Teaching (with) Social Media/ Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier Vol. 1(1)



Teaching (with) Social Media

Cinema Journal Teaching Dossier Vol. 1 Winter/Spring 2013
Co-editors: Erin Copple Smith and Lisa Patti

Table of Contents

Using Social Networks to Encourage Class Discussion by Ethan Tussey
Grading with Google +: Assessing Social Media Assignments by Jorie Lagerwey
The Challenge of Participation: Flickr Photostreams and Tumblr as Backchannels in the Digital Media Classroom by Melanie Kohnen
Video Game Walkthroughs as Social Media by TreaAndrea Russworm
Will it Blend? Lessons Learned Using Collaborative Media in a Liberal Arts Classroom by Brett Boessen


Erin Copple Smith and Lisa Patti

As interest in the “Digital Humanities” continues to grow, scholars across the humanities are becoming ever more invested in determining what digital media can contribute to both their scholarship and their pedagogy.  In addition to the large-scale digitization efforts that are one hallmark of digital humanities, the field has also found useful tools in social media, including Twitter, Facebook, Google+, blogs, and similar online platforms.  Social media have emerged as an important presence in the university classroom – both as a topic and as a pedagogical tool.  While the “digital humanities” necessarily encompass a wide range of disciplines, scholars of Cinema and Media Studies are particularly well positioned not only to analyze social media in their research, but also to incorporate it thoughtfully and skillfully in the classroom.

This dossier introduces different ways that Cinema and Media Studies faculty frame the exploration of social media for their students.  The essays confront the pedagogical challenges posed by social media – from protecting the privacy of students to assessing collaboratively produced student work – by sharing recent teaching experiences and offering practical solutions that readers can adapt for use in a variety of institutional and disciplinary contexts.

Integrating social media into the classroom can encourage more students to participate in class and can intensify their engagement with the course, creating a network that links participation in class to participation online. As Ethan Tussey suggests, “incorporating social networking in my courses offers an opportunity to engage students in a space where they are already comfortable sharing their opinions and commentary.”  Meeting students where they are encourages their active participation in the course, and provides a familiar means through which students can engage with not only the course material, but also one another and their professor.  This type of online interaction provides students with new ways to participate, extending the boundaries of the classroom and fostering a greater sense of community among students.

As with any pedagogical choice, instructors must consider whether or not social media adds value to the course. Jorie Lagerwey asks the provocative question, “Does bringing social media into the classroom expand the reach or effectiveness of the content of our classes?”  Used thoughtfully, the incorporation of social media provides an example of the value of practice as a gateway to analysis and critique.  Social media platforms supply a useful site for the intersection of application and analysis.  As Melanie Kohnen contends, “The ultimate goal of the social media backchannel is to get students to realize that thinking about and using digital media are processes that necessarily converge both in class and in everyday life.”  As students engage with social media, they are encouraged to see the theoretical concepts introduced in class playing out all around them; the abstract becomes real and meaningful in their online interactions and experiences.

Nonetheless, though social media offer great potential as a classroom tool, they must be used thoughtfully and with clear intent.  As Brett Boessen notes, “digital tools are ultimately inert in themselves – they can only provide opportunities for learning when coupled with a clear goal for learning on the part of the instructor seeking to implement them.”  Those clear goals do not necessarily interfere with the flexibility and creativity offered by the use of social media—such assignments simply require flexibility in assessment, and a commitment to adjust strategies throughout the semester.  TreaAndrea Russworm remarks that her class analyzed video game walkthroughs and “decided unanimously to treat these documents as social media.”  Her experiences point to the benefits of involving students in a metacritical dialogue about the use of social media in the classroom.

In this dossier, the authors’ assessments of their recent pedagogical experiments with social media combine theoretical reflections on social media with detailed information about specific assignments and strategies.  For each of these scholars, the use of social media in the classroom is a dynamic and unfinished project.  They offer recommendations for other scholars interested in pursuing social media projects in their courses, but they emphasize the importance of implementing new strategies (and testing new social media formats and modes) to adapt to unexpected obstacles.

Ethan Tussey describes the productive connections he developed between his teaching and research by integrating social media into a classroom full of student research subjects.  As part of an initiative for the Carsey-Wolf Center, he designed a course on connected viewing, offering students an opportunity to connect their work in the classroom to their personal experiences with media.  Addressing issues ranging from the politics of “friending” students on Facebook to the benefits of encouraging students to interact with one another and the professor before class begins, Tussey highlights many of the central possibilities and problems inherent in the use of social media in the classroom.

In her explanation of her implementation of Flickr and Tumblr in the classroom, Melanie E. S. Kohnen highlights her strategies designed to encourage students to productively apply course theories and concepts in their own actions online.  For example, as students worked to collaboratively determine how they wanted to designate their Flickr contributions under a Creative Commons license, issues of copyright took on very real meaning with material consequences.

Brett Boessen offers an in-depth analysis of his experiences in designing digital networked narratives in two courses, exploring the lessons he learned, and the possibilities and limitations of social media platforms like blogs and Twitter.  Most crucially, he contends, any use of digital media in the classroom must be done with clear learning goals and with specific parameters for students to follow.

TreaAndrea Russworm expands the boundaries of social media to include video game walkthroughs — fan-created tours of video game worlds.  Russworm shares her experiences guiding students through the production of “critical walkthroughs” that make “an argument about the limitations of the gameworld in a way that is mindful of the game’s unique mechanics and social commentary.”  For Russworm and her students, these projects frame both video games and video game walkthroughs as social media that engage communities of players (and scholars).

Concluding the series, Jorie Lagerwey provides practical suggestions for evaluating the work students do on social media platforms in her explanation of a Google+ project assigned in one of her courses.  She also asks thought-provoking questions about whether these creative projects might simply work best with a small group of motivated and gifted students who are fluent with both social media practices and digital collaboration strategies before the class begins.

In an effort to fully embrace the benefits offered through the use of digital media, the essays compiled here take advantage of the interactive possibilities of online publication.   Contributors have included links to sample assignments, student work, and various online programs, networks, and archives, providing readers with vivid examples of the teaching strategies analyzed in the articles and useful resources for building their own social media-based assignments and courses.  We view the incorporation of links to online teaching tools and sample assignments as key elements of a collaboratively produced discussion of the challenges and opportunities presented by social media as a topic and a methodology.

In these essays, the contributors provide practical examples of assignments and activities along with battle-tested solutions and work-arounds.  Moreover, they share insights into the possibilities and limitations of integrating social media into the classroom, resisting the temptation to embrace uncritically the exciting pedagogical developments enabled by social media and maintaining an investment in researching the best practices for using social media in the classroom even when they encounter difficulties and disappointments.   All view social media as potentially useful pedagogical tools, and as opportunities to put theories of participatory culture and digital media into practice, offering students a productive opportunity to engage thoughtfully with the media they encounter daily.


Brett Boessen is Associate Professor of Media Studies at Austin College.  He is a media studies generalist, facilitating students’ learning in criticism and production across a range of visual and digital networked media.  His work is heavily motivated by scholarship of teaching and learning with new media tools and practices.

Melanie E. S. Kohnen is a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Media, Communication, and Culture at NYU. Her research focuses on the interplay of traditional and new media with particular emphasis on how media function as platforms for negotiating race and sexuality. In her current research project, she examines the confluence of cultural discourses, economic organization, and technological regulation in web-based media production.

Jorie Lagerwey, Lecturer in Television Studies at University College Dublin, studies representations of religion and gender on American TV and teaches courses in television history, television genres, new media, and Cultural Studies.

Lisa Patti is Visiting Assistant Professor in the Media and Society Program at Hobart and William Smith Colleges.  She serves as Chair of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Teaching Committee.

TreaAndrea M. Russworm is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  She has published articles on television, video games, and new media. She is currently completing a book manuscript on civil rights era film, mass culture, and the psychoanalysis of race.

Erin Copple Smith is Assistant Professor in Media Studies at Austin College in Sherman, Texas, and a member of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies Teaching Committee.  Her work on media industries has been published in Beyond Prime Time: TV Formats in the Post-Network Era and Popular Communication.  Her primary areas of interest are in media conglomerates and the relationship between ownership and content, as well as television and film’s advertising and promotional strategies.

Ethan Tussey is an Assistant Professor at Georgia State University (Ph.D. UCSB, MA UCLA; BA University of Arizona). Research interests include new media studies, media industry studies, reception and audience studies. His work examines the relationship between the entertainment industry and the digitally-empowered public. He has written articles on digital media creative workers, online sports viewing, and workplace media usage.



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