Next fall, I’m teaching the introductory seminar and a course called “Communication, media, and society.” I’ve taught both before. At the graduation someone mentioned that it’s not like, in our field, we can just stay with a course and reteach it. That’s true to a certain extent, but one of the things I hope to impart to students is that changes in our media environment, while rapid and profound, reveal deeper, more important long-term trends. Nonetheless, I think it’s time to “reform” the two fall courses.
In the past, the intro course has been something of a survey, providing students with a glimpse of what comes later in the program, and it’s been largely bereft of hard-core tech. There isn’t enough room in our curriculum for a table of contents, though. Instead, I am going to cover what I think is most important for someone to know if they are going to be producers of content in the current media environment. I plan for it to stand alone in that regard. If they leave the program after taking this one course, I hope they leave with enough to be reasonably successful in the media field. High expectations, indeed.
In the past, I’ve started with the ancient Greeks, moved quickly to WWII, and then through urbanization and mass media in the twentieth century. I think it’s really important that students get the historical grounding in this stuff. They need to know that people were talking about the memex and augmented thought way before the “web 2.0” popularity. But they seem to complain at the outset that they didn’t come to grad school to learn history. (I hope some change their mind after thinking through things, but many are so turned off they may not.)
Instead, I’m going to start with the things I think are most important, and move back, forward, and out from there. It will come as no surprise that I still think the idea and practices of blogging are at the center of understanding social media. So, in the first week, I’m going have them set up a WordPress blog and Twitter account and identify an area they want to make a significant, field-wide impact on. I expect them to become micro-experts in that area by the end of the semester. And much of the semester will be dedicated to understanding how it is that they can produce good, engaging content, provide an excellent experience to the community that follows them, and gain attention in a noisy world.
So the central organizing question will be: How do I create a great blog–with a substantial return on the time I invest in it–within a short period of time? (Painfully short in the case of the 7-week online version of the course.)
Naturally, this turns a lot of my readings on their ear. It’s going to be hard to shave down some of the readings. For example, I probably ditch “As We May Think” in favor of “Don’t Make Me Think.” (An older version of the course is here.) A lot of the pieces, though, remain the same.
I will divide the work into:
1. First There Was the Blogosphere
2. Social Networks and Social Networking
3. Into the Twitterverse
4. New Structures of Knowledge
5. Mining the Flow
6. Designing an Experience
8. Getting Attention
9. Commercialization and Marketing
10. Onto the Holodeck
11. Locative Media
12. Physical Computing
14. Hacking Citizenship
This topical organization makes touching on the vital pieces a little more difficult, but for my own organization purposes, as I flesh this out, I look at each unit and ask about why it matters to social media more broadly, in addition to:
A. History & Future
Who already thought about this stuff? I’m a big fan of the idea that there is nothing new under the sun, and most of the changes we see today have very deep roots. How do the sorts of activities we are seeing here reflect earlier forms of mediated communication? What changes and what remains the same? Who
B. Social, Policy, & Ethics
There was a bit of discussion of determinism and the relationship of technological change to social change in the earlier version of the course, and that will remain here. I’ll try to address mitigating some of the harm these technologies can bring, as well as identifying and enhancing their potential benefits. I’ll touch on issues of privacy, of piracy, of access to knowledge, of differences in ability, of freedom of speech, and of the relationship of media to democratic participation in government.
C. Design Process
I want to make sure students understand the concept of design patterns, of user-centered design and user testing. I want to imbue them with an appreciation for open standards. They should have a rough idea of what happens in large organizations when something needs to be developed, and what sorts of specializations exist. They should be able to identify some key designs or designers that influence their thinking. They should be able to understand some of the basics of information architecture and user experience. I want them to start looking at the world from a design engineer’s perspective: identifying problems other people don’t see and starting to think about how to fix them.
D. Strategic Sensitivity
I want them to be thinking in terms of ROI, even if that investment is in time or attention. Really, this is about maintaining a good environmental scan and being aware of threats and opportunities. How do you know what you are doing is the best way to do it? We’ll talk a little about business intelligence, analytics, and setting goals and metrics. This includes both at the organizational level and things like personal time management and lifehacking.
Obviously, these themes are far from discrete.
The next step for me is to cross the five themes with the weekly topics and come up with clear objectives for each unit, and then look for readings, listenings, watchings, and doings that will lead to meeting those objectives.
More to come…