Author Archives: rebeccaanderson8641
Social Media in Education
Social media in education. Simple, right? It seemed the logical conclusion of our coursework and it aligns well with my professional experience as a Teaching Assistant at the university level. In the words of George R.R. Martin, “Oh my sweet summer child….”
Wrong I was. This topic was anything but simple. The complexity of the topic became evident immediately upon me beginning my research. There is a colossal amount of research on social media usage and even social media use by students, but very little empirical research on social media use as part of instruction. While I found a reasonable academically founded basis of research, the next problem was standardization. “Social media in education” is quite vague. Some research positioned social media use in education as a resounding success but only very minor use was integrated and it was optional (think a course Twitter account that sent out assignment and test reminders correlating with positive outcomes). Others drew conclusions regarding students’ attitudes towards social media use, but this wasn’t exactly what I was looking for either.
I was attempting to determine the feasibility of integrating a widely available, widely used social media platform as a fundamental part of the instruction. A prominent example that acted as the cornerstone of my paper was using a Discord server as a course hub or pseudo-LMS. There isn’t a lot of research on the success of social media being used in education in this way.
However, I was able to draw from the academic wisdom of emerging communication strategies and piece together experiences from other instructors to derive a reasonable argument that these platforms could be effectively integrated into education. Here are my fundamental arguments:
- These social media platforms have to compete to draw a sustainably large user base. Therefore, they are more committed to implementing usability and projecting wide spread appeal that could benefit students.
- Social media platforms often offer a greater array of features for communication that are simple and smoothly integrated.
- Students may already be familiar with and using these platforms. They may already be comfortable and checking in with these platforms often, which may increase course visibility.
- Traditional LMS lack the ability to integrate broader networks
However, there are potential obstacles to integrating social media platforms as fundamental parts of instruction:
- Students would be required to have a public facing social media presence.
- Faculty would need additional training and students would need introductory materials.
- The line between work and leisure would be blurred even more.
Ultimately, I concluded that social media platforms do have valuable potential as academic tools, but they must be applied appropriately, strategically, and with intention. Its important to orient all of the academic tools that we use towards maximum effectiveness and efficiency. This is particularly important when contemplating radical changes to the current online learning model.
Thanks for a great semester, class! I wish you all the best!
“Social media now encompass many systems, are oriented toward myriad different ends, and can be creatively repurposed by individuals to realize unanticipated goals” (Technical Communication Unbound, Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry, 2013).
In previous blog posts, conversations, and critiques on social media use, I have often emphasized the necessity to use social media “mindfully”. Reflecting on this statement, I realize I was not using it purposefully and I had no real context or deeper meaning to what using social media “mindfully” really entailed. I suppose it sounded quite good and I had a vague idea of what the objective of mindful social media use was, but I could not clearly define precisely what mindful social media use looked like. I didn’t approach social media as a tool, as a mechanism to accomplish a goal.
I knew what it was not. Mindful social media use was not hours of unmediated scrolling. Mindful social media use was not adopting an unhealthy interest in what others were doing (FOMO) or internalizing unrealistic body images. But what is mindful social media use?
“Technical Communication Unbound” by Toni Ferro and Mark Zachry highlights how social media can be used effectively and healthily for technical communicators. It is all about building a community of shared interests and engaging a multifaceted audience using different platforms. Technical communicators who are passionate about their work have a unique avenue of dissemination and collaboration through the use of social media. It is about building meaningful networks that better engage communicators with their audiences and other professionals.
Ferro and Zachry mention the widespread nature of social media platforms. Systems that are proprietary and exist within one organization offer a method to connect to coworkers and possibly clients, but the reach stops there. Social media, such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn offer broader opportunities for communication and collaboration (Ferro 2013). Communicators who take advantage of these opportunities by sharing the work they are passionate about, receiving feedback, and engaging with the content of other professionals can maximize their knowledge and ensure that they stay at the cutting edge of the field.
This indicates one manner in which communicators can use social media mindfully. The important element to determine mindfulness is to establish goals. Are you accomplishing your goals when engaging on social media? Are you growing your network of professionals and learning new information about your field? Or are you disengaged and disorganized in your approach to social media use? By establishing goals as communicators for our engagement with social media we can more appropriately understand mindful use. We need to know why we are using the tools we are using. If you reach for a hammer, you typically have a nail. So, if we reach for Facebook, do we know why? Why are we using that tool? These are important questions to pose to ourselves to maximize social media’s benefit.
This is essential for technical communicators because these platforms are becoming more and more integrated into our profession. As demonstrated by the Ferro article, most technical communicators are now engaging via social media platforms as part of their work week on a routine basis. This trend shows signs of continuing to increase as more platforms provide greater reach, better services, user friendly options, and greater integration of technology. For example, as an educator, I have begun routinely using Discord as part of my work week. Because communicators are in the business of disseminating information in the most effective manner, social media cannot be ignored on a professional level. Ferro writes, “Furthermore, technical communicators who rely on social media to accomplish their goals in distributed organizations must now monitor the technological landscape and be ready to integrate emergent types of online services into their work.” Social media continues to change, platforms adapt and include more effective and efficient technologies for accomplishing specific goals. As communicators, we are doing the field and our audiences a disservice if we disengage with these technologies.
The most effective manner to stay informed regarding the direction of emerging communication avenues is to engage with the technology routinely and mindfully. Mindful use of social media as a technical communicator entails establishing clear goals, such as collaborating with peers, creating broader networks, and connecting meaningfully with audiences. We can also mindfully use social media when we consider how the technologies can better our deliverables and how new technologies may shape the field.
While we can often easily identify what mindful use of social media is not, it can be more challenging to identify what it is. Trends evidenced by the Ferro article indicate that social media is becoming a more prevalent presence in our professional lives and is allowing us a unique opportunity to collaborate, communicate, and synthesize new ideas. This is a pivotal moment for communications; we need to decide how we will position ourselves as technologies continue to develop. By ensuring that we have intentional goals in our engagement, we can better orient ourselves towards a future of appropriate and meaningful social media use. When we need to pound a nail, we reach for a hammer. When approaching social media as a tool, what is it that we need to accomplish?
I am a Course Assistant for Indiana University who supports distance learning students. Due to Covid-19, a significant portion of our courses have been shifted to remote learning. This has put remote learning under intense scrutiny. How can we do better? How can we maximize online learning potential? Which tools are even the most effective?
One course that I am assisting on is piloting the use of a popular social media platform as a host for much of, if not the majority of, the course’s content. There have been great successes and notable challenges. The platform has a significantly greater array of features than the standard Learning Management System (LMS), particularly with respect to communication and connectivity. However, there is not the same degree of dedicated course support on broader platforms. Students who are familiar with the platform also have a significant edge over those who are new to it and I observed a noteworthy degree of stress from students who were having to become acclimated to the platform, while already coping with the baseline stress of starting a new semester. There is also the challenge of where to place course materials. The degree of separation between the mandatory LMS and the social media platform does present some challenge regarding where information is to be found.
However, as we move forward into the digital age and these platforms are becoming significantly more prevalent, their tools more intuitive and innovative, and their userbase broader, educators would be doing their students a significant disservice by ignoring the potential learning opportunities.
The 2013 article “Using Social Media for Collective Knowledge-Making” by Bernadette Longo elaborates on this message. Longo writes, “Integrated university programs for transforming learning environments can tap into students’ rich experiences to help shape new ways of teaching and learning. We can also help students shape new, more professional ways of participating in social media. In the same ways that organizations cannot avoid using social media in their practices, teachers cannot avoid using social media in our classrooms.”
Longo posits the notion that communications programs and adjacent academics are uniquely poised to integrate these important tools meaningfully into curriculum. This is a necessity for Longo. Just as a chemistry student has labs and a nursing student has clinicals, it is absolutely essential that communications students be given the opportunity to engage with the tools that they will be using in their careers in a way that emphasizes principle and practice.
The principles of social media use can be emphasized via a discussion on the importance of social media in our communications sphere and how it has changed the manner in which individuals talk to one another, organizations, and how they orient themselves within society more broadly. Understanding the impact of social media on our communications trends will give students the ability to effectively engage with audiences via these platforms.
Practice, being equally as important as principle, seems more challenging to implement. No longer are we discussing the digital space, the realm of social media and content creation in theory. Now we are expecting for students to practically engage with these mediums. Blog writing, website design, eNewsletter writing, social media campaign creation, all of these practices and more can be integrated into a students’ instruction to emphasize the importance of social media use and provide practical experience.
However, with such a rapidly changing digital environment, how can educators effectively do this? What platforms should be used? Even five years ago Facebook would have been viewed as the gold standard of social media, but now Facebook shares the stage with many other platforms, some of which are overtaking Facebook, particularly in younger demographics. How can educators and curriculum hope to keep up with an atmosphere that changes so radically and so rapidly? How can our instruction, and specifically practical instruction, keep up when the platforms continually shift?
This, I believe, becomes a question that is more focused on observing trends rather than strictly understanding individual platforms. It is about students engaging in the digital space in some capacity, encouraging them to learn how to communicate digitally and interpret their successes and failures productively. While social media trends shift rapidly, communication standards are relatively static. Something that is viewed as vulgar, misleading, or harmful on Facebook is very likely to also be viewed negatively on other platforms. While the social media campaign strategies vary from platform to platform, many of the core communications principles remain the same: understand your audience, connect with your audience, use consistent methods of communication, implement digital design principles, etc.
It is more important to involve students in the digital space proactively than it is to specifically categorize how this is done. Students needs to have the opportunity to explore this space for themselves and observe trends, create content, and reflect.
As we move forward as a society, educators will be doing a disserve to students by not involving them in the digital space beyond their LMS. However, it is determining specifically how to best accomplish this in the fairest manner for all students that remains the question for future instructional design.
As I think about my students and their use of the social media platform for class, I consider what they are gaining from the exercise. They are gaining a whole new repertoire of communication experiences and social media skill. They are adapting and growing in a manner that is less restrictive and more in tune with what today’s work force expects. I hope that education continues in this innovative direction because I see a significant degree of potential both for students and the field.
This post contains excerpts from “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World” by Stuart Blythe, Claire Lauer, and Paul G. Curran (2014).
One of the first thought exercises I was charged with completing upon beginning the Technical and Professional Communication program was to define what “Technical and Professional Communication” actually meant. It was extraordinarily challenging to develop a definition that was specific enough to be useful but broad enough to encompass all of the areas of Technical and Professional Communication. What did a grant writer for an animal rescue have in common with an author of instruction manuals for aircraft maintenance? Communicators are essential to virtually every field and discipline. How could we create a singular and specific definition that appropriately acknowledged the vast reach of communications? We couldn’t and didn’t, and while acceptable and useful definitions have been proposed, one that adequately captures the reach of the field is yet elusive. This has become, more or less, accepted as part of the conversation. Context must be provided before more strict definitional constraints can be applied. Is the communicator part of the public or private sector? Who is their audience? What type of communications do they produce?
There is no one single standard for what constitutes a Technical and Professional Communicator. Their official job titles will vary, their roles will vary greater still, and their expertise and experience can be as diverse as the fields in which they work.
It can only stand to reason that if our roles as communicators are varied, so too are the tools we use. Stuart Blythe explores the trends of communicators with respect to the types of writing they produce, the types of writing they value, and the technologies they use to do so. Blythe writes in the article “Professional and Technical Communication in a Web 2.0 World”, “Overall, the number of different technologies used for composing is striking, indicating that no single technology can be called a “standard” tool” (2014). This is logical, as different roles and specializations will require the use of different technologies. Evidently, the tools used vary even within similar subcategories as Blythe writes, “no single technology dominates any one type of writing” (2014).
The reach and impact of communications has always been a ubiquitous presence in its education. We understand the extreme variance that can accompany our roles and academic programs have been tailored to acknowledge this. Attention is paid to broad concepts such as rhetoric, usability, and research principles while liberty is granted to the student in what they explore and how; allowing for students to study the communication arenas that spark their greatest interest. Academics has found a reasonable way through which to contend with a lack of a standardized definition for Technical and Professional Communication.
However, as we move ever further into the digital age, we are being confronted with a wider array of tools for accomplishing specific needs. This presents a new problem to academia. With rapidly developing technology with increased specificity, how can communications programs properly educate students with respect to its use? As Blythe comments, there is no standard tool; there is no single technology. There are not even three or four technologies dominating the communications arena, and the problem is only apt to grow as digitally driven innovation continues to shape our roles.
So, what now? How can communications professionals and students move forward in a world where, when they reach for their toolbox, they recognize the hammer but nothing else? That’s fine if the job is to hammer a nail, but what if it isn’t? How will we be able to discern the most appropriate tool for the task and feel confident enough to give it a try?
The answer, I believe, resides in an assessment and respect for the process. It relies on an understanding that the more complex document creation and delivery becomes, the more proactive we need to be in adapting to new technologies. Also, if we adequately understand the process, we can better match each step to the appropriate tool. Blythe supports this notion when he writes, “…technologies play different roles throughout the process of a document’s completion, from invention to delivery (including the multitude of channels that delivery now encompasses…). These results suggest that using pencil and paper, email, word processing, desktop publishing, presentation software, and social networking technology all have a place throughout the invention, collaboration, design, production, and delivery stages of a document” (2014).
Just as we need to be cognizant of the vast definition of Technical and Professional Communication, we need to be aware that the tools accompanying our work will be equally as vast. We need to be accepting of the notion that we will have to adapt to new technologies, and they should be integrated, when possible, into course content. However, moving forward as communicators, we will do ourselves, our clients, and our audiences a great service by staying at the forefront of innovative technologies.
“The confidence or trust that the natural and social worlds are as they appear to be” (Giddens, 1984)
How much confidence do we have in emerging media? How much confidence should we have in emerging media? Chayko presents the concept of ontological security as a positive force that governs our digital space interactions. While online interactions have certainly altered the stresses of socializing, exacerbating some and alleviating others, generally speaking, online socializing can be a positive social outlet (Chayko 2018). Chayko references the ontological security phenomenon in the context of social access. We do not necessarily need to be constantly in contact with others, but simply the knowledge that we could be with extremely minimal effort is comforting and familiar. There is an awareness that if we need a social interaction, it is as simple as sending a text, email, or checking social media. It is a simple way of accessing a complex network of relationships that represent part of our ontological security.
However, what if we can’t or shouldn’t trust that these “social worlds are as they appear to be” (Giddens, 1984). In Johnathan Zittrain’s 2015 lecture on internet trends, he poses uncomfortable questions regarding the power wielded by these digital social structures. Because so much of our public lives and social interaction now takes place on the internet, and because we are investing so much of our energy, so much of ourselves, into these online identities, we are granting communication platforms an extreme amount of power and influence. We also may be doing so, perhaps, without due consideration.
Zittrain mentions an experiment, for lack of a better word, conducted by Facebook. A locality was targeted with get out and vote rhetoric in the form of socialized messaging (33:30). Individuals would see those in their network who had voted. There would also be a message of encouragement letting the user know to notify Facebook when they had voted. This caused a “measurable increase in voting” (Zittrain 2015, 33:46). Imagine if this had been a targeted effort only encouraging those who fit certain demographic groups or who had posted or engaged with certain content. Is this ethical? Should this be legal? Does this rise to the level of voter manipulation or even voter suppression?
And, ultimately, the question of ontological security remains: Do we, “trust that the natural and social worlds are as they appear to be” (Giddens, 1984)?
When we consider the social responsibilities of social media platforms, many ethical issues arise that serve to throw this trust into question. Zittrain raises another concern with massive implications despite the answer: “Is public safety ever a reason to tweak the algorithm?” (33:00). Zittrain is specifically referring to current events images, reports, articles, stories, and content that depict social unrest versus tamer, nonprovocative content. This is shockingly relevant in today’s social climate. The question Zittrain is specifically asking is do social media platforms have an ethical duty or even any right to interfere with the algorithm so that sensitive current events issues are diluted with cat memes to the point of placating users? I see significant issues with algorithms policing action in this manner.
The internet being a primary vehicle of socializing also means it has an important role in social justice and activism. Social media is an incomparable tool of planning, organizing, and sharing information for activists. There is so much potential there for more people to be brought into the conversation, for voices to be elevated, and for real discussion to take place that is not hampered by time or location. It is frightening to consider the degree of power the algorithm holds to shut down, or at least dull, that progress by dilution.
Taking Zittrain’s thought experiments into consideration, we should all be concerned about the power of social media algorithms and tools. We should all wonder how they impact our lives now and how they could. It is a very real concern when debating whether these are platforms or publishers, or whether the responsibility lies with the users or the organizations. These are real questions for us to consider as we delve into the digital space.
While these issues are complex, they are simply summed up with the idea of ontological security. Do we trust that these social worlds are as they appear to be? (Giddens 1984).
Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society. Berkley: University of California Press.
It seemed to happen slowly and then all at once. Anecdotally, over the last two decades I would observe small changes in the businesses I (or my parents) interacted with as a consumer. The Blockbuster stores of my youth were transformed first by Netflix’s mailing service and RedBox and then permanently made obsolete by streaming services. Tickets used on busses and lunch account personnel were replaced by scanners for school IDs. And of course, a section of self-checkout stalls popped up in every grocery store.
Some of these automated entities required more work of the user. For example, those using self-checkout at the grocery store must scan and likely pack all of their own items. However, the speed and efficiency with which this can be accomplished often negates the extra effort on the part of the consumer. In the circumstance of the versatility of scannable school IDs, the consumer does need to keep track of their school ID, rather than just supplying their name or an account number, and needs to remember to bring it. There is some extra effort required on the part of the consumer that is necessary in order to negate the role of the previous intermediary employee who existed between the consumer and the database.
This is a partial description of the consumer as a volunteer employee phenomenon described by Chayko in Superconnected (2018). We are seeing this phenomenon develop rapidly in virtually every industry. Mobile banking apps frequently replace the need to visit a branch, online payments and scheduling for classes increases efficiency and decreases the necessary number of paid employees. Of this development, Chayko writes, “Customers willingly participate in the production of the product or service, even as they consume and sometimes pay for the experience” (2018). I find the generalized perspective in this chapter to have degrees of accuracy and inaccuracy.
First, it is true that consumers are often required, or at least heavily encouraged by automation and digital services, to participate more readily in their own service. As mentioned above, a greater demand is put on the consumer in circumstances such as using a self-checkout. However, I would posit two objections to the general perspective that this is a negative. First, currently the choice for consumers remains for many of these services. Traditional bank branches, check out lines, and stores in which videos can be purchased still exist. One could make the argument that these systems may be become obsolete and it is just taking longer, but I would suggest that is a simplification of the broader trend. One of Chayko’s primary predictions of this trend is that as the consumer takes on more responsibility, businesses are the sole benefactor. Businesses that currently provide traditional and automated options are already exploring additional convenience-based uses of technology that actually do require more effort on their end.
Consider the booming trend of grocery pickup. Many grocery stores are allowing their customers to fill virtual carts from the comfort of home, select a pickup time, and have their groceries delivered to their car without even having to exit the vehicle for free. It is even a common policy to substitute an item that a customer ordered with a more expensive or numerous option in the event that the original item selection is unavailable at no extra cost. For example, in my own grocery pickup order, I had selected a 40 pack of an item. The store did not have the 40 pack in stock, so I was given two 24 packs at the same price. This model requires significantly less work from me, more work on the part of the business as someone has to fill my entire order, and puts the business at a very real potential for loss as customers receive more expensive substitutions at a lower price.
A second argument in support of automated digital services is customer convenience. Consider using a banking app to deposit a check versus going into a branch. Yes, technically at the branch a customer service representative assists you and performs part of the functions of the interaction. On a banking app you are responsible for the entire interaction. However, does this necessarily mean more work for the customer or just less work for everyone? Personally, I detest going to the bank, waiting in line, shuffling my toddler from one worn out hip to the other while I dig through my bag to find my wallet. It is exponentially preferable to me to open an app on my phone that recognizes my face and gives me immediate access to all of my accounts and many services. Although, that is many services, not all. More specialized services such as loan assistance still require the customer to go into the branch and, if my bank’s 30-minute-long checkout line is any indicator, customer service representatives are not lacking for business.
Ultimately, it is difficult to predict exactly where these trends will lead. It is frightening to consider, but leaps of human ingenuity have occurred in the past and fundamental tenets of ethics, morality, and decency have generally won out. I hold an optimistic perspective that this will continue into the digital future.
Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
When computers, the internet, and digital connectivity were first making their debut, very few could predict the direction in which they would lead and virtually no one could predict the scope. Originally, technology and the internet were conceptualized as removed extensions of our world. These cyberspaces were imagined as otherworldly, fantastic escapes that would engage a kind of communal hallucination in which all users would participate. However, this initial prediction has not remained completely relevant to our understanding of and interaction with digital spaces today.
In the 2018 text, Superconnected, Mary Chayko argues (alongside the original predictor of the cyberspace phenomenon) that this definition does not accurately capture the true implications of digital connectedness. Chayko argues that the digital and face-to-face spaces have become inverted, with the digital having a significant and real impact on in-person interactions. Digital communication trends have an impact on how we conduct ourselves in in-person interactions. The internet also has very tangible consequences, in and out of the digital space.
This is an extremely accurate assessment. In fact, it may be posited that digital interactions have greater consequences on our overall socialization due to the sheer scope of communications. However, I would argue that there still is a sense of collective “hallucination” present in the use of the digital space, though with negative results.
It is a well-documented phenomenon that internet users do not behave in the same manner online as they would in person. Many combined factors inherent to internet use create an atmosphere of anonymity and a lack of accountability and empathy. This phenomenon, referred to as the Online Disinhibition Effect, is described in John Suler’s “The Psychology of Cyberspace”.
Suler points to the following elements of online interactions as the primary causes for the Online Disinhibition Effect:
- You Don’t Know Me
- You Can’t See Me
- Asynchrony, or the notion that you do not have to “deal with” the recipient’s emotional response in real time
- The creation of characterized versions of who a user is talking to online when anonymity is present. If a negative interaction occurs, a user may reflexively develop an entire persona with whom they are interacting, rather than limiting your interpretation of the individual to the username.
- A lack of understanding of real-world consequences, a disconnect between online interactions and real-world consequences
- A lack of contextual understanding, the notion that we are all equals in every conversation, interaction, debate, etc., which grants each user with the same initial level of credibility
While logically, Chayko’s assessment of the use of the term cyberspace and its original link with the notion of collective hallucination is entirely accurate, there is still a sense of disinhibition when using digital spaces. The contributing factors referenced by Suler indicate the cause, but regardless of the reasoning extremely real consequences are the result of digital actions.
There is an imperative need to bridge this divide for internet users. Citizens of the digital space must be aware that their actions have tangible consequences and resist the Online Disinhibition Effect. There must be a cooperative effort to reject the originally proposed collective hallucination premise of digital spaces.
*Trigger Warning: Criminal action resulting in loss of life*
When the Online Disinhibition Effect goes too far, when the collective hallucination cascades into reality, we can see the impact. We can see the very real consequences. “Swatting” is a term developed relatively recently that describes calling the police on someone indicating the presence or threat of violence where there is none. The goal in doing so is to have the police swarm the swatting victim, usually rushing into the person’s residence with a team and subduing them. “Swatting” is defined by CloudFlare as “a cyber harassment technique with a goal of sending an armed emergency response team to a victim’s location”. While swatting is usually done via a phone call to police local to the victim, the disputes often originate online.
Swatting is a very serious cyber harassment technique with real-world consequences. Per a Business Insider article, in 2019, 19-year-old Casey Viner was sentenced to 15 months in prison for a swatting attempt that resulted in the death of an individual completely unrelated to the situation. The individual with whom Viner was having the dispute, which originated on an online gaming platform, had given Viner an old address, encouraging him to “do something”, bringing the online interaction into the real world. The individual who provided the false address was also charged in the incident.
The digital space is not removed from the “real world”, it does not lack consequences, and it is certainly not a form of collective hallucination. What more of a real consequence could there be than the death of an innocent individual? The Online Disinhibition Effect must be curbed to acknowledge that these spaces have very real consequences. This must be a cooperative effort or society will continue to see the negative impacts of online disinhibition.
Chayko, M. (2018). Superconnected: The Internet, digital media, and techno-social life. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications.
The internet has revolutionized the manner in which we conduct every aspect of our lives. Banking, shopping, learning, communicating, distributing, and socializing have all been radically transformed by the internet’s might. Why then should activism be exempt from this incredible journey of human transformation?
Activism and civil disobedience have been central destabilizing and self-correcting mechanisms in virtually every human society. It is an important balancing act to pushing the public sphere towards progression. Howard Rheingold in the 2014 text Net Smart: How to Thrive Online writes, “When you ask whether it is possible for citizens to influence those who have power over us, you are asking about a notion that was formally designated “the public sphere””. When considering the power dynamics of the internet and assessing them in the context of the public sphere, it is vital to understand the significant potential granted to online activism.
In the 2016 article, “The Domestication of Online Activism”, Mathias Klang defines social activism as, “any intentional action with the goal of bringing about social change.” This is an objective well suited to the internet; a space where communication volume is maximized, organizational and geographical challenges are eliminated, and response speed is of negligible concern. The internet has changed activism with the consequence of bringing exponentially more voices into the public sphere.
Tulsa, OK, 2020. President Donald Trump takes the stage at a campaign rally that “had fielded more than a million ticket requests” (Lorenz 2020). But the event attendance was significantly lower; a dismal showing that reflected negatively on the event. Many reasons were cited: COVID and protests among them; however, the most intriguing and illuminating is the social media activism undertaken via the use of a platform called TikTok. TikTok is a platform in which users share short videos. TikTok boasts its own trends, memes, challenges, influencers, and has steadily become a greater online presence since its launch in 2016.
Evidently, per the 2020 New York Times article “TikTok Teens and K-Pop Stans Say They Sank Trump Rally”, many TikTok users who never had any intention of attending the event registered for potentially hundreds of thousands of tickets (Lorenz 2020). The social media campaign paralleled a “virtual sit-in” in which “coordinating protestors…simultaneously visit and refresh the same Web site” and “when enough protesters attempt to view the same Web page at the same time the server would be overwhelmed and the site would return an error message” (Klang). While the tactics used by TikTok users were spread over a longer timeframe and never overwhelmed ticket servers, the concept is quite similar. A person in the public sphere is occupying a position in order to protest and prohibit another from using that service, function, or space. While virtual sit-ins are relegated to only the internet, the activism undertaken by TikTok users represents the progressive intertwining of our in-person public sphere with that of the digital public sphere. The consequences of this pseudo-virtual sit-in breached the digital space into the traditionally recognized public sphere.
Predicting the events of the TikTok social media campaign against President Trump’s rally attendance, Klang writes:
…a successful message is the one that is shared widely across the network. Ideally, individuals who have critically read and support the message are the ones who will share it. The activist wishing to undertake a campaign on social media must therefore play by the rules of that media if the campaign is to be successful. Once again, the goal is to transfer the message to the widest possible audience. (2016)
And transfer the message they did. The activists on TikTok engaged in digital civil disobedience by using their knowledge of algorithms and how to “boost” videos to reach the maximum possible audience with the greatest overlap in their vision for the social sphere (Lorenz 2020).
The social sphere is growing and changing with the power of the internet. Concurrently, the activist mechanisms that function within that sphere are adapting and maximizing the potential of opportunity the internet affords. The story of the TikTok social media campaign provides insight into Rheingold’s question, “Can many-to-many media effectively counter the well-funded disinformation apparatuses of powerful political and economic interests?” (2014). While Rheingold’s concern was for the public sphere’s ability to access and propagate information, evidence in digital social activism indicates the true power and potential of social media platforms.
Rheingold, H. (2014). Net smart: How to thrive online. The Mit Press.
How can changes in the entertainment and media industries predict digital adaptations in education?
Chris Anderson’s 2004 work “The Long Tail” details how the digital marketplace has radically changed the economics and consumption of media. Anderson posits that the digital space has heralded a new age of media consumption. Gone are the days of big hits monopolizing media; digital downloads have opened an entirely new market to appeal to the niche interests everyone possesses.
Anderson juxtaposes the constraints of brick-and-mortar retail and entertainment establishments, such as movie theaters, with the limitless potential of online marketplaces. Retailers are restricted in the content that they carry and must ensure that it appeals to the largest customer base available locally by necessity. The merchandise, whether that is DVDs, CDs, videogames, or other items with digital potential, takes up physical space and requires employees to transport, handle, unbox, and maintain. This, coupled with the packaging necessary to contain the product and the hardware, such as a disc, increases costs. Retailers don’t have the luxury of filling their shelves with niche items that may or may not sell. Even if these items are popular to a large but widely spread and sparse audience, the retailer will not see the financial benefit to carrying these products (Anderson 2004).
Juxtapose brick-and-mortar retail with the limitless potential of digital marketplaces and their downloadable content. Niche songs, videogames, and movies are not taking up physical space, they don’t require packaging, they don’t need to earn their keep. They exist until called upon and are capable of reaching that large but sparse audience. There is no concern about what appeals to a locality; there is only the potential of accessing “the long tail” (Anderson 2004).
This has changed the entertainment space, allowing for individuals to explore niche interests and ensuring that a cornucopia of content is available alongside the megahits. This is an “example of an entirely new economic model for the media and entertainment industries” (Anderson 2004). “The Long Tail”, as Anderson states, represents the very large audience base with varying niche interests that the digital market taps into.
Anderson discussed these trend changes in media industries in 2004. Simultaneously, and with no less import, another trend was continuing its steady march into the digital space: online learning. There is a significant degree of parallel between the potential of online learning and the long tail as discussed by Anderson.
Digital media has the potential to reach a significantly greater audience based and is not constrained to localities. Anderson writes, “Retailers will carry only content that can generate sufficient demand to earn its keep…each can pull only from a limited local population” (2004). This is equally true for education. Prior to online education opportunities, individuals in rural areas may have had limited program options. There may not be a high demand for business management in a primarily agricultural community. However, with the introduction of online learning, individuals in all geographic locations have significantly greater access to various programs. Just as consumers of digital media can find content in their area of choice without relying on the brick-and-mortar supply, students can find programs in their area of choice without relying on local, traditional schools. This opens up an infinite source of opportunity for students and taps into the long tail of academia.
Online education also has the ability to significantly cut costs for students, further increasing accessibility. Just as the cost of digital media decreases due to, “no packaging, manufacturing, distributing, or shelf space overheads” (Anderson 2004), online education can provide similar financial benefits by not requiring the use of campus classrooms, not having to provide offices for remote teachers, and not having to adjust the overall campus space to accommodate the increase in students (via expanding parking, for example). The long tail prevails in its ability to increase accessibility for students in various geographic locations and decrease costs!
The digital media purchasing trends that Anderson notes in his 2004 article can provide a generalized commentary on how digital spaces are transforming society in multiple facets. Education has developed in a similar manner as digital marketplaces simultaneously. The digital space has allowed individuals to access the content of their choice, whether that be media or academic. The provides so many valuable opportunities to consumers and perspective students and has made society richer for its ability to engage varied content and promote the educational opportunities of more people. Costs have also been decreased through the use of digital spaces.
Traditional schooling certainly holds a valuable place in society. However, with the introduction of online learning and the accessibility of the digital space, educational opportunity is no longer a fairy tale to those challenged by geographic location, cost, or time constraint. The digital space is changing how society understands markets, media, and education. The long tail is representative of those who hope to access different media content, who desire variety, and who want to explore more of the art humanity has to offer. The long tail can be equally representative of those individuals for whom traditional education is an impossibility but who deeply desire academic opportunity.
Anderson, C. (2004). The Long Tail. Licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs License.
What makes an expert writer? How do we get there? Is part of the equation of making an expert writer housed outside of the formal, academic sphere? Alex Reid in his 2011 work “Searching for Writing on the Web” contends with this question, determining that an expert is not so clearly defined, and that expertise may not be reached using solely academics as a vehicle. Instead, a combination of academic and personally driven exercises are necessary to access the true potential of an expert.
Reid is focused primarily on writing and how blogs can act as a catalyst for those who seek expert writer status. Blogs fulfill an area of skill development that is removed from the typical academic sphere. Blog writing allows you to engage your interests, manage your digital content, and set your own standards. Blogs also challenge you to guide your own writing in a manner that is typically dictated by assignment requirements. What will the length of your blog be? What will the topic be? How will images, videos, or other media be integrated? Who is your audience? Why are you writing? You design the experience, you dictate the content, length, and design, and you have control over the timeline. It is a writing experience unlike any other that appeals to intrinsic motivational factors that inspire us to improve organically and with our own decisions as the only roadmap.
With these considerations, blogs can help us become expert writers because they meet a unique need in our developmental journey; they allow us to grow, practice our skills, and manage our content organically and independent of the typical academic space. We become experts by working in an extrinsic, academic space and also by looking inward, towards our own motivators, using those as fuel to develop something wholly unique and uninhibited. The combination of these approaches can result in a much greater level of expertise because we are engaging in exercises of variety. Imagine, for a moment, the strength a gym goer who neglects leg day misses, focusing on their upper body exclusively. There is an entire repository of potential strength just waiting to be accessed. Are writers missing out on their metaphorical leg day by not engaging their creativity, activating their intrinsic motivators, and developing their own digital writing space?
Ironically, my personal experience with blogging is limited to the academic. I managed one blog over the course of a semester and while this pursuit was directed by my education, it was not fully formed by the extrinsic motivators typical of assignments. Students were given a significant degree of freedom and responsibility with respect to overall blog topic, entry topics, digital design, and audience assessment. While it was not wholly organic blogging as promoted by Reid, I did find that this was a unique experience. I led a busy life in which a blog for my own purposes would have been difficult to justify. The academic requirement, coupled with the significant degree of freedom, gave my writing room to breathe. I found myself exploring my selected topic of interest with a zeal, catering content to my audience with a greater degree of consideration and skill than I had previously, and feeling an inspiration that comes from (almost) limitless opportunity.
Reid writes, “Students confronted with a syllabus or an assignment can find it difficult to get beyond the mindset of “what do I need to do to get an A?.” Unfortunately, decades of research suggest that such extrinsic motivators can actually hurt our performance on challenging intellectual tasks like writing an essay” (2011). This resonates with me, and I’m guessing, if you’re a student, you’ll find this relatable as well. While having academic standards and guidelines is essential to the development of expertise, it is not the entirety of the equation. By giving yourself freedom to grow independently through a blogging experience, you are exploring areas of your writing and confronting challenges that are atypical of the academic sphere by necessity. You are becoming an expert by engaging multiple elements of motivation. You are requiring more of yourself by requiring of yourself, rather than looking to the requirements another subscribes. Writing for ourselves, exploring our talents, taking ownership of a writing space, and acting independently are all fundamental aspects of becoming an expert and blogging can assist us in this. Becoming an expert is about strengthening your skills in all arenas, academic and otherwise.
It is a writer’s leg day; don’t skip leg day.
Alex Reid. (2011) Writing Spaces: Why Blog?. Parlor Press.