With social media technology changing daily, it can sometimes be challenging to keep up with the latest platforms and their newest features, and the seemingly endless stream of content, information, and campaigns.

Recently as we’ve been preparing for the Social Media for Social Change course, we’ve been focusing on the power and limits of “hashtag activism” by examining examples such as #BringBackOurGirls and #YesAllWomen.

Check out the Montreal-based CJAD news radio talkshow interview from last week featuring TechChange’s Director of Marketing, Nancy Ngo, on hashtag activism here:

Hashtags aren’t the only way social media users are advocating for causes. We’ll be analyzing a variety of campaigns and social change movements that have used various social media tools in different ways in our second round of our Social Media for Social Change online course, which begins on Monday, June 16. A very dynamic group of guest expert speakers will join us from organizations such as Change.org, the Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative, Uber, and more. Lawrence Grodeska from Change.org who will share how Change.org has revolutionized online petitions in campaigns such as advocating justice for Trayvon Martin. Resolve LRA Crisis Initiative’s Michael Poffenberger will share his experiences from the Kony 2012 campaign to capture Joseph Kony and draw comparisons with the recent BringBackOurGirls campaign. Alex Priest of Uber will discuss ways that Uber utilizes social media in optimizing urban logistics.

Several participants from many countries including Czech Republic, Jordan, Mexico, New Zealand, Thailand, and across the U.S. have already enrolled in this round of this course, representing organizations such as World Bank Group, USAID, ICRC, World Green Building Council, Oxfam, AARP International, Cornell University, Abt Associates, Chemonics International, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and many more. All of these participants will be bringing their own perspectives as both social media users and social change advocates for their respective organizations and initiatives.

What’s your take on hashtag activism and social media advocacy? Do you agree with Nancy? Join the conversation with these social media experts and participants across the world to learn more about social media’s role in catalyzing social change. Enroll now in our Social Media for Social Change course here.

What does the rise of #YesAllWomen mean for social change?

In our last post on #BringBackOurGirls, we examined whether social media activism could free girls who had been kidnapped in Nigeria. With the rise of #YesAllWomen, it’s worth exploring whether social media can improve the lives of women and men everywhere in shifting social norms around gender.

Less than a week after the killing spree at the University of California Santa Barbara, a torrent of more than two million tweets have been shared containing anecdotes, stories, and outcries against misogyny, sexual harassment, and violence against women.

Topsy YesAllWomen

Source: Topsy

Why has #YesAllWomen gained so much media attention? It can be argued that the #YesAllWomen hashtag has built off continuing momentum of other initiatives that have women (and some men) speaking out against misogyny in its many forms. A provocative article from TIME Magazine in April 2014, nearly a month before the UCSB murders, was a critique of the #NotAllMen argument, setting the stage for women to share how sexual harassment and misogyny are frighteningly common experiences that women face on a regular basis. Foreign Policy’s piece on “What do #YesAllWomen and #BringBackOurGirls have in common?” highlights:

“[…]the global Internet has during the last month seen an incredible outpouring of support for the full equality of women. Even if the two hashtags fail to end misogyny and free the kidnapped schoolgirls, they surely represent a step in the right direction in advocating for a better reality for women.”

Here is a heat map visualizing the use of #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter, showing the start of the hashtag in the U.S., in comparison to Nigeria, where the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag began.

Related campaigns using the hashtags #everydaysexism and #rapecultureiswhen have both been used in similar efforts to shed light on misogyny, as discussed in CNN’s article on “Why #YesAllWomen took off on Twitter.” Campaigns across U.S. campuses have also been pressuring universities to address sexual assault on campuses, as mentioned in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

What will be the ultimate impact of #YesAllWomen? Will this social media momentum change ingrained cultural norms of sexism across society? It did, at least for Kenneth Curtis, a man who described his reaction to the #YesAllWomen tweets:

“The courageous voices I saw on #YesAllWomen burst my bubble in all the good ways. They shed a light on my ignorance. They also shed a light on the work we men have to do. This is how change happens. Shed a light on the problem. Now let’s rally to fix it.”

But what about the societies where women cannot speak out as openly on social media due to censorship or lack of access to technology? With #YesAllWomen, social media has succeeded again in being a tool for raising awareness on a social issue, but it will continue to be a long journey to shift entrenched cultural norms.

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Interested in this topic and how social media can be used to create social change? Enroll now in our upcoming Social Media for Social Change course.

In our modern times of media cycles fighting for our short attention spans, it is easy to ride the momentum of a highly visible campaign that can quickly fizzle out once another competing story emerges. Since the kidnappings of approximately 300 Nigerian girls by militant Islamist group Boko Haram last month, the international community has embraced the hashtag, “#BringBackOurGirls”, in a very vocal and visible social media campaign demanding action to rescue the Chibok girls. But one month since the mass kidnapping without the rescue of the girls, do we need to take a different approach? Will #BringBackOurGirls be just another campaign we forget about once the next celebrity scandal becomes breaking news?

#BringBackOurGirls goes global starting in Nigeria

Most of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign activity has been highly visible on Twitter, Facebook, and international media outlets. In this fascinating Twitter heat map created using the tool, CartoDB, featured in TIME Magazine, we can see a time-lapsed digital map of how the hashtag, “#BringBackOurGirls” spread globally, starting organically from within Nigeria in mid April.

(We’ll be touching upon CartoDB, and other digital mapping tools in our upcoming Mapping for International Development course later this month.)

The #BringBackOurGirls hashtag has been embraced widely by many public figures and has garnered wide support across the world. Michelle Obama, David Cameron, and Malala Yusafzai have posted images with the hashtag, along with celebrities such as Ellen Degeneres, Angelina Jolie, and Dwayne Johnson. To date, nearly 1 million people signed the Change.org petition. Countries including the USA, UK, China, Israel have pledged to join the rescue efforts, and other human rights campaigns have joined the #BringBackOurGirls Twitter momentum, as seen on this Hashtagify map.

hashtagify #BringBackOurGirls

Is #BringBackOurGirls repeating the mistakes of #KONY2012?

Kony_2012_Poster_3

A great example of a past campaign where this happened was with the KONY2012 campaign, which brought some albeit short-lived urgency to addressing the child soldiers recruited by Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Michael Poffenberger, who worked on that campaign, will join us a guest expert in TC110: Social Media for Social Change online course in June 2013 and compare it the current #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Many have drawn parallels to both campaigns and warned of the false optimism that hyped social media messages can bring when context is not fully considered and understood.

According to Lauren Wolfe of Foreign Policy magazine, “Understanding what has happened to the Nigerian girls and how to rescue them means beginning to face what has happened to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of girls over years in global armed conflict.” To some critics, this hashtag trivializes the weaknesses of Nigerian democracy that have been exposed. Critics of using social media in advocacy campaigns have used the term “slacktivism” to describe the passive, minimal effort needed to participate in these movements. Others have cited such media waves being exploited for individual gain, as opposed to genuinely benefiting the girls. Florida State University Political Science professor, Will H. Moore, argues that this hashtag activism is not only hurting the larger cause of rescuing the kidnapped girls, but actually helping Boko Haram. Jumoke Balogun, Co-Founder of CompareAfrique, also highlights the limits of the #BringBackOurGirls hashtag impact.

Hashtag activism, alone, is not enough

With all this social media activity and international press, what actual progress has been made in rescuing the kidnapped girls? If the objective is raising awareness of the issue, yes, the hashtag has been successful. If the objective is to rescue the girls, we still have a long way to go, even if the hashtag campaign has been part of a multi-pronged approach to galvanize resources into action.

The bottom line: social media can be a powerful tool to bring visibility and awareness to a cause, but a hashtag alone is not enough to bring about social change. There are a myriad of resources that must be coordinated to effectively implement this rescue mission, which will only become more difficult as more time passes. However, prioritizing and shining a sustained light on the problem, instead getting distracted by competing media cycles on celebrities getting into petty fights, is the first step toward a solution.

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What do you think about the impact of the #BringBackOurGirls campaign? We’re only scratching the surface here on the topic of social media for social change and invite you continue the discussion with us in our upcoming Social Media for Social Change online course which runs June 16 – July 11, 2014.

On September 17, 2011, a handful of people gathered in Liberty Square in Manhattan’s Financial District and sparked a movement that brought wide scale attention to income inequality and the growing gap between rich and poor.

Rewind to December 18, 2010. A man fed up with the ill-treatment in Tunisia, tragically immolated himself to protest the government, unleashing a wave of protests that has changed the political shape of an entire region. Both Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring leveraged the power of social media to exchange ideas, mobilize support, and spark a movement.

But, okay, we’re not all going to be able to spark a movement as big as those. But that doesn’t mean we can’t use social media to make an impact. In fact, I’d argue that going deeper to reach the right audience is more important than trying to go broader.

Take Molly Katchpole. She was 22, working two jobs, and struggling to make ends meet. When Bank of America announced a new $5/month banking fee, she thought it was unfair and decided to do something about it. She used Change.org to start a petition, shared the effort with her friends, and got 300,000 petition signatures, which pressured Bank of America to scrap plans to institute the fee.

Or take Sal Khan. When his young cousin was struggling with algebra, he created a few YouTube videos to help her with her studies. Soon, strangers stumbled onto the video and began requesting more. Sal realized he was onto something and began creating new videos on a variety of topics. Now, Khan Academy features more than 4,200 free lessons, has millions of students, and is changing the way come schools are thinking about education.

So, the point I’m trying to make is, social media has fundamentally changed the way that governments, nonprofits, companies, universities, and individuals interact with each other and with their communities.

But with so many platforms, channels, networks, and tactics to consider, successfully leveraging these channels and integrating them into our work can be a huge challenge.

That’s what Social Media for Social Change is all about. Using real world examples shared by a experts who manage social media at nonprofits, universities, government agencies, and NGO’s, participants will gain insights into what makes social work, how to build a community around an issue, and how to create change.

It’ll be a hands-on, exciting course with input from experts in the field and practical demonstrations and exercises to showcase the potential of social media. I hope you can join us. And, of course, don’t forget to spread the word about the class using #TC110.

This is a guest post by Dhairya Dalal. If you are interested in using crisis mapping and using technology for humanitarian relief, conflict prevention, and election monitoring, consider taking our course Technology for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding.

Overview

Recently, I had the opportunity to run an election monitoring simulation for TechChange’s TC109: Conflict Management and Peacebuilding course. Led by Charles Martin-Shields, TC109 taught over 40 international participants how mapping, social media, and mobile telephones could effectively support the work of conflict prevention and management.  Robert Baker taught participants how the Uchaguzi team leveraged crowd-sourcing and Ushahidi, a web based crisis mapping platform, to monitor the 2013 Kenyan elections.

For the simulation activity, my goal was to create a dynamic hands-on activity. I wanted to demonstrate how crisis mapping technologies are being used to promote free and fair elections, reduce electoral violence, and empower citizens. To provide students a realistic context, we leveraged live social media data from the Kenyan elections. Participants walked through the process of collecting data, verifying it, and critically analyzing it to provide a set of actionable information that could have been used by local Kenyan stakeholders to investigate reports of poll fraud, violence, and voter intimidation.

Below I’ll provide a brief history of election monitoring in the context of Kenyan elections and provide a more detailed look at the simulation activity.

Brief History of Election Monitoring and Uchaguzi

uchaguziIn 1969, the Republic of Kenya became a one-party state whose electoral system was based on districts that aligned with tribal areas. This fragile partitioning often generated internal friction during the electoral cycle. The post-election violence of 2007-2008 was characterized by crimes of murder, rape, forcible transfer of the population and other inhumane acts. During the 30 days of violence more than 1,220 people were killed, 3,500 injured and 350,000 displaced, as well as hundreds of rapes and the destruction of over 100,000 properties. 2

Ushahidi was developed in the wake of the 2008 post-election violence. Ushahidi, is a website that was designed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout. However, Usahidi has since evolved into a platform used for crisis mapping, crowd-sourced data gathering, and many other things. Since then, the name Ushahidi has come to represent the people behind the Ushahidi platform. 2

Uchaguzi was an Ushahidi deployment, formed to monitor the 2013 Kenyan general elections held this past March. The Uchaguzi project aimed to contribute to stability efforts in Kenya, by increasing transparency and accountability through active civic participation in the electoral cycles. The project leveraged existing (traditional) activities around electoral observation, such as those carried out by the Elections Observer Group (ELOG) in Kenya.3

Election Monitoring with CrowdMaps

TC109 Simulation Figure 1: TC109 Simulation map (view official Uchaguzi map here: https://uchaguzi.co.ke/)

For the simulation activity, we used Ushahidi’s CrowdMap web application. CrowdMap is a cloud-based implementation of the Ushahidi platform that allows users to quickly generate a crisis map. Crowdmap has the ability to collect and aggregate data from various sources likes SMS text messages, Twitter, and online report submissions.

To provide the participants a more realistic context, our simulation collected real tweets from the Kenyan elections that had just occured the prior week. Our simulation aggregated tweets from Uchaguzi’s official hashtag, #Uchaguzi, as well several other hashtags like #KenyanElections and #KenyaDecides. In addition students were tasked with creating reports from Uchaguzi’s facebook page and local Kenyan news sites.

The aggregated information was then geo-tagged, classified and processed by the participants. The participants created reports, which described incidents licrowdmapke instances of voter intimidation, suspected poll fraud, and reports of violence. The CrowdMap platform plotted these reports on a map of Kenya based on coordinates the participants provided during the geo-tagging phase.  The resulting map showed aggregation patterns, which would have allowed local actors to see where certain types of incidents were taking place and respond accordingly.

Conclusion: Going beyond the Technology and Cultivating Information Ecosystems

workflow   Figure 2: Uchaguzi Workflow

While technological innovations have made it easier to collect vast amounts of data in real-time during a crisis or an live event, a lot of process and human capital is still required to ensure that the data can processed and acted upon. Prior to the Kenyan elections, the Uchaguzi team established a well-planned information workflow and local relationships to ensure that information was ultimately delivered to the local police, elections monitors, and other stakeholders who could take action on the reports received. This workflow also delineated volunteer workgroups (based on Standby TaskForce’s information processing workflow) which were responsible for different parts of information collection process from Media Monitoring and Translation to Verification and Analysis.

To provide the participants an understanding of the full picture, we had them assume the role of various workgroups. They were challenged to identify how the information would be gathered, verified, classified, and distributed to local stakeholders. Participants followed the official Uchaguzi workflow and learned more about the challenges faced by the various workgroups. For example how would you translate a report submitted in Swahili? How would you determine if a report is true or falsely submitted to instigate provocation? How would you escalate reports of violence or imminent danger like a bomb threat?

Overall, the participants were able to learn about both the technology that enables the crowd-sourcing of election monitoring and the strategic and deliberate structures put in place to ensure an information feedback loop. Participants were able to gain an understanding of the complexity involved in monitoring an election using real data from the Kenyan elections. They were also given an opportunity to recommend creative suggestions and innovations that were sent to the Ushahidi team for future deployments.


About the Author:
Dhairya Dalal is a business systems analyst at Harvard University, where he is also pursuing his master’s degree in Software Engineering. Dhairya serves a curriculum consultant for TechChange and is responsible for teaching hands-on technical workshops centered around crisis mapping and open gov APIs, as well as strategic lessons on social media strategy and digital organizing.

Sources:
1:Background on the Kenyan Electoral Violence
http://www.haguejusticeportal.net/index.php?id=11604 
2: Uchaguzi Deployment
https://wiki.ushahidi.com/display/WIKI/Uchaguzi+-+Kenyan+Elections+2013
3: Uchaguzi Overview
http://reliefweb.int/report/kenya/uchaguzi-kenya-2013-launched

If you’re interested in learning more about how technology can support peacebuilding and conflict management programming, check out TC109: Technology for Conflict Management and Peacebuilding, being taught by TechChange’s Director of Conflict Management and Peacebuilding Programs, Charles Martin-Shields!

photowide

Social technology has captured the interest of emergency responders, peacebuilders, and policy makers due to the positive role it has played in disaster response in Haiti, peace promotion in Kenya, social revolution across the Middle East.  In ways that differ from disaster response, though, the politics and narratives of violent conflict demand a more nuanced, risk-averse approach to bringing high-volume communication technologies to the peace making space, especially in kinetic environments.

Emergent technologies such as mobile phones, social media and open-source mapping have had dramatic positive effects on emergency response since Ushahidi was first launched as part of the response to the Haiti earthquake in 2010.  While the emergency response community has embraced these technologies (more or less), the peacebuilding and conflict management communities have been more circumspect.  While there are good reasons for this, at some point a healthy skepticism of these technologies must give way to well thought out integration.  So how do peacemakers in both large organizations and small NGOs do this, given all the political and socio-economic pitfalls waiting in the conflict and post-conflict space?  What’s a lower risk way that small NGOs and individuals can be instrumental in gathering information that can be useful to large organizations like the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations?

To answer this question we can look to the way that narratives and information evolve in multidimensional peacebuilding contexts.  The days of peacekeepers demarcating an agreed upon line between two parties are over – peace is being built in the middle of ongoing warfare, which means providing humanitarian aid, supporting economic development, and building political structures the can (ostensibly) represent citizens.  The information we need to do this can’t just come from satellites, closed-source intelligence and surveillance systems.  Virginia Page Fortna notes the importance of what the ‘peacekept’ need and want, and we have to reach out to them using channels they have access to.  Even in the hardest conflict zone, people have mobile phones to send SMS messages, they tweet, and they build live digital maps to track events.  This isn’t a replacement for classic closed source technology, it’s a supplement to make sure peacekeepers know what is on their host community’s mind, what people need, and their sentiments about the social and political space.

What communication technology and social media does is provide more individuals with the ability to tell a story.  These stories may be the same as the official account, or may deviate jarringly and in ways that make understanding the motivations of those involved in the fighting (or civilians trying to survive) harder to decipher.  In this space we see a key different between social media and communication technology in a disaster versus a conflict zone, and making the most of the technology requires recognizing this difference: in a disaster we use technology to respond to the situation, in a conflict we have to use it to understand the situation.  While the volume of stories can seem overwhelming if we can learn to listen more efficiently to the information from those we wish to help their stories can start to inform and increase the effectiveness of our peacebuilding efforts.

 

 

Interested in learning with TechChange? Check out our upcoming course with the mHealth Alliance: Mobile Phones for Public Health. Class starts on Nov. 12!

This month we introduced a new online class on Technology, Innovation and SocialEntrepreneurship in partnership with Roshan Paul, cofounder of the Amani Institute and senior staff member at Ashoka. The class has already attracted much interest from 30 students in 10 countries, including speakers from Groupshot.org, Shift.org, Digital Green, and Architects of the Future.

While we offered the class as part of the unprecedented enthusiasm around the ability of private-sector innovators to solve global problems, the last two weeks have made clear how the availability of new tools has been inseparable from the growth of TechChange as an organization. The path from starting our firm two years ago to being a recognized B Corp can be told first through our team members, but also through the technology that we’ve chosen to use to further our institutional goals.

While we usually avoid taking a tech-centric approach to business and education, these tools have solved a variety of management challenges for us, including core learning platforms and content management, community engagement, talent recruitment, relationship management, collaborative document editing, and task management.

1. WordPress (Content Management): Everything we do at TechChange that is website related is based on WordPress. Our main TechChange.org site, and our course site are heavily customized versions of WordPress.  We are big believers in responsive design and WordPress gave us the framework that we needed to build a system that could be managed by non-programmers. Some of our favorite plugins: GravityForms, Advanced Custom Fields, WordPress Database Backup, Disqus, Google Analytics for WordPress, and BuddyPress. But ultimately, whenever we’re asked why we chose to go with WordPress, we have to be honest: We chose the highly engaged WordPress developer community first and then figured out if the tech could meet our needs going forward.

2. Twitter (Community Engagement): Twitter has been absolutely crucial to our success. We got a late start (May 2010) but in two years we’ve grown to 6200 followers with an average of about 300 new followers a month thanks to the incredible direction of social media whiz kids Alex Priest and TJ Thomander. The secret sauce: our following has grown in direct relation to the number of tweets we’ve sent out every day.  We like to aim for tweeting 25-40 times a day and so should you.  Some tools we like: Crowdbooster, BufferApp, TweetDeck and Friendorfollow.

3. Idealist.org (Talent Recruitment): Whenever we hire someone new, we always post on Idealist.org, mostly because we care about attracting people who are passionate about social change in addition to tech nerds. For us, Idealist has been the best place to find them. If you’re hiring for a new position, we’d highly recommend spending the $70 for a job announcement.  Having an open web form application is also a great way to constantly be on the lookout for the right talent. Check out the TechChange application here.

4. Salesforce (Relationship Management): Where would we be without the web standard in customer relations management? Salesforce allows us to easily catalog everyone who applies for our courses as well as clients who hire us for custom courses. There is an incredible diversity of tactics organizations can use to tap into the power of Salesforce. We love what the folks at Vera Solutions are doing in terms of helping other organizations use Salesforce to enhance their M&E work and are excited to have CEO Taylor Downs speaking in our class this week. Salesforce has a number of discounts available for nonprofits and B corps.

5. Google Docs (Collaborative Writing): Google Docs is a our go-to way to share documents and collaborate in real-time. We do so much within this framework from managing cash flow, to sharing spreadsheets of student lists, to editing proposals. You do need a gmail account to use them and some folks may prefer not to be too cloud dependant but we’ve been very happy with this tool over the past two years.

6. Asana (Task Management): We’ve struggled over the past two years to find a good task management tool that everyone on the team actually uses. We tried Basecamp, Open Atrium and a bunch of others with limited success. The beauty of Asana is that it integrates nicely with Gmail. The interface is very intuitive and so far this has been the best one yet.

Other tools and platforms we love: Github, Rackspace, Quickbooks Online, Google Analytics, and Paypal.

What about you? What tools or platforms have been the most valuable for you and why? Feel free to share them below.

 

Next week we’re excited to offer our first course in Social Media and Tech Tools for Academic Research (TC110). While many of our courses have focused on using technology for organizing, response, conflict prevention, and mobiles, but this course will fill a key gap by focusing on using technology to gain insights into relevant ongoing online conversations and the networks through which they travel.

So far we have over 20 people registered from 7 countries from organizations such as World Vision, InSTEDD, and Plan International. This is shaping up to be an excellent group.

Confirmed guest speakers include:

  • Ryan Budish, Berkman Center at Harvard University
  • John Kelly, Morningside Analytics
  • Sami Ith, US State Department
  • Clayton Fink, Johns Hopkins University.

These speakers will provide insight into the work identifying the value created by digital networks. Our experts are using online communication to understand how new ideas are disseminated and how to maximize audience engagement with an organization’s online content.

Source: Morningside Analytics

Our aim with the course provide academics practitioners and those involved in advocacy work with hands-on practice using tools and strategies for using tech to carry out research. We’ll also explore how to manage the big data sets generated by social media to be able to extract meaningful information. The course will also go over best practices for applying research to advocacy.

Some of the topics and tools we plan to feature:

  • Social media tools for crowdsourcing and social science research (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Zotero)
  • Mapping methods and tools for data collection, visualization, and analysis (Ushahidi, MapBox, ArcGIS)
  • Mobile Survey and Data Collection Tools (FormHub, GeoPoll, EpiSurveyor, Open Data Kit)

We plan to keep this course small and intimate but there are still a few spots left. Register today.

 


As K-12 teachers experiment with iPads in the classroom, Twitter streams in the backchannel, and TEDtalks as the new textbook, university professors are figuring out what to make of massively open online courses and how it will affect their classroom. After reading the barrage of stories this past year on new innovations in education technology, from the flipped classroom to edX, I began to wonder why K-12 teachers reported feeling empowered by the new technologies while massive open online courses (MOOCs) seemed to pose a threat to all private higher education institutions that’s so indecipherable most are unsure how to react. Why were stories on the flipped university classroom so rare this past year? With our upcoming course on Social Media and Technology Tools for Research in mind, we wanted to find a model that was actually leveraging tech tools in a way that was improving higher education learning on a broad scale.

We found Dr. John Boyer of Virginia Tech, who has been innovating and enlarging his World Regions classroom for the past decade. When he started he was in a classroom of 50 students using an inherited world regions textbook that leaned heavily on Western history. Now he is in a 3,000 seat auditorium, using the 6th edition of his own textbook and a companion website for digital and social media content that more than twenty other universities have adopted. We came across him in the same way that many have–through his plea to Aung San Suu Kyi for a Skype interview (which she agreed to) and the ensuing visits from Martin Sheen, Emilio Estevez, and Invisible Children’s Jason Russell. “We hope to have President Obama visit, which would make a lot of sense for him. Why wouldn’t he want to have 3,000 screaming university students tweeting and facebooking his interview?” He told me that those celebrity visits are not planned in the syllabus but come about organically, which also reflects the nature in which he adopts technology into the classroom.  From my chat with him I gleaned three questions for university educators to ask themselves as they adapt hybrid classroom methodologies.

1. Will it improve communication between the professor and students?

Effective teaching depends on the way that information is communicated to the learner. Professor Boyer literally brings his curriculum to the fingertips of his 3,000 students on his website, plaidavenger.com. While his textbook may cover very recent issues in its sixth edition, the website covers global news and issues of the week. Students can easily scan video interviews, articles, and twitter streams and they can earn credit by participating in class dialogue over social media networks.

In a class of 3,000, students can easily feel distanced from their professor, but his online office hours and regular availability on Twitter and Facebook provides a safety net of communication. In my worry that he was online all day and night communicating with students he reassured me, “just a very small percentage actually use it and having the safety net of knowing it’s there satisfies the rest.”

2. Is tech interaction built into the syllabus?

As opposed to traditional pedagogies where students start out with an A and then lose points as they respond incorrectly, his students start with nothing and are rewarded for each activity they complete. Grades are determined by gross point accumulation and students can choose the way they want to earn those points. They can go the traditional route and take standard tests, fill out atlas quizzes, and write papers, or they can earn it through interacting with world leaders on Twitter, commenting in global news reports, or listening to podcasts.

According to an article in The Atlantic, flipping the learning model in the university setting in this manner leads to more personalization of the learning process. Professor Boyer’s exemplifies this by allowing the student to choose the assignments (not a single one is required, not even tests) that fit their learning method best. From the start of the semester, students have the flexibility and the accountability to complete the class how they want to.

3. Am I offering technology that students already use or can easily start using?

Virginia Tech is not only at the fringe of the flipping the university classroom, but physically it’s at the fringe of an urban-rural divide. Located in Blacksburg, Virginia, 60% of the town’s 42,000 are students and many come from rural communities. Students may not be used to many of the newest apps or devices. “I would love to start using foursquare to have students check in for attendance but I’m pretty sure only 1% of my students even know what it is,” Dr. Boyer told me. Despite some limitations, he is able to use quite a diverse tech toolset in his class. He uses (most links go to the unique class page) Delicious for bookmarking articles, online discussion forums on the class page, international movies, iTunes U, Skype, UStream for online office hours, Turntable.fm for their class international playlist, and one of my favorites, PollEverywhere, is used to instantly poll to students on what they want to learn that day. These tools offer a plethora of options rather than required tools to use so that the students can involve themselves in the way they like.

Each of these questions asks what kind of options do the students have to learn the material and how they will be awarded for it. The hybrid classroom puts more accountability on the student to take the time to learn the subject matter, but also allows them the freedom to choose how they want to learn it. Dr. Boyer is evolving his classroom depending on the way that his students use technology and not the other way around. It won’t be long until university students are expecting the hybrid “flipped classroom” experience, especially when they have come from high schools that have already been implementing it.

 

If you are interested in international peacekeeping, consider taking our next course, Social Media and Technology Tools for Research, starting Monday, August 20th.