Can you have a University class on Clubhouse, TikTok, Instagram, Twitch, and Line?

For those who haven’t followed my educational journey yet, here’s a quick intro to what I’m about: Putting students in charge, letting them decide the course of, well, the course and hence increasing accountability and responsibility within the student body as a result.

My previous experiment took place in a live class (good old times) and incorporated different educational engagement levers into the process. Students had to solve puzzles, physically move around campus, consume different forms of media, and find a creative to present their findings afterwards. The first few minutes of the experiment were a bit confusing for the students but once they realized that they had to figure things out by themselves everything was fine, the whole experience turned into fun, and the feedback was mostly positive with students stating they’d love to have more of such classes. Cool, right? I thought so too. And then: Another lockdown.

So the challenge changed a little. It was now all about how to make an online class ‘fun’ and engaging while also still being educational and making sure students take away the ‘right’ ideas and come to the ‘right’ conclusions. During the ITS discussions the idea of ‘getting the students out of the classroom’ stuck out to me and I thought this might be a good lever to pull. Not in a completely literal sense though as we are bound to online classes right now (well this quite literally does take them out of the actual classroom ;-)), but in a more ‘round-the-corner the approach. The thought process was the following:

Students spend all day long on MS Teams, WebEx, Zoom, Google Classroom, or whatever medium their instructor prefers. That must get boring rather fast. Just imagine starring at your laptop for 3–6 hours (classes here are three hours) and trying to learn something while doing so. Tough, right? Right! So the plan emerged to change things up a little bit. As one of the classes I teach this semester is a first year class by the name of “New Media Studies” I thought this would be the right class to try a few new things for several reasons:

  1. First year students need to get used to new ways of studying. They’re used to just sit and listen and to get shown everything they got to study by heart — University life is different, hence different forms of instructions might be beneficial to change/adjust that mindset
  2. New Media studies basically screams ‘use different (new) media platforms’ as understanding those media platforms is part of the syllabus. The best way to understand something is by using it — perfect match.

With all this in mind I started planning the class. Once it came around I started the class the way I mostly start new media class, by asking students to share their favorite memes of the week. I usually give out a meme theme (e.g. your favorite SuperBowl meme, etc.) and then let students share their favorite memes for ten minutes while reacting live to their submissions in the live chat to get them to interact, make them feel comfortable, and forget about potential pressure they might feel when interacting with me or their peers.

Afterwards I laid out the plan: Today you are in charge! We’re not going to spend too much time on here, you will spend the whole class researching, understanding, and creating content based on a topic of your choosing (as long as it is related to “New Media Studies”). Moreover I prepared a list of potential new media channels (reddit, Twitch, Twitter, Instagram, Clubhouse, Line, Facebook, Snapchat, YouTube, TikTok, Tinder, OnlyFans) and asked student groups to pick a platform and a topic to kick things off.

Upon choosing their platform and their topic I then opened private group chats with each group and jumped into group chats/video calls to check up on their work progress, potential questions, and alike. A few groups struggled in the beginning as they weren’t used to actually having to work on their own but once I ensured them that there’s no wrong answer and that it’s totally ok if they are having fun as it’s all about understanding the platforms that they are using (while educating others on their selected topic of course) even the slow starting groups kicked into second gear and started to enjoy the process.

In the end we had groups using Clubhouse, TikTok, Line, Instagram, Facebook, reddit, YouTube, Snapchat, and Twitch as educational platforms by utilizing the strength of each platform and educating their peers on their specified topics (e.g. ‘what is r/wallstreetbets and how does it work’).

At the end of our scheduled time I checked back in with every group to have some quick debriefs in regards to what they learned that day and as most groups asked for an extension of the deadline in ordered to smoothen up their content I agreed to that which lead to some very good submissions later down the road.

After all was said and done the feedback was overwhelmingly positive with students claiming that classes like this were more fun than just sitting down and starring onto MS Teams. The most common negative feedback was in regards to the initial confusion as it took most of the students a short while to understand what they actually had to do.

My takeaway from this experiment is that

a) students like new things / approaches and are open to experiments and appreciate if we try to make classes more engaging and enjoyable,

b) while we discussed at ITS that the exploration phase is important some groups, especially first year students, might benefit from having at least a quick explanation phase handy,

c) creating such classes is lots of work but also very rewarding if they work out. Being on standby all the time though and working with every group on their projects, etc. is definitely way more exhausting than a normal class which needs to be taken into consideration — especially if you are having more than just one or two classes per week,

d) it was rather difficult to explain this approach to the faculty as there might be a lack of understanding / open mindedness in the upper echelon of decision makers — luckily that didn’t factor into the class in this regard but could become an issue once one would try to actually change the course syllabus / class style on an official level.

Overall I had lots of fun doing this experiment though — so much so that I actually ran an updated version of this experiment in my second year class (Media & Social Responsibility) as well — if you’re interested in those results, check www.mediaandsociety.org regularly as updates will be posted on there rather soon :-)

Can’t wait for the next one and let me know what you think about this experiment and all the ideas that you have to make classes more engaging.

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