Saturday, April 21, 2012

Using Social Media for Project Publication

I’m eager to share the success and hurdles I’ve experienced using technology in new ways this semester. I am experimenting with social media as a teaching tool in my Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature class. While launching this social media element was daunting to me, I was impressed with the successes reported from other institutions, as well as our own Lynn Sally. 

Most of my class readings and resources explore how great writers across time use literary devices and insight to speak out as critics of corrupted leadership and narrow thinking. That is a tall order for any student, and quite a new practice for many of our students. As this is a course I regularly teach, I am always keen to explore how the delivery of content and expectations for engagement radically shape the depth of critical inquiry around a topic or reading.  

This is best illustrated through our “Signature Assignment” (self-directed learning project), which focuses on social justice issues. In the past, these culminated in class discussion and PowerPoint presentations.
I have grown more and more frustrated with the “dead-end” feeling of this presentation format. For all of their great probing and creation of meaningful testimonies to individuals who are boldly “speaking truth to power,” the final product was limited to those in the room and a PowerPoint file… now collecting dust at the bottom of my desk drawer. This format fanned their inspirations only to become yet another project that died at the classroom door.

Enter Social Media. This spring term, for our Truth to Power projects, students
  • chose one individual or small group that they think played a significant part in 2011/2012 in helping to “re-write” how we think about power, institutions of power and inequality
  • used Bloom’s Taxonomy- Levels of Learner Knowledge to fuel their critical inquiry.
  • were required to use Twitter to engage with class material outside of class and gradually to engage with their topic through Twitter.
The final for this project was a multimedia analysis of their projects distributed back into the world via another social media, i.e. YouTube, Blog, Storify, Tumblr, Prezi,, etc.

Resistance was strong at the beginning, as students could not grasp the relevance of the social media component and/or were intimidated by the new online platforms. But truly, in week 4, when 15 students posted on Twitter their deep reflections to our Plato reading, my jaw dropped with a “holy shizzle, this works.” Of course, our next class session was totally radicalized by the dynamic on-line feed that proceeded our meeting.

The most incredible shift, however, came just this week, when students presented their published analysis of their topics to the class. Not only were we already invested in one another’s topics, but the testimonies were beautifully crafted, the writing was (mostly) very strong, and the class was amazingly empowered by becoming directly involved with a movement because of their online publication. (In fact, tears were shed.)
Here are links to two projects:
(This work was made accessible to general public by the students)

They got it. They got that the potential impact of their writing is powerful, that it creates ripple effects around the world and can influence someone (or a movement) without them even knowing. They are taking new-found responsibility for their writing. Never before in my teaching have I seen my students grasp the immediacy and far-reaching impact of their writing and language so well. 

Here is one success story of a course- students- being transformed by paying attention to relevance of course material, pushing comfort levels, bridging unforeseen connections and building peer community outside of the classroom. In an email today, a student wrote:
I found the Signature Assignment to be an eye opening experience. After I fully understood what the project was about, I realized how this assignment was truly innovative. Never did I think Twitter would be an integral part of my college studies. I especially enjoyed using social media at the completion of the project by sharing with the online community. It was interesting to research a group who was making a change in the world. During the time of the Arab Spring, I followed the coverage and thought I fully understood its purpose. Little did I know what was shown on television was a one-sided filtered agenda of what was happening. Your project exposed me to a grassroots revolution from the ground up. It brought to my awareness that true change can really happen if one is determined enough to speak up and speak out. And it is a sign of our times that social media can facilitate the mission statement of any cause. This class component enriched my learning experience and I'm sure it will do the same for future students.

I will be updating this assignment by
  • giving more directed prompts for Twitter posts
  •  giving more demonstrations for using Bloom’s for guiding critical inquiry
  • assigning project benchmarks that link directly to in-class learning objectives
  •  share examples of past student publications to help make a rather abstract assignment more concrete and inspiring
I’d love to hear any feedback and suggestions for moving forward!

Parker Pracjek, Academic Coordinator, Learning Enhancement Center

1 comment:

  1. I started having the students do online class presentations. Each one uploads their powerpoint slides to a Moodle forum. (I actually have them email their presentations to me and turn them into Quicktime movies so that they can't be easily downloaded by others and "recycled".) Prezi also prevents the use of "recycling". I ask the students to write a brief overview of their presentation to post in their moodle forum. Then each member of the class must view the presentation and post a thoughtful, relevant, response. Sometimes they actually have really good discussions about the presentations.