Sunday, April 21, 2013

social media and society: a comparison of three syllabi

by Nan Li

The three syllabi I compare are all from college-level courses focusing on various aspects of social media. The Contemporary Technologies instructed by Don Stanley at UW-Madison explores "a variety of communication technologies and their social effects," with a focus on practical uses of Twitter for marketing purposes. The Media 2.0 course taught by Dawn Gilpin at Arizona State University introduces students to "the contexts and forms of social media." As the syllabus illustrates, the class teaches students "what are social media, who uses them, who gains from them, and how are they transforming the media landscape and the way we inhabit the world." The third class, entitled Culture and Social Media Technologies by Laura Portwood-Stacer at New York University examines social media from a cultural perspective. More specifically, this course focuses on how "media technologies figure in practices of everyday life and in the construction of social relationships and identities."

Despite the common focus on social media technologies, the three classes have distinct purposes and explores the uses and implication of social media tools from different perspectives. A thorough look into the syllabi also reveals the differences in reading materialas, assignments, and the teaching style adopted by each instructor. 

Reading materials

Relevant and recent reading materials are one of the most important components of a well-organized class. All three classes provide a list of required readings along a weekly schedule. The Media 2.0 class includes both required and recommended readings for each week's topic. The reading are all posted on the class blog with hyperlinks that allow students to download and read with ease. The Contemporary Technologies class lists one book as must-read texts along with recommended readings posted irregularly on class blog. The Culture and Social class has heavier loads of readings compared to the other two classes and the reading PDFs are only available on class Blackboard site. 

Comparing the content of readings and the way how they are organized, I think it's critical to provide students with sufficient opportunities to choose materials with diverse arguments on the same problem that the class is trying to address. It is always good to make explicit about what are the required readings and what are recommended. More importantly, informing students about the well-written blogs and other information sources that are openly available is also a good way to teach students how to locate information outside classroom. 


Class assignments are always necessary to let students organize their thinkings, improve their understanding of class materials and receive feedbacks from instructors and peers. I think all three classes do a very good job in arranging assignments with emphases on different objectives. For example, the Media 2.0 class requires the students to write blog post and also comment to others' posts on a weekly basis. Students are also required to explore the functions of various social media tools, such as Twitter, Wiki and Foursquare. Similarly, the Contemporary class teaches students hands-on experiences with using a number of social media tools, including Twitter, Facebook and Google plus for marketing practices of actual organizations. The assignments of Culture and Social class is more "traditional" compared to the other two classes, which concentrate on writing and readings. 

For assignments, I think a common purpose of social media classes is enabling students to use actual social media tools for meaningful changes. However, despite the diversity and popularity, social media tools are always changing, thus create challenges for teachers to show students what are the best strategies of leveraging these tools. A meaningful and helpful assignment should not only teach students how to create a Facebook page or how to set up a Twitter account, but also let students explore the "philosophy" underlying social media tools. Why are these tools social? How to connect people using these tools? How to improve the visibility of your products and services via Twitter and Facebook? I think answering these questions with well-designed assignments will be beneficial for students' future studies and career. 

Teaching style

In addition to lecturing, the three classes have adopted alternative forms of teaching and learning within and outside classrooms. The adoption of new technologies, such as building a class blog or creating a class Wiki can help extend the classroom discussion to online space after class period. Again, I think instructors should implicitly show students how to make a class "social" via using various tools they are supposed to learn about in class. For example, The Contemporary Technology class encourages students to follow the guest speakers on Twitter and directly submit their questions with class hashtag so that the conversations are available to all classmates. I think such practices can engage students and help them gain understanding of the social component of online technologies. 

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