Quick Thoughts On Teaching with Slack, Twitter and Medium: First Day of Class

So yesterday was the first day of classes at GW. I teach a class for undergrads called Journalism: Theory and Practice. (Syllabus here). It’s about 40 students, with a range of freshmen to seniors (though it should be mostly freshmen and sophomores)….

I started the class like I typically do — with an intro — and asked students how they heard about the shootings of the two journalists in VA. For the record, there was a fair bit of traditional media distributed in non-traditional ways, via push-notifications, for instance. But believe it or not, some students were actually watching CNN and listening to LOCAL radio stations. Booya! Yes, millennials do seek news elsewhere.

Big worry about introducing all this technology: Did I obscure the point of the class while throwing too much tech at the students? Hey, you’re going to be on Twitter, and Tumblr, and Etherpad, and Slack (yup, all that) — oh, btw, you’re going to be learning about Habermas and the future of news, and let’s also talk about the burning questions facing journalism. This is the delicate balance: trying to get them to use new tech in the service of learning ASAP class starts, but also trying to make sure that it doesn’t overwhelm. And I felt maybe that I overwhelmed them.

SLACK

So first- thoughts on Slack. I pitch it as what it’s like to be communicating inside a newsroom. Seems legit. BECAUSE IT IS LEGIT.

But it’s totally scary to introduce to students. I’m basically telling them: hey, you can’t email me anymore. And hey, all class announcements henceforth are here, on slack. And any extra files will be shared here, on slack.

First major use was last night. Seemed fine, but I uploaded an excel file that ended up being turned into a zip file? Didn’t realize it, and my mistake was super visible. Oops. Then, I was able to PDF the file, and it worked out.

So far, students seem to be catching on. BUT, not all students have signed up yet. I like the fact that there are instant alerts on my phone to cut through all my other email so I can respond ASAP, but @#$@#%, now I am in a position to respond to my students ASAP.

Major dislike: There’s no real “sticky” page that I can figure out — like, it would be great to be able to have some sort of “permapage” where I could host quick-links and files. Any suggestions?

TWITTER

I’ve been using Twitter as a teaching tool since 2011. There’s been a ton of success — we’ve had tweets go around the world (thanks @jayrosen and @henryjenkins for being a huge part of that)… and students have ended up with informational interviews and the chance to engage with some of their heroes.

Quite simply, Twitter turns my students into active participants in the conversation about the future of journalism.

But I realized again that I can’t just throw up a hashtag and expect students to begin tweeting the way I want them to — there is professional, journalism-lingo/professional-style tweeting, and that’s a skill they need to learn. Also, many students have protected/private accounts, or don’t use their accounts enough so they can’t be found in search. So when it comes time to begin following all their accounts at once, you can’t always capture everyone.

Major Difficulties: There’s always the ethical issue, too, of do I follow my students? I say yes, in part because it’s time for them to grow up and learn to use Twitter professionally- not because you can’t have fun on Twitter, but because it’s time to realize how to use social media to become a tangible brand. I don’t care what they tweet for fun, and with all the people I follow, I really don’t notice most of their fun tweets late at night or in the evenings. But I think I freaked them out by trying to create a personal connection over Twitter with their bios. I ALWAYS do that, and regret it.

Thinking that I’m going to do a quick Twitter lesson/demo this time around.

MEDIUM

So far, Medium for this undergrad class is going to be tricky. I posted the syllabus on Slack as a Medium link. Not sure many students have actually heard of Medium yet.

Here are the difficulties so far: It’s a lot of legwork on my part to upload documents to slideshare so I can host files/pdfs that I could host on blackboard much more easily.

I’m also struggling with where to host a permalink — right now, the Medium syllabus is essentially functioning as an electronic syllabus. It’s permalinked on blackboard, but again- where to host on Slack.

Also, the endless scroll might make it hard for students to find readings.

IN SUM

I’ve written this sort of Buster Benson style — inspired by his idea of using BART to write (looking for original post, but here’s someone else who did this) — it’s quick, not really edited all that much, free flow. Intended audiences are educators, my students, folks at Slack, Medium and Twitter.

REALLY IN SUM

What I’m most worried about is the balance between preparing my students to use technology journalists and other organizations/professions are using and also impressing upon them the fundamental ideas of the course in these critical first few days. I think the next two classes will help, though, as we begin talking more specifically about how journalism is changing in the digital age.