Teaching is one of the best professions to be in. I am forever thankful for the decision to become a professor to be able to mentor and help the future generation get their start in the field of their choosing. There is nothing more rewarding to get a note, email, or even a tweet from a current or former student about getting a wonderful professional opportunity. This is one of the things that I really love most about being a professor.
With that being said, we can sometimes run into some challenges. We have students coming to us with questions about their grades, why they didn’t get this percentage score or if we could “reconsider” their performance for the course. As an educator, this has been something I have seen many conversations about among my fellow colleagues in the field for their classes from conferences to crowdsourcing ideas on how to address these on FB with fellow professors.
I’ll admit, I have had to have some of these conversations with students in the past for courses over the years. However, I want to admit something about this: In the years I have been teaching social media – I have had not one conversation like this with any of my students who have been or have taken my social media class.
That’s right. Not one over the past four years, which is surprising even for me as the professor. If there was a class where there would be a lot of conversations surrounding grades, it would be this one. To put things in perspective, the social media class is the toughest class I teach for a variety of different reasons:
- The syllabus alone is over 30 pages long, 10 point font.
- More hoops to go through to get permission to enroll in the class. That’s the easy part. The hard part is the course work itself.
- Has gotten the reputation to being one of the “toughest” classes on campus.
- It has the most readings (assigned books and links to articles), assignments (7), writing (even more than the designated writing class I also teach), and real-world expectations (they work with real clients and actually do social media projects and consultations).
- It has been written about online in various publications and news outlets.
What I have found in this class is the complete opposite. Students are willing to work hard and even go beyond the professional expectations of the professor (which for me, is impressive and always noted) and take the time to mentor and help their fellow classmates.
How is this accomplished exactly? Well, here are some things I try to emphasize when it comes to my class and teaching the social media mindset for students to have:
Acknowledging your standards front and center
This is where I have the conversation with my students about my hidden talent. No, it’s not knowing where the nearest coffee shop is from the classroom (even though I could probably tell you where that is from my office!), but I do let them know that I am not a mindreader, so the students need to recognize if they have questions or if they do not get a concept, they will have to ask me a question. The same applies to me as well – the students may not be aware of my expectations, so that is why I make sure to highlight this from day one.
If you are teaching a social media class and if you assume on the first day of class students will know what your expectations are for the class, then you are too late. You want to make sure this is communicated loud and clear way before the class begins. For me, this starts months (perhaps even years) ahead of the first class meeting.
How do I approach this at UofL with my social media class? My social media class is an elective, but with a few points to note. First, there are pre-reqs attached to the course, so the students know they have to take certain classes before they can enroll in the course (pretty standard for upper division classes). Second, permission to enroll in the course is required by the professor. This has probably been the best tip I got from one of my colleagues.
There are several steps the students need to go through in order to enroll. They have to request a meeting with me face-to-face during my office hours. Note – I am an early morning person and my office hours are at 8 am in the morning. So, if I have a student who is motivated enough to meet with me during this time way ahead of their other classes for the day, that’s a good start.
At the meeting, I treat it almost like a mock interview where I ask the students questions about what their goals are for the class, why they would want to take the class knowing it is an extremely hard one (probably the hardest they would take in college), and what they have done previously in terms of social media experience and internships. I do emphasize the skills and pieces of work they will be getting from the class as well during these conversations and meetings as well (ex. getting certified in Hootsuite, etc).
During these meetings, I do look for a variety of different professional characteristics for students to be enrolled in the class. Here are some of them, or what I call the Four Ps:
- Passion. They have got to have passion and interest for the area of social media beyond “I like to snap or spend time on IG.” This is an ongoing concern not just in academics, but we all saw the viral video that circulated with Geno Auriemma about recruiting today versus previous years. I tell my students all the time that I try to embrace a nicer version of Anton Ego (from Ratatouille). I want students who are up to the challenge when I ask them “What does the student have that is new when it comes to social media?”
- Personality. I look for students who come to class with a bit of personality to them. We see so many times from other programs “branded” students who are all one and the same. Instead, I look at the class with the focus of having a unified focus on social media, but each student coming in with different backgrounds, experiences, areas of expertise, and interests.
- Partnerships. While the students are graded individually, they also have to work together, especially for the client project. This is the other thing that Geno focused on – the “me” culture we have seen being discussed across the board is something we are seeing in a variety of places. There is definitely times where you need to shine and do your part individually, but at the same time, social media in some cases (if you are working for a business, agency, or corporation) is a team effort, and you have to be a team player.
- Persistence. Students who have the internal drive to achieve their goals and are willing to work hard for them are good in my book. I have had students from all grade distributions who wanted to be in my class – and all have succeeded in the areas. I do give students props for going to extra efforts to get into the class.
Let your students know what mindset, actions, and behaviors you expect from them in and after class
This is something where you want to make sure you communicate loud and clear what you are expecting of your students in class, but also what are some of your expectations for them to keep in mind for the future. So many times, we see people thinking just for the short term gain (ex. a specific assignment, passing an exam, etc) where that may not always be the best approach to take.
When I outline the syllabus to my class, I focus not on the assignments first, but what are the things that can be achieved from this class AFTER completing it. Sharing stories of former students, guests and what they have shared about the class, and what others have said about the final project are some of the things I start off with class. In fact, I have outlined all of the internships and jobs that students who have been part of the class in my syllabus way before going over the assignments. Showing them that yes, students have lived to tell the tale of the class and have not only survived, but thrived afterwords, is compelling to them.
Another way in which I share my expectations with the students (with the help of pop culture) is to tie in a little Harry Potter to the mix. I let the students know if I was like any professor in the series, it would be Professor Slughorn. Am I good with potions? No, but what this professor does have is a shelf for his top students and showcases them in his respective classes. Motto to the story is: You do exceptional work, you have the chance to make your way on the shelf.
With that being said, it is also important to read and be empathic of the situation and community within your class. There are times where professors may be tempted to micromanage a situation, assignment, or even lecture – when it could be more effective if they took a step back and handed over the microphone to another student or be the one learning from them. This can be accomplished in many ways – whether it is designating leadership roles for groups or having students with key skills that other students want to learn more about do a class workshop.
This is also the time where you emphasis this is a TEAM effort for the class, and you are an equal (as a professor) in this respect as well. For example, my students are working in teams for their client the Louisville Bats to help out with their social media activities for three of their games: The Exhibition Game, Opening Day, and Thunder Over Louisville. My role? I am going to be at the game ready go be a hand model in case they need to snap or insta a funnel cake picture at the ballpark. Essentially, I will be their “honorary” team member. 🙂
Show versus telling them the impact of what they are learning
Emphasizing the urgency to KNOW the skills beyond the classroom is crucial when it comes to social media. It’s one thing to study social media, but it’s completely different than actually DOING social media. While working through case studies and scenarios will get you to a certain point, students need to have hands on experience with the tools with the advice and guidance of the class.
This is why I absolutely love actually using social media for out of class discussions, especially for Twitter. This way, professionals and others are able to see first had what we are talking about in class, and how we are building a community. With time, the results of this could really make an impact for not only your students, but for yourself as a professor as well.
It also shows the students what others are saying about what we are doing in the class. Fellow professionals, professors, and even students have commented about the class and felt like they were part of a community here. Students need to see this – it’s one thing for you (as a professor) to say this is important, but they may need to hear it from others to fully believe it. Show rather than tell is the motto to the story.
Also, with that being said, students also need to know the impact of what you are doing for the class. For example, I was able to do something I have never been able to do before this past week: Have a fellow professor from another academic institution come and visit my class. Matt and I have been connected on Twitter for years (ever since the early days where I just came to UofL), and he reached out to me and asked if it would be possible to sit in on my social media class sometime. When I got this note, I was both honored and incredibly touched because this was the first time another professor (who I respected in the field) wanted to see my class.
So, Matt came to my social media class on Friday where we had a great guest speaker (Geoffrey Blosat of the Washington Redskins) and I told the student we had TWO guests coming to our class for the day. I explained to the students why Matt was in class, and they were very welcoming. In fact, several went up to Matt after class to thank him for coming to class. Definitely a #ProudProf moment for me.
These are just some of the underlying principles I have set forth for teaching social media over the years, but there is one thing that I have learned that really is important to note that really makes the difference here for the class. It’s pretty simple:
All depends on the professor and how they personally approach it.
Professors are able to set the standards, overall community, expectations, and mood for the class. We have to walk the walk and if we are asking our students to do these tasks and activities, we have to do this as well. I tell my students I do not expect them to work harder than I do when it comes to social media – and well, if you have a chance to see what I share and how active I am on Twitter for example, that says a lot. However, I am also following the guidelines set forth for the class. I am not exempt from anything listed in the class.
However, every class, professor and program is different. You want to do what you feel is comfortable for you on social media. Experiment around and see what works for you. If you want to see what I have done for my class, here’s a link to the teaching workbook I launched last fall.
Hope you have a great day!