Online Identity Class: Week 5

Graphic syllabusNote: As part of a College Teaching and Learning class in which I am enrolled, I will be reflecting weekly on the course I am teaching. I will likely withhold some details and information from these public blog posts to respect the confidentiality and sanctity of my classroom but I hope to be frank about my own actions and emotions as I teach this course for the second time.

We only met once this week as I spent most of the week in or traveling to and from the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) where I presented a paper (122 kb PDF).

For this one class, I asked my students to read boyd and ellison’s introduction to the Fall 2007 special theme of the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication focused on social networking sites (SNSes). I also assigned half of the class Bumgarner’s 2007 First Monday article and the other half Joinson’s 2008 ACM SIGCHI paper. The hope was that we could (a) use boyd and Ellison’s article as a foundational piece to understand SNSes, particularly their history and how (some) scholars define them, and (b) compare and contrast the two empirical Facebook articles to give us a good understanding of what people actually do (or “did” given the age of these articles?) in Facebook.

It didn’t quite work out as well as I had hoped it would work out. The first article was straight-forward but the other two articles were not as simple, particularly Bumgarner’s. I forgot how much of my own knowledge and background I take for granted as I was able to cut through all of the cruft in both articles to easily find the really interesting and meaningful information but I’m afraid that wasn’t so easy for my students. For example, I knew to gloss over the tables in the Bumgarner article that presented the factor loadings derived from his exploratory factor analyses but my students didn’t know that.  I think it could have gone better if I had done a better job preparing beforehand and giving my students some advice and guidance before having them read the articles.  I don’t think I would have cut out the articles completely as (a) they’re still useful, informative, and interesting and (b) it’s good to have challenging material as that is how you learn how to cope with and overcome the challenges. If I can figure out a good way to do it, I’d like to spend a few minutes this week going back over this material to reinforce it.

One interesting confluence of events is adding to the class and our understanding of the material. Last week, the media picked up on new research that found a correlation between Facebook usage and lower grades among college and university students. It turns out that this research is a poster session that was presented at the conference I was attending so I was able to (a) see the poster firsthand and (b) speak with the author. Most of the media reports are pretty far off the mark and we’re seeing some really neat reactions (to both the research as reported and the reports themselves) from scholars and experts. This is excellent timing as the next assignment in this class is to write about and critique some current or recent media reports!  I’m able to use these reports and discussions as real live and current examples of both how the media often get things wrong and how one can analyze and critique the media.  (Incidentally, the author of this poster session strongly encouraged the use of her research and subsequent media reaction as an educational tool to do these exact things instead of focusing on the results of what was really a small-scale one-off survey; Aryn was very gracious and my heart goes out to my fellow graduate student who unexpectedly got caught up in a small media-driven tempest-in-a-teapot.)

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