Last spring, the faculty senate of my university passed a series of resolutions aimed at updating the university’s general education program. Part of that program requires (nearly) all undergraduate students to take a First-Year Seminar (FYS) course and one of the resolutions updated some of the specific outcomes of that course. In this post I’ll discuss how we’re approaching the new outcome of “responsible use of the internet and other social media” that the faculty have added to the course.
It’s important to note that FYS courses at my university come in many different flavors. About 40% of our first-year students take a one-credit, pass/fail course that usually lasts about eight weeks and is taught by faculty from any discipline to a class of about 25 students. Other students take FYS courses that are taught in their college or department; those courses vary in terms of their length, size, and objectives. All FYS courses, however, are intended to have some common outcomes and it’s those common outcomes that the faculty senate updated.
The immense variance in the FYS courses and their many different outcomes make it a challenge to add even one more topic to the courses. It seemed best to assume that faculty would only be willing to devote one or two class sessions to this new topic and build our curriculum accordingly. Further, it seemed best to create a recommended curriculum with supporting materials that faculty from all disciplines could easily use. Of course, we can’t dictate how the faculty teach their course but it’s likely that most faculty would use and build on well-constructed, useful materials (handouts, case studies, example exercises, etc.) when required to address a new topic in a course outside of their home discipline.
Given the constraints within which we are working, we constructed two student learning outcomes:
- Describe principles and specific examples of ways the Internet and social media can be used to both help and harm others
- Demonstrate effective ways to responsibly use social media to positively engage with others and portray oneself with authenticity
As we tried to figure out exactly how we’ll address these outcomes, we received a lot of help and suggestions from colleagues across campus and at other institutions. One of the most common resources that was recommended to us is a well-known book that is aimed at (traditional) college students with many examples of social media use and misuse and lots of advice for students. I steered my colleagues away from that book. The advice seems to be reasonable and useful but ultimately I don’t know the basis for any of it. In brief, it seemed to be atheoretical and subjective which makes it a very shaky foundation on which to build a university-wide curriculum. We must know the theory that underlies and motivates the curriculum if we are to understand why it does or does not work and make suitable adjustments to it.
Instead, I turned to the scholarly work that has been done in this area and built the curriculum and materials on that. Here is how the curriculum is summarized in the working paper describing the curriculum:
The pilot curriculum for this component of the FYS encompasses two sets of activities. First, students and faculty will discuss social media using (a) properties of social media identified by researchers and (b) case studies. Students will then write their own case study. Second, students and faculty will use Twitter throughout the class to share information with one another and connect with specific resources. Toward the end of the class, students will write a one-page reflection paper.
We’ve developed a set of initial case studies from which faculty can choose based on their disciplinary background and their students’ interests. We’ve also developed two (somewhat skeletal in this initial pilot) sets of activities using Twitter. They’re all untested right now but I’d be happy to share those materials with anyone who would like them.
We’re piloting things in a few classes this fall and performing some focused assessments and observations to help us understand how well these things work and what we need to adjust as we move toward implementation in all of our FYS courses. I’m making available both the summary of the pilot curriculum as it currently stands and a document that describes the philosophical, pedagogical, and scholarly frameworks and resources used to build the curriculum. Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions.