Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nov. 29th #SMCEDU Chat: Horizon Report Preview & How to Keep up With it All

Cross-posted to:

Earlier this month the New Media Consortium posted a preview of the 2011 Horizon Report to its website (each year, the Horizon Report identifies a number of emerging technologies expected to change the way we learn and teach). As I skimmed through the 2011 Horizon Report Preview, I couldn’t shake the uneasy feeling that I don’t know enough about technologies such as Augmented Reality, Game-Based Learning, Gesture-Based Computing, and Learning Analytics. I kept thinking that while educators were busy discussing blogging, microblogging and social networking technologies, the tech industry had already moved on to new projects, leaving us academics scrambling to make sense of yet the latest round of developments. And I also felt pressure – pressure to catch up, learn more, and start experimenting with these new technologies.

Most of us know first hand that keeping up with the latest technologies can sometimes feel like a full time job in an on itself. As a social media professor and researcher, I am in a privileged position in that I get to roll that work into my normal work schedule. It is part of my job to stay abreast of these developments. Not every educator gets to do that though. If we are striving for true social media integration across the curriculum, we are asking educators from all kinds of disciplines to become immersed enough in these technologies to figure out their pedagogical uses. Is that a realistic expectation given their teaching, service and research workloads?

  • Can we really expect educators who don’t study and teach technology as a content area to keep up with all this?
  • If so, how would we do it?
  • Is the amount of work involved in staying abreast of the latest developments in the social media world too much for educators who may be overextending themselves already?
  • What are your strategies for balancing the workload and keeping up with all this without letting it take over your real life?

What do you think? Join the #smcedu chat this Monday, November 29th at 12:30 ET and share your views on this topic with the SMCEDU community!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Going beyond the static slide: Creating engaging animations in Apple Keynote

There's no question that slideshows have matured over the course of the past few years and that we are finally seeing a trend away from simple bullet point design. As I was looking over this collection of 28 creative PowerPoint and Keynote presentations, one thing stood out: most of them rely on static images and text. While I do believe that good layout and design principles can imbue a sense of dynamism to a slide, I don't think that most of us are taking full advantage of all the features slide design packages such as PowerPoint and Keynote offer.

To illustrate the extent to which a program such as Apple Keynote can be used as an animation tool, I have included a slide from my colleague and husband, Shannan Butler's, Interactive Media: Design and Production class. The slide introduces the history of the print media through the concept of a media time machine. The video below is a screen capture of two slides created entirely in Apple Keynote. The first slide contains 81 builds and the second one 64.

I think these two slides nicely illustrate what Keynote is capable of when used to its fullest potential. Here's a screenshot of the builds contained in the first slide:
click picture to enlarge

And here's what the second slide looks like:

So the entire content of the video you just watched is contained as builds in these two slides. In order to do this, you first need a frame -- in this case, the media time machine. That frame basically acts like a canvas and looks like this:

Notice all the red diamonds? Those are action builds. In this case, they make the needle on the clock and the years move forward, and they also spin the gears. These animations alone might fall flat without the addition of a few space-age gizmo sound effects. Although I don't usually endorse sound effects, I think that in this case, they work and might even be necessary in order to make the concept of the time machine more visceral.

So where does the actual slide content go? The content for each of the slides was joined together into a single horizontal strip and animated as an action move. As you can imagine, the workspace gets a bit cluttered after a while -- hence the need to split the content into two separate slides. You can see the line-up of the action moves below:

click picture to enlarge

Shannan's intent here was to make a potentially dull and dry topic come to life through the use of dynamic slides. Of course, this type of slideshow takes a lot more time and patience to design and construct than a simple static presentation. But isn't this more fun?

Friday, August 27, 2010

Incorporating Personal Learning Networks into Course Projects

Last semester I introduced a brand new project into my social media class which I've been meaning to report on for a while now. I decided to set 25% of the final grade aside for an assignment the students were allowed to design themselves (the project is described in detail here). The idea was to help students develop independent learning skills by teaching them how to use social media tools to create a personal learning network (PLN) capable of supporting their project goals. Students were able to tailor the assignment to their own learning needs by:

  • identifying an area of social media or PR they wanted to learn more about
  • outlining a plan of study, and 
  • deciding on appropriate learning deliverables to demonstrate their mastery of the material.

The projects the students created ranged from doing PR work for real-world clients to designing their own digital portfolios and social media resumes. The nice thing about this assignment was that as an educator, I got to see and evaluate not only the final product, but also the process the students went through to produce these final products. Below is a Prezi one of my students created to introduce her PLN. I love this Prezi because one look at it told me that this student really 'got' the idea of a PLN -- she really was able to identify experts capable of informing her particular project needs.

To be fair, students' initial reaction to the project may not have been one of absolute enthusiasm... I think the idea of independent learning and PLNs may be so different from the standard academic fare, that it was met with a bit of resistance at first. When I asked my Twitter network to tell me what they got out of their PLN, one of my students responded:

Let's hope that this epiphany hit the student before filling out the end of semester evals :)

So, would I do this project again? You betcha! I'm absolutely convinced that one of the most important skills we can teach our students is to become independent learners. Social media technologies have given us the opportunity to connect to experts all over the world -- all we need to do now is show students how to put these technologies to use in their own learning. It's not just students though that stand to gain from this. PLNs also provide powerful professional development tools for academics. Below is a presentation my colleague and I gave last week to our faculty in order to encourage them to develop their own PLN.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

SXSWi 2011 Panel on the Social Media Fast Project

Okay, a little bit of self-promotion here: The 2011 SXSW PanelPicker just went live and I would love it if you would vote for my panel. For more information on the nature of the panel, also check out the project blog I've created. Thanks for your support!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Looking for clients for my "PR for Nonprofits" class!

I'll be teaching "Public Relations for Nonprofit Organizations" this fall and am looking for two nonprofit organizations in the Austin area that would be interested in working with my students during the fall semester! This class is a service-learning course which allows students to gain valuable hands-on PR experience while simultaneously helping out a local nonprofit.

As part of the class, students will take on a local nonprofit as a client and provide PR counsel to that organization. Students will meet with representatives from the nonprofit to find out more about the organization and to identify a PR problem or opportunity (this could be any PR related issue such as increasing awareness among a particular public about what your organization does; attracting more volunteers, etc.). Based on their interactions with the client and on research conducted by the students, they then develop a comprehensive plan for a PR campaign which states their goals and objectives for the campaign, identifies key publics and messages, and describes the best strategies and tactics to reach their stated goal(s). At the end of the semester, students present their campaign proposal to the class and the client.

If you are interested in working with our class on this exciting project, or if you know of a nonprofit organization that could use our services, please contact me. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!

For further info on the class, I have attached the syllabus:

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Going on a social media fast

(Post crostposted to: A little bit of background on this project: I have always been intrigued by the Internet. I can still remember the exact day I first heard a friend utter the word email and explain what it meant. That was back in the summer of 1994. I got my first email account that same year and participated in a transatlantic text-based chat only a few months later. Needless to say, I was impressed. Until that moment, computers had seemed useless to me.

To my defense, my introduction to computers consisted of a class on Logo! To this day I can still see myself sitting in class, frustrated, punching in command after command in an effort to coax my Logo turtle into drawing that flower that would have guaranteed me an A in the class. My flower never took shape. Neither did the A. I later learned BASIC and PASCAL but never understood the point of either of those programming languages. All of that changed in an instant though when I discovered the beginnings of the Internet back in 94. I was mesmerized. So much so that I decided to pursue a Master's and later a Ph.D. in computer-mediated communication. But things didn't really get serious until 2005 - right around the time when I first heard people talk about "social media." At that time I wasn't real sure what they were referring to, but from the sheer volume of mentions I could tell it was something big.

As a communication professor, I quickly became convinced that we needed to incorporate the study of social media into our curriculum. So I proposed to design a class dedicated solely to social media. The class was scheduled to be taught for the first time in the fall of 2007, which meant I had a lot of social media catching up to do. I had to learn about RSS and feed readers, figure out wikis and social bookmarks, and start blogging and tweeting. All those things were new to me. And they were starting to eat up my time - a lot of my time. A couple of months into my first semester teaching the class, my husband jokingly declared himself a social media widower.

I assured him it was a temporary thing, that I needed to learn the ropes and that as soon as I had done so, my life would be back to normal. What I didn't realize then was the fact that social media doesn't work that way. Social media sites are more like a pack of ravenous wolves demanding to be fed constantly -- with new tweets, new status updates and new blog posts. And the rules of engagement dictate that a good social media user respond to other's comments. No rest for the weary here!

It's a catch 22 for social media professionals. Most of us realize that social media have taken over an excessively large part of our lives, but few perceive any viable alternatives. Sometimes I wonder if people (myself included) even want an escape route. I also worry about the long-term effects of excessive social media use. I'm not just talking about the relational effects here (a topic I addressed at this year's SXSWi conference). I'm also thinking about the effects on our behaviors and possibly our brains. As Nicholas Carr put it so elegantly:
"Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages."
Ever since reading Carr's article Is Google Making Us Stupid? a couple of years ago, I knew he was on to something. He described a phenomenon I had observed many times in my own behavior, something I had come to call hyperlinked thinking. Deep down I always suspected I knew the culprit... In this year's June edition of Wired Magazine, Carr provides further evidence of the Internet's ability to affect the way we think. He describes a study which found that a week of intensive Internet surfing is enough to rewire a novice's brain, changing the brain's activity to resemble that of veteran Internet surfers. Even if you don't believe social media usage can rewire your brain, there's plenty of anecdotal evidence of how it is changing our behaviors. This quote fromRoger Ebert's blog post on the topic is one I can relate to all too well:
For years I would read during breakfast, the coffee stirring my pleasure in the prose. You can't surf during breakfast. Well, maybe you can. Now I don't have coffee and I don't eat breakfast. I get up and check my e-mail, blog comments and Twitter.
Ebert's post made me curious. I already know that social media has had a tremendous effect on my life - from the way I teach, to the way I interact with friends and family, to smaller behavior changes that might pass below the radar unless we stop to think about them. And that's exactly what I am proposing to do: Taking a social media time-out and recording the effects. For one full week I will renounce all social media. I will challenge myself to stay off Facebook and Twitter, ignore my blogs and emails, and turn off the Internet altogether. In essence, I'm sending my computer on vacation! Instead of my laptop, I will carry a notebook (one made of paper) to record my thoughts on the experiment. After the end of the experiment, I will publish my findings on this blog. By removing social media from my life for a week, I'm hoping to learn how these new technologies are impacting my daily life.  After all, if a week of intense web training can alter a novice's brain, imagine what a week off the grid could do to an Internet addict!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Is hiring student interns for social media work really the right strategy?

Ever since I started teaching my social media for PR class, I've had all kinds of firms and nonprofit organizations contact me to ask specifically for interns who had taken my class. On the bright side, these inquiries seem to indicate that social media skills are in high demand and that the class is making students more marketable. That's the great news. The not so great news is that over the course of the past two semesters I have seen a dramatic increase in the number of employers seeking to hire student interns to put in charge of setting up their organization's social media presence on the web. I know this doesn't sound so bad on the surface either. After all it shows that companies are starting to take social media seriously and that they are willing to participate in the social media sphere. What I am questioning is their social media strategy (or lack thereof?).

Employers' assumptions about digital natives
At St. Edward's University, we require all of our communication students to complete an internship before graduation. Each semester, the communication faculty take turns in supervising these internship experiences. This past academic year, I had the opportunity to supervise both the fall and spring semester student internships which allowed me to learn a great deal about the types of jobs our students get hired to perform. Although I haven't collected any official numbers yet, I'd say that about 50-60 percent of our spring interns were recruited to set up some form of social media presence for their employers. Since we only offer one social media class (with a maximum enrollment of 20), the vast majority of these students had never taken a class on social media strategy. That didn't prevent their employers from putting them in charge of their social media effort though. The running assumption seems to be that students know about social media because they are, well, students. And they are young. And young people inherently know about social media...

The problem is that knowing how to set up a Twitter account or Facebook page does not equal social media savviness. Unfortunately, my conversations with student interns and their internship supervisors have convinced me that most people think they're interchangeable. Smaller firms and nonprofits especially, tend to recruit students to handle their organization's move to a web 2.0 world - mostly because they can't (or don't want to) afford a full-time staff member to do the job. To me, their desire to participate in the social web seems fueled by a short-term approach devoid of any strategic thinking. Case in point: my students reported having set up blogs, Facebook fan pages, Twitter accounts, and YouTube channels for their employers but couldn't tell me who would keep updating these pages once they left. And that's where I see the major problem. It's cheap for a company to hire an intern to run its social media accounts (and sometimes even free), but having temporary staff members blog, tweet and post status updates simply isn't sustainable, nor is is a good idea.

Are social media internships reversing the traditional employer-intern mentorship role?
First off, I am concerned about students not getting much out of such internships. In the past, internships were modeled on the idea of a mentorship (I know mine were). Students would be introduced to the ins and outs of a particular job by one or more professionals committed to teaching them the ropes. What I see happening more and more though, is students being brought in as the alleged social media expert supposed to teach the employer. In essence, the mentorship roles have been reversed. While I have had some very bright students who no doubt would make great tech teachers, the power relationship between an intern and his or her supervisor is such that an undergraduate intern will most likely not question his or her employer's social media strategy decisions.

For instance, I doubt most interns would object to an employer's direct request to seed an online community with fake accounts. From a social media perspective it is about us unauthentic a strategy as it gets, but for organizations wanting to jump on the social media bandwagon it may seem the right thing to do at the time. Interns may not know any better (because they may not yet have received any social media training themselves), or may feel pressured to comply with their employer's request. Either way, if the students haven't received any prior training, there's no one there to guide them and no one to help employers determine the right social media strategy.

The problem with the short-term social media approach
Another, and potentially much bigger problem I see, is the issue of sustainability. Most of my interns' employers seemed more focused on the idea of setting up shop on the social web than on the question of how to sustain the various presences once they had been created. As any of my social media students will tell you, engaging online audiences is tedious, time consuming work. If done correctly, it's a full time job. I can't help but wonder what will happen to all the blogs, fan pages and Twitter accounts once the interns leave. Yes, these employers could simply hire another intern to keep the cycle going, but how can we expect a complete outsider (who will spend roughly 15 weeks on the job) to learn enough about the organization to represent it accurately to the public? By the time the intern would be familiar enough with the organization to engage in a genuine conversation about its mission or operations, it would be time to bring the next intern on board. Not to mention the problem of constantly changing voices which may cause another authenticity issue.

The default approach to social media: the marketing/broadcasting model
Having listened to plenty of student presentations on their internship work, I couldn't help but notice one big commonality in their own and their employer's approach to social media: the tendency to view social media as broadcasting tool. I remember one of my students complaining during his presentation that he had been unsuccessful in establishing a Twitter following for his employer. His slide included a screenshot of the Twitter account he had set up for the organization. Not a single tweet included an @reply directed at a particular Twitter user. Instead, every tweet consisted of a marketing message broadcast via the Twitter platform. His example was by no means the exception to the rule. I'm not entirely sure whether this tendency to default to the broadcasting model stems from the students' greater familiarity with that model, or whether it was mandated by their employers. At any rate, the failure to view social media as a conversation platform, to me, only exacerbates the problems I have outlined in this post.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Airline use of social media during the Icelandic volcano eruption

It seems like every time I'm scheduled to discuss the role of social media in crisis communication some major crisis comes along -- usually just in time for class. This semester was no exception. The global disruption in air travel caused by the eruption of a volcano in Iceland created an interesting case for us to examine in class today. What I like about this case study is that it deals with a different type of crisis than the ones we normally look at in our PR classes: a crisis that wasn't directly or indirectly caused by an organization. The fact that it affected not just one airline but an entire industry also allowed for an interesting comparative analysis of the various airlines' crisis responses.

I split my class into teams and had each team examine a different airline's social media use. We then compared notes and gave each airline a grade on its crisis response. In case you're curious, the highest grades went to KLM and Lufthansa (both received As for their use of social media during this crisis). KLM is even rebooking passengers through Twitter!

Here are the notes from today's class:

Update: Also check out this excellent post by Thorsten Ulmer comparing several German airlines and their use of Twitter during this crisis (in German).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Timeline of the Greenpeace anti-KitKat social media campaign

In class on Monday we discussed web video and how organizations use it to disseminate their messages. One of the examples we looked at was Greenpeace's new video aimed at pressuring Nestlé into dropping its use of palm oil in the production of KitKat bars.

Nestlé immediately demanded that the video be removed from YouTube citing copyright infringement. YouTube agreed and removed the video -- thereby creating a stir that eventually got traditional media outlets interested in the story. Nestlé made matters worse with a number of angry comments it posted to its Facebook fan site. As a result, Nestlé is getting hammered with negative comments on its Facebook site. I'm not even sure you can still call it a fan site at this point... What's most amazing to me is that Nestlé has apparently abandoned its Facebook page. The company hasn't reacted to the onslaught of criticism since last Friday's comments.

For a timeline of the events that lead to this PR crisis, check out this great slideshow:

Monday, March 22, 2010

Spring 2010 Student Podcasts

Every semester, the students in this class produce a podcast on a particular topic. Since our university is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, I asked the students to produce a 5-10 minute podcast about the university’s anniversary celebrations. Each team had the option of using open-source software (Audacity) or Garageband to produce the podcasts. Here are the results - enjoy!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Sneak peek of SXSWi panel: Is Technology Weakening Interpersonal Relationships?

It's spring break and in Austin, that can only mean one thing: time for South by Southwest! Tomorrow I will be participating in a panel on the effects of technology on interpersonal relationships along with Ashley Brown (a former comm. student and advisee), Jenn Deering Davis, and Matt Weber. The plan is to discuss how our wired lives and our need for constant connection are affecting our offline relationships.

To me, there's no denying that technology is changing how we relate to other people - the question is whether it's a change for the better or worse. I'm mostly interested in the question of whether our technology use is taking a toll on our real life relationships. I think a lot of people are starting to feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of technologies (& the relationships attached to those technologies) they need to keep up with. I know I am!

For those of you who can't make it to our panel, here's a little sneak peek: