• 13Feb

    (I know I’ve been MIA. I have all kinds of ideas, but just haven’t had time to get them down. I’m not giving up, though!)

    Yesterday, ASU’s Center for Science and the Imagination organized an event with visiting author Cory Doctorow to discuss issues of hacktivism in light of Aaron Swartz’s recent suicide. I was honored to be invited to take part in the discussion. The full name of the event was “Hackers + Activism: Aaron Swartz, Anonymous, and the Ethics of Digital Community.” (The full video of the event is also available at that link if you’re interested in seeing it.)

    Before the panel, I jotted down some notes to myself, as I thought through the panel topic and had a few ideas about where the discussion might lead. Some of the points came up in our conversation (which was really a lot of fun), and some didn’t. I thought I’d post them here, as much for my own eventual future reference as to share. Who knows, maybe we can continue the conversation in this different context? I’d love to know how other people approach these issues.

    Hacking is a complex, contested term. In my understanding, it refers to a set of skills that can be used to circumvent boundaries or reframe, remix, re-elaborate systems or processes. This skill set–like, say, knowing how to hotwire a car–can be used for a variety of purposes, some more legal and/or ethical than others.

    Hacking culture is about creative disruption. It can be done purely “for the lulz,” for relatively harmless trolling; for criminal purposes, like theft or blackmail; or for the collective good. The latter would be what we typically refer to as “hacktivism.” In general, hacking culture is built around principles of freedom and flexibility. Many people are uncomfortable with anonymity, but want their own privacy. The issue is where to draw those boundaries. Who gets to have privacy, and who is required to be transparent?

    The problem, of course, is that “good” is also a relative term. Whose good? Who is the collective? And more importantly, what political, economic, and/or cultural power structures are being disrupted by the hacking? This is where things get sticky.

    We have institutions, like corporations and governments, which are embedded in larger legal and economic systems. These institutions and systems are pretty well entrenched and are built around order and restrictions of movement. This is the kind of power they rely on. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that: it’s good to know what the laws are, so you know if you’re breaking them, and to have some reasonable expectation that they’ll be applied consistently. We want to know that our currency will be accepted in exchange for goods and services.

    The problem is that these systems are wholly inadequate when it comes to addressing today’s knowledge and information environment. Institutions change slowly, and those who have benefited from the status quo aren’t very eager to give up their power and economic interests. So, creative disruption can be a force for change. Legal systems don’t much like change, as a rule, and so often become even more rigid as a result–like a hedgehog.

    Last week, in my social media class, I had students look up the Terms of Service of some of their favorite social media sites. Many of them were appalled when they saw what they’d agreed to when joining these sites. What rights they’d given up, in some cases, and even more often by what rights the sites took for themselves. These terms are usually written using very broad language by lawyers who want to leave their clients plenty of leeway for future technological advances and… commercial opportunities. In the case of Aaron Swartz (and others who’ve been prosecuted based on the CFAA, or Computer Fraud & Abuse Act) these TOS agreements have been treated less as private contracts and more like actual laws, with much more severe penalties.

    They say that history is written by the victors. Recently you’ve probably all heard the story about the scientists who unearthed the bones of England’s Richard III, who has a pretty terrible reputation as a monarch. But there’s long been evidence that he was beloved by many of his subjects, and he instituted some important reforms, like actually taking away taxes after they’d raised sufficient funds for wars, or trying to make the legal system more equitable. The Tudors, anxious for the throne, had a vested interest in ensuring that Richard and the Plantagenets went down in history as terrible leaders, the better to reinforce their own “obvious” superiority as leaders of the populace.

    Everyone wants to be the voice of history. Hacktivists, I think, see themselves as having a moral duty to use their specialized knowledge and skills to prevent those with economic and political power from being the ultimate victors. Meanwhile, the powerful have both the interest and the means to depict these creative disruptors as threats to security, to privacy, to society. And using ambiguous language (like the term “hacker,” as far as the general public is concerned) is a big part of how they do it. And when the war of language and public opinion isn’t enough, they can unleash their institutional power to crush those who pose a real threat to the system.

    This, it seems, is where Aaron Swartz ran into trouble. He was too creatively disruptive for his own good. A lot of people see him as a hero for the work he did against SOPA, but he made a lot of powerful enemies in the process (as well as with the PACER incident, even before JSTOR).

    In a lot of ways, unfortunately, his situation proved his larger point: freedom of information and knowledge is the only way to empower citizens to fight against actors and institutions who seek to limit their access, and it’s the one thing those actors and institutions really fear.

    At the same time, information as power means that, if knowledge is freely available, power will also fall into the hands of people with nefarious goals. Of course, there are certainly malicious hackers, and sociopathic trolls who don’t care who they harm or what damage they leave in the wake of their lulz. This can make it even harder to figure out who the good guys are. And even good guys can make mistakes, or push too far.

    The only defense we have is to become knowledgeable about the subject, which in turn leads to responsibility. This includes the responsibility of demanding that our lawmakers and law enforcers understand the online environment. It’s easy to feel as though these are topics far away from us, personally, that we don’t really have an individual stake in them, especially for those of us who aren’t technologically inclined. But we who are privileged enough to be educated and who work in media-related careers should understand clearly that our current laws actively prevent much of our collective knowledge from being shared with the public, and there are immense pressures on legislators to restrict access even more. I think that being a hacktivist, or even just a regular activist, is an ethical imperative for those who really understand the issues at stake. If we create a caste system of access to knowledge–or harden the existing barriers even further–then we’ll just increase the divide between haves and have-nots in terms of political, economic, and cultural power.

    I also started to write some thoughts about the world of academic publishing, in case we went down that road, but since those aren’t written in complete sentences (and we didn’t address the topic in the panel discussion) I’m going to leave those out for now. It’s definitely a related subject, though, insofar as it’s another case of entrenched knowledge systems in which many actors have vested economic and cultural stakes, which finds itself at odds with a fast-changing world of rapid reorganization and an increasing demand for open access to knowledge.



  • 27Aug
    Categories: teaching Comments: 0

    A few weeks ago I mentioned that I’d signed up for a Coursera class on gamification. As a result, I’ll probably be sharing a lot of thoughts and comments on the topics of both gamification and MOOC education over the coming weeks.

    The class just started today, and I’ve peeked at a few of the assigned readings and other materials.

    I think this is going to be an enlightening, thought provoking course. The basic notions of gamification aren’t new to me; I’ve been teaching them for a couple of years, and been interested in apps like FourSquare since they first appeared on the scene. But I’m taking this course in recognition of the fact that, a) there’s still a lot I have to learn about the topic, and b) my feelings about gamification are deeply ambivalent.

    I’ve argued both sides of the coin in class, because that’s kind of my job, to get students to think about subjects in ways that feel “weird” or “wrong” to them, entertain different perspectives, and make more informed decisions. Personally, I enjoy FourSquare, although I quit caring about badges and mayorships a while ago. At the same time, I do often pay attention to where I am on the leaderboard of my FourSquare friends, and get annoyed when I realize I’ve forgotten to check into places. Needless wasting of points somehow feels like wasted opportunity. (For what? I couldn’t really say. Some small measure of abstract satisfaction, I guess.)

    But that’s a single app. I confess I haven’t given a whole lot of thought to what a fully “gamified” life might look like. One assigned video forced me into that space, and… I did not like it one bit.

    Sure, it’s nice (I guess) to think that we might leave some kind of legacy of books read, or keep track of our accomplishments and those of our loved ones. There’s a lot of crossover between gamification and personal informatics (also known as the Quantified Self movement), which I find both appealing and a bit scary. I say this as someone who has used the Nike+ running app with great satisfaction (although I ditched it without hesitation for as long as it took me to finish Zombies, Run!)*, is an avid user of Fitocracy and MyFitnessPal, has played around with Epic Win and other personal record keeping/motivational sites and apps. So it’s not as though I’m opposed to gamification, at all, including some of the corporate-sponsored variety.  I’ve even toyed with the idea of developing a points/badge system for classes. I still might.

    But… but… but… the ever deeper penetration of advertising into our daily lives and habits and identities is profoundly disturbing to me.  I’m still working through my thoughts and feelings on this issue. Somehow, I didn’t quite realize that this class was going to force me to confront my biases and closely consider my worldview, but honestly, the fact that it has already done so on the first day tells me that it’s a worthwhile use of my time.

    I’m always telling students that real learning and growth only take place when one steps outside one’s comfort zone. For some reason, though, when it comes to myself, it’s a message I have to be reminded of over and over again. It’s a good lesson in humility, and helps me be more patient with my students, who don’t have nearly as much experience with the benefits of facing their fears or doubts or entrenched convictions head-first as I do. Even I have to wage some internal battles to stay open to new ideas and consider uncomfortable perspectives. A good thing to remember at the start of a new semester, especially.

    Time for some productive discomfort. Bring it on. Maybe I’ll earn a badge for it, in the end.

    *Heh, and as I work my way through the video lectures, the instructor uses Zombies, Run! as an example. He’s a lot more dispassionate than I would be about it, though, since it is absolutely my very favorite mobile app, ever, and a great example of gamification beyond badges and points.

  • 15Aug
    Categories: Conferences Comments: 0

    Last week was the annual AEJMC (Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication) conference, which was held this year in Chicago to celebrate the association’s 100th anniversary. I love going to conferences: they’re so intellectually stimulating, offering the chance to learn about cutting-edge research long before it’s published, and to discuss the work directly with the researchers. They’re also a great opportunity to catch up with old friends, network with other scholars in the discipline, meet the up-and-coming graduate students who will soon be your peers, and—if you’re lucky—spend a little time exploring a new city. AEJMC was all of those things for me this year.

    I didn’t get to venture into Chicago as much as I would’ve liked. I’ve been there before, but it’s such a great city there’s always more to discover and revisit. I did manage to make it out to the IO theatre and see a performance by the legendary TJ & Dave, an experience I highly recommend. Friends who got into town the night before got to see several performers audition for Saturday Night Live, in the grand tradition of Chicago improv and sketch comedy. Next time, I’ll try to add an extra day to my own travel plans to take in more shows.

    The trip wasn’t without its setbacks. After my first full day there, I completely lost my voice. As you can imagine, this made it rather… challenging to interview candidates for our two tenure-track online media positions. Trying to restore my voice by resting it, I ended up missing the last few interviews we had scheduled, as well as a planned evening out with my grad school friends, some of whom I hadn’t seen in years. I pick my friends well, though: they had sushi and miso soup brought to me in my hotel room. Isn’t that touching? And it clearly helped, since I was able to croak my way through my research presentation with Nina KL Miller late Saturday afternoon. (I’ll be talking about this project more in the future.)

    Despite the untimely attack of laryngitis, I was able to attend some paper sessions and participate in conference life to some degree. I was part of a panel organized by David Mindich (who received the AEJMC Presidential award at the business meeting Saturday morning), on Digital Overload and Digital Fasting. We discussed the difficulty of balancing our need to stay connected with our need to recharge and reflect. Collectively we reflected on agency, boundaries, and identity as they relate to our use of social media. This was not a panel of pat answers; these are tensions that we are all struggling with to varying degrees, still figuring out how to productively incorporate these technologies and the firehose of information into our daily lives, and how to set limits. For example, thanks to Jennifer Rauch of Long Island University, I learned about the “Slow Media” movement (similar in concept to Slow Food), which advocates placing careful limits on one’s media consumption to better savor the benefits.

    My own contribution focused on the tension between individual agency and hard economic realities for those who work in social media production, or whose profession relies to a significant degree on the 24-hour information cycle. But that’s a blog post for another day. In any case, I thought it was an interesting and productive discussion—it’s always a good sign when the panel seems to be over too quickly, and there’s so much more to be said.

    A highlight of AEJMC for me was getting to see my dear friend Sue Robinson, recently tenured at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, receive the prestigious Hillier Krieghbaum award for outstanding scholar under 40. Her work exploring the shifting world of journalism as it adapts to technological change has been strongly influential in her field. She is a brilliant researcher and a terrific person, so I can’t imagine a more deserving award recipient. That alone would have been worth the trip to Chicago.

    During my time at AEJMC, I heard colleagues present papers on corporate social responsibility, nonprofit relationship building, the importance of voice in social media, the state of current thinking about image and reputation, how practitioners manage life-work balance, the role of journalists in crisis communication, and many other topics. I had conversations with professors from all over the country about teaching, research, the challenges faced by higher education, and how lucky we are to be able to grapple with these important subjects every day. I love coming away from a conference full of stimulating ideas for my own work. Considering that the semester starts next week, it’s excellent timing!

  • 21Jul

    I mentioned the other day on Google+ that I’d signed up for a class on gamification at Coursera.  I had two reasons: first and foremost, I include a section on gamification in my social media class, and it’s very popular. (It’s also one of my favorite topics to cover–badges and leader boards, what’s not to like, right?) I welcome the opportunity to take a six-week course focusing on the subject, taught by an expert, for free. The more I know and understand about the subject, the better I’ll be able to serve my students.

    Also, I’m curious about this burgeoning world of Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs, a rather unfortunate acronym). One of my tasks this fall is to rework the social media class for delivery as an online class, and even though the format is quite different (not to mention the smaller class size–I hope!), I want to see what the experience is like nowadays. I’m hoping to learn a few pedagogical tricks that will help me do my job more effectively.

    Well, it looks as though I signed up for that class just in time for the requisite periodic debate about online education in the Chronicle.

    There are some viable points raised, in both the article and the comments, about assessment and scalability, as well as the need to exercise caution about using technology simply for the sake of novelty. And I agree that it’s worrisome that many institutions seem to be both rushing and flailing their way into online curricula, terrified they’ll miss the train, unsure of whether it will take them where they need to go, and with no idea how to finance the trip (or pay the conductor).

    Okay, enough with the train metaphor.

    But a lot of the discussion surrounding online education typically seems to be driven by knee-jerk reactions against perceived failings that don’t always reflect an understanding of reality. Some people assume that all online or other distance learning is inherently inferior to what takes place in a traditional classroom. The Internet becomes a specter representing the imminent demise of public education, a bogeyman of bits and bytes.

    Death, wielding its scythe on traditional higher ed

    Death image by Mirari Erdoiza

    Data point: I earned my master’s degree online. I was living in Italy, and the only options for an advanced degree in public relations/media were in the United States. I couldn’t relocate, since among other things I had my own business, and for the same reason couldn’t afford lengthy on-site residency sessions that some of the hybrid programs (such as Syracuse) offered at the time. The University of Memphis had one of the first fully-online programs [PDF] in the field, so that’s what I chose.

    We had synchronous classes, scheduled according to the US Central time zone of the university, which meant that I would attend three-hour seminars from, say, 1-4 or 2-5 am my time. Which is why it took me four years rather than the recommended two to complete the degree. Meanwhile, I was running my own business and contracting out as a partner to a local PR agency. To say I was busy would be putting it mildly, but I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

    Was it worth it? Absolutely. Not all of the instructors were adept at the synchronous online model — remember, this was more than a decade ago — (yikes!), so there was some variety in the level of effectiveness. (One in particular tried to take classroom lectures and deliver them in the chatroom-style format we used. I can tell you there is nothing more mind-numbing than sitting in front of a computer at 2 am, watching a 40-minute lecture appear on your screen, line by line, at 1- to 2-minute intervals.) But I find that’s true of all kinds of classes. Most of the professors I had at UMemphis understood the need for what we now call a “flipped classroom” in that setting, and we had some truly excellent discussions of the material with classmates from all over the world.

    I have never had any reason to doubt the quality of the education I received through that program. As far as I’m concerned I attended an AEJMC-accredited program at a respected university. The online platform was just a different mode of delivery. (An often buggy and unreliable mode of delivery at the time, too, but we rolled with the virtual punches.) I certainly didn’t feel underprepared compared to the other members of my PhD cohort who had attended traditional master’s programs, and my master’s thesis became the foundation for the book I later wrote with Priscilla Murphy.

    Like any other form of education, you get out what you put into it, and I put a lot into it. I’m satisfied. I’m sure many others can say the same.

    Things have come a long way since then, technologically. This advancement has opened up terrific new opportunities to offer high quality educational modules at low cost to a vast number of people. As someone all in favor of more education for everyone, however they can get it, I think this is a great thing. Meanwhile, we also now have well known for-profit institutions that are often conflated with online education in the collective imagination. The lack of accreditation of many of these institutions, and the controversial consumer model that many feel undermines the integrity of traditional higher education, raises doubts in many people’s minds about the value of online courses. Combined with the aching budgets of most public university systems, it’s no wonder people are suspicious that these new programs are just the big box stores of higher ed, designed to deliver the minimum value deemed acceptable by the largest number of consumers for the highest possible profit margin.

    I don’t think online classes are a panacea. For example, I think online PhDs are a terrible idea, because a large part of a doctoral education has to do with socialization into the academic profession through research and teaching assistantships and immersion in the environment. There are also clearly some subjects, such as those requiring a laboratory component, that don’t transfer well to the online format. And as I mentioned above, there are many legitimate hurdles to be dealt with regarding assessment and scale that still need to be worked out. From a faculty perspective, since (so far) these courses are designed and offered separately from the regular campus curriculum, I wonder how universities and/or the MOOC providers are handling compensation, and what sort of recognition (if any) participating faculty gain as a result of providing these courses on behalf of the institution.

    These are all matters that need to be worked out before everyone rushes out to embraceIn any case, I’m keeping an open mind, and looking forward to learning a lot about gamification in a few weeks.

  • 15Jul
    Categories: Conferences Comments: 0

    Last week, I had the honor of delivering a keynote address at the American Marketing Association Nonprofit Marketing Conference in Washington, DC. My topic was crisis communication, and as a focal example for my talk I used the incident earlier this year with the Susan G. Komen Foundation and Planned Parenthood.

    Reputational crises are especially insidious for nonprofits, especially in a time when many people are hard-pressed to scrounge up discretionary cash for charitable giving. Not only is a nonprofit organization wholly dependent on its reputation when appealing to supporters, but those who donate typically do so because of some deeply held values they believe are reflected in the organization. When you play a role in someone’s construction of self, you are particularly vulnerable when something happens that changes their perception of you. And when you are as large and encompassing as the Komen Foundation, with such a capillary structure, any highly visible policy change is likely to displease some number of stakeholders.

    In Komen’s case, the way they handled the media storm provoked when Associated Press first announced the decision on January 31st—no initial response, a couple of brief press releases simply stating that the decision was not politically motivated, as many claimed, and then a reversal of the decision (followed shortly by the resignation of their chief policy officer) a mere three days later—served to alienate stakeholders on all sides of the issue, and inadvertently gave weight to their detractors’ claims.

    Zombie photo by Rodolpho Reis on Flickr

    I mentioned in my talk that high-profile crises are like zombies: they never really die, but once they’re “over” they continue to lurk around the Internet and the mainstream media in an undead state. Search culture ensures that coverage of the crisis will remain just a Google away, influencing perceptions of the organization indefinitely. What’s more, whenever the organization finds itself at the center of another controversy, or a situation arises that shares some points of comparison, they are resuscitated in sidebars and backgrounders, moving into the public conversation once more.

    In the shorter term, the Foundation appears to be suffering some lingering negative effects from the crisis, nearly six months later. Participation in the Race for the Cure is down by as much as 30% in many areas. In March, The Daily Beast reported that the organization was forced to cancel its annual National Lobby Day, a major event that brought activists and survivors to Washington to advocate for stronger national programs to support breast cancer education, prevention, and treatment.

    Komen affiliates are working hard to reassure their local supporters that funds raised remain in the area and are not sent to the Foundation’s main headquarters. Many of these affiliates are struggling to continue to provide services, caught as they are between diminishing grant funds at the national level and hesitant local donors.

    In my address to the AMA nonprofits, I emphasized the importance of taking a big-picture view when planning communication strategy. Komen appeared to have been caught off guard by the firestorm, which is surprising. I suspect the Foundation was lulled into complacency when there was no immediate reaction to their decision in late 2011. Even so, had they been paying attention to the larger cultural context, they might have been prepared for controversy and developed appropriate communication strategies. A few key trends that probably influenced public reactions to the decision:

    • the fact that the US is in the middle of a highly polarized presidential campaign season, so that people are more prone than usual to look for and ascribe partisan political motives to actions that run counter to their beliefs;
    • the fact that healthcare issues are at the forefront of public discourse and debate, in particular questions of access by less privileged segments of the population to preventive care;
    • the ongoing economic recession, which has heightened tensions regarding the aforementioned access to healthcare, as well as contributed to a sense of “class warfare” in the United States and elsewhere (evidenced by, among other things, the Occupy movement);
    • media discourse alternately condemning and denying the existence of a politically motivated “war on women”;
    • growing backlash against the “pink movement” and accusations of “pinkwashing,” leading to a sense of  fatigue and increasingly public criticism of the breast cancer movement in some quarters.

    Crises don’t happen in a vacuum. It’s easy for organizations to get caught up in a narrow view of their own goals and objectives, but forgetting the broader landscape can lead to serious consequences. All of these factors should have been taken into consideration by Komen when strategizing about how to communicate their decision to the public. Which, actually, they never did—the left the news to be “uncovered” by the media, without taking the opportunity to clearly explain to stakeholders why the decision was made and how it fit into the nonprofit’s larger mission. This oversight suggests that the Foundation’s leadership didn’t expect a controversial reaction to their change in policy, a position that seems surprisingly naive for such a sophisticated organization.

    I love working with nonprofit organizations in general, and I think crisis communication is an area particularly ripe for discussion. Based on the great conversations I had with attendees during and after my session, it seems a lot of people working in nonprofits agree. Aside from my own contribution to the proceedings, I thought the AMA Nonprofit Marketing Conference was a terrific event, and wish I’d been able to attend more of the sessions. Talking to professionals in the field serves as a good reminder that academic research in applied communication has potentially important practical ramifications, and motivates me to seek out more opportunities for collaboration.

  • 29Jun

    One of my goals this year is to revive this blog (and the larger web site). So I’m here dusting off the furniture, blowing away the cobwebs, opening all the windows to air the place out.

    The biggest challenges of blogging as an academic, for me, are
    a) finding the time, and
    b) deciding what to write about.

    The problem with a) is that there’s not enough of the main resource (time), and the problem with b) is that there’s an overabundance: so many possibilities, but so little… well, see a). Add in the tricky question of how much I can say about my research without jeopardizing my chances of publication, and it can all get a bit overwhelming. Commence cobweb formation and dust accumulation.

    But I enjoy writing, and I enjoy discussing my work, engaging in conversations with other academics, practitioners, students, and anyone else who might feel so inclined. Especially during the summer, when the job can get a bit isolating. I also may not limit myself strictly to work-related topics, because I think anyone who works in media, in particular, needs to cast a wide net and be engaged in lots of different kinds of interactions and activities (including time alone to just think about stuff). So I make no specific promises about what I’ll be writing, here, only that I will be writing on a fairly regular basis. I’m aiming for at least two or three posts a week.

    I’m looking forward to getting back into the blogging habit, and community. Stay tuned.

  • 04May
    Categories: media Comments: 0

    Last Friday I had the opportunity to talk to Steve Goldstein at our local NPR station, KJZZ, about the role of social media in shaping public opinion and activism surrounding Arizona’s controversial new immigration law, SB1070.  The segment was shorter than originally planned, due to breaking news about the boycotts organized against Arizona and Arizona-based businesses, but I had a good time.

    (In case the embedded audio doesn’t work, here’s the link to the Here and Now show with Steve Goldstein.)

    I used several different tools to research social media activity for the segment, although we didn’t get to discuss the results of most of them. The Twitter Positioning System (TPS), for example, showed me that discussion of the bill was taking place all over the country, although it was naturally much more concentrated in the southwest and Arizona in particular. SocialMention, which looks at a vast range of both textual and visual social media channels, showed me that there was a core group of passionate people discussing the bill by name, whereas the general topic of “Arizona immigration” was something far more people were interested in–although most only to the point of commenting on it in passing. Viral Heat, a (fairly inexpensive) paid service, breaks down online discussions by source: Twitter, not surprisingly, proved to be the liveliest font of conversation about the issue, followed by Facebook and YouTube. When the last caller asked about YouTube, I was disappointed that the lost Internet connection prevented me from clicking through on Viral Heat to identify the top users posting videos on the subject.

    Technology is wonderful, but sometimes unreliable. And none of these tracking sources is infallible: the sentiment ratings on Social Mention, for example, need to be taken with a grain of salt, since no software can detect sarcasm. But we do have access now to vast stores of information about at least a segment of public discourse, as well as many tools that can give us a rapid general analysis. While they’re no substitute for more rigorous research, they’re fun to play with and can give us a useful starting point for discussion, in ways that would have been unimaginable even a few short years ago.

  • 24Mar

    Yes, that’s a buzzword-y title. (Also: uh, hi. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy.) It’s the official name of a course I’m offering this Fall, on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University. Unlike my classes at the Cronkite School, it’s open to all majors. It’s also capped at 129 students, so there’s plenty of room.

    In the course catalogue, the description reads simply, “Covers topics of immediate or special interest to a faculty member and students,” which doesn’t really say much. So I thought I’d post some more details about what I have planned. Not a syllabus (yet), just a statement of intent, so to speak. If you’re an ASU student looking for an elective, think about MCO494! I’m very excited to have the opportunity to really explore the world of social media from a variety of perspectives.

    The short and snappy description, if you’re in a hurry, is this:

    This class will explore and critically analyze the social, cultural, legal, ethical, economic, and technological dimensions of social media tools from Facebook to FourSquare, Twitter to Flickr, and beyond.

    More detail after the cut.
    Read more »

  • 02Mar
    Categories: teaching Comments: 0

    Today I gave a brownbag talk about using social media in the classroom. I focused not on why people might use these tools for teaching, but on the how, since I think having a good understanding of the latter can help answer the former. And I have no ambitions of being a social media evangelist–there are plenty of situations in which other tools are not only available, but do the job better.

    Of course, in the case of teaching in journalism, public relations, mass communication, and related fields, sometimes part of the purpose is to make students aware of what tools are out there, and give them some practice using these tools in appropriate ways. In this case, instructors sometimes find themselves working outside their comfort zone, since they may not be familiar or entirely comfortable with (or convinced of the utility of) certain forms of social media. Even though I’ve spent lots of time online in the past *cough* years (okay, fine, let’s just say more than a decade), I still don’t know everything that’s out there, and I have my personal preferences.

    My presentations don’t lend themselves well to Slideshare, since I use very little text and prefer to fill in most of the content orally. So it’s difficult for me to share everything I discussed. However, I’m happy to post the contents of the handout I gave, which has some sites and resources about social media in general, a few specific to journalism or public relations, and a couple specific to educators. Hopefully there’s something useful in here, anyway. I’ve also tossed in a few sites I mentioned or showed in the presentation but didn’t include in the handout.

    Note: I do talk a little about directionality as one of the criteria for assessing a social media tool, and deciding whether and how to use it. The terms I use are familiar to most public relations scholars, but might seem strange to others. In particular, people often struggle with the difference between two-way symmetrical and two-way asymmetrical modes of communication. In brief, asymmetrical communication takes place when people can give feedback, for example in the form of comments on a photo or blog post, but it’s difficult to engage in real back-and-forth dialogue. Blogs that offer threaded comments make symmetrical communication more likely, although what really takes place depends entirely on the people involved. I think one-way and multi-way communication are pretty self-explanatory.

    So, here’s the list of resources:

    Read more »

  • 20Jan
    Categories: teaching Comments: 2

    Today is the first day of class, so I’ll be meeting a whole new crop of students. Some of them will probably be a little nervous, either because they are naturally overachievers and are always nervous about new classes, or maybe they’ve heard rumors about what a tough class this is. (Maybe they’re even nervous because they’ve heard rumors about me, but I neither confirm nor deny any of those.)

    I make no secret, starting on the first day, about the demands they’ll be facing in this course. It’s their senior capstone, so it’s supposed to be challenging. Bringing together knowledge and skills in an applied project, working with a group, learning to analyze cases and think about theory and practice, meeting regularly with clients, trying to come up with proposals that are both creative and viable, managing client expectations, keeping up with the reading, maintaining the class blog… it’s a lot to handle. Especially when you factor in their other classes and, for many of the students, jobs and internships, maybe even family demands. Plus the fact that most are in their final semester, busy applying for jobs or grad school or trying to figure out what to do when they suddenly find themselves college graduates in May.

    One way I try to help them understand why the course is designed this way, and how it is intended to help prepare them for their professional careers (and frame it in a much less frightening way than I did in the paragraph above) is to compare it to another PR: Project Runway. I’m not (too) ashamed to admit my love for this show, and I think it has a lot to teach anyone who hopes to work in a field that combines the creative and the practical. To wit:

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