Teaching (and Marketing) with Student-Generated Content

ChristenBuzzfeedThis semester I’ve been experimenting with student-generated social media content in the classroom, and, as it turns out, also for marketing and outreach.  I’ve been thinking for awhile now about the value of social media in the classroom, but it always seemed like something that would only work in a traditional semester long class where students were engaging in an extended conversation on a class blog or Twitter.  How could students engage meaningfully in creating social media content in the confines of a single 50 or 75 minute class session?

I’ve got at least one scenario that answers this question now!  Instagram-a-rama, a session for English 101 classes who have no research assignments and whose instructors request the dreaded “library tour.”  I did this session with 15 of the 22 English 101 sections last fall.  Here’s how it goes:

  • I put students in small groups and give each group an iPad loaded with the Instagram app and already logged in to the umlibrary account.
  • Students have about 35 minutes to explore the library and respond to six open-ended prompts with pictures, captions, and descriptive hashtags.
  • We reconvene and the students show the class their pictures and explain what they found.
  • I show students the relationship between the hashtags we created and the controlled vocabulary in the library catalog.

I found that these sessions energized the students, encouraged creative interpretations of the library, and helped them explore library resources they might otherwise not have discovered until well into their time at Montevallo.  Take a look at the @umlibrary Instagram feed here and a presentation with more details here.

I designed this session with a couple ideas in mind: combating library anxiety (students are nervous about the library, think they’re alone in being confused about it, don’t want to look stupid by asking questions) and using critical pedagogy (decentering power between teacher and student, valuing students’ experiences).  I also had a vague inkling about the value of user-generated content and a feeling that social media had a lot of connections to IL skills.

When I was researching for my presentations on Instagram, I finally got around to reading the draft of the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education (part 1, part 2).  I was excited to find a term that spoke to these vague ideas I had about social media and information literacy: metaliteracy.

Metaliteracy addresses how students can engage information literacy skills in participatory online environments such as social media platforms.  It’s meant to be in terms of subject research and participation in scholarly conversations–like being able to tell that a blog post by a little-known author could be considered credible (and maybe an acceptable source to use) if it’s getting lots of comments, likes, and shares.  Or knowing that different participatory online environments have different contexts in which content is created–that Wikipedia is edited by many people (maybe some experts), or that finding the right Twitter hashtag could lead to a whole community of people interested in a specific subject or issue.

So, what I had the students do with Instagram–creating information about the library for the immediate audience of their classmates and the extended audience of anyone online–was perhaps a bit of a stretch of the meaning of metaliteracy.  But I think it’s an effective stretch.  They aren’t doing research in a traditional sense, but they are exploring the physical space of the library and sharing pieces of information they think will be useful or entertaining for their classmates, all while following the conventions of an online social media image platform.

The other foray I’ve made with student-generated content is a Buzzfeed Article created by a student who participated in the Library Liaisons program this past academic year.  She wanted to make something that would be accessible for incoming freshmen to learn about the library from someone who had just finished being a freshman.  Of course I was pleased as punch about that, and we discussed it and decided she should do it in the form of a Buzzfeed Article.  I love how it turned out!  Right now it’s being featured on our library homepage and Facebook.  It’s one of our best performing Facebook posts ever–it’s been up for about 24 hours and the Facebook stats tell me it’s already been seen by 1,257 people!  And the Buzzfeed article itself has 440 views.  I would love to continue to do this kind of outreach generated by students.