The people formerly known as the student *

*To paraphrase Jay Rosen, From: The People Formerly Known as the Audience (2012)

How and Why I teach social media

Social and digital media is rapidly becoming the prime currency in contemporary communications as well as a new way to generate social knowledge.

To get a picture of the uptake in general terms have a look at this calculator, which measures the amount of activity by the second:

Then to see how well the internet knows what you’re up to:

And for the other side of the coin:


Colleague Kyla Brettle and I have developed over the last few years media course that takes in the changes wrought by the uptake of social and participatory media.

In the most recent iteration, this course is in two parts: an identity project which leads to a participatory project.


The first objective in the Integrated Media 2 course is to give students an opportunity to construct their own professional identity. The internet and social media are basically mechanical – any human interaction, such as talking to each other is converted into a set of functions to emultate the interaction online. So constructing an identity can be broken down into constituent parts and designed to emphasise certain aspects.

This part of the course looks at

  • what a professional ID consists of
  • the myths around exposing oneself online and what that does to employment prospects
  • the ways organisations are shifting from recruitment to harvesting new talent, eg Ask A Delloittian
  • how an identity is activity based, not just static profile text and avatar
  • that an identity is also represented by the associates one has, and
  • how a well constructed ID becomes a reference point that can be used to attract and engage with others.

Danah Boyd talks about the way we use identity to signal to others something about ourselves through our connections:

Signalling theory (biology and economics)describes the relationship between a signal and the underlying quality it represents. Most of the qualities we are interested in about other people are: is this person nice? Trustworrthy? Can she do the job? Can he be relied on in an emergency? Would she be a good parent? — are not directly observable. Instead we rely on signals… (Boyd, 72).

The identity project culminates in a ‘identity hub’, which collects most of the student’s public work in one space. A number of platforms exist to manage this, such as Gloss.i and Example

Participatory project

From constructing their identity these students then move to plan and execute a participatory media experience.

This is specific to media students, and involves them in a number of activities which use their media and communication skills. However there are many aspects that can be scaled out to many other disciplines.

Students develop a range of material to attract, persuade, stimulate and manage what we call a co-creative situation. The aim of a participatory project is to get other people, either a targetted group or a general public to contribute in some way. It could be to get people to comment, or provide media content such as text, image, video or audio pieces, or to become involved in the planning and management of the project.

The contemporary audience is literate in terms of both making and appreciating media. We have what can be called co-creative publics emerging who expect to be involved in media making as well as making meaning through these interactions. The changed media culture requires new approaches and practices, and forges new roles.

The media graduate not only needs to know what these nascent roles and practices are, but to look forward and be able to identify new ones as they emerge.

These type of projects give them an experience that they can refer back to when they are going solo.


Preparing graduates to be able to work in these fluid situations is one part of WHY to teach social media.

However for me the more interesting aspect is that the way social media works challenges conventional teaching approaches and produces new social learning patterns. This is  similar to the way it challenges traditional media, government and many other areas of practice.

Social media changes relationships. It tends to flatten out conventional hierarchies and replaces them with a type of meritocracy of knowledge. Sometime this knowledge is contained within the teacher other times it resides in the student. And knowledge can be accessed as easily by one as the other.

Others characteristics of social media to note are that it:

  • extends the classroom to include external sources of information, including other people. @nigelcameron talks about having 3-400 expert researchers who he can ask for information and get credible responses from
  • enables peer learning – group Facebook pages and blogs allow students to communicate effectively in and outside of class
  • reinforces the idea that knowledge can be generated socially, and as it is it is disseminated and shared. I like this example of a social game:

All of these features challenge conventional, authority based education, producing new ways to conceptualise what education is and does.

For me this means working out how to give students the best opportunity to be co-creative agents within their own education – sometime leading the process and other times following or interacting on a peer level. This asks the question: what are the skills and attributes needed to be a co-creator?

J Donath and d boyd, (2004) Public display of connectionBT Technology Journal • Vol 22 No 4

Rosen, J. (2012). “The People Formerly Known as the Audience” The Social Media Reader. New York, New York University Press: 13-16

LSE Twitter in University Research, Teaching


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