A syllabus has been created to introduce the process that students will go through in the class. It provides an overview of the purpose of the class, its requirements, details for the assignments, and a sample outline. Much of the course content, requirements, and learning experience will be discovered and developed by the students throughout the semester. As suggested by Kaiser et al. (2013) there is a large amount of flexibility built into the course in terms of information and projects so that students can focus their attention on things they are interested in (p. 18). For this reason, the syllabus provides more of a guide to the experience rather than a specific overview of what will take place in the class.
The introduction to the syllabus identifies the instructional intent of the course. According to Kaiser et al. (2013), “The art of facilitating learning is to provide the necessary structure and support to assist the learner in constructing his or her own way of knowing” (p. 10). The introduction lets the student know that the teacher will not be giving answers, but providing the support they need to develop their own processes throughout the experience. Good.
Because social media is a rapidly changing environment, students need to be equipped to think, relate, and strategize in a very uncertain environment. This means the environment they learn in cannot be designed around abstract, well-organized concepts (Kaiser et al., 2013, p. 29). It needs to be an authentic learning environment that is filled with “authentic, complex, ill-structured problems” that reflect real-life scenarios in which there is no one best answer (p. 31). Thus, the introduction to the course makes clear that the learning experience is not about information but about practice with using resources and tools effectively.
Requirements and Resources
Student resources are the professor, the presentations, and the students who will all be assembled during class time. These resources are part of the scaffolding required for a project-based learning experience (Kaiser et al., 2013, p. 30). Vygotsky’s theory of the zones of proximal development suggests that with the proper supports, students can accomplish things that they could not do on their own. The external scaffolding suggested above is temporary to the classroom and should be relinquished when students develop the internal support structures of knowledge and experience from which to build their future application of what they learn.
The fact that students are developing their ability to be their own primary resource is reinforced by the emphasis on a student’s mind, peers, and professor instead of books. No books are immediately assigned as students will be focused on building their own process of integrating content in ways that are accurate, complete and clear (Kaiser, et al, 2013, p. 41). In the real world, there is no book available on how to be effective in a certain work position. However, resources and ideas will be shared through social media as they become important to the process that students are in. good.
The online information channel also gives students practice with communicating over social media and a diversity of opportunities for class participation (Kaiser et al., 2013, pp. 12, 13). Sousa emphasizes the importance of rehearsing important processes multiple times (2011,). In social media, one of the most important processes to master is one of communicating through social media channels. The course is implemented in a way that gives students plenty of practice with this important process. Great
The learning objective outlined in the first paragraph is measured by the completion of several student-defined projects throughout the class. These projects require students to apply the skills that they will need to continue learning once the class has ended. The success of these projects depends upon mastery of the process and students who do not demonstrate this mastery are encouraged to reflect upon their performance to discover ways that they can improve.
Building on the skill they have developed in research and presentation through the first assignment, students apply this collaboratively in the remaining assignments that gradually increase in complexity. This takes advantage of the idea of scaffolding in which each new level becomes accessible after completing the previous level. It also borrows from Sousa’s insight on how the brain learns through continual inquiry and the process of discovery (2011, p. 49). The class experience is an ongoing question that grows in its complexity as students grow in their mastery of social media in action.
“The best way to learn something well is to prepare to teach it” (Sousa, 2011, p. 101). Most of the graded assignments have students functioning as teachers or participating in a process of intentional reflection as encouraged by Kaiser et al. (2013, pp. 11, 12). Emphasizing the importance of this second factor, grades for the following projects are primarily based upon student engagement in the reflection process.
Depending on class size, students will complete one or two SMT presentations during the 16 weeks of the course. These take place at the opening of every class to remind students of the context in which their work is taking place. This follows Sousa’s recommendation to use the first few minutes of class to review important concepts (2011, p. 117). It also provides opportunities for students to collaboratively begin chunking social media tools and functions into certain categories based on their critical attributes. Sousa suggests that identifying these differences in concepts will help students with the retrieval process when the tools eventually become useful to certain projects (2011, p. 153). By the end of the class, students will have built these presentations into a rather expansive concept map for future reference (Kaiser et al., 2013, p. 13).
According to Kaiser et al., “the ability to self-direct reasoning and research will be the key in far transfer” (2013, p. 33). The first assignment requires students to approach the unknown world of social media tools they have never used to analyze them and prepare to share them with other students. Feedback is instant and allows all members of the class to reflect critically on their presentation and research skills. Over time, these presentations will dramatically improve in terms of quality and value as a result of the feedback mechanism.
The first SMT presentation is given by the professor in week 2 in order to provide an example of what students should look for. A similar pattern is followed for the third presentation on good examples of organizations using social media. Sousa has said; “Although a few students can learn on their own, most of them rely heavily on the instructional talents of their teachers to learn information and skills” (2011, p. 289). By providing the initial example, the teacher creates a process that students can follow and refine.
In order to show students how to engage in the reflective process, the professor should receive feedback on the presentation from students in the class using the same two questions applied to students: what was helpful about the presentation, and how can the presentation be improved? The professor’s openness to this critique is modeled after Brookfield’s encouragement of professors to exemplify the process of critical thinking upon their own ideas and opinions in front of the class (Brookfield, 2013).
Nonprofit research and strategy development.
Before group discussion and selection of a nonprofit to work with, each individual student will find a local nonprofit to research and develop suggestions for their use of social media. This builds off student’s current knowledge and has the purpose of helping them understand where social media fits into the broader context of the organizational function (Knowles?). Andragogy The intention of this assignment is to help students transition their schema for social media from a personal to an organizational level (Kaiser et al., 2013, p. 11). It also prepares students to participate more fully in the group conversation and pushes them to begin thinking at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy (Sousa’s “Divergent Thinking” (2011, p. 260)) as they apply, evaluate, and create new ideas (Bloom). By introducing this idea early in the course, students will have personal value for the more fundamental concepts they explore as in groups later on. It is a reference point to which details can be added throughout the learning experience.
The nonprofit presentation is for the benefit of the group more than for the individual as it helps students understand the various ways in which social media can be applied in different scenarios. Much of class time will be spent in group discussion and preparation for this and the corporate social media presentation. During these times of group work, Sousa offers two suggestions. First, quiet music in the background might stimulate more “alertness, concentration, and performance” (2011, p. 228). Second, he said, instead of letting students stay in one place, it is advisable to encourage them to stand around a table or white board (p. 238). If this is not possible, the teacher should keep track of the time and attempt to break the sessions into 20 minute segments so that students work at peak brain capacity (p. 96). Following these suggestions will increase the value of group discussion and project work times. It also enables kinesthetic learners to maximize their strengths.
Corporate Social Media Presentation.
As with the SMT assignment, the presentation on a corporation that uses social media well is first given by the professor. This helps to limit the risk of reinforcing the wrong ideas that comes from having the students venture into unknown territory with no map. With this assignment, students also have the option of outsourcing the presentation to an expert, which gives them experience with developing a resource pool and facilitating an event (important for the last few weeks of the class).
Class event feedback and reflection.
The capstone of the class is an event in which students present their work for the various nonprofits as well as what they have learned about successfully building and implementing a social media strategy. Members of the nonprofit and local community are invited and the event may be promoted through social media channels. Feedback for this event is provided by the guests through specified social media channels. The final week of class after the event has occurred, students will evaluate the feedback and reflect on improvements they could make to the event, their presentation, or the information they shared.
This final activity is the most complex of all the previous activities, but should be accessible to students on the basis of behavioral control. Because of their previous success and analysis of their failures to discover better methods, they will have confidence to continue this process at higher levels of complexity (Kaiser et al., 2013, p. 77).
Sample Class Outline
The class outline is designed to be used within the framework of a class that meets once a week for a minimum of two hours. The order of events included in the class outline is built around Sousa’s (2011) suggestions around windows of learning opportunity. Certain times of the day are more conducive to learning than others, and peak learning levels can only be sustained for a certain amount of time (p. 96). Most classes are designed to open with a review of the last class to reactivate prior learning and create a context for new information to enter the schema (Kaiser et al., 2013, p. 51). Sousa (2011) has called this transfer during learning. Old memories are reactivated so that students have something to which they can tie new learning (p. 144). This is followed by a presentation of the most important new information by the professor or students. Nearly every class includes a presentation on new social media tools in this segment.
The second half of the class begins with announcements and an introduction of upcoming activities. This is usually the time period during which students are least awake and engaged, so this might be the most effective use of the time. Following this, classroom time will be devoted to discussion or group work. Finally, a few minutes before closing, students participate in some kind of closure activity (usually discussion or writing) that reviews current material individually or as a group (Sousa, 2011, p. 130).
Weekly Course Structure
Each week has its own emphasis that helps students to consider their ongoing projects from a new perspective. One example of this is week 11, which focuses on helping students think outside the boundaries of their own cultural context. This provides an opportunity to explore ideas of race, culture, and the implications of social interactions between unique individuals (Kaiser et al., 2013, pp. 63, 66). Because social media is most often a process of educating others, it is important to explore these ideas because they impact the effectiveness of the social media strategy.
As a whole, the outline of the class begins by building relationships among students, identifying students with common interests, and beginning to narrow in on the project. Each assignment builds upon the others but with an increasing level of complexity. Because most of the work on assignments takes place in class, students have access to resources and help at the points they need it most. This allows the professor to provide an appropriate amount of support (scaffolding) to individuals and teams as needed.
The first few weeks are focused on building teamwork, and giving students some idea of the tools they will work with. Weeks 4-7 help the student understand the big picture of social media by having them explore its context and discover ways in which they can use it to help a specific organization. This personalizes the experience and helps to create an emotional connection to the learning (Sousa, 2011, p. 90).
The remainder of the class revolves around implementing the strategy, measuring the results, and exploring it from various angles in order to present and reflect the process during the final two weeks of class. The final weeks of class no longer introduce new information, but help students apply, analyze, evaluate, and organize it in ways that they will be able to remember for future reference (Sousa, 2011). The final class discussion also helps the students to think about ways in which they can continue their learning experience and possibly transfer it to new environments. The metanarrative of the course is designed to help students achieve some kind of closure to the experience that can be reopened for analysis at some point in the future.
The challenges with designing and implementing this learning experience are the tensions between experience and information, depth and diversity, and personalization and generalization. There were also some challenges to designing the syllabus.
The first challenge was answered by looking to the objectives of the course. Considering the context of social media, it became apparent that the learning objective of this course was more about equipping individuals in the learning process rather than making them familiar with the current state of the industry. In the end, the students will become familiar with the state of the industry, but they do so in an ongoing process of discovery that they can transfer beyond the classroom. Thus, the course was designed to have a majority of class time focus on group discussion and projects as opposed to the presentation of information. The experience takes precedence.
Depth and diversity of experience is a challenge that will be decided by the individual students. Within the course, time determines the level of depth that students encounter. The first few weeks of the course introduce students to a wide range of ideas organizations and information. As time progresses, students organize this information and begin to apply its generalized ideas to their group projects. Sousa has said, The depth of experience in this course is found in the experience of transferring what students learn from a diverse range of information into a personalized and focused experience with measurable outcomes.
Thirdly, every individual brings their own unique background and environment into the classroom. Though two of the assignments are individually based, the rest require that individuals come to a sort of compromise to work on a project as directed by a larger group. This might mean that some individuals work in an area that is further removed from the environment in which they will apply social media. However, the benefits of learning to work as a team outweigh the costs of making the experience more tailored to the individual. For example, where an individual learner might get stuck, the group can often problem solve and move forward together. Furthermore, the information presented throughout the course is not necessarily limited to the environment of any one group project.
In the end, the objective of the course is not to teach students any one particular method, but to help them develop processes ,which they can individually transfer to unique environments once the class is over. The experience may lack some information, depth, or individualization, but it provides each individual with a safe context (Kaiser, et al. 2013) in which to become proficient in the process of improving their social media abilities.
In addition to the theoretical challenges of implementing these ideas, two challenges came up in designing the syllabus. The syllabus initially included all kinds of information about class structure, expectations, and the rationale behind its design. However, in writing the facilitator’s guide, it became apparent that this was more useful to the instructor than the student. It would be better to use the syllabus as one of many tools to communicate the structure and rationale of the class. Instead of being heavy with rules it focuses on resources. Assignment descriptions focus on the reflection process and content outlines rather than grading factors. There is a particular reason behind every content area included in the syllabus as described previously.
In light of the overall tone, it was difficult trying to decide whether or not to include the full sample class outline in the syllabus. Originally the full outline was included, then it was changed to a list of the 16 different themes the govern each week. However, in favor of utility rather than brevity, the entire outline was eventually rewritten for student use rather than just for the instructor. This was largely due to the amount of decisions students have to make in the context of the outline: presentation dates, group work, etc. With access to the full outline from the beginning, they understand the context in which they will be working and can help direct their experience.
Learning Transfer Measurement
Learning transfer in this course can be measured within the course itself, but also after the course through a number of different methods. By following the social media channels of individual students and keeping in touch with the nonprofits, the professor will be able to see what parts of the class effect the student long term. Students that take the more advanced version of this class will provide the professor with a much more in-depth opportunity to measure learning transfer.
The design of this instructional event is meant to mimic a real-world situation as closely as possible. Through an intense focus on practice and reflection, students are equipped to transfer their experience in this class to situations that are similar and incredibly different (Kaiser et al., 2013, p. 7). As students progress through the course, their performance on the various assignments will show improvement and they will depend less heavily upon the teacher for learning. By the time students are presenting their findings and suggestions to the guests at their event, their level of insight and capability should be quite high. All of these are indications that students have developed the internal thought processes and attitudes that will assist them in transfer.
To measure long-term transfer, a teacher would need to maintain contact with students from the course throughout the year and beyond to see in what ways they have applied their social media skills. Because social media is usually quite public, it will be easy to tell if students apply what they learn. Perhaps the professor could create an aggregated feed of social media channels from students in class for personal use and the benefit of alumni.
Although not every student will be interested, there will probably be opportunities for many of them to continue working with the nonprofit organizations that they partnered with through the semester. They spent much of the semester in building the relationship and getting to know the organization, so it is quite likely that there is some personal connection that will continue once the course is over. If students are effective in their social media work, this may turn into an ongoing internship, or position with the organization.
Finally, if students decide to participate in the advanced social media class, it would allow the teacher to have a much more detailed idea of how well students were equipped to transfer their learning from this introductory class to similar environments.
To sum up the facilitator guide, one could say that the course is in itself a practice of learning transfer. The discovery process, interactive process, and reflective process that students experience throughout the course provide a strong foundation for students to apply what they learn in a diversity of settings. Within the course, students must practice the art of transferring skills and ideas from a non-profit to a for-profit, from a personal project to a group project, across multiple platforms, and much more. As time progresses, these skills are applied in increasingly complex environments that call upon higher levels of learning like analysis and creativity.
Students who complete the course not only have knowledge of social media tools, strategies, and practices, they have experience learning, using and building them. What students learn to do with social media in the course may no longer be relevant six months after they graduate, but the way that they learned to do it will keep them sharp and competitive in the rapidly changing world of social media. The real value of this course is that it avoids the error of studying social media in theory. Instead, it prepares students to transfer what they learn in class to a diversity of environments by giving them the chance to experience social media in action.
Brookfield, S. D. (2013). Powerful Techniques for Teaching Adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Kaiser, L., M., R., Kaminski, K., & Foley, J. M. (Eds). (2013). Learning Transfer in Adult Education. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. Volume 137. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass
Sousa, D. A. (2011). How the Brain Learns. Fourth Edition. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.