Teaching with Social Media

At our latest UWSocial meeting, we heard from two UW-Madison professors who use social tools within and outside of the classroom experience. Because they teach in journalism and life sciences communications, it would be easy to write them off as exceptions to the rule when it comes to creative learning approaches. However, some of the ideas and challenges they shared would benefit any professor or teacher who’s looking to innovate.


  • Explore social tools beyond just Facebook and Twitter.
    What works for one learning environment might not work well for another group. Rather than banking on one specific social platform, it’s appropriate to keep an eye out for the best new social tool for your class context. If Twitter isn’t cutting it for your group, maybe Ning or Tumblr will fit your specs.
  • Bringing social tools into the classroom can also look like using social tools outside the classroom.
    One of the professors heavily pioneered social media in the classroom — a Twitter backchannel, fake live tweeting assignments in which she talks to her class via Skype, polls that gauge comprehension during class, etc. The other deploys social tools outside of the classroom context — Google docs for team project collaboration, Twitter engagement for students who are quiet in class, Skype for virtual office hours, and Tumblr for sharing an up-to-date syllabus.
  • Bringing social media into the classroom can benefit students.
    It teaches them to communicate professionally across different platforms. It allows them to use the tools for good, rather than for evil (evil being random Facebook surfing during class).


  • Both professors acknowledged that they have personal “rules” for how they engage with students in the social realm.
    One doesn’t accept Facebook friend requests from current students. The other is a bit more flexible, but admits that she has this flexibility because all of her social accounts are intended for professional use rather than personal use.
  • How do you grade a successful tweet?
    Is participation enough, or should teachers grade qualitatively as well? If there’s any best practices for teaching with social media, I sure haven’t heard about them yet.

I’m sure I’m forgetting many of the interesting points from this conversation, but I was glad to hear actual professors engage in a discussion on this topic. I just wish more teachers were ready to eagerly dive into this conversation.

Leveraging New Facebook Tools and Page Functionality

Katie Harbath, Facebook’s associate manager for policy and UW-Madison alumna, visited campus on Thursday to talk to campus social media leaders about social campaigns. A few highlights:

Facebook pages now show engagement as well as likes.
Historically,Facebook displayed the number of fans who had liked a page. However, Facebook News Feed algorithms value fans’ engagement with content over a page’s number of likes. Thus, the new emphasis on fan engagement (“# are talking about this”) should help steer new page admins in the right direction — toward fan engagement.

Facebook Insights will soon show shares by point of origin.
Have you ever wondered how a fan of your page initially became a fan? Fan page Insights will soon tell you whether users’ like originated from your page, your website, etc.

Customizable Open Graph tags will allow admins to customize the like button beyond “like” or “recommend.”
Fans will be able to interact with a brand or organization in more specific ways. Example: “John donated to Your Organization,” rather than “John likes Your Organization.”

Facebook Registration Plugin takes event registration functionality beyond the limitations of Facebook Events.
If you’re in any way involved in event planning, the Registration Plugin could become a viable alternative to custom event registration forms or Eventbrite-like products. Attendees can choose whether to use certain email addresses (e.g., Yahoo, Google) or their Facebook information to register. I’ll be interested to see whether any colleges or universities adopt this functionality for prospective student applications.

I’ll close with a quote from Harbath: “Each Facebook like drives 4 to 5 additional people to visit your page.” And that is exactly why we have to keep the innovation and customized content coming.

On Steve Jobs’ Death

Last night, as I scanned Twitter on our iPad, one tweet piqued my curiosity. It said “You will be missed, Steve Jobs.” At first, I thought someone was just lamenting his departure from Apple. But as I scanned the stream of tweets, I soon realized that the Apple co-founder had died. It’s not every day that you learn about someone’s death on a device he or she had invented.

I’m sure we’ll be seeing more and more multimedia content that pays tribute to Jobs over the next few days, but these two homepage tributes (from Apple and Wired) stood out to me as elegant approaches to announcing Jobs’ death.

What multimedia content or approaches have you seen that do justice to Jobs’ extraordinary life?

Thinking Like a Designer (or Communicator)

Designers need to communicate well and problem solve for systems and strategy. Communicators need to think visually.

Ever since I made the jump from graphic design to communications, I’ve noticed that the best designers have a lot to say about communicating successfully. On the other side of the coin, successful communicators think visually — much like designers.

The successful designer thinks about how a project fits within the framework of the larger organizational brand and supports the way the institution or company speaks — its written voice. It’s easy to start each project in a vacuum and go with the most creative solution possible. But it’s much more effective to look for a creative solution that conforms to the constraints of the existing brand.

The successful communicator considers how to share important information through a variety of interlaced channels, and targets each audience appropriately. That could mean short, direct approaches (bullet points!) online and detailed, targeted approaches offline. The easy approach here would be to re-purpose content across platforms and hope for the best. But targeted, platform-sensitive solutions are better. In designer speak, “the medium is the message.”

To learn from a designer who thinks like a communicator, visit ideasonideas.
To learn from a communicator who thinks like a designer, visit Less Clutter. Less Noise.

Not Just Opportunists, Millennials Beginning to Shape Career Paths

retiring-the-generation-gapEvery few days I see something praising, lamenting or pondering the Millennial generation (also called Generation Y), which includes those born from about 1980 to 2000. And every few months I end up in a conversation in which a Boomer matter-of-factly states that young professionals demonstrate less loyalty to their employers than they or other members of the Boomer generation have shown.

That’s why I was intrigued to find a section on employee loyalty as I recently read Jennifer Deal’s Retiring the Generation Gap: How Employees Young and Old Can Find Common Ground. In this section, she offers a different take on Millennial loyalty to employers, which is that Millennials are just as loyal (or disloyal, depending on your view) to their employers today as Generation Xers or Boomers were to their employers at comparable stages in their careers. Moreover, she hints that what might look like disloyalty to those more established in their careers actually has very little to do with loyalty. Instead, Millennials are just at a stage in their careers during which it’s necessary to progressively hone in on what they want their careers to look like:

“… Job engagement — how much someone actually likes her work — plays a critical role in her staying in her job. Earlier in a person’s career (typically, when she is younger), she has less experience and is less sure of what she likes and what her options are, so she is more likely to think about moving to a different job that is more aligned with what she thinks she will want. As time goes on, she gets a better idea of what she enjoys, and the jobs she searches out are closer to what she enjoys, so she stays in them longer. So perhaps the movement in the earlier years of an individual’s career is more about learning and less about opportunism than people might think.”

As I think about my own career path, I see that the spirit of this quote holds true. I entered the working world as a graphic designer. During that time, I realized I missed writing and editing, so I began remapping my career path. I wound up “optimizing” my career path a bit by taking a new job that allowed me to spend half of my time on graphic design and half of it writing, editing and managing web projects. (The additional freedom and responsibility was a nice perk, too!) I liked that mix of projects and responsibilities so much that I looked for even more opportunities to produce content and multimedia for the web when we ended up moving to a new city. Now I miss graphic design sometimes, but this new career path is much more in line with what I enjoy.

So am I just another “disloyal” Millennial? I think not.