Pedagogy, teaching

Recipe for a Social Media-based Class: Take/Year One

The time for all my Twitter-culling has come to a temporary stop. I have had to whittle down and make decisions — tough stuff.

With school now only a scant two days away, I’ve essentially made up my mind about how I plan to roll out my first social media-based class with sophomores this year. After having spent the past few months participating in Shelly Blake-Plock’s Friday Chats on Today’s Meet, constantly scanning my Twitter feed, adding resources to my Diigo account, reading lots of good and thought provoking blogs, writing my own, and engaging in a number of interesting exchanges via commenting on other’s blogs. However, at some point I knew that summer would end and I’d have to make some decisions about how I planned to implement all these tools and resources I’ve been thinking about for the past eight or so months.

So now it’s time to get my students involved in using these social media resources in the hopes of shifting my class dynamic to be a more thoroughly student-centric one. Recognizing the fact that I’m able to change this structure in the future and am not wedded to any particular website or online resource, here’s what I’ve decided to go with this first year:

Hub-and-Spoke blogging

As I’ve written about earlier, and with the ideas of Boone Gorges, Mark Sample, and Julie Meloni, I’ve decided to structure my students’ writing around individual blogs (all hosted on WordPress — I really like the WYSIWYG editor) and connected to one another through Google Reader. From Boone I’m going to borrow the idea of blog reading groups, which gives each student a clear audience that he or she writes for, and also gives each student a more manageable and directed reading load. From Mark I’m borrowing his idea to have the students engage in “blogging about blogging,” which will help reiterate and emphasize the preeminence of “process” over “product.”

Moreover, this structure will allow me to cull all their individual RSS feed in my Google Reader account, which makes tracking their posts easy, and also allows me to create a “bundle” of each class that I can then disseminate to the rest of the students so that they don’t have to go through the challenge of adding each RSS feed individually. Additionally, having everyone on WordPress gives me the clear knowledge of what the RSS feed is for their comments, which also allows me to route that discourse into my Google Reader account as well. By using Yahoo Pipes (hopefully with some degree of success,) I plan to pull all their comments feeds into one feed, centralizing the discourse I mentioned in the last sentence, and creating one central RSS feed to check.

As for evaluating the blogs, I plan on using a hybrid of UT-Austin’s CWRL’s “small multiples” system with my own quantification twist. The CWRL’s approach relies on evaluating student work in two major areas — quantity and quality — and then charts this visually.

Picture 5

However, I have to turn these dots into numbers that will ultimately lead to a grade — another conversation that has sparked a fair amount of discussion in various places online, and which I might find some time to weigh in on soon — because unfortunately, quantification of learning is an institutional (“institutional” writ large, as in the entire United States) necessity at present. Therefore, I’m going to impose a quadrant system on top of the small multiple graph that will hopefully fairly quantify (as much as this idea is possible) an assignment’s quantity and quality.


Wow, I didn’t realize how large an image that would be. Oh well. In any event, we’ll see how this system works, but I think it will prove useful for students in giving them feedback on what specific area of their work needs improvement. Moreover, this system benefits those students who are grinders, work hard and extensively, but struggle with finding that elusive “quality.” Not only does this system give them the bulk of the credit for an assignment where they generate a lot of material (although that material may lack depth of insight or extensive meaningful analysis,) but it also helps that student see that simply generating vast quantities is not the entirety of what one should be aiming to do.


I also wrote about this tool in an earlier post and emphasized all the benefits it will provide (theoretically, we’ll see soon enough!) for students in the research process. I’ve already pointed a number of my colleagues toward this website, explained its value, and have seen some of them already adopt it and begin sharing resources. Hopefully Diigo’s accessibility will help create a collaborative, resource-sharing dynamic not only amongst my students, but also amongst my colleagues as they use Diigo as a form of PLN-lite.

Class Webpage on Wikispaces

As much for myself as for my students, I’ve created a class wiki that has ID Terms, Critical Questions for each chapter, links to the class calendar, social media resources, art and art history resources, screencasts, and other various helpful websites that we might end up using throughout the course of the year. While the page I’ve designed is not as aesthetically pleasing as I’d like, I think it’s fairly intuitive and will hopefully be a helpful hub for the students in knowing where to access pertinent resources.

I haven’t yet implemented individual, editable class wikis for each section of my course (presently the main course wiki is editable only be me…I know, antithetical to the idea of a wiki, right?) as I’m waiting to see how sharing resources and materials via blogs works out with my students. However, I can see the necessity for a central location for links that point the students to one another’s timelines, ID Terms, critical question breakdowns, and other valuable info. Of course, these links could simply point the students back to one another’s blogs, but at least this type of wiki would cut down on endless browsing of one another’s blogs hunting for that pesky definition or timeline.


I love Edmodo, I really do. However, I think with older students, particularly for those who are doing a lot of writing, that Edmodo isn’t the right platform. Blogs just do a better job of creating a central repository for each student’s work. I know I certainly pull from the material and links I’ve posted here all the time.

Nevertheless, I think Edmodo’s calendar and assignment scheduling functions are really well designed and implemented. So, I’ll be posting all my assignments there, and students can then get notified via text message when a new assignment is up and have that info accessible from their phones. Moreover, at least at the beginning of the year, I hope to have the students use Edmodo as a micro-Twitter, where students can post questions for one another and hopefully answer those questions. This may prove too limited, at which point we can migrate this functionality over to Twitter, but at present, I think it’s a good centralized, protected (read: no spammers) location for students to dialogue with one another informally.


So, there you have it; the recipe for my first social media-structured class. I’m excited about the possibilities this format holds and am interested to see how many students begin bringing their own laptops to class to have access to these resources (presently we’re not 1:1.) I’m anticipating a fair amount of tech troubleshooting this first week, but once we all have our feet wet and have established accounts and familiarity with these various resources I’m hoping that everything runs smoothly and that students can begin providing insights and assistance to one another, thereby practicing the student-centrism I’ve spent so much time thinking and writing about this summer.


4 thoughts on “Recipe for a Social Media-based Class: Take/Year One

  1. What terrific ideas! I didn’t know about Google Reader’s “bundle” feature — I can imagine using it in other contexts aside from class blogs.

    The quadrant system as an alternative to rubrics is new to me too, and I’m intrigued by it. Where a particular student fits on the quantity axis is easy enough to gauge, but what determines the quality axis? I used the term “rubric” to describe my 0-4 point scale, but it’s not a rubric in the sense used by the critics you refer to. I see it more as a set of expectations about the kind of work I value, which in no way would reduce students’ writing to the kind of lifeless cookie-cutter work that rubric-critics fear. In other words, even without rubrics, students still need to understand what counts as quality work.

    Finally, I want to hear how Diigo works out. I’ve tried Diigo and Trailfire and I ended up liking Trailfire more. But that was over a year ago and I can’t remember why!

  2. Nate says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Mark.

    The quadrant system is entirely of my own invention, insofar as I just layered a quantification system on top of the CWRL’s “small multiples” approach.

    I’m hoping to use this approach to evaluate more than just the blogs. For instance, in order to help freshmen learn how to engage with a text I check their “active reading” (underlining and annotations) to get a sense of 1) whether they did the reading; 2) how well they can determine salient material from the less significant information.

    In previous years I had a check, check-minus, zero system for evaluating this type of work: Check for a thorough job, check-minus for partial work; and zero for no work (clearly.) I think the small multiples approach will work well for this type of assignment as well because it will tell the students in what area of their active reading they’re falling short. In fact, if I can get them to evaluate their own level of work and assign themselves a dot on this scale, that’s ideal–and hopefully something that will begin happening.

    I agree that your “rubric” certainly isn’t of the checkbox variety that Shelly Blake-Plock derides at TeachPaperless, and I similarly hope to avoid encouraging students to simply try to skirt by with the bare minimum that will fulfill the assignment and in the process quash all creative thinking. I think there’s a lot of value to engaging the students in a conversation about what constitutes “quality” work, and hopefully if they can create the definition for excellence (and other descending categories) on an assignment they’ll have a clearer sense of what to strive toward and also have more investment in the process because they helped to establish these various tiers.

    In short, I suppose the “quality” axis might be defined in different ways for each assignment, and one of the advantages I have of teaching small classes that I see every day is that I am able to spend more time engaging my students in conversations about what constitutes “quality.”

    As for Diigo, I’m most compelled by its annotation features. In a sense, once you have Diigo installed, you begin to see notes and discourses around an article or post that take place outside of the comments section. I also think that students will find it helpful in doing research by being able to annotate and cull sources online always knowing that their notes and sources will be accessible from any computer. Diigo also offers educator accounts that allow you to create class groups online, but I haven’t played with that feature at all. I haven’t heard of Trailfire, but I think I’ve got all my eggs in the Diigo basket now and we’ll see how it progresses!

  3. One more thing about small multiples: you can track any categories you want. For example, in my writing classes I track the following categories – dimensions:

    Content – Quality & Quantity
    Argument – Support & Development
    Organization – Structure & Navigation
    Style – Appeal & Effectiveness
    Grammar & Mechanics – Suitability & Correctness

    So, I would have five matrices that I would use to track these ten characteristics.

  4. Pingback: “And they’re off…”: Thoughts on the unveiling of the social media-based class « The History Channel This Is Not…

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