Online Identity Class: Week 6

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.

In the penultimate week of class, we continued discussing the empirical research about SNS users and how the media portrays youth use of SNS and CMC.  One assignment – locating and analyzing three different media reports – was due this week.  I was also forced to make some decisions about readings, grades, and assignments that should have should have been made much earlier.

In Monday’s class we opened the class by viewing “Facebook Manners and You:”

Before watching the video, I handed out a “cheat sheet” with some of the properties and observations we have read about and discussed. As we watched the video, I paused for about a minute when each rule in the video was presented to allow us time to each silently reflect on how that rule interacts with, falls out of, or contradicts the things we had discussed and read about. After finishing the video, I asked my students to discuss their thoughts and observations with their neighbor (the classic “Think-Pair-Share” activity).  We then discussed our thoughts as a class (i.e. I asked specific students to discuss what they had discussed and we reacted).  This activity went very well and it drove home the point that these ideas and properties are all intermingled and messily connected as we never agreed that any rule was linked to only a few ideas.  It’s also a very funny and well-made video that was a lot of fun to watch.

I then asked my students to break in to groups of three to answer one question: Who are the people that don’t use SNSes?  Both of our readings for Monday – and each student only had to read one of the readings – focused on those people who don’t use SNSes and I wanted to ensure that my students were able to sort through the literature to paint a broad picture of SNS non-users. Given the incredible and still-growing size of the Facebook user base it’s easy to assume that all college students are Facebook users.  Given how similar in popularity Facebook and MySpace are among American youths, it’s tempting to conclude that all youths are using one or both services. But the digital divide still exists, there will always be people who choose not to use even the most popular tools, and even among SNS users the frequency and manner of use varies significantly.  So for all of these reasons and more it’s important to disabuse people of the notion that everyone uses these tools.

We also spent a few minutes on Monday looking at another critique of media reports about SNS use. Estzer Hargittai wrote a blog post discussing the media coverage about a recent Facebook study.  She was critical of the media reports and the research and several leading scholars (including Nicole Ellison, Fred Stutzman, and Barry Wells) posted comments, joining in on the fun.  This served as a great example of how to critically look at a media report given that the assignment that was due on Wednesday called for my students to do exactly that.  I didn’t expect my students to lay out the exact same kinds of arguments laid out by some of these scholars (“When I did my research last year, I didn’t find that!  I found that…”) but many of the criticisms were valid and ones from which my students could learn.  It was a very timely blog post.  Thanks Estzer and friends!

Wendesday’s class initially had four separate readings.  When I noticed the number of readings and the total volume of reading, I made the executive decision to immediately e-mail my students and reduce the readings by making three of them optional (what in the world was I thinking when I made the syllabus???).  In class, we discussed the remaining required reading, danah boyd’s “Why Youths Heart Social Network Sites: The Role of Networked Publics in Teenage Social Life.” This is danah at her best and if I were asked to recommend one and only one piece from this class for others to read this would be it.  She does a great job tying together many different threads, including historical arguments and ideas.

I also broached the idea of cancelling or somehow modifying the next assignment which is due this Wednesday.  In part, I am motivated to examine this assignment in part because I am sensitive to the schedule and workload of my students at this point of the semester (not to mention my own!).  Incidentally, this was on my mind in part because of a great book we read earlier in the semester in College Teaching and Learning, Duffy and Jones’s Teaching Within the Rhythms of the Semester.  However, this was largely motivated by own concern that we did not have time to adequately build up to both this assignment (linking earlier Goffman ideas with later SNS and CMC research) and the final assignment (a policy recommendation about SNS use in evaluating college applicants). I think our time is better spent looking ahead to the final assignment so I have made this next-to-last assignment optional.  Why optional?  I don’t want to catch anyone offguard who may have a lower-than-desired grade and deprive them of a chance to raise that grade since the assignment is in the syllabus.

We finished a bit early on Wednesday and I was so very happy that I had something up my sleeve just in case this happened (something I would not have had last semester when I first taught this class)!  To help my students understand that the properties and ideas we had spent so much time discussing and examining are not necessarily negative or detrimental, I showed them the video below. It’s a difficult video to watch but the point is that without some of the properties we have discussed, particularly asynchronocity and invisible audiences, we would never be able to understand what Amanda has to tell us about herself, others like her, and ourselves.  It’s hard to watch but it’s worth the payoff.

I didn’t have a chance to ask my students what they thought of this video but the room was dead silent as we watched this, particularly once we got to the part of the video where Amanda “speaks.”  I’ll ask them on Monday.  I think there’s a 90% chance that they were moved by the video and a 10% chance they thought it was absolute crap and a waste of time.  I hope they were moved as I believe that some of the things we do in classrooms should and sometimes must emotionally move our students (and ourselves).

Next week we wrap up.  We’ll build towards the final assignment and bring the class to a good close (something I failed to do last year and something that still bothers me).

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