Tag Archives: education

Social Media Integration in Higher Education

August 18, 2010

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The following is a guest post by Jen Dryer, a current student at the University of Southern Indiana. I first met Jen at the 2009 PRSA International Conference in San Diego, and was immediately impressed with her enthusiasm and eagerness to learn about the business uses of social media. She, along with Brooks Cooper, have since become the linchpins for integrating social media into the classroom at USI. Given her unique perspective and our mutual interest in all things #SMCEDU, I asked her to write a guest post here on what social media in higher education means to her.

Looking back ten years ago, the thought of social media didn’t even exist. We kept in contact through traditional media like phone calls, e-mails, and sometimes even the good old-fashioned hand-written letter. Company promotions and advertisements were broadcast through television, magazines, billboards and the occasional internet banner. Now, fast forward five years and advertising is now found on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, making everyone’s lives a lot easier. Not only are more websites being created, but each individual social media site is expanding and integrating to make things more convenient for its users.  We have entered the world of social media and we are now using our online voices to speak louder than ever before.

Image courtesy of Flickr user woodleywonderworks

Social media is starting to shape the world we live in on a “most recent” basis.  However, since social media has existed, most of the education departments of America have not “signed in.” Social media is an essential part of our professional business world, and if we want students to succeed, then it must be part of the curriculum. One reason it hasn’t is because social media often started out as a fad with the younger generation, so it is automatically assumed that our generation of students is very knowledgeable of social media.

It is true that our generation knows a great deal about using social media, but usually only for personal reasons.  When I had an interview for my current internship they told me one of the reasons I was chosen for an interview was the fact that my Facebook page was “acceptable” to their professional needs.  Employers do not want to hire a person whose Twitter or Facebook page could make their company look bad. The other students may have been very worthy candidates for the position, but the picture with eight shot glasses surrounding them seemed to prove otherwise.  Though my employer may not have necessarily disagreed with the candidates’ drinking, they did think it was very unprofessional to not take the initiative to untag themselves from the picture.

It’s an interesting question – why are today’s students held accountable for not knowing how to use social media professionally, yet they haven’t ever been taught formally?

Social media-focused classes for the core curriculum is an excellent idea. I don’t think it should be specifically called a social media class; rather, it should be a well-rounded class that focuses on communicating in a digital world.  It may be best to start by integrating it into speech classes that every student has to take at every university across the United States. The speech class I took as a freshman had integrated communication skills, such as interview tips, handshakes, etc.  Being that the speech class isn’t solely focused on speech, it would be a good starting place to integrate social media communication.

Image courtesy of Flickr user lawtonchiles

Those studying areas such as health or sciences are taught how and why things work and also how to be ethical. Their main focus is not how to communicate effectively, so communications and social media doesn’t always come natural to them.  A general “Internet etiquette” course would be valuable to them. Or maybe we can follow the University of Kentucky, who recently combined their English Composition and Communication courses to create a more efficient way for students to engage in the classroom.  This revolutionary required course incorporates the use of social media so that students learn the essentials of writing professionally using social media.  No matter what one may be studying, social media importance can’t be underestimated.

I’ve often found that professors are teaching us how to do old school tasks, such as writing a memorandum. But, we don’t learn how to tweet.  Education should be constantly updated with the most effective and convenient ways to educate those pursuing that career field.  Professors wouldn’t teach students to create overhead projection slides instead of using PowerPoint, so why do they refuse to adopt the principles of social media as a quick and effective way to replace less effective methods?

One main question always arises when discussing how to integrate social media into higher education. How would we assess a social media course?  Let’s be honest – all of the college grads have heard of how Facebook content can limit their chances of scoring that job. What we need to be teaching is not to just delete the bad content, but rather to teach students how to add valuable content. The best way to grade would be to assess them on the valuable content that they post, not just for the inappropriate content they don’t have. The main point of the social media class should be graded on “what if” situations and facts about professional Internet writing, social media settings, pictures, videos, news and crisis management on the Internet.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Liako

We have come a long way from Morse code and telegrams to a much faster and easier way to communicate. It almost boggles or “bloggles” our minds!  Perhaps five years from now everyone will jump on the social media bandwagon and will be more advanced and complex enough to create classes in our higher education system.  If students are not even being educated on the current issues, we can’t expect to move on to bigger and better things. As for now, we must try to push social media into our higher education and create a more professional and more networked world. After all, students learn much better in a natural environment and nothing is more natural for our generation than social media.

This video is a great example of how social media is being integrated in not only the professional world, but also secondary education.  It’s a great idea to grab young adults’ attention and expand their possibilities in communications today.  But, why doesn’t higher education, the institution where one becomes a more intellectually rounded individual,  jump on this opportunity to help better prepare their candidates for the real world?

For more information about integrating social media in higher education, make sure you check out the following resources:

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Grading Social Media

March 1, 2010

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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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Rethinking Public Relations Education

November 20, 2009

25 Comments

How should social media be incorporated into a PR degree?

How should social media be incorporated into a PR degree?

I was speaking to a group of college students the other day about SMCEDU, and I asked them, “how many of you are learning about social media in your communications classes?”  About a third of them raised their hands and said that they’ve discussed the impact of social media on traditional news, about how Twitter and citizen journalists are breaking the news. Some were in media relations classes where they were learning about the differences between pitching reporters and bloggers.  But, for the most part, social media had yet to become a substantial part of their communications curriculum.  I asked them if they thought that was a problem, if they thought they should be learning more about social media in their communications courses?”  Their response ranged from the dismissive – “why would we have a class on learning to Twitter – only old people use it anyway?” – to the inquisitive  – “it’d be great if we could learn more about how these tools are being used by companies so we’d know before we got hired.”

Social media education curricula was the topic for the first #smcedu chat held a couple of weeks ago, and has been a consistent topic of discussion among all of the members of SMCEDU – teachers, students, and professional sponsors. This got me thinking…left to my own devices, how would I integrate social media into the communications curriculum at the university level?  (*admittedly, I don’t have any education training, nor have I ever taught a communications class)

I thought I’d start by looking at the current course listing for Communication majors at my alma mater, Bethany College. You may first notice that there is no “Social Media 101” or “Principles of Social Media” course listed, and I’d never advocate for that either.  That’d be like adding a class for “Business Email 101.” Social media shouldn’t get it’s own special class – social media IS media. What I would like to see though, are the principles and terms of social media interwoven throughout all of these classes.

In “Introduction to Mass Communication,” I’d like to see more discussions about how personal communications can easily become mass communication because the Web has hyperlinked everything.  Students should explore the changing models of mass communications – how int he past, content used to be broadcast to the masses, and would then be shared person-to-person.  Today, content is often shared person-to-person first, to be followed by dissemination to the masses.  Why?  How?

In “Human Communication,” I want to see the students dive down into the intricacies of how relationships created and maintained using social media are different than those that are solely face-to-face.  How does social media enhance or degrade these relationships?

In “Visual Communication,” the students should understand the visual impact of content on the Web.  How did we go from fancy, tricked out websites being a best practice to something as plain and boring as Twitter?  How and why did the banner ad die?  Why, when asked if there were ads on Google, did one teenager at the Web 2.0 Summit say, “no – are there supposed to be?”

In “Digital Skills and Information Gathering,” how do you differentiate between what’s fact and fiction online any more?  How many sources are need to verify?  What’s the definition of a source?  How do you use tools like Wikipedia and other social media as breadcrumbs to find more credible sources?

When I took “Media Writing,” I learned the AP Stylebook and how to write press releases.  Students should absolutely still learn these skills.  But, they should also learn how to write like a human being, in a conversational tone, not as a public relations machine.  They should learn what a good blog post looks and sounds like.  They should learn how to take a key message and put it into their own words, into their own writing style instead of conforming to a style guide.

Media Law” should still involve a LOT of discussion of past cases and legal precedents, an exploration of the First Amendment, thorough reviews of the Pentagon Papers trial and other landmark cases.  But, there should also be a lot of “what if?” questions that tackle today’s social media landscape that hasn’t, in a lot of cases, gone through the legal rigor that other media has.  Let’s study Cybersquatting cases like LaRussa vs. Twitter, Inc. – let’s discuss the impacts of cases like that that don’t have a long legal history, but will surely help define the environment in which these students are going to be working.

I’d rename “International Communication” to be “Global Communication,” and I’d focus not just on the differences in communication styles between Western and Eastern countries, Asian cultures and Hispanic cultures, but on how it’s just as easy to communicate with someone 10,000 miles away as it is with your next door neighbor.  I’d have my students study the differences in how Americans communicate with each other online vs. how Eastern countries do it.  Do the basic communications differences that apply in face-to-face communication apply online too?  If not, why?

In “Communication Ethics,” this class would bring up discussions about attribution in an online, shareable communications environment.  How do the old rules of copyright and intellectual property apply?  Do they apply?  What about basic human interactions – if you ignore someone who sends a DM on Twitter, is that akin to ignoring someone who reaches out to shake your hand?  Where’s the line between criticizing the service your receive from a company on Twitter and attacking the person?  If I say,”I think @comcastcares is an idiot who doesn’t know which way is up, am I attacking Comcast or am I attacking Frank Eliason? Note: Frank is awesome 🙂

I would also add a class on “Principles of Customer Service” and make “Creative Writing” a prerequisite as well.  You see, social media shouldn’t be a class – it’s interwoven throughout a lot of classes.  And this isn’t just for communication classes, this would apply to political science majors (Barack Obama’s campaign anyone?), economics majors (how has the ability to share data globally and instantaneously impacted the speed at which the market changes?), sociology (how has social media changed the way families and friends communicate with one another?).

I don’t want to hire a social media guru or ninja – I want to hire an innovative, entrepreneurial communications professional who understands how to use social media.

*In a future post, I’ll do a deeper dive into the PR 101 class, and give you my thoughts on how I’d structure an entire class.

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Social Media and the Next Generation

August 2, 2009

77 Comments

My four years at Bethany College will always stick in my mind as some of the best times of my life.  Professionally, this is where I learned the fundamentals of communications, from public relations to advertising to writing for the media. Personally, this is where I formed many of the relationships that have made me the person that I am today.  This period of professional and personal growth has had a tremendous impact on everything that I do and I’m extraordinarily grateful for the relationships, experiences, and knowledge that I gained while I was in college.  It was here that I first learned the differences in writing a feature story and a news story, where I learned how to give a public presentation, where I first experienced what it was like to work with an actual client, where I began to understand that all the knowledge in the world isn’t going to cut it in the “real world” unless I had people skills too.  Disappointingly though, I didn’t learn a single thing about social media, Web 2.0, and especially not Government 2.0.  It wasn’t just that this terminology didn’t exist, it was that the principles of methods of open, transparent communications didn’t exist either.

We had a “Mass Communications 101” class where we learned how broadcast, communications had evolved over the years.  We had a “Communication Theory” class where we learned the Magic Bullet theory and the Mean World theory.  But, we never had a class where we learned the many-to-many communications model of social media.  We never had a class where we discussed the differences in writing for a blog versus writing for a newspaper.  Media relations 101 didn’t even mention bloggers.  We were learning communications for the past and the present but were unprepared for communications in the future.  How would communications evolve over time?  What new tools would change the way organizations communicated?  What new communications methodologies would be embraced?

Since I graduated, I’ve spoken to many students, professors, and alumni, and I’ve been consistently disappointed in the lack of formal (or informal) education around social media at the collegiate level.  Despite what you may have heard from the Baby Boomer generation, today’s college students aren’t out there creating blogs, tweeting, or using wikis on a regular basis.  Sure, they are most likely on Facebook or MySpace for personal reasons, but using Facebook to organize your next Edward Forty-hands mixer is a lot different than using a blog to change public opinion and organize an online community.  I’ve met just as many 24-year-olds who are as completely befuddled by Twitter as 42-year-olds.

Enter the Social Media Club Education Connection.  Ever since I started working as a consultant at Booz Allen, I’ve loved mentoring my colleagues, giving presentations at college campuses, and coaching junior team members on projects.  I’ve always gotten a lot of satisfaction from helping others reach their potential while still showing them that they can have fun doing it too. For these reasons, I’ve also been very interested in the opportunities for improvement in higher education and communications. Then one day in April, while attending the SNCR New Communications Forum, surrounded by people like Shel Israel, Chris Brogan, Geoff Livingston, Jeremiah Owyang, Katie Paine, and many other luminaries in the social media community, I thought to myself, “This is EXACTLY the type of conference that a college student should be attending.”  Further inspired by the next generation of social media leaders – people like Dana Lewis, Sydney Owen, and Dena Olyaie, and professors like Mihaela Vorvoreanu and Howard Rheingold – I tweeted that I thought there should be collegiate chapters of Social Media Club.  Shortly thereafter, I had a lengthy conversation with Chris Heuer, founder of the Social Media Club, about how to turn this idea into action and formally establish something.

Just a few months later, we’ve officially established the Social Media Education Connection (almost 150 members deep already!). I’m extremely excited to start working with George Washington University, one of our founding #SMCEDU chapters, right here in Washington DC.  In cooperation with student representatives, Dena Olyaie and Cathryn Sitterding, and faculty representative, Sean Aday, I’m looking forward to cultivating the relationship between the students of George Washington University, the DC Chapter of Social Media Club, and Booz Allen Hamilton.  When I first talked with Chris about establishing the Social Media Club Education Connection, we discussed our goals for this new initiative:

  • Connect the local Social Media Club groups more closely with their local universities
  • Co-create a combination of mentoring programs, internships, professional development opportunities to benefit both the university and professional chapters
  • Co-create a repository of Creative Commons licensed Social Media curriculum

Over the coming months, I will be working with Dena and Cathryn to create an SMCEDU GW chapter charter, work with the university to become an officially recognized organization, secure meeting space, identify additional interested students, create a strategic plan, and work with the SMCDC chapter leadership to identify professional development opportunities.  I hope this is the start of something much bigger, something that will spread throughout colleges and universities across the country, and I hope that you’ll be a part of it too.

Who knows what social media will be like in 5 or 10 years?  Who will be tomorrow’s communications leaders?  You now have the opportunity to help shape the future of the communications industry by helping shape the careers of the next generation. If you want to be part of the effort to improve the quality of social media education being offered in schools, please join our new SMCEDU Project Community on Ning.

*Image courtesy of Flickr user CLF*

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