Understanding Social Media and the Networked Society


During last month’s eLearning Institute @ Faculty Development Day, I led a workshop titled Understanding Social Media and the Networked Society.  Within this session, workshop participants and I discussed the role of networked technologies in contemporary American society, first delving into some of the theoretical foundations and then identifying specific strategies for effectively utilizing social media to foster both personal and professional development.  We examined both the many opportunities and potential challenges presented by this increasingly networked world, looking into current research and theoretical discourse, attempting to reconcile the different outlooks. For example, to what extent do social networks allow us to learn from The Wisdom of Crowds (Surowiecki, 2004), or are we living within the Cult of the Amateur (Keen, 2007)?  How do we best utilize the Cognitive Surplus (Shirky, 2010) afforded by social media and avoid the superficial frenzy of The Shallows (Carr, 2011)?  By engaging with social networks, are we active, contributing members of a Participatory Culture (Jenkins, 2006), or are we simply Alone Together (Turkle, 2011), developing hollow, meaningless connections and increasing isolation?

Participants engaged in conversation on the changes in cultural norms and values, examining the shifts in how people work, share, and create.  To what extent do technology and social media provide access to connections, resources, and new knowledge?  How can we, as educators, utilize social media to effectively cultivate both personal and professional learning networks?  We then focused pragmatically on specific strategies, policies, and ways of thinking that will help participants to thoughtfully and effectively participate in this networked society.  I hope this session might serve as the beginning of a larger conversation.  eLIS is holding an online Social Media Seminar in April, 2013 for Lesley faculty and staff that will encourage participants to consistently put theory into direct practice.  We will be using Twitter as the specific tool through which to understand social media and networked technologies, connecting with colleagues to learn with and from one another.

Regardless of your personal attitude toward technology’s growing presence in our lives – let’s say on a continuum from unbridled excitement to cautious optimism to rigid skepticism – research illustrates that engagement with media and new technology is only becoming more and more ubiquitous.  A recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that young people between the ages of eight and eighteen consume a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes worth of media content per day, which translates to 7 ½ hours of media consumption via multitasking. This number demonstrates an increase of almost 2 ¼ hours of media exposure per day over the past five years. The increased prevalence of new media and technologies requires young people to acquire the knowledge, skills, and vocabulary necessary to safely and respectfully engage virtually.  The Common Core Standards specify that “[j]ust as media and technology are integrated in school and life in the twenty-first century, skills related to media use (both critical analysis and production of media) are integrated throughout the standards.”  Similarly, media literacy and critical thinking have been identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as essential 21st Century Student Outcomes.  Additionally, there have been an increasing number of media education initiatives spawned by outside organizations, such as Common Sense Media and the Media Education Foundation.  In a report presented by Edudemic, 44.8% of professors and 45% of k-12 teachers use social media for professional use.

As educators, we are responsible to not only understand our learners – how they connect, share, and relate – but also build environments that deliberately foster the development of meaningful connections, promoting deep intellectual convergence, thoughtful synthesis, and new knowledge.  What are the design decisions that help to foster collaborative learning?  How do we encourage all learners to understand that with this right to connect comes the responsibility to contribute effectively?  Prior to their release of the book Spreadable Media, authors Henry Jenkins, Sam Ford, and Joshua Green released a number of Web Exclusive essays.  The essay Learning to a be Responsible Circulator by Christopher Weaver and Sam Ford highlights this need to be more deliberate in how we participate in this networked world:

[a] spreadable media environment by its very nature fosters a more participatory society. Yet, in a culture where a majority of the audience has access to a ubiquitous communication environment, each person should hold a greater level of personal responsibility for establishing credibility of both content and sources… In order for a ‘spreadable media’ environment to flourish, citizens must be taught the necessary skills to independently assess the validity of what is being shared with them and to carefully choose what they share with others.

In order for us to capitalize upon the affordances of today’s networked society and strive for some sort of utopian vision of connected living, we must actively choose how we engage. We must understand that the promise of networked living is not about the individual gain – it’s more about bolstering the collective knowledge of a larger community.  In Alone Together, Sherry Turkle makes the point that today’s digital world is still quite new, reminding us that we have the opportunity to determine how we engage with these technologies. For example, a tool like Twitter can serve as a means to learn with and from others across the world. But the paradigm-shifting power of Twitter is not at the individual level.  The power lies in the collective that can emerge through the thoughtful participation of engaged Twitizens (I know).  According to educator and connected learning activist Howard Rheingold’s article on Twitter Literacy,

Twitter is not a community, but it’s an ecology in which communities can emerge. That’s where the banal chit-chat comes in: idle talk about news, weather, and sports is a kind of social glue that can adhere the networks of trust and norms of reciprocity from which community and social capital can grow.

This concept of reciprocity is inherently linked to responsibility. In order for these connected environments to flourish, we – as members of the learning community – must actively participate in the dialectical engagement that fosters depth of connection.  How do we, as educators and designers, build for reciprocity?  How do we encourage participants to adopt a mindset that supports the good of the group rather than the individual?

I wanted to end with a quotation from filmmaker Tiffany Shlain’s recently released documentary Connected.  Connected is a profoundly personal film that explores how both the private and public spheres are shaped by today’s increasingly networked world.  Shlain states within her film that “for centuries we’ve been declaring independence… And perhaps it’s time to finally declare interdependence.”  Shlain advocates for this necessary paradigm shift, asking us to not only acknowledge and embrace our connectedness but also accept the accompanying responsibilities.

Blackboard IM: A Brief Survey of One Lesley Professor’s Experience


Dr. Paul Naso, an assistant professor in the PhD in Educational Studies Program at Lesley GSOE, has adopted Blackboard Instant Messaging for a variety of communication tasks.  Below is a list of some small steps he and his students have taken during recent semesters:

In his online course Critical Contexts for the Principalship:

  • Office hours, by appointment meetings, and occasional unscheduled meetings with students
  • Use of audio, video and text message functionality
  • All students were Bb IM users and approximately 75% of students used Bb IM frequently for within-cohort interactions, in pairs or small groups

As part of the online component of Adult Learning and Development Semester IV:

  • Office hours, by appointment text chat
  • Audio chat with students to get individual feedback on plans for how they would approach their assignments

In the Educational Leadership PhD specialization:

  • Unscheduled, student-initiated text chats to
    • Check-in about program requirements, program schedules
    • Request suggestions for research topic literature
    • Schedule appointments

Through his use of Blackboard IM so far, Paul has observed that as the numbers of his students using the tool increases, the more uses for it become evident.

If you would like to learn more about Blackboard IM please review the help documentation on the eLIS website.

Using VoiceThread In Counseling Courses


Student, Cheri Weber’s midtern created for Irle Goldman’s Human Development course.

By Irle Goldman, PhD

  1. Counseling is a relational, symbolic and creative experience. Having students describe it in a paper makes it too one-dimensional. It looses it’s depth and possibilities. Voicethread allows us to add pictures, voice, and video to create a richer, more useful and communicative product.
  2. Voicethread allows the students to see each other’s work and learn from it. You have a more relational/mutual educational experience.
  3. Voicethread allows students to react/respond to each others’ work in a way that’s easy to see and connect to. This helps to build community for the class.
  4. Voicethread allows you to see the whole picture… all of the classes creations in one screen; all the pages of individual creations in another screen. I get a better sense of the whole gestalt.
  5. Because of this, it is easier to mark. You can see what is included and missing in one-fell-swoop.
  6. What the students produce is much more interesting to read/see/hear.
  7. Because it uses so many modalities (kind of like life) the students tell me that it’s more interesting to create. They can start from a picture or a text or a song and build their piece of work around any of these and add to it and re-organize it.
  8. I have used it for projects, for midterms and for finals in my Theories of Counseling and Human Development classes.
  9. It is always available in the cloud.
  10. It can be archived in a student’s portfolio.

Challenges: It takes a while to learn how to connect and use it and I have not yet figured out the way to communicate with students individually on it.

Join Irle Goldman, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Adjunct Faculty and Liv Cummins, Asst Professor of Drama and Literature for a lunchtime conversation about VoiceThread on Feb. 27th at 12pm in UNIV 3-098. They will discuss the different ways they have used VoiceThread in their courses and answer questions.


World Drama Literature Conversations with VoiceThread

Screenshot form student, Sadie Allen's World at Play presentation created for Liv Cummins' World Drama Literature online course.

Student, Sadie Allen’s World at Play presentation created for Liv Cummins’ online World Drama Literature course.

According to the eLIS website, “VoiceThread allows you to place collections of media like images, videos, documents, and presentations at the center of a conversation. These conversations are not live; they take place whenever and wherever it’s convenient for people to participate. A VoiceThread allows people to have conversations and to make comments using any mix of text, a microphone, a webcam, or uploading an audio file.”

To me, the key word in that definition is “conversation”: you can look at images and text slides, and talk about them at the same time through voice narration.  What attracted me to this tool was the way you can use voice to raise questions about images and text, just as you would in the face-to-face classroom.

In my online World Drama literature course, I used Voicethread as a vehicle for my students to present research projects on a dramatic work and time period.  I wanted to translate this assignment, the ‘World of the Play’ group project, from the face-to-face classroom to the online environment to maintain a learning goal for the course: to strengthen oral communication skills.  I also wanted Voicethread to help build our online community, allowing peers to truly talk to each other and connect with one another and, thus, increase their engagement in the course.

I also used this tool with another assignment where students create a set design, cartoon, or poster for a play – or, alternatively, write a series of poems or letters from one character to another – to explore a work’s characters, theme(s), and cultural / historical context.  They create their project and then present it in Voicethread to the class, narrating the rationale behind their creative choices.  At the end of both projects, students offer feedback in either voice or text format appearing with their picture, allowing student presenters to see their peers and hear (or read) their feedback, all in one place around one slide at the end of the project.

In the online classroom, a potentially sterile environment can be enlivened with the warmth of human interaction through voice.  Narrating a visual allows students to take ownership over the slides they choose to show, explaining choices and meaning to demonstrate their learning while strengthening oral communication skills.  The tool is flexible: you may want to use one slide only to discuss at length (a piece of art, for example), or many slides compiled together for a longer presentation.  You can also integrate video clips, making it easy to move from a video, to a photograph, to an image with text, for example, within one project.   Finally, students and faculty can discuss a project within that same project around one slide, making feedback easily accessible to post and refer to at any time.

There can be some difficulties with this tool, however, as with all technology.  You should probably assume most people are unfamiliar with Voicethread, so it’s a good idea to build in time to learn and use it within a course.  Also, you need a separate Voicethread account to access something within it, so again, in the beginning of a course, there can be some confusion around how to establish an account and then access it.  There are also some oddities of the tool, including issues around pausing in the midst of an audio clip to stay longer on one slide – which can be frustrating.  In the end, though, most of these problems can be conquered through practice.

I look forward to showing some Voicethread examples and discussing effective practices for the tool on 2/27.

Liv Cummins
Asst. Professor of Drama and Literature
Humanities Division, LA&PS

Join Liv Cummins, Asst Professor of Drama and Literature, and Irle Goldman, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Adjunct Faculty, for a lunchtime conversation about VoiceThread on Feb. 27th at 12pm in UNIV 3-098. They will discuss the different ways they have used VoiceThread in their courses and answer questions.


Advice for Your First Web Conference

Advice for your first web conference
The first time your class meets virtually can be daunting. If you’re not practiced at web conferencing, it may feel awkward and foreign. You probably felt pretty nervous the first time you walked in front of a classroom of students, too. Here are a few tips to turn you into a web conferencing pro:

Create a sketch of the session
List your main goals and how you hope to accomplish them. Create an outline or “storyboard” of your session. Consider what features of the web conferencing software you will use and make note of any additional resources you will need such as links to websites, images, etc.

Keep it simple
Don’t try to use everything. You don’t need to use every tool in the software. Pick a few key ones and then focus on the content and communication. You don’t want your meeting to be about the tool. Don’t try to do too much in one session. If it’s your first online class meeting, your students may need to adjust to a different way of interacting. Keep your main goal in mind.

Include interaction
You may not be in the same room with your participants, but you can still interact with them. Consider including an icebreaker activity at the beginning of the session. If the group is small, give everyone a chance to introduce themselves. Ask them questions. If there’s a polling tool or emoticons, use it to get quick feedback. Avoid too much text and use graphics that work with your content.

Managing participation
Plan in advance how you will manage questions or comments from participants. Is there a “Raise Hand“ to request the microphone or get your attention? Will they type in the chat window? Send you a private chat message? Let participants know how they are expected to participate at the outset of the session. Being clear will help ease any confusion.

Practice, Practice, Practice
Do a dry run of your session using all the tools you will use in the real session. Treat it like a dress rehearsal. Invite a friend or colleague to be your “student.” The more comfortable you are with the virtual space and its tools, the less you have to think about them. This allows you to focus on your students and the presentation material.

Do a little self-reflection after the session. What worked? What didn’t? Why? What might you want to do differently next time? It’s easy to skip this important step, but don’t. Review while the session is still fresh in your mind.