Teaching Social Media in Higher Ed



I have written elsewhere about a perceived "skills gap" for current employees when it comes to using social media in the workplace. Some social media consultants have said that 90% of workers don't have the skills to leverage social media as a business tool.

It would seem logical that there would be a "market" and interest in higher education to fill in that gap, and more social media courses are being offered at colleges - generally in marketing and communications programs. But for just-in-time training, current employees are also looking to online courses, MOOC offerings and free on-demand resources.

Hootsuite is one of those providers, but it also offers a Student Program that provides educators and their classrooms free access to social media tools and resources. They have a Hootsuite Academy, which obviously uses their own Hootsuite dashboard which is a widely used platform for social media management. They also offer free certification for students who complete the program.

Because I teach social media courses at a university and I also do social media consulting, I looked into the Hootsuite Student Program as another way to integrate hands-on activities into NJIT's online program.

I also see frequent mentions online about a broader “digital skills gap” with employees who don’t know how to use, or are not aware of, the technology available to them. According to a Harris poll survey in Entrepreneur, only one in 10 American workers have mastered their employers’ tools and this gap "Bleeds $1.3 Trillion a Year From US Businesses."

Social media is just one part of this larger gap, but the “meteoric rise” of social in U.S. over the past decade to more than 2.3 billion active social media users worldwide can't be ignored.

Some of the materials in the Hootsuite program were topics that I have always included in my curriculum for designing social media. For example, having students conduct an online reputation audit on a real local gives students a better idea of creating a strategy for a brand versus their personal accounts. Students do research and present an analysis in order to create a strategy to improve their client's social marketing. They research target audience, popular content channels and types, competitor social media use, and make recommendations for future social media marketing activities.

I have students create a social media campaign with objectives, target audience, and metrics. It no longer surprises me that my students often make very little sophisticated use of social media themselves, and have a very limited understanding of how organizations are using it.

One gap I have been attempting to bridge this past year is the lack of knowledge (and interest) in social media ethics and law. That gap is not only in students but in those currently working in social media.

I believe that this learning process has value beyond making students just being able to do marketing via social media, but that creating a social strategy through research, analysis and application, and doing it in a digital world can help bridge a number of skills gaps.


Using MOOC Data

codeThe MOOC - massive and online and sometimes open - has been around long enough that there is now massive data collected about these courses and their participants. And yet, there is not much agreement about what it all means for changing education online or offline.

EDUCAUSE recently posted "Harvard and MIT Turn MOOC Data into Knowledge" which uses data from the Harvard/MIT edX Data Pipeline. This is an open-source effort to manage MOOC data among higher education institutions.

What can we learn from all the clicks within learning management systems (edX, Canvas, Moodle, etc.)? We could find out how much time students spend reading texts, watching videos, and engaging with fellow students in discussions.

Data at the MOOC scale offers possibilities for new insights.This Harvard/MIT partnership also offers possibilities with MIT perhaps focusing on analyzing Big Data and Harvard, via its Graduate School of Education, addressing the educational responses.

Using edx2bigquery (Google’s BigQuery) and XAnalytics (a dashboard that connects to Pipeline), will allow other institutional representatives to interact with edX data. This is all beyond my experience, but I look forward to results.


A Failure of Media and Information Literacy

fake newsWe heard a lot about the "fake news" that we (Americans) were consuming in 2016. The election of President Trump brought the topic to the top of the news feeds. 

Fake news is a new entry for Wikipedia which describes it this way: "Fake news is a type of hoax or deliberate spread of misinformation in social media or traditional news media with the intent to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. If often employs eye-catching headlines or entirely fabricated news-stories in order to increase readership and online sharing."

Though some fake news is about making a profit in the same way that clickbait does by ad-revenue generated compensation, some of it is to forward a political or social agenda.

Some fake news sources are anonymously hosted or lack known writers and publishers (which makes it more difficult to prosecute sources of fake news for libel or slander). It is hardly a new kind of news.

I wrote earlier this year about fake news and information literacy, but the more I read about it, the less optimistic I am about the situation improving.

Our history courses taught us in earlier decades and centuries about yellow journalism and political propaganda, and some of the same strategies are used. But the media, 24-hour news' appetite for content and especially the Internet and social media have made it so much easier to produce and distribute it to the world.                

As an educator, I'm anxious about the spread of fake news, and I wonder if the current commitment, or lack thereof, to media literacy programs is enough to combat its spread.

We have been teaching at all grade levels for a long time about fact-checking and verifying the accuracy and veracity of sources. We did it as educators with print and we adapted it in the digital and Internet age. But I don't think it's working. It is not only the younger generations that seems to be taken in by fake news, but also older generations who are long out of the classroom.

Danah Boyd is a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. In her book, It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens, she examines how "...society fails young people when paternalism and protectionism hinder teenagers’ ability to become informed, thoughtful, and engaged citizens through their online interactions." 

I remember well trying to get my fellow faculty to examine, use and teach students how to wisely use Wikipedia back in 2001. It was a tough sell. Boyd has seen the results. She says "Students I met were being told that Wikipedia was untrustworthy and were, instead, being encouraged to do research. As a result, the message that many had taken home was to turn to Google and use whatever came up first. They heard that Google was trustworthy and Wikipedia was not. Understanding what sources to trust is a basic tenet of media literacy education. When educators encourage students to focus on sourcing quality information, they encourage them to critically ask who is publishing the content. Is the venue a respected outlet? What biases might the author have? The underlying assumption in all of this is that there’s universal agreement that major news outlets like the New York Times, scientific journal publications, and experts with advanced degrees are all highly trustworthy."

The time is now to review how we teach media literacy.

Am I hopeful? No. Not if we continue teaching it the way we have in the past few decades.

Danah Boyd feels "The path forward is hazy. We need to enable people to hear different perspectives and make sense of a very complicated — and in many ways, overwhelming — information landscape. We cannot fall back on standard educational approaches because the societal context has shifted. We also cannot simply assume that information intermediaries can fix the problem for us, whether they be traditional news media or social media."

Boyd writes that "As a huge proponent for media literacy for over a decade, I’m struggling with the ways in which I missed the mark."

What needs to change? A lot. She says that we need to "build the social infrastructure necessary for people to meaningfully and substantively engage across existing structural lines." I don't know how we do that. I don't know anyone who has a new approach in place. But I agree with her that we can't ignore hate speech, fake news, biased content and propaganda online and expect that things will get better.


Myths of Social Learning

follow upI had only posted about social learning here recently, but a few days after that post someone sent me a link to an article about "Four Myths of Social Learning."

Myth 1: Social Learning is a New Fad - Learning and social are a very natural ways we want to learn. A Google search on "social learning" will get you more than 44 million results. 

Myth 2: Social Learning Means Only One Thing - Social learning means different things to different people. We even use different terms to describes types of social learning, such as guided social learning, communities of practice, networked learning, communities of inquiry, social networks, and social media.

Myth 3: You Don’t Have to Be Social to Get Social - You do. 

Myth 4: Social Learning is About Forcing Your People to Use Your New Social Learning Platform - As Helen Blunden writes in that article, "Instead of focusing on your social learning system, consider how your people are searching, finding and sharing information currently and helping them to improve this.


Getting to the Level of Social Learning

brain

"The Cognitive Science Behind Learning" is an article that discusses the idea of viewing different levels as a way to approach the study of cognitive science and learning.

It views cognitive science as an "umbrella term to incorporate all levels of human behavior from neural to social, and it includes contributions from many disciplines including philosophy, anthropology, neuroscience, psychology, sociology and more."

It is widely accepted that at the most basic level we have the neural level. That is looking at learning as something that is about forming and strengthening the connections between neurons in our brains. There is not a lot that an educator can do about that level in the classroom.

As educators, we are more concerned about what we might see at the next two levels. The main one we always discuss is the cognitive level, where "learning and instruction is about designed action and guided reflection."

For me, the importance at this level is that human learning is very connected to pattern-matching and meaning-making. Though some of those abilities are formed through some ability to perform by rote repeatedly and accurately, that is not the key to learning. Of course, it is the main thing we do in classrooms and it is generally what we assess in our grading. There are certainly courses that require learning a lot of information, but I agree with the author, Clark Quinn, that "Too often learning leaders make courses when the information doesn’t have to be in the head, it just needs to be on hand."

Quinn spends much less time on a higher level that I believe we should spend more time examining - social learning. Social learning theory is something I associate with Albert Bandura. It considers that learning is a cognitive process that takes place in a social context. It can occur purely through observation or direct instruction, even in the absence of motor reproduction or direct reinforcement.

In the early 1960s, Albert Bandura conducted what is known as the Bobo doll experiment. In the experiment, he had children observe a video of an adult aggressively playing with toys, including a Bobo doll. The large blow-up Bobo doll looks like a clown, and the adult hit the doll, knocked it down and even jumped on it while yelling words like 'pow!' and 'kick him!' When the children were subsequently allowed to play with a variety of toys, including the Bobo doll, more than half of the children modeled the adult and engaged in the same aggressive behaviors with the Bobo doll. This modeling was called Bandura's social learning theory.

Some of social learning occurs naturally in social classroom settings. Some of this theory has also been adopted by advertisers and marketers in social media settings. Social learning theory is most effective when four processes occur. Let me end here by just suggesting that every educator should consider their use of these processes intentionally and unintentionally in their teaching. The four processes are attention, retention, reproduction, and motivation.