Writing for Search Engine Optimization

Today’s post is not for you. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Of course, I do hope you read it, and I’m interested in your comments. So, let me try this again: I’ve written this post not exclusively with you as reader in mind. My post should not appeal solely to you. My intended audience is not exclusively human, it’s actually algorithmic as well. Today’s post is about appealing to the Google search engine. This ‘audience,’ for the lack of a better term, consists of a number of algorithms called ‘spiders’ and ‘crawlers’ that are constantly at work indexing the billions of web pages on the Internet. And this audience is not primarily interested in the actual content, as it turns out, but rather in keywords, hyper-links, and associated meta-information. Check out the video below to see how and why that audience has become so important.

“How Search Works” by Matt Cutts

Therefore, in the process of writing this post I spent half of my time for you, dear reader, on matters of content relevance. The other half, however, I spent on optimizing that very content to ensure that as many people as possible will see it.

The process involved here is “search engine optimization” or “SEO” for short. In a previous post, I mentioned that in the field of Internet marketing, SEO has become extremely important. So, what exactly is search engine optimization? The Wikipedia entry is a good place to start:

“Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a web search engine’s unpaid results—often referred to as ‘natural’, ‘organic’, or ‘earned’ results.” (my emphasis)

Natural or organic searches are those done by us when we search the Internet for information. And study after study has shown that the ranking of a web page in a Google search result influences its overall popularity. In fact, most Internet users (myself included) do not even bother to check the second page of search results. Most of the time, at least.

Given this kind of user behavior, search engine optimization is crucial to making web content more relevant for Google’s indexing algorithms, and in turn, more visible for users. But what does it mean to properly optimize a web page or a blog post as it so happens in my case?


Optimizing this post for SEO

SEO specialists commonly distinguish between two types of search engine optimization: on-page (or on-site) and off-page (or off-site). First, let’s talk a bit about off-page optimization. Essentially, off-page optimization means that external websites link to your content. Promoting a blog post on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and having people like and share your post is a good and easy way to boost visibility. However, off-page optimization really comes into play when external websites link to your content. The more popular these external websites are the better, because that tells Google that your content is relevant.

Now, on-page optimization for a blog post is the part we have the most control over. It involves two things: first, it means to look at all the meta elements of your page such as URL, snippet preview, meta-description, and tagged images, and to optimize these elements for search algorithms. Below I have compiled a list of pages that provide great information on how to do this for blog posts:

Optimizing the page URL and snippet preview

Optimizing meta-descriptions

Optimizing image tags

In addition to that, a post should have a good amount of links to both your own as well as external content. As you can see, in this post I’ve included not only links to various external websites but I’ve also linked to a previous blog post of mine.


Readability and SEO

Aside from dealing with meta-information, the readability of the content also influences your search engine ranking. Especially since Google introduced its latest search algorithm called Hummingbird in 2013, content readability has become a more important factor in the context of search engine optimization.

A good way to improve readability is to install a WordPress plugin called Yoast, which comes in both premium and free versions. The plugin automatically analyzes your writing, and offers suggestions for search engine optimization. For instance, you can improve readability by decreasing the amount of sentences that contain more than 20 words to 25% or less. In addition, your paragraphs should not exceed 300 words, and you want to ensure that 10% or less of your sentences contain passive voice. It will take some time getting used to the plugin. At least, this has been the case for me. As you will see below, I’m sharing with you my Yoast SEO readability score for this post. Looks like I’m doing well overall in terms of paragraph structure and mechanics, but I can definitely improve in the sentence-length department.

The Readability score for this post

Last but not least, you want to choose a proper focus keyword for your post. In my case, this has been “search engine optimization,” and this focus keyword should appear in 1 to 2% of the entire text. Given that my post is 936 words, the focus keyword should appear between 9 to 18 times. You will find the phrase ‘search engine optimization’ a total of 10 times in this post. Not too shabby.

Overall, search engine optimization is a practice that is both analytical and creative. I have to say that SEO is a practice that I’m only starting to get familiar with. But given how important it is to rank high in today’s Internet searches, I believe it’s crucial to spend a bit of time getting used to it.

Gaining experience in the dynamic world of digital marketing

This semester, I’m having the great opportunity of working at the digital marketing agency Foundry 45 in Atlanta as a Digital Media Specialist. Foundry 45 specializes in the creation of Virtual and Augmented Reality experiences for various mobile platforms, tailored to the needs of clients from the business, educational, and public sector interested in communicating their brand and products in immersive new ways.


360 video recording created by Foundry 45 of a Georgia Tech touchdown against the
Tennessee Volunteers during the 2017 Chick-fil-A Kickoff game

The internship I’m doing happens in a collaborative work environment and provides exposure to various aspects of digital media marketing including social media management, content marketing, search engine optimization, and web analytics.

Over the course of the last few weeks, I have leveraged my research, writing, and project management skills to write and distribute marketing content such as case studies and blog posts as well as manage the agency’s entire social media presence.

The internship is giving me a great behind-the-scenes look into the professional writing sector. One of the most interesting things I’ve learned so far (and something I’m going to reserve an entire post for in the future) is that in the context of writing for digital marketing, content creators are not merely writing for human audiences, but they also need to take into account ever-present non-human audiences, i.e. search engine algorithms that are designed to analyze distributed content for the purposes of ranking websites in Internet search results.

I look forward to incorporating the things I’m learning at Foundry 45 into my work as a SIF fellow. I am currently leading a project to overhaul the SIF website, and I’m particularly interested in taking cues from my internship work and help improving site traffic for the SIF website.

More to come in the near future.

Project Management Certificates and the SIF Program

First off, isn’t it remarkable how fast time flies? Thanksgiving Break is right around the corner, and the SIF team is working hard to close a couple of projects by the end of the year.

Today I want to take a brief moment to muse about the SIF program, its project management component, and how all of this relates to me personally as a PhD student in the humanities. I take inspiration from Ashley’s latest post which begins an examination of the ways various institutions of higher learning are responding to the “crisis in the humanities” and the need to revamp doctoral programs in the future (and rightly so if I may add). You can find her excellent and insightful post right here.

In her post, one item in particular caught my attention: the need to expand professionalization opportunities for grad students in the humanities and that departments should provide students with opportunities to develop their skill sets in various, but mostly traditionally non-academic areas, including project management. I agree with her assessment that the SIF program provides a great platform for humanities students to acquire project management experience, especially since they are the ones who usually occupy leading roles in the SIF project universe.

Yet, our role at SIF can both be seen as a blessing and a curse: a blessing because, for lack of a better phrase, we can get our hands dirty. Rather than confining ourselves to working on our own research, teaching classes for our respective departments, and assisting department faculty with their research tasks, the SIF program allows us not only to look beyond our own back yard but to engage in, manage, and supervise cross-disciplinary, cross-sector project activities. For someone like me who wouldn’t be opposed to the idea of seeking a career outside the academia, the SIF experience has been very rewarding. Then again, our role is also burdened by the fact that as grad students in the humanities we’re leading interdisciplinary projects without having gone through proper project management training first. Naturally, I cannot speak for other members of my graduate cohort, but as far as I’m concerned, I freely admit that most of the work I’m doing is based on the experiences I’ve gained as an instructor at Georgia State University, and not on knowledge I’ve gained through formal training in project management. My experiences as an instructor, i.e. syllabus design, semester planning, session prep, classroom dynamics, have been my main resource so far in terms of making project management related decisions. I’ve often drawn upon these experiences for guidance. It’s as simple as that, and things have worked out well so far. The thing that gives me solace and confidence, however, is that the projects I am or have been leading consisted of clear, manageable, and straightforward goals. If they hadn’t been, I might have encountered a few road blocks that would have left me truly exasperated. After all, teaching skills and classroom management experiences can only get you so far. Fortunately, problems haven’t happened yet, and I take further solace in the fact that I’m working with a great bunch of students whose work continues to amaze me. In fact, I might want to add this as an additional blessing here, actually.

Knocking on wood, here, but what if it does pose a problem? What if in our roles as project leaders we encounter times when we can’t draw on our experiences as instructors to resolve a project-related issue? As Ashley’s post illustrates, the field of humanities has, indeed, recognized the need to reassess doctoral programs and graduate student success. What this also means is that my doctoral cohort is located on the cusp of a major development in graduate education. While many still pursue a PhD degree to seek a career in academia, others are not so opposed to exploring alternative areas of employment that are outside the academy. For the latter group, the issue then surrounds the acquisition of proper skills that are applicable outside the academy while in grad school. And these are the kinds of skills that many of us, including me, are currently seeking and trying out in a, shall we say, rather messy way.

When I arrived at GSU, the first thing I had to do in order to be eligible for teaching was to attend a pedagogy class. That was mandatory, the pre-requisite. The same thing could and, as I believe, should be sought for graduate students who are eager to develop professionalization related skill sets. But from where? I’ve done some digging and the Robinson School of Business offers a certificate in project management. The certificate is awarded after the successful completion of a 4-day intensive class that helps participants to develop proper and successful project management skills. I think that the SIF program would benefit greatly if students who occupy roles as project leaders receive a more formal training in this area. The only and quite common problem, of course, is cost. Without question, this particular class is quite costly. But I still believe it would be a good idea to get into a conversation with Robinson faculty. My hope is that we can establish a single day workshop for the SIF program at the beginning of a semester that allows us to further develop and refresh our project management skills, not only in view of our personal professional goals in the future, but also in light of the projects we want to work on in the future. The better we are prepared as project managers, the more productive we can be in our roles as SIF fellows and the better we can manage our own responsibilities of finishing our degrees. As a current doctoral student who not only recognizes the need for a more wide-ranging training in the humanities but who also very much subscribes to proposed directions and goals, I’m very eager to participate in an effort to explore possible options for the SIF program to give its fellows a more formal training regarding project management.


So much for now.

I wish all of you a Happy Thanksgiving next week!

An Interesting Take on Finding Your Managing Style

I feel this semester I’m pretty much on a “project management” information expedition, trying to come to grips with various aspects pertaining to the field. Things like how to keep track of work; how to define suitable and manageable timelines; how to keep everyone engaged and sustain high levels of motivation for a project over an extended period of time. In the end, it’s all about making appropriate decisions.

Some of these aspects have been quite straightforward to figure out I would say. Over the summer, for example, I slashed my way through a formidable jungle of online project management platforms currently available. I demoed many, and we finally settled on Producteev (I talked about this in a previous post). I must say that having Producteev has been really helpful so far for us to keep track of progress, and set project goals over the course of a semester or a year.

But figuring out how to best engage members of a team, who bring various skills to the table, how to keep everyone motivated, how to avoid bottlenecks…essentially, how to lead and how to make sure that you feel comfortable in that role, that’s something a bit more complex as it turns out. Granted, when you look for information regarding project management, you can find lots of information on how to structure project tasks and tailor the work to the deliverable (for example, you may want to apply a traditional waterfall approach, or you think an agile or iterative approach might make more sense). But that doesn’t really address how you might want to project yourself to the team, and most importantly, how you can make that you feel comfortable in that role. That being said, I’m currently trying to figure out a suitable persona for myself. Do I consider myself more of a control freak? Do I want to give as much freedom to the team as possible? Or would I feel most comfortable as someone whose managing style falls somewhere in between these two extremes?

Just to be clear, I’m not starting from scratch. Having taught writing classes at GSU prior to starting my position as a SIF fellow, I do feel comfortable managing people and I believe that teaching provides a great foundation in that regard. Yet, I recognize that the managing skills I’ve developed as a university instructor can only get me so far when it comes to managing project teams. After all, one crucial, and obvious difference between managing a class of students and leading the members of a project team is that in the classroom environment the goal is to help improve each student’s skill(s) related to the subject, i.e. the goals and requirements for each student to succeed in the class are pretty much the same. But when it comes to leading and managing a project team, the work is usually more collaborative in nature. Project teams consist of members that bring different sets of skills to a given project. A database related project that has a website component, for example, brings together someone who is an expert in database/backend work, and a designer who is responsible for the corresponding frontend, the website. And not to forget, the goal is to successfully submit a deliverable, and not assign grades. Still, I consider teaching experience of great value here especially as it relates to organizational questions such as time management, setting goals, and identifying resources. But spending some time to learn about different managing styles can be equally helpful.

So, for today’s post I thought I’d share with you a video I recently stumbled upon. It’s a TED talk by orchestra director, author, and consultant, Itay Talgam. In this very engaging and entertaining and insightful talk, Mr. Talgam discusses various managing styles by way of using the particular conducting styles of various, famous orchestra conductors as an analogy. Let’s watch!

First off, what I take from this video–and that’s quite comforting–is that the product, the deliverable, i.e. the performance, is wonderful in each case. So, it’s really a matter of personal preference…to choose which style of conducting, i.e. managing, you find most appealing, either for yourself in general, or in light of the particular requirements of a given project.

It’s quite obvious that each conductor shown here embraces a different approach to leading the orchestra. The late Carlos Kleiber seems to excel in a process-based approach. He motivates his team by projecting confidence, by providing the conditions for each musician to have a personal investment in the success of the performance. Highly flexible, very 21st century, in my opinion. Kleiber’s conducting approach works really well for a project that’s based on an agile or iterative management approach, I would say, in which the goals of a project need to remain flexible in order to respond to a client’s needs. By contrast, famous Italian conductor Riccardo Muti, seems to prefer a highly structured approach to conducting, which might work well for a project that uses a waterfall approach. He displays a commanding presence because he considers himself responsible for the success or failure of the performance. He ostensibly controls the performance. He is very clear in his instructions. As Itay Talgam notes: “maybe a little bit over-clear.”

Richard Strauss, then, is very much in favor of playing things by the book. His approach is rather formulaic, he prefers pragmatism over personal expression, and his conducting style is very much about sticking to what’s necessary. This approach certainly gets the job done, but I wonder whether the team could have made the product better if they had been given a bit more room for personal expression and experimentation…Now, Herbert von Karajan’s conducting style seems to be pretty out there, putting a lot of responsibility onto the shoulders of the team members. To paraphrase Talgam, team members are much more responsible for figuring out how the goals of a project can be met, how they can ensure that the deliverable becomes a success and is submitted on time. That style of leadership may certainly enable a team to bond, but I find that approach a bit too chaotic, to be honest…

Finally, Leonard Bernstein. His approach, as Talgam puts it, enables each musician to tell a story and to claim partial ownership of the entire performance. It’s a very feedback-based, reflective style of leading. This, to me, might be a suitable for a large-scale project which consists of various sub-projects that have their own teams.

So far I’m very much in favor of Kleiber’s approach, but I’m curious to know your perspective. Let me know in the comments. Which conducting/managing style do you prefer? Keep in mind that each performance, as you’ve seen in the video, was beautiful, so there is no right and wrong answer really.

To end my post, I’d like to leave you with yet another conducting style, which some of you might prefer

…I doubt it, though. 😉

Enjoy! (quick note: the performance really starts one minute into the video, so be patient 😉 )

Jack of all trades? Not really…

At the end of the summer and shortly before the beginning of the fall semester I went on a little quest to find a dedicated project management environment for the SIF program. In previous years, we had been using Microsoft SharePoint, and while this tool is great to manage individual projects, it really falls flat when you want to get an overall view of the work happening across projects. For the SIF program this is especially important because our work is fluid and flexible and we frequently move SIF fellows between projects to ensure timely completion of a deliverable, and to give our fellows the opportunity to participate, learn about, and contribute to various projects over the course of the semester.

Pretty soon after I embarked on this little journey, I found that among the plethora of managing software currently available, the jack-of-all-trades type doesn’t really exist, especially when you’re looking for a free option. So, I started jotting down a few points that I considered crucial for our project managing needs at SIF, and went from there. These points included:

  1. Quickly track both progress of projects as well as progress of tasks assigned to fellows.
  2. See at a glance which projects SIF fellows are part of
  3. A strong tool to communicate with one another
  4. Ability to divide a project into subtasks
  5. A way of sending out push-notifications of deadlines automatically
  6. A feature to rank the tasks of a project in terms of importance
  7. No steep learning curve / a ‘clean’ user-interface
  8. MS Outlook integration

In the end, I decided to go with Producteev as our dedicated project management tool even though it doesn’t check off all the points listed above.

For one, our version of Producteev doesn’t offer Outlook integration (the subscription option does, though), and the tool also doesn’t allow admins to quickly see current member lists for each project. Yet, for our purposes Producteev excels at all the other points, especially with regards to the clean interface and the low learning curve. On top of that you can assign several levels of priority for each tasks so that members can quickly see which tasks are more important than others. It’s definitely worth checking out in case you’re looking for a dedicated project management software tool yourself. That being said, it’s crucial to spend some time in advance with your team to figure out what you want the tool to do before you go software-hunting on the Web.

So, therefore I’m going to use the remainder of my post today to share with you my take on a couple of other, freely available tools that I’ve checked out rather than tossing my notes directly into the trash.




Trello is probably best for those who are used to sticking post-its all around their work space.

Basically, Trello allows you to manage numerous little notes. Those notes can be a task, a list of tasks, or a to-do list. That makes it ideal for personal use. Not only that, Trello is also good for collaborative brainstorming activities, and it’s fun to do that. Everyone brings a litte idea to the table and Trello allows you to curate everything. So, keep that in mind if you’re a group of students working on a bigger project for a class and you want to keep track of everyone’s progress. Those little ideas can then turn into bigger projects. On a more general note, the way that Trello works is by using so-called “boards”, which can be customized. Each board consists of various tasks that can be assigned to project members. To further customize a board you can use lists, which provides an overview and can help keeping track of individual phases of a bigger project. So, I think Trello works really well for personal use, but it also excels for temporary groups.



Basecamp is a tool that really focuses on communication between participants.

As far as project management is concerned, Basecamp resorts to the basics: collaboration, file-sharing, to-do lists, calendars, and so-called “milestones,” which is basically as system of labelling relevant, major events over the course of a project’s lifespan. The “milestones” really sounded nice at first, but the tool doesn’t provide more flexibility when it comes to distinguishing crucial due dates from not so crucial, but still important due dates. On top of that, what I really found tricky when figuring out Basecamp was how to keep track of the work of individual members. Since the tool really focuses on communication, the information is arranged similar to a comment section on a social-networking platform like Facebook. It’s difficult to isolate an individual’s contributions to a project since you need to scroll through a lot of communication activity. I’m sure that Basecamp works nicely for student groups that collaborate on a project but when you need a tool that can handle various projects and you need to see information regarding progress quickly, then the interface might be a deal-breaker.


I hope that information helps! Let me know if you have any questions. I think it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with various project management tools since many companies rely on those. If you’re a student and you’re working on a project, either personal or group-based, then definitely check out one of these tools. You’re basically killing two birds with one stone. For one, you get your work done together and you can keep track of everybody who is part of your project, but you also get a feel for using these kinds of tools, which should come in handy in your professional life after graduation.

Moving beyond the paper assignment – Facebook, Prezi, and…?

When I started teaching writing classes at Georgia State in 2011, I soon realized not merely the benefit of moving beyond the traditional paper assignments, but I also the importance of allowing students to practice writing in various contexts. To that end, I began looking around for suitable writing environments, and quickly settled on having students design Facebook profile pages as part of personal narrative assignments for example. I would also have students create Facebook pages on behalf of literary characters to foster their critical thinking skills. Alternatively, I suggested students to use Prezi for presentations because Prezi pretty feels like Powerpoint on steroids. One can really go crazy with movement. And students always have a blast using the tool’s features for in-class presentations.

Though I still see instructors using Facebook and Prezi, I now feel these writing environments to be somewhat obsolete. A lot has happened in the course of the last 5 years ever since I began teaching at Georgia State. So, this semester I’m assisting a professor in the English department with her editing class when it comes to assigning digital projects, an this has given me the opportunity to research more current / more innovative tools that can be used for assignments. So, I want to use today’s blog post to present a couple of exciting alternatives to Facebook and Prezi as far as multimodal writing assignments are concerned.

1. PowToon and Moovly

Animated content has become quite trendy in the last few years. Tutorials, product videos, advertisements, explainer videos, just to name a few. PowToon and Moovly both offer tools that make it really easy for students to create visually exciting videos, where motion and animation are used consciously and creatively to gain audience attention. Though both websites come with a dedicated subscription based pricing structure which unlocks additional pro-features, the basic options come free of charge, definitely sufficient for class projects. The nice thing about Powtoon is that the tool comes with various templates when creating a video, there is a gallery with example videos, and an entire tutorial section to get students started. Videos can have voice-overs as well. Overall, I find that Powtoon works beautifully especially when it comes to issue reports, historical overview, or as visual attention grabbers as part of projects that involve students to create websites. The video can be embedded on the main page of a project website. Moovly does everything that PowToon does, but what I really like about the former is that its interface reminds me a lot of more professional programs such as iMovie and Adobe Premiere Pro.

2. Weebly

While Weebly is a popular website creator which can be used as the basis of a blogging assignment, it can also be used as a wiki. What I find particularly interesting about Weebly is that the websites a user creates, are responsive, meaning that they translate from a computer screen to a tablet, to a mobile device. That way students not only engage in web design that is limited to the computer screen, but they also have to make design choices to ensure that the content remains visually appealing across various devices. Again, there is a pricing structure, but there is also a free version with limited features.

3. Wikispaces

Wikispaces is a popular wiki-creation tool. Oftentimes, I find that students are interested in engaging with projects where they can put together a resource for their peers, and wikis fulfill that purpose beautifully. Certainly, GoogleSites has a wiki-creator tools as part of its feature list, and students could also the wiki-took that comes with Sharepoint. But I find Wikispaces to be more intuitive and easier to use since it’s a dedicated wiki-creator and not just a side feature of a bigger website creation package. On top of that, students can created wikis that are password protected, which is a nice feature to ensure that content stays within the context of the classroom.

Students in the editing class this semester will be using these tools for group projects, and I’m excited about what they are going to come up with. In any event, this is an exciting time for instructor to allow students to work with all kinds of tools to develop and present content. Of course, this also poses the question of how to assess digital project assignments. After all, the tools used will, most of the time, not only be unfamiliar to students, but also to instructors. I suggest not only to be frank and open about this circumstance with students, but also to involve them with regards questions of assessment. After students have worked a bit with each tool, and they have created a rough draft of their project, instructors and students should have a conversation answering questions pertaining to what counts as a successful or failed project.

Alternative Assessment Criteria, but How?

There has been a tremendous amount of discussions concerning the goals and practices of Digital Humanities within the setting of undergraduate instruction, and I welcome not only the increased attention but also the marked shift that has taken place on how this discussions are framed. Interestingly, the question at hand has shifted from whether to embrace DH pedagogies or not, but how to best incorporate DH into the undergraduate curriculum.

Certainly, given SIF’s mission to consider course matter from new vantage points and to develop innovative pedagogical practices, the ‘how to’ premise is far more appealing to us than the ‘whether or not’ when it comes to a 21st century informed curriculum. But still, there is a lot of reservation, especially from faculty, on going digital with their undergraduate classes. One of the main reasons is that faculty members—while not opposed to the idea of creating course content and assignments that engage students with digital artifacts—find it difficult to develop suitable assessment criteria. After all, at the end of a semester, instructors need to assign grades based on the students’ performance.

Thus, one area where we might apply the lever is the assignment rubric as the ubiquitous and guiding paradigm of student assessment. The rubric seems to be the place where the prospect of assigning creative and organic digital projects clashes with the idea of assessing student work with standardized metrics. While we can certainly see rubric based assessment as a big innovation when it was invented in the 1960s, its pervasiveness in higher education today creates a dilemma for faculty members (me included) who would like to go digital with their classes but worry about assessment, and rightly so.

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending this month’s Digital Pedagogy Meetup, which provides a setting for educators to share assignments, methods, theories, and/or resources that focus on student engagement and learning in the Digital Humanities. At the meeting, David Morgen, who is the coordinator of the writing program at Emory, discussed alternative assessment strategies in the context of DH course content. He calls for so-called ‘dynamic criteria mapping’ as a new, alternative assessment model to overcome the seeming gridlock (for lack of a better term) of the rubric as a set of decisions designed to standardize what’s valuable and what’s not.

‘Dynamic Criteria Mapping,’ or DCM in short, follows a grounds-up approach to assessment rather than the top down structure prescribed by the rubric. That means that assessment criteria for a project would only be developed after students have had time to create a working draft of their projects. Moreover, assessment criteria for a given project are discussed with the students. Of course, while such an approach may very well help students in thinking through questions of what counts as a successful project and what doesn’t, this requires not only a lot of confidence from the instructor to allow students to work on projects without knowing in advance on how to assess the finished product; it also requires the instructor to be relatively tech-savvy already to be able to anticipate potential projects that students might propose. David Morgen here suggests that instructors should meet regularly and share insights to stay current. He argues that rubrics not only make it more difficult for students to find their own paths of learning, but that they also don’t allow instructors to assess student development over time. DCM, by contrast, would provide a promising avenue to gather information on real practice.

While I’m very interested in the idea of active learning, and while I do not dismiss the inherent problems with rubric based assessment, I’m still not sure on how this might work in practice. For example, I often find myself lamenting about the limited time that I have with students in the class to discuss content and I’m worried that involving students more in the development of assessment criteria might take away too much time in-class. Maybe this would require decreasing the overall amount of assignments during the semester? Or maybe a balanced approach with rubric-based assignments at the beginning of the semester and a more organic development of assessment criteria for final projects? I’m really not sure, but what is clear to me is that class logistics also play a role. Assessment has to remain manageable.

So, if you’ve read this, I’d really like to use this blog space to start a conversation about this. Do you have experiences to share concerning the collaborative development of assessment criteria? How has this played out for you? How have your students responded? In more general terms, what’s your view on the rubric? What other ways have you found helpful in promoting active learning?

I look forward to your comments!


Reporting on IR16: The Association of Internet Researchers conference in Phoenix, AZ

Between October 21 and 24, and with generous funding provided by GSU’s Center for Instructional Effectiveness (CIE), I had the great pleasure of presenting my current research at IR16, the conference of the Association of Internet Researchers in Phoenix, Arizona. This annual conference is one of the most prestigious opportunities for Internet researchers to connect, collaborate, and discuss current issues regarding digital communication. Further, while the focus lies on the Internet, social media, and big data, the conference is very interdisciplinary in scope as it brings together researchers from various disciplines, not only from the fields of computer and information sciences but also from areas such as communication, literature, sociology, political science, and cultural studies.

The pre-conference day was all about workshops, and I attended various meetings from the “Digital Methods in Internet Research Workshop” segment, hosted by the research team from the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in Brisbane, Australia. During the workshop I learned more about big data research methods and how to treat big datasets analytically. One of the tools that Prof. Axel Bruns, director of the research lab, introduced to attendees is called DMI-TCAT, developed by the Digital Methods Initiative located in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The program is used for real-time social media data collection purposes. It is mostly geared towards quantitative analysis but qualitative approaches are also possible.

One of my favorite presentation from the conference was given by Helen Kennedy, Professor of Digital Society at the Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield (UK). Her talk was based on questions of how we make sense of data visualizations. As it turns out, data visualizations (graphs, histograms, both static and interactive) are usually evaluated on their efficiency value. However, most often, human beings understand data visualization through the way they feel. Prof. Kennedy is project director for the Seeing Data – Initiative, which is a research group in the UK that has been conducting studies on the particular dynamics that are at play when “ordinary” and professional people make sense of visualized data. I can certainly see the benefit of addressing the effectiveness of a visualization through the kinds of feelings that it invokes in the viewer, and I encourage all of you to check out their website by clicking on the hyperlink above.

Another great presentation was given by Dr. Robert W. Gehl from the Department of Communication at the University of Utah. His talk focused on the recent developments of alternative social media platforms. As we all know, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram pretty much control the social media market. However, when it comes to questions of meaning-making, deliberation, and collaboration, these big social media platforms only offer limited features. Not only that, the big platforms also often overshadow the fact that there are a whole host of smaller, more specialized social media services available on the Internet. Dr. Gehl and his team have, therefore, put together an archive of alternative social media platforms, which includes information on both current and discontinued social media. The list, which is updated frequently, is comprised of the kinds of platforms that have attempted or are currently attempting to move beyond the restrictions imposed by the big boys such as Facebook and Twitter. It is definitely worth it to check out the archive.


Know thy audience – What it means to speak at a TEDx event

Over the course of the summer I had the great pleasure of speaking at a local TEDx conference in Vicenza, Italy. The theme of the conference was “Planting the Seeds” and the day consisted of 16 talks by speakers from various disciplines including agriculture, architecture, design, education, history, science, and technology. It was a truly marvelous event. It took place in the oldest, still standing roofed Renaissance theater, the Teatro Olimpico. The event was not only available as a live-stream online, but the team of organizers also set up an additional live-streaming location not far away from the theater.

In my talk, I focused a lot on the research I am currently doing for my dissertation, in which I look at emerging practices of civic engagement on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. In particular, I related the use of social media during the large scale protest events around the turn of the decade such as Occupy Wall Street or the Arab Spring to anti-corporate discourses that have been popping up frequently on Twitter over the course of the last couple of years.

I am very happy about the talk I have given. However, developing that talk was easier said than done, and it really reminds me of the importance of audience awareness which I frequently emphasize to my students who have taken the classes I teach at Georgia State. The first thing to note is that a TEDx conference, despite featuring academic researchers as speakers, doesn’t really compare to a traditional academic conference. This is because of two, related reasons: for one, the people attending those conferences by and large aren’t academics. They come from all walks of life. That means that the talk needs to be tailored to their expectations, and this usually means to wrap the topic of a talk into a personal story. While academic audiences at conferences prefer presentation content that solely focuses on research findings and results, TEDx audiences enjoy the story aspect of a talk because then the content becomes more relatable. Another crucial point to consider when it comes to preparing a TEDx talk, is that TEDx talks are usually between 8 to 12 minutes, and to make sure that nobody goes over their allotted time, a monitor in front of the speaker shows a countdown. So on the one hand, you’re constrained by the allotted time, and on the other you mustn’t neglect the story part in your talk. And I have to say, preparing my own talk was easier said than done.

Luckily, I had the help of a TEDx speaker coach who worked with me on those aspects. And I cannot deny that it took some time to create a draft that was compatible with the format. The first draft I completed, for example, was roughly 17 minutes long. Way too long, and it didn’t actually include a story. And so it took some time really not only to trim it down so that the talk would meet the required time, which for me was 12 minutes, but also to find a compelling narrative that would function as a thread for the talk.

Overall, this has been a truly marvelous experience for me, not only because I was able to share what I’m working on with a broader audience, but also because it taught me a thing or two about public speaking.

I strongly encourage everybody to get in touch with a TEDx team in your area. In fact, Atlanta has a number of TEDx organizations like TEDxAtlanta or TEDxPeachtree that are always eager to find volunteers who believe in the TED motto: ideas worth spreading. But you actually don’t have to look so far. In fact, Georgia State University has its own TEDx team as well.

End of the year reflection: media competence vs. media literacy

Hi everyone,

So my first year as a student innovation fellow is reaching its end. It’s been so far a great experience. Not only have I learned a lot of new things, I have also enjoyed the opportunity to share my knowledge and ask new questions.

What could be better now to use the final blog post of this semester to reflect about current issues that have come to the fore as I was working on various projects? Specifically I want to talk about the important distinction between new media competence and new media literacy,

I define new media competence as the individual’s capacity to use new media communication technologies. However, in today’s media-saturated information environment, the mere appreciation of technical expertise does not seem to be enough anymore. Not only does the individual need to learn the necessary skills to use communication tools, he/she also needs to embrace the political, social, and communicational aspects of media utilization. Since we spend more and more of our time online, the use of media today has an holistic personality dimension, i.e. the development of a habitus, a personality-based attitude towards new media. Media competence does not include that aspect. Media literacy, I would argue, does.

Proper media education, thus, lies at the heart of what it means to engage with communication tools in the 21st century. With the implementation of a program such as the Student Innovation Fellowship, Georgia State University has laid the foundation for an educational environment that doesn’t merely teach students how to use new media, but how to live with new media. Media education facilitates critical reflection. Teaching media literacy, then, encompasses the individual holistically, i.e. it prepares him/her for a professional career, it nurtures a critical understanding of media in everyday life, and it confronts the individual with his/her own situatedness as a social and political subject in society. In that regard, the teaching of media literacy, which goes beyond media competence, takes into account a moral dimension of media use (media ethics), a socio-political dimension (media influence), and an affective dimension (living with media).

The Student Innovation Fellowship has served a vital function at Georgia State University in that regard. I have enjoyed my role as mediator and facilitator of a holistically informed media education. I believe that only if the entire student body can benefit from such a media education, then we as educators respect the central goal of higher eduction – equal opportunity – and we prevent creating an educational rift that treats students preferentially whose educational backgrounds already come laden with an appreciation and understanding of media literacy. At SIF, we are embracing a media-conscious pedagogy that moves beyond mere technical applications, i.e. the teaching of skill sets. At SIF, our mission has been to facilitate media use as a holistic, life-long practice.

And with that I am signing off. I wish all of you a pleasant and successful end of the semester!