The overwhelming responsibilities of teaching social media

I’m finding myself a little overwhelmed these days. Like my students, friends and colleagues, life is suddenly overwhelming. There are simply not enough hours in the day or days in the week to get everything done. If I didn’t have a husband who knows his way around the kitchen and laundry room without a map, I’d be starving and look like a homeless person. Teaching three writing classes and one graduate PR class is too much for one mortal, but somehow I’m doing it, although I’m constantly terrified I’m not serving my students well. And then there are the faculty committees, and the few outside activities I allow time for. The house isn’t as clean as I’d like it to be, but it’s livable. The dog and cats still recognize me, and that’s good.

But what do we really need to do? I just spent two hours on Tweet chats with online friends, students and strangers from all over the world. I got some good ideas, but is my life changed by these information exchanges? Probably not. But it’s one of those things I “have” to do. And who makes me feel like I have to do it? I do. It’s self-inflicted overachievement torture.

I’m also feeling overwhelmed because I’m trying to absorb every detail about social media that I can find before classes start in January. You see, I’ve been asked by the faculty to teach a much-needed social media class at UNT. It’s much needed because PR and advertising students are expected to know social media applications and strategies before they graduate. But at the beginning of this semester, a large proportion of my students didn’t have a Twitter account, weren’t blogging, and still don’t know about Digg, Delicious, and Google Analytics. They start internships and come to me in a panic because their supervisors expect them to take over social media for the clients. They’re overwhelmed, too.

There’s simply too much information out there for one person to know and disseminate to eager young minds. So that’s why I’ll be crowdsourcing many aspects of the social media class next semester.

Why should that class be based on one person’s point of view? You can’t tell me there’s one human being anywhere who knows everything about social media and its strategic uses. The topic is a moving target, changing and evolving like rapidly mutating cellular material. I expect my students will be contributing as much to the class as I am, along with my expert guest speakers. 

Isn’t that the point of social media? To share and disseminate information? To work in communities with the expertise of the best and brightest coming to the forefront?  I look forward to their input, which is why I’ve already set up a Facebook page (Eagle Strategies) and a LinkedIn group. Get them started early. Start the conversation now, so it’s up and running by the first day of class. Bring my professional friends into the conversation.  We all learn from each other.

I’m not feeling as overwhelmed now.  I’ve decided to facilitate the social media class rather than teach it.  Because the learning will come from the doing, and I can’t make them do, only facilitate what they’re doing.

Let me know what you think.

18 thoughts on “The overwhelming responsibilities of teaching social media

  1. Victoria November 23, 2010 / 12:08 pm

    Sam-

    Funny… the last thing I want right now is another semester of classes! December can't come fast enough. It's been a fun ride but my college career is in its final stages. I'd love to come sit in on the class one day- without the pressure of being graded. Sounds lovely!

  2. Devin Smith November 22, 2010 / 10:16 pm

    Since this is the first semester for the social media class, you have the freedom to be flexible with the curriculum. I'm sure they'll be many times where assignments will arise or change depending on what's happening in the world. Just like you've done with JOUR4470, send out links to new controversies and stories that you can turn into assignments. I think your students will be very excited and involved in the class. I'm sure you won't have trouble getting them to talk or interact.

    You're correct about there being too much information for our young minds to absorb. You may want to stick certain topics to cover in class instead of opening it up to every subject that arises with social media. This could help trim down the information that needs to be covered.

    It'll be a fun experience as you and your students learn together. You've opened my eyes to so much I never knew about PR or social media, and I'm sure you'll be just as insightful next semester.

  3. Samra Jones Bufkins, MJ, APR November 22, 2010 / 10:02 pm

    Tori–I'm glad you're OK with 4470 and the fluidity of that class. I cover the same material every semester, but try to keep it current and relevant so you'll know how to USE that info, not just memorize a bunch of theories written by dead white guys. So even though I feel like it's disorganized, it's good to know you-all are getting something out of it.

    As for coming clean at the beginning–I figure students can see through somebody who professes to know everything about a subject but really doesn't. If I admit some of the material is new to me, we can learn together and everyone benefits. That's the approach I plan to take with the SM class. I still know more about it than probably all the faculty combined, it's just my perfectionist nature that makes me feel inadequate because deep down inside I want to know everything. All the feedback I'm getting is making me feel like my instincts are right on target, and we'll learn together.

    You should stick around and take the class. You didn't really want to graduate in December, did you?

  4. Victoria November 22, 2010 / 9:54 pm

    As you stated, the class will be a moving target. Since this will be the first time this is taught at UNT, take your time and absorb how the students learn. Trial and error will be your best friend. I've always appreciated professors who tell their classes upfront if they're not sure how the lessons will go. It gives the students a little breathing room to take in the information rather than worry about the grade they'll make.

    Since most information about social media changes daily, don't plan too far ahead. Just like your 4470 ethics course, this social media course will revolve around current events and SM case studies. An example you may want to show your students is the Domino's YouTube case study (which I wrote my 4470 paper on). Domino's took a risk by reacting to the company's biggest crisis communications disaster via social media. It ended up re-branding the company for the better.

    Start with the basics, which you've already done. I know that interacting with students via the #UNTJ4460 and #UNTJ4470 hashtags have helped a lot this semester. The point of social media is to engage through conversation. As long as this is your foundation you'll be fine!

    Best of luck, I'll be checking to see how it goes!

  5. Samra Jones Bufkins, MJ, APR November 22, 2010 / 9:30 pm

    Brittany–great minds think alike, I was planning a pre-test, just to see where everybody is, and to facilitate matching up teams by skill set.

    Sarah–believe it or not, I do unplug. The seminarian who's doing his internship at my church refers to it as a “digital fast” and I like that perspective.

    Kati–writing stuff down calms me. I should update my blog more. I do keep a journal, and recommend that for anyone thinking things through. Whether you write in a book with pen on paper, or tap it out on a keyboard, journaling is a great means of self-expression and can be very relaxing.

    Everybody–I found this book called “Hamlet's Blackberry” which is at the top of the holiday reading pile. And it's the paper version, not the Kindle version. The subtitle is “A practical philosophy for building a good life in the digital age.” The prologue was awesome, comparing social media to someone constantly tapping you on the shoulder to get your attention. I can relate to that. Some of it is self-inflicted–I don't have to respond to student texts, Tweets and emails instantly, and shouldn't feel guilty if it takes an hour or two to get back to them. But I do, and I know it's a burden I've put upon myself. Considering we have at least one faculty member without a cell phone, who only appears in the office just before classes, I shouldn't feel guilty if I miss a call or an email.

    I think the social media class will be a microcosm of the medium itself–collaborative, organic, challenging and fun. At least, that's my intention.

  6. Amanda Gleason November 22, 2010 / 6:53 pm

    I love your take on this. Social media are changing at such a rapid pace, and as you said it, there is just so much information out there that for one person to act like an all-knowing expert is unrealistic. Your class will benefit from hearing from a number of speakers, just as we have in 5100. (Which, by the way, I'd say you're doing just fine at!) What's more important is not that you have all the answers on how to teach it, but that it's being taught in the first place. That will help students out tremendously, and everyone can learn as they go, like we're all doing with social media.

  7. Kati Taylor November 22, 2010 / 11:32 am

    I think you are doing a great job dissecting the information! It is so much but never feel like you have to do it on your own. There are always additional resources through faculty members to graduate students/undergraduate students needing extra credit that can help you! Social Media is so important to learn and thank you for showing me the vital necessity it holds in PR world.

    I loved that you calmed yourself down after typing it out. I relate because I always have to talk myself out of being overwhelmed. Remember that the Lord will be there to help carry this burden and that by putting your faith in Him, you have no reason to be overwhelmed 🙂

  8. Brandi Champlin November 21, 2010 / 8:00 pm

    I agree that the learning will come from the doing. I feel that when physically doing something, rather than just reading it, you will have a better understanding of the operation. The class sounds exciting and will be beneficial for the students as well as the professor. All you can do is do your best each day and do not take on more than you can handle. Your students appreciate your desire to teach us the best of your ability. –Brandi Champlin

  9. lindsp123 November 21, 2010 / 7:16 pm

    I think it will be a great class and that you are the right person to teach it. However, it is important to remember that learning the tools and concepts for social media strategies is different when you are writing them for class than when you are writing them for a client or organization. I have learned a lot from you over the past two semesters concerning social media. But no matter how prepared I feel, being in charge of the implementation and creation of a client's social media campaign is scary. That is something that every student needs to realize.

  10. JillianBezner November 21, 2010 / 6:10 pm

    I think you have the right idea for the class. Facilitating the class will be beneficial to all of the students and maybe you as well. You'll be there to answer any questions and offer insight into how to effectively use social media. I know that in undergrad the most I was told was not to post drunk pics and inappropriate comments on Facebook. Social media is now so much more than that. Users must be aware of how to market themselves on sites, as well as use them for research and educational purposes. I say good job UNT and you for taking action on this need.

  11. Brittany K November 21, 2010 / 12:47 pm

    I can understand for the home being a mess. I need to fire my personal maid, and the cook is not doing a good job either. My child, Jazz is still being the best cat and tries to cheer me up. I think once the semester ends, then I will finally get the chance to move from the pig-pen.

    I like the idea of facilitating the class, since there may be some students that know different social media information. I would give a “test” the first couple of days to determine how much your students know. I wish I could be in this class, and I may scalp your twitter and Facebook pages for helpful information.

  12. sarah alisa November 20, 2010 / 9:15 pm

    You are going to think I'm crazy for this, but my best suggestion to you is to get off of social media for a while. It sounds crazy I know, but I did it for lent last year and it was the most liberating experience of my life. Well, that and going to Alaska. I'd hate for you to be so burnt out on social media that when class time comes, you don't even want to talk about it.

    As for the teaching, throw them in with the dogs. I don't believe social media is something you can teach; I believe it is something you just have to do. I would create a master list of sites they need to be familiar with and tell them to figure it out. Create quizzes or assignments about the fundamentals and basic how-to's for each website and use those as grades for the class.

    What is that Albert Einstein quote about finding 999 ways not to make a lightbulb? Use that! Tell students what they need to know how to do and eventually, through lots of wrong turns, they'll learn.

  13. Samra Jones Bufkins, MJ, APR November 20, 2010 / 8:28 pm

    Thanks for the great comments, gang. Yes, there's much more to social media than Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, and we will be focusing on how to use the tools strategically more than the tools themselves. while it is “social” media, there are business applications we all need to know, and we'll focus on that but also have a little fun, too, I hope. I also think the students will learn as much from each other as they will from me. And Julianne, I'm still trying to get my head around the idea of tests in this class, too. We'll see. Kali–yes, it's important the cats don't pee on things. Now that the dog can't raid the refrigerator (new French door fridge) I don't have to worry about her, either.

  14. Kali Flewellen November 19, 2010 / 11:12 pm

    1. The most important thing in life is making sure your animals, and husband, recognize you. So you are obviously on an alright track. It is even more helpful when the cats don't get mad about your absence and pee on things. So here's hoping for that.

    2. I think this class will keep you on your toes. In a good way, but one your cats might not like. For the sake of your students, you have to be ahead of the curve at all times. However, what is wonderful about making this class styled as a forum, is that the students have to do this as well. They can share new tools and sites. They can teach about the unspoken RTing code of conduct.

    Our field is turning into a hyperactive conversation from a world full of people. It's so easy to get out of this conversation loop and students and companies alike can benefit from a class dedicated to forcing them in that conversation.

  15. Hue November 19, 2010 / 10:32 pm

    Social media would be a tough course to teach. I guess you would be expected to be proficient with all the different ones. But I disagree.

    As Donna said, I don't venture beyond Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Heck, it took me a while to get the hang of Twitter. But I don't think the students really need to know all the different ones. I think it'd be more beneficial for us to learn how to use social media effectively. Please show us.

    I remember setting up TweetDeck in JOUR 4460. I also remember you sat down with me after class and discussed how to use Twitter towards my goals in career and life.

    You have the right idea with facilitating the social media course rather than teach it. We all can learn from each other. That way, you provide the students with direction and they can follow through.

  16. Julieanne November 19, 2010 / 10:28 pm

    I think the class is absolutely needed. I constantly find myself going to the help section a Twitter to make sure I understand how to use tweets in the best way. I can't even imagine what tests will be like…

  17. Donna November 19, 2010 / 8:14 pm

    I think you have the right idea for the class. I'm sure a lot of students (including myself) will learn a lot about social media. I feel like people in my generation think they know everything there is to know about social media, but I bet a lot of people don't venture out beyond Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I'm glad to know the curriculum isn't coming from just your point of view. Not that you don't know enough to teach, but I think it's a great way to facilitate the class because it is such an innovative topic. BTW, I couldn’t find the Facebook group.

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