When our program shifted to multimodal compositions from the traditional essay, we knew we needed to support faculty members in making this transition. We also wanted to shift to a project-based-learning approach in our introductory course on writing research papers. After looking at different genres, projects, and platforms, we settled on a social media project.
Over the course of a semester, students will complete a project-based-learning social media campaign advocating for a specific cause or proposal designed to reach a particular audience.
Social Media Project Description
Students will post three different categories of social media posts or threads: summary, analysis, and synthesis. (We use the terms posts and threads because sometimes students will create a single post that results from a lot of other work, like an interview with a member of their audience, and other times they will thread several posts together to complete the category’s requirements.)
Summary threads or posts are often short attempts to get an audience to investigate a topic further. They summarize a preexisting source. Analysis threads or posts are usually longer and are attempts to get audience members to see a particular source or issue in the same light as the student does. Synthesis posts or threads are the heart of the project. Often, students are using summary and analysis as a way to build toward synthesis. Synthesis posts or threads are original attempts at advocacy that are built on a combination of sources. For instance, a student who is trying to get other students to understand the overuse of nutritional supplements might find that top-ten lists about the topics fall short. The student might use research to build a more effective top-ten list, such as “Poisons College Students Consume through Nutritional Supplements.” A post about an academic article indicating what kinds of poisonous materials are present in nutritional supplements would not be a synthesis, just as another top-ten list uninformed by this academic article would not be a synthesis. The student must combine these two types of sources into an original document to complete the synthesis requirement.
After the social media project is complete, we ask students to review and evaluate their own projects. This exercise gives students a chance to reflect on their projects and take stock of what they have created. Oftentimes, a student will write an editorial from the perspective of someone who has just discovered that student’s social media campaign.
Lead-Up to Social Media Posting
The social media campaign itself will be a series of threads and posts on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. Students are allowed to choose the platform that best fits their audience and their research question, so we do not pick platforms or publish posts until later in the semester. Writing for the campaign usually takes place in a Google Doc until the student is ready to publish posts on their platform of choice.
We begin our social media project by asking students to create research questions that will guide their projects. Students are encouraged to design questions about topics for which they can imagine being advocates.
Their questions are then refined as they write an audience analysis. Because students will have the opportunity to interact with their audience members through their writing (though they also can make their accounts private if they wish), it is important that they spend some time learning to better understand them. These analyses are research-based, and students learn to use our library’s resources to find demographic information and other key data points about their audience. These analyses help students focus on what types of posts and threads they could create to have an impact on their audience. Because social media are flexible, students can often repurpose some of this research in their final social media project. They can, for instance, link their topic to some of the demographic information they gather and use it in a post.
Once students have analyzed their audience, we work on refining their questions into clear projects—with a proposal. Students outline the purpose, methodology, and process for their project. This proposal serves as a sort of reflection, prompting students to begin analyzing and synthesizing the research they have done, to assess where they currently are in their process, and to build a plan for completing their work.
Throughout the first half of the semester, students produce weekly entries for an annotated bibliography. Students complete the first of these entries during the second week of classes and later submit their final annotated bibliography shortly before completing the social media project. As part of this assignment, students review how to write effective summaries.
The social media project is made up of a series of posts in which students present their message on the basis of their research. To help students frame their thinking on the project, we provide a project recipe. This recipe tells students the types and number of posts they need to complete for their project.
The social media project recipe includes at least twenty posts:
- twelve summary posts. Posts should include a summary of the source in the student’s own words (evaluative or nonevaluative).
- four analysis threads. Posts should include an original evaluation of one source.
- four synthesis threads. Posts in series should create dialogue between multiple sources. (One of these is an infographic.)
Before students begin writing their posts, they complete a project plan with the chart below. The chart is an organizational tool to provide students with structure and direction for this project. It helps students identify the sources they will use for their synthesis, analysis, and summary posts. Students will already have many of these sources from their annotated bibliography and proposal projects. Sources on the chart and in the project may also overlap. For example, students will list two or more sources for one synthesis thread. They can also use those sources for a summary or analysis post or thread.
Sequence of Activities
- Before students create any posts, we have them research other social media campaigns and posts that are similar to what they want to accomplish. They use these sources to differentiate their project but also to ensure that their logos, hashtags, and campaign names do not overlap with what has already been produced.
- The first post that students create is an infographic. The infographic is a visual way to present research and information. We instruct students in best practices for creating an infographic and show models. The infographic should be visually appealing and easy to read, making it easy for their audience to digest the information presented. Students use a combination of their sources to provide content for their infographic, making this product a synthesis.
- Students then begin work on their first two summary posts. We begin by showing students a model of a summary post. The summary posts should clearly and accurately capture the main ideas from the original source. The summary posts are written completely in the student’s own words. We instruct the students to craft their summaries in a way that appeals to their audience and encourages the reader to pursue the linked source. Many students repackage their annotated bibliographies for summary posts.
- After students have completed their first summary posts, we guide students in creating their first analysis posts. Again, we begin by leading students through a model post. Analysis posts include the student’s original evaluation of one source. The analysis posts are also crafted in a way that would encourage a reader to click on the link of the analyzed source.
- We then return to synthesis. After showing students an example of a synthesis, we take the opportunity to write a synthesis post together to model the complex thought process that a synthesis requires. A synthesis post or thread requires students to combine multiple sources, creating something new, with a clear argumentative purpose. We show students how to create dialogue between the sources. The synthesis should encourage the reader to follow up on the linked sources.
- We close the project by having students evaluate their own campaign.
Abe, Paige, and Nickolas A. Jordan. “Integrating Social Media into the Classroom Curriculum.” About Campus, vol. 18, no. 1, Jan. 2013, pp. 16–20.
Poore, Megan. Using Social Media in the Classroom: A Best Practice Guide. Sage Publications, 2016.