Did you ever get “free write” assignments in class?
These are usually assigned in English classes and the point is to allow the student to write about whatever they want to without the pressure of being graded. For this Friday “fun post”, I will do just that; a “free write” to share with you what I’ve learned thus far at this conference in Cleveland [pdf].
The hard thing with blog posts, at least for me, has been the fact that they require so much attention to detail. If we want to be successful, bloggers must be careful with our grammar, our sentence structure, our word counts, our content, our word choices, our tags, our headlines, our templates, our photo arrangements, and a number of other factors, all of which usually leads to me spending several hours on a post that is only a few paragraphs long.
Right now, as I listen to my playlist on Spotify and sit in a beautiful hotel lobby that makes me a feel a little guilty because I know many people on earth will never get to enjoy such luxury, I will list, by “free writing”, a few lessons I’ve learned at this conference thus far. Instead of outlining this post in detail and thinking of references, I will just go by what’s on my mind at the moment. Since I listened to music when I wrote this, you should listen to music as you read it. If you are not currently doing so, I recommend the below, a classic by Beethoven and one of the most popular songs in the history of songs.
What I Learned
- The use of social networking sites (SNS) for educational purposes seems to be a very salient topic based on the sessions I’ve attended and the conversations I’ve heard and been a part of. Communication scholars are recognizing the embarrassing lack of engagement many American college students exhibit these days, and we are realizing this lack of engagement cannot just be blamed on the students (i.e. “They are lazy”) but that we play a tantamount role in it as well. Among other things, instructors today absolutely must meet their students half-way—-if the students are comfortable sharing information on Facebook (FB) and Twitter, for example, then we must take advantage of those platforms to engage them there.
- In order for engagement in our universities to improve, the students must also play a role. There’s a lot of passion among most educators here in Cleveland, even the “old ones”, for using new technology and SNS to improve the learning environment. Teachers LOVE to teach, it’s what they do and who they are. Thus, most are willing to experiment with SNS in the classroom if they know it will help students. However, many seem hesitant because they are not sure how the students will react. Will it be seen as an extra burden by them? Will they see it as waste of time? Will they use SNS to trash talk the class online? If you’re a student, this is up to you.
- Students must accept the notion that their spaces online were always meant to be public, always meant to be shared. This sharing extends to their education. If you have a FB profile, for example, you should expect to have FB pages devoted just to specific courses you might be taking right now. A friend sent me a FB message the other day and started an insightful conversation about something she is passionate about. I loved this. This is what FB should be used for. The connectivity we have on FB and other SNS is far too great for us not to take advantage of it for purposes of increasing our knowledge about the world. Students, if your teachers try to use SNS in the classroom, just go with it, it’s likely to be a cool experience that will help you be more involved in your studies.
- Another item I’ve learned about FB at this conference that is not related to education is just how much strategy goes into our status updates and comments. While you may not admit to this right away, if you sit down and ask yourself, “Why did I create that status?” or “Why did I comment in that way?”, you will probably figure out you did it as a result of specific motives. For instance, many of us create status updates in an attempt to ask for social support in a non-direct way. Most of us would not create updates if we knew nobody would see them. However, we know many of our FB friends will see them, so we post updates strategically. For example, if you received a parking ticket today (which happened to one of our friends), you might post a status such as “Got a parking ticket! $#$#!!!”. Social support is the idea that our social networks support us when we need it. On FB, in the above example, this would include people commenting on your status to affirm your anger, to tell you it’s okay to be mad, to share with you the time that also happened to them, and to give you reassurances that it could be worse. In addition, the fact that these specific people chose to comment was another intentional move–there’s all kinds of possibilities for why they chose to comment on your status, for instance, and not on another’s. Perhaps you two share a close relationship in the offline world, so they would naturally support you on FB too. Or perhaps they are a co-worker, they want your friends to know they are there for you, or they have a romantic crush on you.
In summary, my conference experience thus far has focused heavily on SNS and how we use it both in educational and interpersonal relationship contexts. If anyone out there is trying to decide if they want to go to graduate school or pursue a job in academia, I highly recommend going to a conference such as this one; these conference experiences are such great ones for those of us who are absolute nerds in our fields, that you will know after a few days if pursuing that higher degree is what you’re meant to do.