Wednesday, December 28, 2016

First-year Seminar syllabus share

In 2013, a few communication colleagues were tapped to teach our college's inaugural First-year Seminar (FYS) course. With student learning objectives (SLOs) handed down from the university, we began to craft a course to meet those objectives. So, on the road between Stephenville, Texas, and Norman, Okla., Dr. Lora Helvie-Mason (author of Communication & Higher Education blog) and I developed activities and assignments to help students make the transition from high school to university, in a mandatory one-hour course.

Through weekly reflective writings, a collaborative original research project and presentation, required attendance at campus events, readings (Tina Seelig's inGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity), and a predetermined financial literacy module, the course came together. In our first semester, we were a bit ambitious, but wanted to hold the line of academic rigor. Here is the original syllabus, and you can see how it has adapted based on student feedback and faculty reflection to the 2016 syllabus.

One of our challenges was catering to the many and varied majors in our college, from criminal justice to geography to fine arts to social work to communication studies. We created choices where possible, to allow students to tailor projects to their interests. In the syllabus file, you can see the reflective writing prompts, which gave students some room for major and career exploration as well as multicultural exposure.

The collaborative original research project and presentation was something we tried, in order to tackle multiple SLOs. Students followed activists on Twitter for a mixed methods research paper with an oral conference-style presentation. Lora and I chronicled this project for our own teaching and learning research endeavors. Two journal articles will be published. One explains the project details and the other looked at student perceptions of their learning.

  • Helvie-Mason, L., Maben, S. K. (in press). Twitter-vism: Student Narratives and Perceptions of Learning from an Undergraduate Research Experience on Twitter Activism. Teaching Journalism & Mass Communication.
  • Maben, S. K., Helvie-Mason, L. (in press). When Twitter Meets Undergraduate Research:  A First-year Seminar Project. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 29(1).

I applaud anyone who teaches FYS/FYE courses. They are rewarding, and the challenge to incorporate so much into a one-hour course is a stimulating curricular exercise for a prof. My contribution was for one semester, and I'm excited to think that many of my FYS'rs are getting ready to graduate! Lora and I are following up with our first cohort to see what FYS course elements stuck with them, and what mattered most to their successful transition to college.  Stay tuned for those results!

Monday, December 5, 2016

Poster Session

What to do with an old poster from a conference poster session? I offer the following options.

Option A: Let your kid color on it, dance on it, or ultimately destroy it.

Option B: Hang it in your office. You can present again and again.

Option C: Share it on your blog. Below is a poster presentation for the 2016 Southwest Symposium of SWECJMC.
Download the pdf

Monday, November 21, 2016

Research Update: Social Media Training

Screen Shot of Slide

Thank you to all of the advisers and students who participated in our survey asking about social media training at student-run communication organizations. A full report will be published in the Spring 2017 issue of Southwestern Mass Communication Journal. Until then, Kay Colley and I wanted to share this slideshow with you: #NotAllBaptismByFire slides.

Monday, November 7, 2016


Here's a Storify about the Southwest Symposium for SWECJMC, held at Arkansas State University Mid-South Campus in West Memphis, Ark.:

Check out Dr. Ronald Sitton's Twitter feed for an awesome recap of #SWECJMC.

Kay Colley and I present at #SWECJMC.

Sarah Maben and Cessna Winslow
Me and Cessna Winslow

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Why regional conferences still matter


As I prepare for the Southwest Symposium at Arkansas State University's Mid South Campus, I was thinking about the benefits of regional conferences:
  • Real connections — the smaller size means you run across people enough to really delve into conversations and potential research partnerships. You will likely even make friends.
  • Manageable — not having to jump between two massive conference centers means you can also recharge your battery, and focus on what the handful of concurrent sessions have to offer.
  • Leadership opportunities — volunteers are needed, welcomed and valued. That's not to say they aren't at large international conferences, but breaking into the leadership track is much easier.
  • Cost-effective travel — locations are typically nearer, or at least cheaper options to where the big conferences annually host. Also, the conference fees are less expensive.
  • New prof and grad student friendly — most of the time attendees are there to truly support and improve work, not tear it down. Grad students, academic veterans and newbies co-mingle for a nice mix of experiences and opinions.
At least these have been my experiences at the Southwest Education Council for Journalism and Mass Communication (SWECJMC). Check it out for yourself: Or connect to the Facebook page for updates on deadlines:

Friday, September 30, 2016

Dealing with rejection

Sting. It still stings a bit, OK sometimes a LOT. Academic rejection. It's that paper you were sure was awesome, or a panel that had a zingy title and great speakers. I had no idea how much rejection would be part of the process.

How do I deal?
  1. Pity party. I take a day or two to feel sorry for myself, get mad at reviewers, or whatever else I need to feel. The key is to limit the time and amount of energy devoted to said pity party.
  2. Reread the reviews. After I have taken a bit of time to get over the initial sting, I hold my breath and really digest the reviews. That initial read is always clouded by the REJECTION. 
  3. Reread the manuscript. Yup, now I typically start to see what the reviewers see. 
  4. Decision time. The manuscript is not tied up anywhere. I research other potential outlets and develop a plan. I reframe the paper entirely, reach out to a co-author who could help add something to the work, or retire the poor dear. 
  5. Act. I try not to let too much dust settle. I want to get the work back into the pipeline. Revamp, rework and revise, and try again.
  6. Hope. After submission, I hope for the best, and begin work on the next project.
How do you deal?

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Week 4 Evaluations = Real-time Feedback

Student evaluations can be informative, but generally only help the next semester's students. Since I started teaching in 1999, I've used the "week 4" evaluation. I've used index cards and online survey tools like SurveyMonkey.

Week 4 Evaluations graphic

For index cards, I ask two questions. Students do not write their names on the cards. On one side, they report about something they've liked so far about class. On the other side, I ask them to suggest one thing they would like changed. I tease that I can't change things like our scheduled day to meet.

For the online survey, I typically program a whopping three questions: the same two from above and "Is there anything else you would like to add?" If I have access to a learning management system, I link it from there and ask students to log-in during class. If we're not in a computer lab, I use the announcement feature to force out the survey invitation. In an accelerated summer semester, you might employ this tactic at the end of week 2.

Brace yourselves for the results, but generally students like that you're even asking. I look for themes and try to make changes where possible. I also tell students that I'm making the changes based on their feedback. Who doesn't like to think they've made a difference? I have found that I can always implement something they have suggested.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Using Hootsuite University for Class

Hootsuite Certified Professional

As part of our summer Social Media Measurement and Analytics course at Tarleton State, we experimented with Hootsuite University.  I resisted adding it to my social media courses because I feared students might see it as outsourcing teaching. Then I read an article in the Journal of Public Relations Education about how my peers were using it.

Kinsky, E. S., Freberg, K., Kim, C., Kushin, M., & Ward, W. (2016). Hootsuite University: Equipping Academics and Future PR Professionals for Social Media Success. Journal of Public Relations Education, 2(1), 1-18.

The article outlines perceptions about Hootsuite certification from students, professionals and professors. The responses were largely positive, so I gave it a chance. Hootsuite made it easy to sign up your class (thank you Kimberly Yu), and I was able to send my list of students and their emails (with their permission) within a few days of my course start date. The Hootsuite team sends an invitation email to students, and sends you a sample email in order to prep students. Hootsuite has reasonable expectations of how you might weave modules into class.

As part of my course, students were asked to complete 8 modules. Some of my students were familiar with Hootsuite, so I asked them to use the first modules as simply a refresher. After completing a few beginner level modules, students tackled: HOOT210: Advanced Listening, HOOT220: Advanced Engagement, and HOOT240: Advanced Analytics. Completing certification was not required, but some expressed interest in adding that credential to their resumes. After finishing the modules required for our class, they were well on their way toward certification.

I was pleased with the quality of the Hootsuite walkthroughs and videos. The videos are broken into short segments so busy types can watch a few here and there. Modules include a syllabus and learning objectives.

Using Hootsuite for final projects, a measurement report for a client, gave students a way to conduct social listening and some analytics. As I receive other student feedback, I'll add it to this post. And I'll be curious to see how many students pursue the certification option.

An extra bonus to this experiment—now I'm certified.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Archiving Tweets: Thank you, Martin Hawksey, for TAGS

When I was looking for a way to collect tweets, for free, I stumbled upon Martin Hawksey’s TAGS, or Twitter Archiving Google Sheet. Using his template for a Google Sheet in Google Drive, you can pull tweets from Twitter. Through some easy steps, you “program” the sheet to collect messages from Twitter by hashtags, handles (@) and AND/OR/” operators.

A few years ago, I started with Version 5.0, and it took me a few tries to get the set-up right. Two new versions are available, 6.0 and 6.1, and they were easy to implement. The steps for set-up are well described and you can find videos to help. A support forum is another resource if you run into hiccups on the set-up. You can create as many files as you want to capture tweets and authentication is now a one-time requirement.
Screenshot of a TAGS spreadsheet

Using TAGS, you are essentially archiving tweets to a Google spreadsheet. You can change the frequency on the data pull, so it will automatically update, or you can handle it manually with the Run Now! option. I typically opt for the automated pull. The first tab of the spreadsheet has the “read me” and instructions for how to conduct your pull. It’s easy to follow and has links to additional resources if you want extra help. The other tabs in the sheet include the list of tweets, a summary, and dashboard. The list of tweets, called archive, alone contains a lot of information: name of the person tweeting, if the tweet is in reply to someone else, links to profiles, and user language.

Screenshot of dashboard

The summary lists the top tweeters, with stats on how many were retweets, unique tweets, and average and medians for tweets per person in the sample. The dashboard provides graphics for the top tweeters, a line graph showing the number of tweets over time, and Twitter activity for the collection.

Screen shot of charts/graphs

The data collected are rawer than some other systems, but that’s what I like. The data are on a spreadsheet that can be loaded into statistical programs or other more powerful analytical tools. While it might be nice to learn an advanced coding language like Python to create your own capture, it’s not on my front burner. And copying and pasting out of Twitter is too manual. Other systems provide fancy graphics, but if you just need an archive or a spreadsheet, TAGS works. Also, the spreadsheet is a format that could be used for qualitative and quantitative analysis.

The upsides include using a system you may already have credentials for, Google Drive. When working with colleagues, you can easily share the data, and they don’t have to create yet another account on a website or app. If your sheet has an error or reaches its limits, you’ll get reminders that it needs work.

The dataset limits were one of the downsides originally, but I was able to grab 17,000 tweets. Other negatives include the rigor of the pull. It won’t download every tweet. According to Hawskey’s blog, it’s a function of the Twitter Search API where relevance, not completeness, rules. You need a little forethought if you want to use this tool effectively. It will only pull historical tweets from the past seven days. If you wanted to watch a hashtag from an event, you’d need to set up the Google Sheet prior to the event. The dashboard only presents a few graphics, and they are basic. For a client or board presentation, you would want to jazz them up a bit. To run other kinds of analyses, like those measuring sentiment, location, network density and links, you would need to import the sheet into another program. This may be an extra unwanted step for some users.

Several audiences could benefit from the quick data pulled using TAGS. Marketers and public relations practitioners looking to archive messages about a particular campaign or event could set up a sheet prior to a launch. Organizers could capture and archive tweets during an annual conference. Academic researchers willing to accept the limitations of the tweets pulled could archive data for future investigations. Teachers could archive tweets from a classroom live-tweet to look for evidence of student learning. The free nature makes this appealing for nonprofit professionals.

As an example, I have 17,000 #StandWithWendy tweets from Wendy Davis’ 2013 filibuster saved for a research project. Originally, the sheet would take a long time to load. Now, it moves much faster. I want the ability to see my data and then clean it, based on my project. TAGS is one way for me to do so, and share with my research partners at the same time.

The newest versions, 6.0 and 6.1, offer a one-time set-up, a support community, and you can capture your favorited tweets, the last 3,000. If you have used the previous versions, go with 6.0, recommended by the TAGS team. It worked for me without any problems.

To learn more about or to get started with TAGS, go to

(This post is not a sponsored message. It originated as a sample for my students on reviewing a measurement tool for our course on social media analytics.)

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Social Media Training in Student-run Comm Organizations

Social Media Training and Student-run Communication Orgs
How are student-run communication organizations (like news organizations, radio/TV stations and PR firms) training college students to strategically use social media? Dr. Kay Colley (Texas Wesleyan) and I are conducting research on this topic, and if you are an adviser at a student-run operation at a U.S. college or university, we'd love to have your input. Our Institutional Review Board approval is on file and the intro screen will further explain the study. 

We hope to share our findings this fall! Thanks for participating or sharing with those who serve in this capacity.

Sunday, June 19, 2016


This blog explores topics related to the intersections of social media, teaching/learning, ethics, writing and communication programs. I will share classroom successes and the failed moments that must be reworked, as well as research updates.

When I defended my dissertation several years ago, a committee member remarked that he liked the idea of sending me back into a communication program with my doctoral degree in higher education. I like my intersection between the two overarching interests, and will share what I have learned, and am learning, along the way.

Research and teaching highlights from my CV are included on this blog, and I encourage you to send me a note at For now, I want to give a few resources with acronyms, of course!

SWECJMC - - Our annual Southwest Symposium will be Nov. 4-5, 2016, in West Memphis, Ark.

JSMS - The Journal of Social Media in Society is a open access peer-reviewed journal for all things social media and mobile tech.

TSMRI - The Texas Social Media Research Institute is a think tank for social media. It's also an experiential learning lab; student interns are conducting research, leading training sessions, and practicing social networking. Each November, the group hosts a Social Media Conference that draws academics and practitioners from all over the U.S.