Monday, April 16, 2012

Using Social Media for Social Change

At the regional PCA/ACA this week, I presented a paper on my experiment with using Twitter in a Common Curriculum Course, Critical Thinking & Writing through Literature, and a BAUS first semester course, Self-Assessment through Writing and Technology.  I presented my paper, “Writing & Thinking in 140 Characters or Less:  Twitter as Purpose-Centered Education,” on a panel with a Carol Bernard who presented on a study she did using a Facebook teacher page and Lindsay Illich who presented on using Word Clouds to help teach composition. 

You can create a word cloud out of a text through the website, and the image that is produced will show you the primary words used in a particular text.  This could be an interesting exercise for analyzing the differences between two political speeches, for example, and it made me think that Word Clouds would be a great inclusion in the Public Speaking common curriculum course which is currently being developed at my college.  It is exciting to see other educators’ use of technology to enhance the classroom experience, and I was interested in the ways that colleagues have thought so deeply about how to teach students to think and write through these technologies.  It also got me to thinking about whether I practice what I preach.

As MCNY promotes Purpose-Centered Education that fosters students to become socially engaged change agents, this seemed a logical extension to move towards using Twitter and social media more broadly for productive ends.  Social activism does not have to happen simply in the traditional “internship” model on which the college – in the past – has been based.  As a cursory glance at revolutions around the world indicate, social media has been central to many – if not most – of our modern movements for change. 
This semester, I assigned Twitter for the Critical Thinking Signature Assignment, and asked the students to create a project called “Using Social Media for Social Change.”  They were asked to research a topic that was either 1) connected to their Constructive Action or 2) of political or personal interest to them.  They were then asked to follow that topic through their involvement with Twitter, by following leaders and organizations, retweeting, and generally getting involved in a topic through social media sight.  As they researched, read, and got involved, at the end of the semester they are asked to use social media to sum up their findings, and to recirculate that through a social media sight such as YouTube, Tumblr, Prezi, or a host of other options.  The idea is that their research would then be recirculated through the social media that they did their project.

I realized, perhaps too late, that asking students to bring about some type of social change – despite the medium – is daunting.  It’s not that using Twitter or using Twitter for productive ends is beyond students, but rather that I don’t know if I succeeded in breaking that down – just like one would break down a research paper in a composition class – into steps.  Some of the questions that have arisen include:  how do we get students to use social media critically?  What type of additive assignments can be given to help students establish, research, and develop their topics? In short, how do we get students to “start a revolution” or movement online?
Here are some ideas of how I will update this assignment in the future:

1)       Suggest Topics.  Though it may seem limiting, I realized that giving students possible topics may be useful for some.  “If you could change the world, what would you change?” question is admittedly both daunting and seemingly impossible.  Suggesting topics will give options to those students who find difficulties coming up with their own.  It also allows us to connect to what is happening politically and socially both locally and globally, and to place our conversations in class in a larger context.  The topics can give students options, and can help them brainstorm their own take on the suggested topics.
2)      Show Examples.  I tried to model in class how I was using social media for productive ends by showing students who I was following, and what I had learned about current events or topics of interest to me through Twitter.  But a don’t know if this was entirely successful.  In hindsight, I think a list of concrete examples of others using social media for social change would have helped students understand the concept.  These concrete examples could include
a.       celebrities who use Twitter to support causes;
b.      individual or organization who use  their Twitter feeds for activism;
c.       examples of viral videos, etc. that have helped broadast social issues;
d.      online “boycotts” and “buycotts” as strategies for supporting issues important to students as consumers;  
e.      examples of revolutions and movements around the globe broadcast on social media 
This list could, in turn, be placed on a collaborative editing cloud such as Google Docs, so that students and instructors could contribute examples that they come across.

It may be the end of the semester, but it’s never too late to think about and implement changes in the classroom.  I will run this by students this week in class, and see what they think.  I am sure they will have suggestions that will improve the classroom for all.

1 comment:

  1. I am so glad to see that you were able to use storify with your students to present their final projects. It is a great tool for collecting data from the web and placing it in one document. Sometimes I use it to put a number of resources together for students instead of putting a series of links in moodle. It is easier to make a storify page than to create a web page in moodle. I also like storify for putting together a series of materials that I want to use to accompany a lecture. One click to the page and all the videos, and web links are there.