Tag Archives: social networking

Social Media Expert…Who Me?

Following my last class today I headed on over to the University of Virginia to take part in the annual meeting of the College Communicators Association.  I was asked to talk a bit about how university public relations people might utilize bloggers as a means to build stronger ties with the general public.  To be completely honest, I felt like a fish out of water, but I shared some ideas based on my limited interaction with public relations folks from various institutions.  Here is a brief rundown of my main points:

  • Keep in mind that blogging is a self-indulgent and ego-driven activity.  In other words, bloggers work to share their ideas with an audience and not the announcements of others.  In other words, understand that your communique goes against the grain of what blogging is about.
  • Do your homework and look into specific blogs that might be receptive to you rather than sending out a mass email.  The overwhelming number of blogs are not worth contacting because they do not attract an audience.  Build a relationship with specific bloggers.  A few weeks ago a major archival repository put out a video announcing a new exhibit.  The video went to most of the Civil War bloggers, which resulted in me not featuring it on this site.
  • Look for the tell-tale signs of a thriving blog.  Feedburner chicklets indicate the number of subscribers while sitemeter and statcounter will sometimes make public the number of daily visits and other relevant statistics.  In the case of advertising you may want to request a Google Analytics report.
  • Focus on bloggers who are self hosted and have their own domain name since this suggests a certain amount of investment into the site.  At the same time it is important to remember that you are asking for free publicity.  The blogger has to get something out of the transaction.  What are you offering to the blogger?
  • Make the pitch to the blogger as to why your information is relevant to the audience.  Again, I receive regular emails from various institutions and only rarely do I respond and it is even rarer that their information is featured on this site.
  • Finally, the energy expended trying to reach out to other social media sites should go into crafting your own content and figuring how to effectively utilize the many social networking tools that are available.  Create your own audience and understand why it matters.

I guess that sounds like something that Chris Brogan or the countless other so-called social media experts might say.

Sifting Through the Social Media Hype (Part 3)

[Part 1 and Part 2]

I want to close out this 3-part series with a few words about social media in the classroom.  This can be both a positive experience for some as well as a walk on the slippery rocks for others.  For me it has been a little of both.  When I first dove in I felt intimidated by the possibilities and pressured to try everything.  Even worse were feelings of guilt that I wasn’t doing enough with it.   It helps to remember the following:

  • Very few so-called social media experts are history teachers.
  • Social media is about the sharing of information and not about building community.
  • You can’t do everything.  Become comfortable with a few tools and explore their full range and potential.  Less is more.
  • Allow yourself to fail.

Social Media Experts?

Let’s face it, social media is the hip thing to be doing in our classrooms.  There is a great deal of pressure from within our school administrations and the broader teaching community.  Even a quick perusal of this universe reveals a multitude of social media folks with the latest tool that will somehow change the way we teach.  My advice is to always remember to stick with your fundamental goals.  What skills that are specific to the study of history are you trying to impart to your students?  Remember that the majority of these people are not history teachers and may know very little about the kinds of skills that are specific to our discipline.  You are the authority.  One way to sift through talk is to find fellow history teachers who are engaged in the same projects.  I’ve found Twitter to be an incredible resource.  It’s easy to find people with similar interests and it’s a great way of sharing information and ideas.

Information v. Community

Quite often you will hear talk about the importance of connecting your students to a larger community beyond the confines of your classroom and school.  While I am open to differences of opinion here, it is my view that the only community worth worrying about is the one that you interact with on a daily basis.  While social media can play an important role in the strengthening of ties among students in your classroom, its pedagogical benefit is in the sharing of information.  Sharing information does not, in and of itself, bring about community.  Many of these tools offer students a way to make connections beyond the confines of the classroom, which can be incredibly fruitful.  A Skype interview with an expert or radio interview offer new avenues for the gathering and sharing of information.

Less Is More

Take the time to explore the limits of specific web tools.  Make sure you and especially your students understand why they are using a specific social media program.  I can’t tell you how many horrifically awful YouTube videos I’ve seen.  Most of them are done by students who have been given very little guidance by their teachers.  Let’s face it, it is easy to say go make a video.  Video production, however, is a wonderful way of getting students to think about the presentation of history to the general public.  It is worth discussing how various filmic elements such as narrative, sound, and images come together to form a coherent interpretation.  Try analyzing a segment of Ken Burns’s The Civil War as a part of their preparation.  If you want your students to blog make sure they understand the format.  Talk about what goes into an effective blog post and if the site is open to comments than discuss what kind of personal profile it is appropriate to present to the general public.  Discuss the importance of collaboration when creating a wiki page or the inevitability and challenges that come with revisions to a Wikipedia page.  And if it is something as simple as collecting images on Flickr make sure that students understand how cataloging works through tags.

Once you become comfortable with a few specific programs you can think about using them collectively for a more detailed project.  One that I have been working on involves the development of a website that serves as a guide for tourists and those interested in the many Civil War related sites here in Charlottesville, Virginia.  Another idea is the creation of an elective that would allow students to formulate their own conspiracy theory of a historical event that would involve the dissemination of online information.  All of these uses involve different ways to present history to the general public and different tools force students to think critically about the organization and presentation of information.  Most importantly, it gives students a sense of ownership of what they are studying in a way that goes far beyond a standardized test.

The Importance of Failure

I recently gave a talk to our graduating class and one of the things I wished for them was a certain amount of failure.  Give yourself plenty of room to experiment and fail.  It didn’t take me long to realize that there really is no set plan on how to use these tools in our classrooms.  The sky is the limit.  I’ve had my share of success and probably more failures and even experiences that I am still having difficulty assessing.  For example, a few years ago I had students in a class I taught on Abraham Lincoln set up Facebook pages for the various people within his private and public circle. All of the profile information had to comply with the historical record.  Once the individual pages were set up students could interact with one another by posting messages and links.  The most hilarious aspect of the exercise were the decisions made as to who to “friend” and under what conditions someone might get un-friended.  You can also use Twitter to role play historical figures.  Monticello has their own Jefferson profile up on Twitter as does Mount Vernon.  I don’t know whether I will ever do this again, but I am glad I gave it a shot.

In closing I think it is important to point out once again that we are not teaching social media.  These tools can be explored in just about any type of academic setting.  The question that we need to keep in mind is how it helps us to teach this subject called history.

Why I Use Twitter and You Should Too

The other day I posted tweet no. 3,000 and thought I might take a few minutes to talk about what I find so valuable about this particular tool.  Twitter is by far my favorite social networking site.  While I use Facebook to stay in touch with friends, and it’s a place where I can have some fun, I use Twitter overwhelmingly for professional purposes.  Admittedly, it is not easy to get started on Twitter.  In fact, it’s downright counter-intuitive.  Why exactly do I only get 140 characters to work with and what the hell am I supposed to say?  Probably like most people I initially set up my account, posted a few tweets and then forgot about it for a time.

Like I said, getting started can be frustrating, but let me suggest why it may be worth it.  The first thing you need to do is understand is why you are using it.  Twitter is much more than simply responding to the question: “What’s Happening?”  I use it primarily to share information related to historical research,  the teaching of history, and other online sites that I come across that others may find interesting.  It’s one of the most efficient ways I’ve found to share information that matters to me with individuals who have similar interests.  Who, are these folks that I am sharing information with?  Well, they are people that have chosen to “Follow” my Twitter stream.  I, in turn, follow folks who are posting information that I find relevant.  As of the date of this post I am following 153 fellow tweeters and there are currently 424 individuals who follow my stream.  There is a practice or courtesy – sometimes referred to as “Reciprocal Following – that essentially returns the favor in response to the addition of a new member of your community.  As you can see I do not make this a practice.  I am very conscious of maintaining a Twitter stream that contains information that I find valuable.  The more attention you give to who you follow determines the quality of information you receive and how much you get out of the overall experience.  What it comes down to is that I now have an additional 153 pairs of eyes that I can count on to share quality information with me, information that I probably would never have come across on my own.  Once that tweet (usually including a hyperlink) comes across my stream I can do any number of things with it, including “Retweeting” it for my readers, emailing it to a friend, saving it to my Delicious Bookmarks, etc.  Finally, I enjoy the short conversations on Twitter.  The character limit forces users to keep it brief and to the point.  That said, I am continually amazed at the quality of the dialog that is possible with the various shortcuts that you will learn in a brief period of time.

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