 101 course, etc.? It’s just not scalable. No, I’d rather see social media taught as it’s applicable to the individual classes, not as a one-size fits all approach to learning how to tweet or blog.

Grading social media then, becomes not so much an issue of identifying if or how well students are using social media, but of integrating social media into the curriculum where it makes sense for your class, of integrating it into the way the teacher teaches, and then just grading as you always have. Because if a student gets an “A” in my PR 101 class, that would mean that they’ve read my blog posts, that they’ve taken my quizzes on books like Brian Solis’ “Putting the Public Back into Public Relations,” that they’ve completed the class assignment where they had to write a collaborative paper using a wiki, that they had to create a relationship with an external blogger and write a guest post for them, and that they’ve participated in class discussion, either in person, or via our closed Yammer network.

How would you grade the use of social media in today’s college environment?

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