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Social Media Course Gives Working Adults a Competitive Edge

Submitted by on August 20, 2013 – 9:00 amNo Comment

Some instructors remain skeptical of social media in education; others embrace social media as a source of course materials, a connection to field experts, and a platform for class communication. But another instructor is taking social media in education to a whole new level.

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Meet Dr. Carleen Shaffer, director of academic computing at Claremont Graduate University and adjunct instructor at Lake Forest Graduate School of Management (LFGSM). In her course Social Media 5822 delivered through LFGSM, Dr. Shaffer provides students the opportunity to explore and experiment with social media technologies in the context of business.

The 8-week online course introduces social media’s use beyond its entertainment value, and reveals to students—through immersion and real-word application—how social media plays a necessary role in today’s business environments. 

We met with Dr. Shaffer to learn more about her social media course and its relevancy among her adult learners. Read on as she shares with us the course framework, objectives, and successes with students’ learning.

Tell us about your students. Why do they take your social media course?

LFGSM is located in a northwestern suburb of Chicago and draws students from the area’s companies, like Walgreens, Allstate, Motorola, and small businesses. Our students work full time and seek graduate degrees to build leadership skills and professional advancement. These students understand the need to enhance their knowledge and skills in social media to stay competitive in their industry.

What are students’ common misconceptions about social media?

In some ways, students are already aware of the value social media brings to their industry, but I try to immediately expand that awareness through readings, web resources, and Harvard Business Review case studies. For other students, common complaints are “social media takes too much time, not a good use of my time”, “social media is ‘fluff’, nothing of value, trivial stuff.”  Frequently, the challenge lies in convincing them that it’s valuable personally. I show how social media tools can be used for professional development; staying connected in their industry with experts, organizations, and publications; and developing a professional learning network.

Dr. Carleen Shaffer

Dr. Carleen Shaffer, LFGSM adjunct instructor of Social Media 5822

What materials do you use to teach the course?

I teach mainly with web content. I explain to students at the beginning of the course that due to the volatile, dynamic nature of social media in the business environment, the best strategy for providing course content at this time is not through textbooks—they quickly become outdated. The field experts I involve in the course are also a source of instruction. For example, one of my LinkedIn experts focuses on the use of LinkedIn to promote students’ personal brand; another social media expert provides students insight into her real-life social media strategies for the Chicago Architecture Foundation. I bring in guest speakers in weeks 5 and 7, and host webinars in weeks 1, 3, 5, and 7.

What social media platforms and activities do you use in the course?

Social media examined in the course includes Twitter, blogging, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ Circles and Hangouts, SlideShare, Prezi, and Skype. Particular focus is given throughout the course to Twitter and blogging by requiring students to select experts, organizations, and publications in their field to follow. Students also maintain weekly reflective blogs visible only to the instructor.

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For the final project, students select a partner to collaboratively create a “Getting Started with Social Media Plan.” They develop this plan for a nonprofit or small business in or near their communities that is not presently using social media to reach customers and grow business. Part of the weekly assignments requires students to create a Google+ ID and join the course Google+ circle. This circle now includes over 100 alumni of this course—I use it to continue providing content related to social media from the web.

What are common challenges students encounter in the course?

Some students are more technologically challenged than others, and some have greater inhibitions and/or concerns regarding privacy. Creating and testing all of the tools can be extremely time consuming and frustrating depending on the schedules of these busy working adults. I make it clear from the beginning that the course is meant to provide them with a ‘test laboratory’ in a safe environment. When the course is over, they can delete every account immediately! Most students end the course with new appreciation for the value of social media. I can’t tell you how many times they are fascinated with the valuable content and information they glean from Twitter.

What will you do differently in the next iteration of this course?

Constantly update web-based resources—social media is a dynamic, evolving technology in the corporate environment. I am also previewing a possible textbook recently published that’s filled with up-to-date case studies. A textbook may help students feel less overwhelmed with the web readings. It’s all about perception!

Want to connect with Dr. Shaffer? Follow her on Twitter: @lcjshaffer.


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