Theory and Research Breeding Fear and Loathing In the Classroom? They Don’t Need To

I can’t believe it is mid-June! It has been a busy summer. The highlight so far has been 2 weeks in Spain. While the first few days I helped run a booth at an international meeting, the majority of the trip was spent backpacking via train.  I saw Gijon, Bilboa, Seville, Cordoba, Ronda, Toledo, and (for a few hours before catching a flight) Malaga. It was absolutely amazing!

With all that said, a blog post is well overdue!

Puente Nuevo in Ronda Spain

Puente Nuevo in Ronda Spain

One thing I’ve spent a bit of time this summer doing is preparing a new class I am hoping to teach in the spring or the following fall semester. The course is a persuasion course. It aims to enhance exposure to theories and research of influence and persuasion among students in the (still new) Strategic Communication concentration, and our department generally.

As the coordinator of the Strategic Communication concentration, I believe the students would greatly benefit from a focused look at how theories of persuasion and research findings in persuasion can be applied ethically in professional communication settings to improve message effectiveness. Of course, we talk about such concepts here and there in other classes. But, I am excited about having an entire course aimed at getting students to learn these concepts, evaluate their use in real-world examples, and work on a project aimed specifically at applying theoretical concepts to the design of a persuasive campaign (In this assignment, my students will pick a cause they want to advocate for).

I’ve been thinking about this class for the past few semesters. But what truly motivated and solidified my going forward with planning this summer is the very interesting series on the Institute for Public Relations website on behavioral communication. This great series highlights the importance of understanding social scientific research from various fields and its implications for communication professionals.

In his opening post on the series, Christopher Graves states: “When we approach public relations challenges such as changing perceptions, changing people’s minds on an issue, building engagement in climate change or changing behavior related to health, or restoring trust, we tend to gravitate toward intuitive solutions based on creative concepts. Yet we may be working on a false premise from the beginning (“doing the wrong thing righter”). Increasingly, behavioral and neuroscience research related to communications and decision making can better guide us into communications solutions that have a better chance of working.”

While the series focuses primarily on behavioral and brain-related studies, it makes a wider point for the importance of looking to applying research and theoretically-tested assumptions over intuitive assumptions. I always joke with my students that their fear and loathing in the college classroom centers on two words: Theory and Research.

I’ve heard my students express disgust and fear when it comes to theory. I’ve heard discussions among professors that students simply hate theories and research which leads to the question, what should professors do about it? Do we stop teaching theory and focus on more practical things? Do we use a tough love approach and teach students theory, paining both ourselves and our students through dry, intense lectures?

I believe this is a false dilemma. And I believe it stems from not seeing (or showing to our students) the applications of theory and research to practical settings. In a class such as the one I’m designing,emphasis should be given to bridging this gap.

A major goal I have is to help students overcome their aversion to theory and research and to help them see its practical value and importance. We can do so by highlighting examples where theory and research have helped inform effective message design, or by deconstructing an existing message to analyze what theoretical concepts or present or lacking. But we can also do it by taking the time in our classes to demonstrate how a theoretical concept or findings can be applied to a practical situation to better achieve communication goals, thus leading to desired outcomes. In my persuasion class, I plan to have sections of lecture called “Theory into Practice” where, after presenting a theory, I explain how that theory could be applied in a given scenario. I’ll also use mock scenarios students have to work through in class to apply concepts and solve a communication problem – such as through in-class simultaneous response prompts.

Ultimately, it is my goal to have students leaving the class not only more aware of persuasive strategies that can be used, but motivated and adept at using them in their coursework across the concentration (and of course, in their careers once they leave Shepherd). This, in turn, will help them become more cognizant communicators with an empirical mindset towards the choices they make as communication strategists.

It is more important than ever for our students to understand why certain approaches work and others don’t and be able to make informed, research-driven recommendations.

I know this is something we all work towards. I would love your thoughts and suggestions on how you help students see the value in theory and research and bridge the gap between “Oh, this is just stuff I learn in class” to “Oh! This scenario calls for me to apply what I’ve learned to be more effective.”

Cheers!
-Matt

 

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Teaching Social Media Metrics: A Professor’s Frustration

Crumpled Frustration

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to improve teaching social media metrics and monitoring. This is something that I have never quite been satisfied with in my classes. I think a big reason for this is because we don’t have access to a lot of real-world metrics for students to learn on. I’ve tried to overcome this limitation in a few ways. But none of them have been completely satisfactory. Here’s what I’ve tried:

  • I’ve pulled down stats from webpages or Facebook pages for events I’ve developed or helped run. But all have been fairly small scale.
  • Last academic year, I implemented a blog assignment in my social media class and one of the main goals was for students to learn how to use Google Analytics. However, to do so, we used Tumblr because that enabled us to install GA for free. Students didn’t like Tumblr. This year, we moved to WordPress for our department blog. The free version doesn’t support GA and the WordPress stats are limiting.
  • This past fall, students created the content for our social media – blog, Twitter, Instagram. So, again, there’s a hands-on possibility to teach metrics and track our results. I’ve used Twitter ad analytics for my Twitter team to learn analytics in my social media class. Those are robust and great! And we use the free version of SumaAll.com for Instagram and Twitter (though redundant for Twitter ad analytics), but those stats are limited. To track the analytics of our department social media, I use a version of a spreadsheet I modified from Professor Jeremy Floyd for students to track their analytics. In my Communication Research class, I teach students how to conduct a sentiment analysis of Tweets by hand.

But I haven’t found something that really makes me feel like I can teach students analytics in an engaging way.

No matter how I present it, I have found that students tend to fear metrics. This morning I started thinking that what we need is a module-based, hands-on teaching system.

Ideally, this would have to partner with a social media analytics company. The company would provide real-world data (they may have to mask identifying information). In a perfect world, students would have access to the company’s software and would be able to play with the data in a safe environment (where they couldn’t take any action on the data, such as send a Tweet, but could interact and create reports). And there would be a series of modules that students use to learn analytics. At the end of it, students would be put into a simulation environment where a problem is presented to the class and students would work in groups during class time to solve the scenario.

I’d love to do this. But I’m not yet sure how to get started. More than that, I think it is a project that has utility at multiple universities. If you are interested in exploring this idea with me, please contact me. I’d love to chat. I believe in the power of conversation.

I think this could be a cross-university effort of professors where we all could create and use the modules. I believe we could approach a metrics software company as a team and have a greater likelihood of success. What do you think about this idea?

Contact me @mjkushin!

– Cheers!

Matt

photo: Creative Commons Aaron Jacobs

Managing Higher Ed Social Media: Guest Speaker

I love having guests come and talk to my class. Last week, Comm 322 Social Media had another special guest – Leigh-Anne Lawrence from Hagerstown Community College (HCC).

Leigh-Anne is the Social Media and Public Information Specialist in the Public Information & Government Relations Office at HCC. Among her many responsibilities, she is in charge of all the social media for HCC- namely, their Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

A few cool highlights from Leigh-Anne’s presentation:

Leigh-Anne has helped build a university-wide social media policy to ensure communication consistency and reduce confusion among the public – For anyone thinking about creating a social media policy, particularly for higher ed, check out HCC’s guidelines. HCC’s policy will do more than just help govern what is appropriate and how entities should communicate on social media.  At many universities, social media is decentralized leading to communication inconsistency. There are too many accounts (many of which become ghost towns). This leaves students confused as to which accounts to follow and how to get important updates. Leigh-Anne takes a proactive role in preventing this problem by seeking to consolidate the voice of HCC on social media. This helps make things simple for HCC followers. She does this in part by reaching out to people who have created social media accounts at HCC and seeking to route their messages through the main account. Leigh-Anne told us that sometimes units within the university will create an account but the folks behind it may not be too certain as to what they want to communicate or how best to go about using the social media service. One thing she’ll do is monitor how active these HCC-related accounts are. For example, if, say, the dining services starts its own Twitter account and doesn’t use it very often, Leigh-Anne may ask dining services if they wouldn’t mind handing over to her the burden of getting dining services’ content out to the HCC community. Whenever the dining services wants to get a message out, they can send it to Leigh-Anne. She’ll post it on HCC Twitter and Facebook. That takes the pressure of having to maintain the account off dining services and helps meet Leigh-Anne’s mission.

Note: You can see her white paper highlighting her research on social media usage at community colleges.

Always On – Leigh-Anne told us how social media workers must be “always on.” There are no days where one can truly log off – workers must keep an eye on social media whether it is the weekend or a vacation day.

Social Media and School Closings – A quick anecdote for those who, like me, loved it when school was closed as a child and wait, wait, waited by the TV watching the ticker of schools that were closed and hoping to see their school’s name on the list. Today, people not only call into the school to complain when the school is or isn’t closed, they take to social media. Leigh-Anne told us she gets up at 4am when there is a storm, awaits the word on whether the school is closed, and spends the rest of her morning until she reports to work fielding questions and responding to complaints, including through social media. She may also find herself spending several hours continuing to answer questions after she gets to work.

Introverts can work in PR – I love this! Leigh-Anne explained that you don’t have to be outgoing to thrive in the field. Introverts thrive “behind the scenes” where their great writing, web, photography, organizational, and numerous other skills are highly valued.

Leigh-Anne was kind enough to share her slides, which I’ve embedded from her SlideShare account below.

Thanks again to Leigh-Anne for sharing her experience and her expertise with us! You can find her @writenowsoical or her website.

Social Media users praise brands in private and criticise in public

This is my first “reblog!” I want to share a great blog post by Ana Canhoto that I came across. This article describes the results of her research into social media and electronic word of mouth about brands. Specifically, the study looks at positive and negative online expression of consumer experiences with a brand. Enjoy!

Very interesting research –  I will be following her work and her blog! Check it out at http://anacanhoto.com.

– Cheers!

Matt

Ana Canhoto

Jan Kietzmann and I have been investigating how social media users talk about their consumption experiences online, a phenomenon called “electronic Word of Mouth”, or eWoM. While there is considerable research regarding why and, to an extent, how consumers engage in eWoM, our research is novel in that it:

  • Investigates how different aspects of the consumption experience influence eWoM, and
  • Considers not the experience in itself, but the consumers’ assessment of the experience
  • Is not specific to one single social media platform

This post give a very brief overview of our findings, and the full paper can be accessed here (paywall) or here. We have both good news and bad news for marketing managers.

But, first, let me tell you a little bit about the framing of our study.

What we looked at

cafeThink about the last time you bought a coffee. Was your satisfaction with the experience…

View original post 794 more words

Interview with social media marketing professor Jeremy Floyd (G+ Hangout)

The semester is done. The grades are in.

It is time to reflect on the semester – what went well, what challenges we faced, what we learned, and what we plan to do to improve for next semester.

This evening I had the opportunity to talk about just that on a Google+ Hangout with social media / marketing professor Jeremy Floyd (@jfloyd). Jeremy teaches social media at the undergraduate and MBA level at University of Tennessee Chattanooga. He is also president at BlueGill Creative and brings with him a great deal of business experience into the classroom (more about Jeremy).

In the broadcast, Jeremy shares a ton of great insight about his teaching experiences, his goals, unanticipated surprises in the classroom, and his thoughts on how digital tools and the changing information landscape may impact education.

I learn a great deal from Jeremy every time we talk and truly appreciate his sharing his passion for, and knowledge of,  social media and digital. I particularly enjoyed our discussion on grades and assignments, and how grades can get in the way of education, as well as hearing how Jeremy uses Google Plus hangouts as a digital classroom, and how he’s integrated Twitter chats (he also has an overview blog post about it).

I highly recommend Jeremy’s blog JeremyFloyd.com if you aren’t currently subscribed.

Enjoy!

This is the second Google+ Hangout broadcast from our LinkedIn group – Teaching Social Media Marketing and Management.

Watch the first broadcast on Social Media Measurement.

Join us for Social Media Professor Google Plus Hangout Weds 5-22!

Image

Happy Tuesday! Tomorrow we will be holding our second Social Media Professor Google Plus hangout where professors teaching social media around the country get together to talk shop. The event will be broadcast on Google Plus and available for on demand viewing (check back later in the week for the video).

I’m excited (and a little nervous) to be hosting the event for the first time. The topic will be a great one:

Major skill sets we should be teaching to prepare our students to excel in the social media economy.

If your teach social media and care to join in on the the Google+ hangout, we’d love to have you. Our last two hangouts have been a ton of fun and I’ve learned a great deal from professors who are leaders in the field of social media education. Drop me a comment below or via Twitter, and I’ll send you a G+ invite. Or check out our LinkedIn group: Teaching Social Media Marketing and Management.

You can watch our most recent discussion on social media analytics.

Hope everyone is enjoying summer! It is starting to get hot here in West Virginia!

– Cheers! Matt

photo:

Summer Reading List: Social Media Books

bookit

If you’re like me – growing up, summertime meant summer reading and Book It! I have many fond memories of cool pins and personal pan pepperoni pizzas at the local Pizza Hut in our small town in Rhode Island. My father would buy our family a pitcher of soda (this is in the pre-free refill days) and I’d proudly order my Book It! Pizza. Now that I’m all grown up – I’m not getting Pizza Hut trips for my reading. But I still love to read in the summer.

Here are a few social media books I will be checking out this summer. I plan to write brief reviews / thoughts about each. Some I will be reading cover to cover, others picking out chapters.

Toa of Twitter – By Mark Schaefer

This is my first introduction to Mark Schaefer and I’m glad I found his work. I’m about 60% done with this book – just haven’t had a chance to finish. While the book offers a bit of an introduction to what Twitter is and how to use it, it is a bit more about the culture of Twitter. With so many folks out there broadcasting away on Twitter and always thinking about “what’s in it for me?”, I think this book re-teaches us many things we seem to have forgot –  helping others, adding value, building relationships, and giving back, a la Dale Carnegie’s famous book. I mentioned this book and Born to Blog (below) in a previous post, where author Mark Schaefer participated in a video lecture with Don Stanley’s class at U Wisconsin-Madison.

Born to Blog – By Mark Schaefer and Stanford Smith

Of all the books I’m reading this summer, this may be the one I’m most excited about. I’m about 50% done. I’ll hold off on any detailed analysis – but to sum it up, I’ve learned a ton from this book. It is quick and easy to read and really gets you thinking about why your blogging, who your audience is, and what skills you have to offer. I’m fairly new to blogging and this book has been a great motivator for me. I am considering using this book for my Social Media class next fall. Highly recommend.

Measure What Matters: Online Tools for Understanding Customers, Social Media, Engagement, and Key Relationships by Paine

I’m considering using this book in my Communication Research class, as mentioned in our last social media professor G+ Hangout. I’m a few chapters in – so not much to comment on here. Thus far the author has provided a fairly strong case for why research is so important in today’s media environment and seeks to debunk arguments from those skeptical or afraid of campaign research. The book also offers (somewhat non-specific) processes for getting a measurement program together. The strength thus far seems to be in its explanation of what to measures given the situation at hand. I always struggle with research texts for class as the writing usually seems inaccessible to many students. I don’t think that will be the case here. The book does lack in depth explanation of many advanced topics that a textbook would offer, but this book isn’t meant to.

Share This! The Social Media Handbook for PR Professionals – The Chartered Institute of Public Relations

Just got my hands on this. The book is a few years old, and a newer version is due out some time this year. I haven’t had a chance to read any of this yet. Each chapter is written by a different author offering insights into how social media impacts different facets of PR.

Any fond memories to share from Book It!? What are you reading this summer? Are there books you recommend I read that aren’t on my list? Have you read any of these books above? What did you think? I’d love to hear your suggestions or thoughts in the comments below.

Happy Friday!

– Cheers!

Matt