Social Media as a Field Observatory
“Your new assignment is observing a discussion or comment log on your favorite social media site or a news site. It must be related to the current class discussion of justice in America.” My students excitingly begin to ask questions such as “what news source can be used? Is Rolling Stone an acceptable forum?” The questions last for a few minutes but my student’s engagement is amazing. They are being asked to observe or “check out” discussions they might normally be a part of. A difficult task for many teachers is creating assignments that are interesting yet thought provoking. We have all thought about this many times. Our returning adult students are inundated with massive responsibilities. Our first generation students may not have experience with anything other than Facebook chats. How do we combine both of their learning processes for successful learning? Social Media can be the answer.
Every online discussion I join provides a keen view of the thoughts and actions of people, places and things. As I scour through my LinkedIn groups discussions I find relevant and thought provoking answers and riddles to world issues. Professionals from around the world join each other in creating online learning lessons. Yes, people can learn from many discussions, comments logs and online forums. Why use Social Media as a field observatory? There are three main reasons that I employ field research through online venues including accessibility, diversity and geographies. The following discussion will give a glimpse into each element.
Accessing World Knowledge
As I previously stated professionals are using the internet and social media discussion forums at an increased rate. How many times have you been to a conference? The conferences that sociologists and other professionals attend are usually annually based. Online discussions resemble the many issue discussions that we attend at these meetings. Our students may observe a discussion on Weber’s theory of rationalization or a comment log from CNBC on labor unions. These discussions allow our students to access vast knowledge from their home computers. Online observatories allow us to reach knowledge more than on an annual occasion.
Online observatories allow our students knowledge from many different professionals and fields. When we ask our students to observe a site it may be filled with people of a similar profession. We ask them to watch a building in Downtown Chicago. They pick the Cultural Center. They can give us quantitative data on the number of people entering or leaving the building, racial and gender stats and possibly one great thing that happened while they observed. Do they know who was a doctor, a sociologist, teacher, construction worker, etc? No. Online discussions give life to these elements. They can observe and quantify sociodemographics and other occurrences within the discussion. They may be able to quantify how long a discussion lasted-days, weeks, comments- and who, what, where, why and how people joined or what they may have said. As many of these comments and discussion forums are generally open to the public (must be registered with the online source) they have an open field. Beyond the statistical significance, our students meet and network with diverse people in diverse fields. They are introduced to unusual theories, historical occurrences and sociological data by many professionals. The online field observatory is a diverse resource.
Students may encounter people from around the world in online discussions. I was following a discussion on India’s political dilemma on LinkedIn. The discussion introduced new elements of political strife on an international format. It became a live discussion on India here in America. Right in Bridgeport, Chicago I observed India, its politics and its people’s reactions. It was not a stagnant article read in the newspaper or timed observation. Professionals and non-professionals joined this discussion. A farm manager from Denver supplemented the discussion with information on creating better farm land to help feed a population of a billion people. A teacher in England added methods for expanding learning in rural areas. Even if you had the time and money you couldn’t get this much information from a world tour. Geographical expertise and experience opens up knowledge for our students.
Online Field Observation Assignment
As I have discussed my reasons for including online filed observations I need to exemplify my structure. Depending on the educational level of your class the structure can be modified. Students should decide upon an online discussion format via LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or an active comment log from a reputable news source. Students are required to provide quantitative data and a reflection on the observation.
Number of posts
Time of posts
How long was the post active? days, weeks, months
Did the posts taper off for a time-how long?
Gender of posts
Ethnicity of posts
Profession of posts
Geographic location of posts
Socioeconomic data of posts
Please note that this information will be inside the posts or sometimes profession is in the signature. It may not all be true either. People will present themselves as millionaires, doctors and other whimsical ideas of themselves. But I would still like the information.
Why did you pick this discussion or comment log, news source?
What social issue was presented?
How is it related to class?
Were any sociological theories presented?
What was the majority opinion of the posts regarding the issue?
Did you feel that educated opinion was presented? Was it relevant?
Did the demographic data and differences amongst the discussants/posters have an adverse affect on the issue? Or did it enlighten the issue?
Name a few elements that you learned from this discussion.
Means to an End
As students delve into online forums their means to an end is created and should flourish. Students have the ability to learn from these sources. Bridging technology and sociology is a key stepping stone for our students. We, as professional teachers, need to adhere to our principles of teaching yet design assignments that are mature and current. Both student and teacher can be greatly satisfied with this assignment and more knowledgeable on world opinion and affairs. Good luck!
Please feel free to send any and all comments or suggestions to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Find me on LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter for more discussions on teaching and learning.