Back in January, I blogged here about the goals and the early stages of my first experiment with a social media assignment. Over the course of the semester in my class about TV genres, each student has created a Google+ profile in the persona of their assigned genre. Points are assigned based on how often they post, how detailed the generic history and context are on their home page, and the frequency and detail with which they interact with other genres in the class. In this post, I’ll evaluate how well the assignment worked, both for me and for the students.
The assignment’s goals were to have students present historical research into a specific genre and analyze how contemporary iterations of their genre interact with one another. Ideally, it would also link learning with social technologies students are already using, and spur students to consume social media more critically. As with all experiments there was some success and some failure.
In the success column, the most invested students have demonstrated that not only have they researched their genre’s history, current status including critical reception and ratings, and identified common themes or preoccupations in the genre, but also that they are capable of applying and synthesizing their research into cogent, creative output. Additionally, students who are scornful of the word “fan” readily admit to seeking out transmedia content from games to webisodes, fan videos, and general web-based snarkery, so this assignment has lead them to reevaluate their ideas of fans and fannish practices as well.
In the failure column, the interaction among students works best when I plant questions or suggest areas of overlap they might discuss with their fellow genres. Because the assignment is cumulative for the semester, it’s also easy for less eager students to check out when there is no threat of imminent grading. And much like Miranda Banks warned me when, based on her own experience, she counseled me not to do this assignment, it is enormously time consuming to read, participate in, and grade—and I only have 17 students.
In the end, the question is, would I assign this project again? Yes, absolutely. Despite the hours it takes, grading Google+ is enjoyable. The students report enjoying it too. In addition to research and analysis, it requires creativity, humor, collaboration, and peer response. When it works, students return to it throughout the semester, building their profiles and interactions based on new information from class materials and discussions. It does not sacrifice the all-important practice of writing, but allows for practice in less formal modes of writing and in distinguishing between platforms and audiences, which is a skill many of my students struggle with.
In response to this Chronicle of Higher Ed piece decrying the possibility of new, non-monograph formats for scholarly work in the humanities, Mark Sample blogged about the idea of serial concentration. Both of these pieces are about scholarly rather than student work, but Sample’s argument applies here as well. He describes series of shorter pieces working as a process to build ideas and receive continuous peer feedback (very unlike the monograph or traditional research essay mode), which is exactly what happens when a social media assignment works well. All research and writing assignments would ideally involve drafting and feedback from peers and instructors before arriving at a final product. But most courses have content to get through, so writing by necessity becomes a method of evaluation rather than a pedagogical process. This kind of serialized thinking, writing, and creating builds that process into the assignment itself, ideally making this a learning project in addition to a reporting project.