Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Faculty Sharing Resources, Connecting to Social Media for Social Change
A colleague forwarded me a short article about an African Chief who is using Twitter to “to help solve problems and maintain order in his Kenyan village” (http://mashable.com/2012/02/19/african-twitter-peace/). His Tweets have helped prevent crimes, offered practical resources such as job openings as well as “inspiring” messages to his community. This came at an opportune moment as it serves as a practical example of what I am asking students to do in my Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature course.
I Retweeted the post (@CritThinkWrite), and reminded my students that they should begin following leaders, activities, and organizations either related to their Constructive Action projects or a topic of interest to them. For this course, students are asked to maintain a Twitter account and for the first half of the semester, they are given prompts every week that relate to the course material, make connections between their courses, and/or apply what they are studying in their real world experiences.
For the rest of the semester, they are asked to use Social Media for Social Change, and to track their progress through a Trending Topic: #socialmediasocialchange. This includes researching initiatives and projects, communicating with leaders, and becoming involved onlines with communities. For their final, they will create a presentation, report, or other mixed media project that is then distributed back through social media such as YouTube, Tumblr, Prezi, or any other user generated source. This way they can distribute their findings back to the communities they have studied and worked with, while using social media to do so.
In the article, I was interested in the author’s suggestion that readers post “the most interesting or unexpected examples of social media use that you’ve heard of” in the comments section. I am interested in this, too, and will show students this in our next class and ask them to share their projects with a larger community of interested readers by inviting them to post a comment to this article. One reader who posted a comment mentioned she has seen cell phone usage increase even in remote areas, and that those with phones serve as “information multipliers” for the rest of the community. While some would argue the technologic divide alienates, here is an example in which it unifies.
In this sense, social media is returning users to community-centered information exchange, and that that creation of community is something that is sorely lacking in our modern age. In Bowling Alone, Robert Putnam has (now famously) argued that social capital has declined in America since the 1960s, and continues to do so across a broad range and staggering number of categories. While we may blame the insular nature of constantly being “plugged in” as a contributor to the decline in social capital, we can start to harness its potential for positive, real world effects. I see others are doing this around the world, too. Luckily, we can be friends on the World Wide Web.