To those of us who don’t text or tweet, and secretly regard it as badge of honor, the St. Thomas Communication and Journalism Department (COJO) is offering a provocative new course next spring, showing just how out of touch we are.

Social Media in Communications promises to examine “the ways social media are affecting human interaction and communication practices . . . and whether social media help create communities or isolate audiences into niches.”

Surprisingly, for someone without a Facebook account, I’m thinking the course has potential to be interesting, insightful . . . and important.

Course designer and professor Dr. Betsy Anderson will ask her students, among other assignments, to choose a social media tool (such as Facebook or Twitter) and report in-depth on the technology, how businesses are using it and what ethical issues arise as a result.

Having just seen the movie “Social Network,” I can imagine plenty of fodder for lively class discussions. What I like about the way Anderson has designed the course is the balance between online activities and in-class discussions. So students will learn how to use the tool and think about its effects on people and institutions.

“It’s still important (for COJO students) to know the basics,” Anderson said, “but students now need to know how to interact directly with the public online, how to reach bloggers and other new influencers, how to write a social media news release and pitch a story idea to a reporter using Twitter, how to measure online efforts, etc.”

Last fall on a trip to Yellowstone National Park, I was sitting on a bench 100 yards away from Old Faithful when she spouted – right on time. Next to me was a young 20-something with a backpack and a cell phone. During the eruption, he was busy texting, his thumb fairly flying from key to key.

He either was describing, with clarity and color, the wonder of what was happening in front of him …

Or, perhaps indifferent to his surroundings, he was planning a party with an old high school friend in his hometown, in which case he might have just as well been sitting in his car in the parking lot.

My aversion to the latest communication technology has been both stubbornly stupid and intriguingly insightful. I really don’t need 208 cable channels on my high-definition, surround-sound television set.

On the other hand, I can’t write a story or column anymore without online search engines like Google, Bing and LexisNexis.

“Specific technologies will keep changing,” Anderson said, “so I’m hoping to inspire students to continue to learn. Hopefully this course will give them a foundation that will fuel their curiosity and interest – and give them a running start.”

Who knows, maybe I’ll join the 500 million on Facebook and find 100 new friends with whom I can make online small talk.

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2 Responses

  1. Norman Larson, Eagan

    The University of Minnesota Journalism School has a new course for spring semester that gives students credit while gaining real-world experience working at the Star Tribune.

    The course, JOUR 4992: Star Tribune practicum, will be taught at the newspaper and is designed to teach students through hands-on experience while working with professionals. Students will work directly with editors and reporters to produce news, features, photos or multimedia productions for the newspaper’s print and online editions. Students will work 14 hours per week in the newsroom; they will be paid for their work and earn three academic credits. They will attend one class per week in the newsroom, learning about ethics, computer-assisted reporting and other skills from guest speakers including editors and reporters from business, sports, online and other areas.

  2. Tom King, W. St. Paul

    Dave….I’ve got to be of your generation, maybe even earlier….the early days of media. TV didn’t happen till my teenage years. Radio was my diversion: the voice of Ray Christiansen calling the Gopher football games, the Lone Ranger, The Shadow. Why, I even recall the staccato tones of Walter Winchell telling us all how are troops were doing in Europe and the Pacific fronts.

    Even though I got my math teaching degree from St. Thomas back in 1960 (Hey! 50th reunion this year!), I somehow ended up in the educational media and technology arena, learning to wrestle with all the new twists and tweaks and turns that computers loosed upon us.

    I still remember a media prof tell us that you don’t use a Ming vase as a hammer. It’s the wrong tool. Choose the tool you need for the task. Facebook? I check it now and then, but it’s too much a social backyard fence for me….the latest gossip to games to grocery lists to the latest approved politician list. Enough!

    A student in my tech class last spring told me about Twitter. I began to see it as more of a Ming vase than a hammer. Well, at least it seemed more elegant, focused, terse and pithy communications and exchanges with colleagues and sources of like feather.

    I now have what’s called an active Professional Learning Network on Twitter. I connect with 500+ followers from all around the world on topics of mutual interest. I find lots useful links, facts, findings and ideas helpful in my profession. I share what I know with 500+ others. It reduces the 6 degrees of separation down to 2 or 3.

    If that kid in Yellowstone had Twitter on his smartphone, he could have tweeted when the next spouting would come, and faster than a Google search, one or more of his fellow colleagues might have sent him the answer. A few more clicks and he’d have his iPhone video prepped to show and report tol the folks back home about an amazing Old Faithful eruption.

    What kind of media story-teller, young or old, wouldn’t love a tool like that?