Posts Tagged talk

Assignments and Architecture: Pedagogy in the Digital Age

Title slide that reads 'Assignments and Architecture' with a hand-corrected print-out on one side of the screen and a upward-facing shot of a building on the right half. The link on this image is for the assignment as the photograph of the building is one that I took.

tl;dr: I gave a talk about digital pedagogy.

Today I want to share a talk. That’s not all that unusual, as I’ve been in the habit of posting such presentations since I began blogging here in 2009. What’s unusual about this one—at least for me—is that it’s a talk that evolved as I gave it as a keynote at three different universities.

Although it’s taken me longer to post this talk than I would have liked, I want to share my framework for theorizing digital pedagogy. This is the rubric I use when working with faculty here at Brown to design new classroom research projects. We can create new and exciting, team-based research projects for our students. Once you’ve tried this, it’s really hard to go back.

I first spoke about “pedagogy in the digital age” at Fordham University in November 2013. I was invited by Glenn Hendler, who is chair of the English Department, to give this talk as well as a more practical workshop on teaching with technology in the classroom. It was one of the first times I had been given the opportunity to tackle either subject in such a broad way, and the setting of Fordham in NYC definitely inspired the direction that the talk took—that, and an episode of 99% Invisible that I had just listened to. I very much enjoyed the conversations at Fordham and was glad of the chance to put together my thoughts about digital pedagogy into a more coherent argument.

When I was asked a few months later to give the keynote at the September 2014 Liberal Arts Scholarship and Technology Summit (LASTS) at Penn State, I took the chance to further refine the talk and its argument. I was invited by Christopher P. Long, who was at the time Associate Dean for Graduate and Undergraduate Education at Penn State and who has since moved to Michigan State as Dean of the College of Arts & Letters. I’ve always admired Chris for the genuine excitement and positive energy he brings to conversations, so I was flattered and happy to spend the time with him and the Penn State community. (Also, land-grant schools tend to have the best ice cream.) My visit for LASTS was combined with a talk at the Center for American Literary Studies’s Symposium on #Alt-Ac, which I wrote about previously. My keynote was recorded, if you want to see the high kick at the end.

Shortly after the presentation at Penn State, I was thrilled to be invited to speak at both St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges in Northfield, Minnesota (home of Malt-o-Meal; the whole town smelled like Marshmallow Mateys!). The two colleges have received a Mellon Foundation grant for collaboration between the two schools, which sit opposite one another across the Cannon River. One of the outcomes for the grant was the Bridge Crossings Events, which focus on integrating and supporting digital technologies into teaching, learning, and research. I made some more changes to the presentation, as well as did some research on the architecture on both campuses, and joined faculty, librarians, and IT staff at both schools in February 2015 for a discussion of Digital Humanities on the Hill. I really enjoyed my visit, thanks to the great library and IT staff at both schools, although I was shocked at how little winter gear people in Minnesota needed compared to a guy from Georgia. If you’re into comparative media experiences, you can also watch the video of this version of the talk. No high kick, I’m afraid.

Again, my thanks to Fordham, Penn State, and St. Olaf and Carleton Colleges for inviting me and giving me the chance to pull together years of praxis into three performances.

N.B. It’s worth saying that there are two images in this slide deck that are potentially NSFW: artistic photographs of nude sex workers, circa 1912.

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Keep Calm and Carry On: Finding and Building PhD Career Paths

This title slide is a copy of the famous 'Keep Calm and Carry On' poster, with a CC-BY license and my name.

At the end of March this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Purdue University and talk about alternate careers for people pursuing the PhD. Throughout the day I enjoyed a number of interesting discussions with graduate students and faculty. It’s amazing to see how far we’ve come in the last 5 or 6 years in being willing to talk about what faces PhD students upon graduation.

In addition to these less formal discussions, I gave a talk and led a workshop focusing on the nuts and bolts of looking for and applying for different positions. If you’re interested in getting the full “Brian experience,” you can watch videos of the talk and the workshop on YouTube. But since I get fidgety watching a five-minute video let alone an hour talk, I wanted to share the text of the talk here. A portion of the talk drew on the short comments I gave in September 2014 at Penn State’s Symposium on #Alt-Ac. I was glad to get a chance to expand on that line of thinking here. My comments also drew on thoughts that I had had as I worked on a forthcoming article about alt-ac issues and the CLIR postdoctoral fellowship with Meredith Beck Sayre, Marta Brunner, and Emily McGinn. For the title, I of course have to thank the Internet without which none of this would be possible.

And of course, I need to thank my hosts at Purdue: the College of Liberal Arts, the Department of English, and the School of Languages and Cultures, and in particular Nancy Peterson, Madeleine Henry, and Hyunyi Cho, head of English, head of Languages and Cultures, and Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Education, respectively.

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Three Reasons to Use Social Media in Hard Times (MLA 2011 Version)

It’s been so long since this year’s MLA ended that you might wonder why I’m going to the trouble of posting my second talk. Hasn’t the moment passed? Does anyone care about what I said two months ago, even if you weren’t there? And considering the arguments that I make in this talk about social media being faster than regular scholarly communication, isn’t there some irony in my taking so long to get this up? So it goes.

I have a ream of excuses (from snow to THATCamp Southeast) for why I’m a bit behind the curve on posting this talk. But the reason I’m finally getting to it today is the Day of Digital Humanities (AKA #dayofDH). As I wrote in my first post this morning on my Day of DH blog, the digital humanities is not only about Digging into Data and distant reading but is also about the digital distribution of humanities scholarship. Hence, a long delayed blog post.

As I mentioned when summarizing my MLA, this talk was part of the “New Tools, Hard Times” panel, where I spoke alongside Marc Bousquet, Rosemary FealMarilee Lindemann, and Chris NewfieldMeredith L. McGill moderated the session. Marilee organized the panel and was generous enough to invite me to play along. Marilee blogged her talk and Chris posted his reflections on the panel. And if you want to read the VERY lively tweetstream for the session, look at the hashtag archive for #newtools.

The one thing that I wish I had done differently with my talk is change the title. Writing for ProfHacker has taught me the value of a title that promises discrete numbers. Your audience knows as they’re going in exactly how many data points you’ll be giving them. What’s more, there’s a suggestion that these data points will be something discrete, something that they can apply and use in the future. Those are some of the reasons why I chose the title I did. But personally, I found the title too similar to the talk I gave in Trinidad last October. It’s more than a little, however, likely that no one else pays enough attention to what I’m doing to notice the parallels. I attribute the lack of creativity in titles to how late I was up re-working on the talk the night before I gave it. If I had it to do over again, I think I’d call it “The Glass Tower: Social Media in the Academy in Hard Times.” But then I’ve gone ahead and committed the terrible sin of the colon-ized academic title. Perhaps it’s well enough as it is.

What follows is the text that I used when presenting. In a few places I ad-libbed, but you’re getting the gist here. And I’ve included the images that accompanied the text (images precede the text). In rare cases, you’re missing part of the dynamism of the transitions, and you’ll just have to consider that a good reason to see me give my next talk in person.

Three Reasons to Use Social Media in Hard Times

Good afternoon. I’m glad to be present today. You may have heard that I was unaccountably absent from last year’s MLA. Of course, if you’ve heard that—or have even heard of me—it’s largely due to the confluence of two trends: hard times in the academy and social media.

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The hard times that the academy has been facing recently have been well documented, and unfortunately SUNY Albany is not so much a watershed as a disappointing continuation of a trend. While the number of positions advertised in the MLA’s Job Information List during the last academic year ended up being higher than Fall 2009 led us to believe [PDF], it remains true that most college classes are taught by people who are not on the tenure track. As Marc Bousquet has written about today’s job “market,” finishing one’s PhD is often the best way to make sure that one will never teach college again. My own difficulties with finding even an interview for a “proper” job is my dubious claim to fame and the reason I’m sharing a seat at this table with these more distinguished panelists.

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At the same time that the academy has been going through furloughs, hiring and pay freezes, and the erosion of public and private funding, we have been discovering social media. We, like everyone else, use social media for managing networks of friendships. But academics increasingly use social media, both in their research and teaching: for example, a recent Chronicle article cited a survey that suggests more than 30% of faculty are using Twitter.

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While this rise in social media is merely correlated with hard times in the academy, it’s still a relationship worth noting. My own, academic use of social media coincides neatly with my own hard times in the academy. I began blogging at the same time I began applying for jobs, in the fall of 2007; I started using Twitter shortly after returning from the 2007 MLA in Chicago; I built my own website in Spring 2008 and radically overhauled it as I was going on the job market for a third time in 2009.

As a whole, I believe many academics view social networking in the way the philologists probably viewed the new criticism: it’s new, it’s what younger scholars are doing, and, perhaps most damningly, it’s “not how things have been done.”

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All of this is true, to an extent, and the university is an institution that prides itself on continuity and tradition. But given the hard times in the academy, I’m skeptical that we can hope for continuity. For good or ill, the university is a-changin’. So with that, I’d like to quickly touch on three reasons why hard times call for us to use social media:

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It’s cheaper; it’s faster; and it’s more open.

It’s Cheaper

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Although we don’t have money to meet with each other as often as we may have had in the past, we can use social media to help us communicate with one another even if we can’t attend. My own experience shows that this can still be effective. Not only did my own paper for last year’s MLA go viral on a small scale, but I was able to participate in other sessions remotely as people tweeted about what they were hearing or blogged their conference talks. I could ask questions in real time and have them relayed to the speaker in the conference rooms.

This is not to say that we shouldn’t have support to attend conferences or to be engaged in professional development. Indeed, we must assert that participation in these venues is necessary to being scholars. But even when money is not such a pressing issue, there are always more events than time. Social media helps us be in multiple places at once.

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This is not to say that we shouldn’t have support to attend conferences or to be engaged in professional development. Indeed, we must assert that participation in these venues is necessary to being scholars. But even when money is not such a pressing issue, there are always more events than time. In the interest of time, however, I’ll just point you to Kathleen Fitzpatrick’s Planned Obsolescence.

It’s Faster

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Speaking of journals, social networks are much more efficient at disseminating information and scholarly work. This is something you intuitively know if you’ve ever had a journal fall behind on their publication schedule once they’ve accepted one of our articles.

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I had a great opportunity to observe a case study of the speed of social media this week in connection with the “Because” manifesto, which was written by a friend.

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On the morning of Tuesday, January 4th, the first tweet about the manifesto went out. (It happened to be from me.)

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Shortly after my first tweet is sent, people begin retweeting it. And some of them work for The Chronicle.

In retweeting, some people pull out excerpts that resonate with them.

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Others comment on what the message says.

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Some people offer suggestions for how the MLA could respond.

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Another response on Twitter is that people start talking about how the post is “making the rounds.” This naturally gets more people reading it and spreading the post further.

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Even AdjunctHulk weighs in.

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Not everyone is going to give Paraphernalian a free pass.

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And others don’t find that Paraphernalian speaks for his or her experience in the Academy.

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Eventually I realize that I have to include this brief history in my talk, which I had already written.

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And finally the post gets picked up by Inside Higher Ed. All of this in less than 24 hours.

Social media is fast enough to provide us and our work with a large audience—one that outstrips what we can normally expect from our publications. As Paraphernalian wrote to me privately, it’s “Weird that more ppl will read this than anything I wrote as an academic.”

It’s More Open

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Too often the justifications made by state legislatures to cut funding is that no one is really sure what academics do with their time and money. Social media, then, can help those outside the academy understand what we do in higher education.

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Suddenly the academy isn’t as shielded from the outside world. It’s no longer an ivory tower.

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We’ve become much more like a glass tower. Or as Dan Cohen puts it in his forthcoming book, we move from an ivory tower to an open web. Helping people see how hard professors work is part of helping the academy when we’re in hard times.

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Academics are not always especially good at sharing their work with other people. But I think that social media helps us get over that mistrust as we get to know each other better, through what Clive Thompson has called a “social sixth sense.” Social networks, in other words, help those of us inside the academy share our work and ideas, as well as our lives with one another.

Perhaps those who feel most disconnected from an academic community are the contingent labor among us. Even if you’re at a school that invests in you and cares about you, you might not have time to participate in your 9-to-5 academic community because you’re teaching too much or you’re on your way to the next school. The openness of social networks can allow the most disenfranchised among us to find community, then.

Perhaps my attitude about the importance of openness for the academy in hard times is cavalier, a function of my (relative) youth, inexperience, and lack of a tenure-track position. After all, it’s always important to be circumspect when communicating online. That being said, I have to admit that I’ve opted to be fairly open in my online interactions and that it’s had a salutary effect on my career. I’m speaking here now in large part because of it.

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As such, if I may propose some questions for discussion, I’d ask how us to consider how we can advise graduate students in effectively using social networks in an academy which appears to be permanently facing hard times. And secondly, to return to the subject of publishing, to what degree should academic freedom be extended not only to the area of one’s research but also the mode/method in which that research is conducted and presented?

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Dr. ProfHacker, or How I L3rn3d to St0p Worry1ng and <3 teh fail!!1! (MLA 2011 Version)

As you might have intuited from a previous post, I had the opportunity to attend the recent 2011 MLA Convention in Los Angeles. One of the panels that I spoke on was organized by Jason B. Jones and featured a trio of the ProfHacker team on the theme of “Hacking the Profession: Academic Self-Help in an Age of Crisis.” Here’s the description of session #48 from the official MLA program: “This roundtable discusses how we narrate our academic lives online, whether in blogs or on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, or in any other format. In particular, we are interested in how we talk about failure or, more gently, about the common problems that plague any academic life: the class that doesn’t quite work, the committee that’s driving us crazy, or the article that can’t quite find a home.”

To insure that we had plenty of time left for discussion, we decided to practice what we preach and give our talks in the Pecha Kucha format (AKA 20 slides at 20 seconds per slide). This was my first time giving a talk in this style, and I found it a very interesting exercise. Often I write my talks and only come to the images later, but I found that I had to work on both simultaneously since the slides would determine where I would be in the moment of my argument. I also discovered that in 20 seconds I can say at most 4 lines of 12-point Times New Roman text. I liked the whole approach well enough that I’ll definitely include a Pecha Kucha presentation the next time I teach.

What follows is the text that I cribbed from when presenting at the MLA. In a few places I ad-libbed, especially on the first slide. But you’re getting the gist here. And I’ve included the images that accompanied the text (images precede the text). Make sure you don’t miss Natalie M. Houston’s talk from the same session on “Happiness Hacking.”

Dr. ProfHacker, or How I L3rn3d to St0p Worry1ng and <3 teh fail!!1!

Title Slide Title, introduce myself.


Admit to this being my first time doing Pecha Kucha. A Genius

The problem of the academy, especially the humanities, is that we’ve been too easily waylaid by the ideal of the romantic genius. We think we need to be like the people we study. That we as scholars must be solo geniuses. And we believe that genius scholars never have problems…or failures.

Sign with poor spelling from Failblog

It doesn’t have to be this way. Failure is a common human experience. As little as academics seem like humans at times, then, we need to plan on having failures. And we shouldn’t consider it unusual or untoward. Some academics have become better than others at this.

test tubes

In a 2007 article in Wired, Thomas Goetz considered the problem of “dark data,” information that is abandoned since it doesn’t conform to hypotheses or doesn’t yield a dramatic enough outcome for a high-profile publication. Reporting on failures is valuable, writes Goetz, because “your dead end may be another scientist’s missing link, the elusive chunk of data they needed” (Goetz).

Journal of Negative Results in BioMedicine Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis

A possible solution to this problem is the Journal of Negative Results in Biomedicine, which, Goetz notes, “has offered a peer-reviewed home to results that go negative or against the grain” since 2002. Since that same year, the Journal of Articles in Support of the Null Hypothesis, reports on “experiments that do not reach the traditional significance levels…[t]hus, reducing the file drawer problem, and reducing the bias in psychological literature” (JASNH website).


These two journals play an important role for their particular fields by making “failure” public. Perhaps the idea of publishing unsuccessful research is not applicable to every field. But while we do not yet have a Failed Lacanian Interventions Quarterly, many academics are talking about failures in their professional lives as a whole. These discussions about research, teaching, and service take place on blogs, on wikis, and on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.

Banner for my class

The advantage of discussing our failures in public is that we can get help from other people. As an example, in Spring 2010 I taught a senior-level seminar. I’d taught the class once before and it had been really successful. Last January, I found myself in a classroom setting where I couldn’t get the students to talk to me. In a discussion-based class, it was obvious that I was failing.

Tweets about my class

My frustration with the situation resulted in my trying several different in-class activities. But at the same time, I wrote online about the difficulty of the experience that I was having. (You’ll notice from the tenor of these tweets that I was more caught up in the notion of my own genius rather than noticing that I was failing my class.)

a help sign

Meeting with the director of undergraduate studies and asking him for help was useful, but so too was the response I received from my network of colleagues who had had similar experiences in the past. In particular, Erin Templeton saw my plaint and wrote a ProfHacker post about how silence is golden…until it isn’t.

ProfHacker post

Erin’s post begins by recounting her own “failure” in getting a class to talk and what steps she took to both get her students talking and in coming to terms with what she could not change. Among other things, she suggested methods that she had learned from other academics public narratives. (You’ll notice a virtuous circle happening where one person narrates publicly and others get the benefit.)


ivory tower

I never did get that class talking as much as I had hoped to, but narrating my experiences and asking for help online—rather than staying locked in my ivory tower—improved not only the class’s interactions, but also my own abilities as a teacher. ProfHacker became, in a sense, a Journal of Negative Results.


At the risk of patting ourselves too much on the backs, however, I’d like to suggest that ProfHacker and the work of others like Tenured Radical, Dean Dad, Sisyphus, and many more expose a different sort of failure: the general failure of the academy to make plain many of its most regular practices, from mentoring to writing letters of recommendation.

Old compass on a map

Narrating our lives need not only be about personal failures, then, but a desire to correct the failures of the academy to make its customs navigable to those who are new. By discussing how the academy works—even when it isn’t working so well in its present circumstances of “hard times”—we provide opportunities to diversify who can be successful in the profession.

Three academic self-help books

There are increasing numbers of academic self-help books. Many of these are really useful, from Donald E. Hall to Kathryn Hume to The Chicago Guide to Your Academic Career. But these books are limited in being from only one point of view. The advantage of narrating your academic life publicly is that you can hear from a wide range of interlocutors.

Steven Johnson book cover; crossed picture of A Genius

It’s this wide range of interlocutors that makes a university interesting. Large groups of creative and interesting people working together are also what author Steven Johnson suggests is responsible for innovation. In other words, Johnson’s book argues against the model of the solitary genius, against the idea that one person can repeatedly create something ex nihilo.

DH Now.jpg

The advantage of narrating your life online, failures included, is that whether you are at a large research institution or not, you can participate in large group conversations that not only inform but also create, such as the real-time, crowdsourced publication Digital Humanities Now or the comment threads at ProfHacker.


An ivy covered college

Now, it might seem problematic to be narrating our personal and institutional failures when the academy is facing such hard times. After all, how can we expect state legislatures or individuals to continue funding our campuses if they are aware that we fail at times?

man with camera over his face

Contrary to expectations, however, I think that showing our failings might make us more sympathetic to those outside of academia. Instead of being the romantic geniuses in our ivory tower, we start to look a little bit human. And humans and human experience is what lies at the heart of the university.

Google Wave logo

In 2009, Google made a splash when it announced Wave. In 2010, Google made a splash when it announced that it was going to kill Wave. If you’d ever used Wave, this probably came as no surprise. I believe there’s a lesson that we can learn from Google, however. Admit our failures—including the academy’s—and do so quickly. Then talk about them.



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Five Reasons to Use Social Media in the Classroom

I’ve just returned from a few days at The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine (Trinidad). I was invited by the campus’s Instructional Development Unit (IDU) to deliver the keynote address at the presentation of their biennial UWI / Guardian Life “Premium” Teaching Awards. The theme that they asked me to speak on was “Teaching Excellence and Social Media,” something that I was excited to spend a few weeks thinking about more concretely than I have had the chance to recently since I am not currently teaching courses.

It was apparent that the theme struck a chord with many of the campus’s faculty. An afternoon conversation between myself, the Programme Coordinator (Dr. Anna-May Edwards-Henry), and thirty or so faculty members about the practicalities of using social media in the classroom and some of the assignments that I’ve designed was exciting and helped me refine some of my own ideas further. But it wasn’t just the university that was interested in the topic. We were also interviewed on television (watch us from 1:37:25 to 2:00:50) and radio; and these weren’t PBS stations: they were morning shows that are among the most viewed/listened to programs in the morning. Imagine if Good Morning America or Today cared enough to talk about social media — or even just education. (I’m not holding my breath for an invite.)

In the interest of continuing the conversation about social media and putting “theory” into practice, I wanted to post the talk and the accompanying Prezi here. (Prezi takes a lot of time to do well, in my opinion. But if your audience hasn’t seen a Prezi before, your time will be well repaid.) If you want to see how the presentation was linked to the talk, you can see a marked-up copy on Scribd.

“Five Reasons to Use Social Media in the Classroom.”



  • In an article titled “Fear and Trembling,” Ellen Nold discusses the difficulties of getting scholars to use the computer creatively in their teaching and research. In a statement that might just as well be directed towards social scientists or natural scientists, Nold suggests, “What is preventing humanists from using the computer…is merely their belief that they cannot use the machine. It is ironic that a group known to undertake calmly and surely the study of Latin, Greek, Russian, Chinese, Swahili, or Gaelic often balks at the much simpler task of learning the more logical, far less capricious language of the machine.”
  • Nold’s critique of fear and trembling on the part of scholars when faced with new technology is timely. It addresses some of what is at the crux of integrating social media into the classroom: nervousness and uncertainty on the part of the professoriate…which is interesting since the article appeared in 1975…and was discussing the use of the revolutionary, computational tool: the word processor.
  • Thirty-five years later, I’d be willing to guess that word processors have become second nature and indispensable to most of us. The only time “fear and trembling” might apply to the tool is when Microsoft radically overhauled the menu interface for Word 2007.
  • If we’ve become used to using the word processor, surely we can become used to using social media in the classroom
  • Of course, one difference between the two is that the word processor is something that professors adopted before students. In this case, the tables have been turned. We, perhaps, are the students when it comes to social media.
  • As such, we should perhaps briefly note what exactly social media is.

Definition of social media

  • When we think of social media, we tend to think of a few big players: Facebook, Twitter, perhaps MySpace, Friendster, Orkut
  • These social networks are certainly social media. But social networking is not the only type of social media.
  • When I talk about social media, I prefer a wider definition. (Something along the lines of the definition on the Wikipedia, itself a social medium)
  • Media are how we communicate with one another. Throughout the 20th century, we developed ever more pervasive and sophisticated broadcast/publishing media that could reach more and more people: radio, traditional book publishing, television, and eventually the Internet.
  • But access to these electronic and print media was expensive and centralized. Even the Internet was expensive and limited at first, despite all the utopian rhetoric associated with it.
  • With advances in technology in the 1990s and in the 2000s, the cost of participating in content creation fell. Suddenly, almost anyone could be involved in publishing or broadcast.
  • When almost anyone can be involved, the media landscape suddenly becomes more communal, more participatory, more social.
  • Social media supplements traditional media models. Podcasts occupy the same space as radio; blogs and wikis play along with traditional print publication; and YouTube takes over television.
  • In short, you might say that any time we get our students creating and responding to one another online that they are using social media.

Social Media In the Classroom

  • So that’s what social media is. As Howard Rheingold puts it, “The power of social media in education […] derives from their affordances for forms of communication and social behavior that were previously prohibitively difficult or expensive….”
  • Lowering the costs means that it’s easy for all of us to use social media in the classroom.
  • But just because it’s easy to use doesn’t mean that that use will necessarily be excellent. So how do we go about encouraging excellence in the classroom with social media?
  • As far as I’m concerned, the first step to being effective with social media is to ask yourself why you want to include social media in your classes.
    • What are you hoping to accomplish? What learning outcomes do you desire?
    • And you don’t just need to know why you’re using social media for yourself; you will need to make it clear to students why we are using social media in the classroom.
    • We owe it to them to clarify how a new assignment—something very different from what they’ve probably done before—will help them learn the course’s content better.

What, then, can social media add to the regular classroom dynamic or experience? Let me suggest five ways to think about these additions.

1. It gets the class knowing each other better, which improves the classroom dynamic.

  • I believe that getting people to know their classmates is an important thing that social media can do.
  • We all know that it’s easier to teach a class at the end of the term than in the beginning. After several 15 weeks, we know one another better. You know who they are and you know their personalities. You can get away with a slightly different pedagogy, and everyone has developed relationships that make it easier for them to talk to one another.
  • When used in the classroom, social media can do the impossible: speed up time. We move more quickly to those last weeks of the term where we know one another better and consequently reap the benefits of that increased contact with one another.
  • This happens when one uses Twitter or when students read each others’ blog posts.
  • Football fan
  • Faren’s story
    • In this moment, she explored the tool for its ability to shape our perceptions of her.
  • Discussions really did improve when using Twitter in the classroom.
  • People asking each other for help with assignments
    • They help each other because they have come to know each other better. Social media is, in other words, a gift economy.

2. It provides a different pathway for people to be talking to each other and to be participating.

  • As Monica Rankin (UT Dallas) wrote : “Most educators would agree that large classes set in […] auditorium-style classrooms limit teaching options to lecture, lecture, and more lecture.  And most educators would also agree that this is not the most effective way to teach.”
  • So another way that I’ve used Twitter in my classroom is as an in-class backchannel.
  • So what I do is I project the students’ tweets on a large projection screen like this. As I teach, the students are welcome to send messages from their phones or computers, and all of the messages end up behind me.
  • This proves helpful in a lecture-based course because in that format, students normally do not have the chance to engage with the teacher. The professor is simply talking at the front of the room.
  • Using Twitter in this way allows the students to talk to each other and also to me.
  • There’s always a backchannel. This just allows me to capture that backchannel and make it public, inviting the students to communicate with each other.
  • I can look at the screen and respond to questions and get immediate feedback on what I’m doing.
  • There’s the chance that the students will post sarcastic things about what I’m doing or some mistake that I’ve made, but that still indicates that they are engaged with class material.
  • In a smaller, discussion-based class it can also engage those who are less vocal.

3. It allows the conversation to continue easily outside the space and time of the classroom. It makes things asynchronous.

  • The asynchronous nature of social media means that you and your students can get to things when you have time for them or when you’ve had more time to consider. We all know students—again, the less vocal ones—who take longer than others to formulate what end up being very insightful comments. Social media in the classroom gives these students a different avenue and a different temporality for presenting these viewpoints.
  • It also gives the entire class a way to continue discussing the course material, whenever someone wants to. You no longer have to depend upon being in the same place at the same time to learn.
  • Digital office hours, accomplished via IM
  • Wikis
    • My favorite social media assignment uses a wiki.
    • A wiki is a tool that allows multiple people to edit a document and to track the changes made to it.
    • For each day of class, I assign a small group of students to write notes—a summary, key passages and terms—and publish them on the wiki.
    • Suddenly, group work is much less painful thanks to the technology. They don’t have to be in the same place at the same time.
  • The asynchronous approach has the final benefit of keeping my students thinking about my course material.

4. It provides students with transferable skills and toolsets that they will use after completing university.

  • How to write clearly and persuasively is perhaps the most important thing I teach students in my literature classes. So writing is good.
  • But if they also know how to write online? That’s better.
  • Writing online—blogs, tweets, wikis—is an important skill for this century. I want my students to have other abilities that will distinguish them when they meet with employers.
  • One of the ways I accomplish this goal of teaching new skills is through an interactive timeline assignment.
  • Timelines, Google Docs, and HTML
  • It’s not only particular tools or technologies that matter, it’s skills. Working in social media teaches the students how to collaborate on a team (wikis)—something that humanities classes in particular don’t teach by default—and how to behave in a networked environment.

5. The fifth (and last) reason to use social media in the classroom is that it opens the classroom to the world.

  • How often have you heard students ask, “Why does this matter?”
  • Because social media tends to be public, classes that use social media open themselves to participation from the wider world. From other students.
  • You can also bring guests into the classroom using Skype. These guests can include other scholars, authors, or maybe just native speakers of the language your students are learning.
  • Alternatively, assignments can ask students to engage with the wider world. Many of my friends who teach political science or film assign their students to write new entries for the Wikipedia. They contribute to the world’s wider knowledge and it’s suddenly clear why what they’re doing matters.
  • And because social media is open, it’s something we can capture. We generate our own record of what we’ve learned. This record can be of use to students in the future. It’s something that they can show to other people (parents?).
  • And in this sense, it opens the classroom and the learning experience to the larger world.


  • So there are five reasons to use social media in the classroom. Even with those reasons, you might still feel nervous about its inclusion.
  • But just remember…
  • We’re ALWAYS been social. We use a profoundly social space in our teaching—the classroom—, and being social is how we’ve always been excellent. It’s certainly a trait of those who are being honored this evening.
  • Just because we’re already social, however, doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try supplementing our classroom with something new, like social media. The reasons for using social media in the classroom are so overwhelmingly positive that it’s worth the experiment and the risk of becoming uncomfortable for a short period.
  • It is possible to have teaching excellence and social media in the same classroom.
  • We just have to be willing to become students again ourselves.
  • Thank you.

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