What is media fluency? This question is not only at the heart of our course, it is what will drive your main assignment in the course as well. Your goal is to work in groups to produce a rich-media web site over the course of the semester that deals with the issue of "media fluency" for an undergraduate audience in an engaging and insightful way. You will work together to populate your web site with interesting multimedia content, link your website to relevant online resources like YouTube videos and Wikipedia pages, market your website through social media and search optimization, and curate comments and discussion on your web site. By using web site analytics, you will track the popularity and reach of your web site over time. And you will even attempt to earn some money for course materials by placing ads on your web site.
Divide into groups. Each discussion section of 16 students will be divided into three groups of five or six students each. The section TA will assign students to groups in order to foster diversity of background in terms of gender, major, year on campus, etc., and also to balance the mix of previous online skills that students bring to the course. Once you are assigned to your group, inventory each other's skills and interests. Has anyone in your group published a blog before? Has anyone put together a YouTube video? Done a paper on new media? Worked for a media business? Figure out what unique powers and experiences your members bring to this project; this may help you figure out what issues you want to write about and how you want to present them.
Create a Google Documents site. Each group will set up a site using Google Documents to collaboratively share ideas and to build their final presentation to the class (delivered during the final exam session). Think of this as the same as the "talk" page on Wikipedia; this is where you can divide up the labor of managing your shared blog, brainstorm things to write about, and ask candid questions of your group that you wouldn't want to pose on the public blog site. This is also a page where I and your student peers can give you feedback on site design, content, and marketing. Make sure that each member of your group, your TA, and your professor all are granted access to these Google documents.
Explore some examples. Visit some local collaborative weblogs that were started by UW students, staff, and faculty to get a flavor of the things you can do with this assignment. You might try Eating around Madison A to Z, Sifting and Winnowing or University and State. The aggregator site Dane 101 lists many more local blogs; can you find any others with UW connections?
Choose a "media fluency" angle. The first thing your group must decide on is a topic area (and catchy name) for your web site. Your web site must have something to do with the broad issue of "media fluency." Your goal is to create a resource that can be effectively used by undergraduate students just like yourselves. Remember, you need to create a site that not only informs, but entertains — it has to appeal to students, not just present dry information. You may take your site in any direction you like, as long as you respect the diversity of backgrounds and viewpoints of your group members and your potential audience and communicate in a constructive, civil manner. (In other words, sensationalist conspiracy theories, mean-spririted provocation, clumsy stereotyping, hate speech, and vulgarity have no place in this assignment, even though those techniques do tend to generate "hits" and "buzz" in our society.)
Narrow your target market. While the overall audience for your site is "undergraduates like yourselves," you should try to narrow this market as much as you can. Are you trying to reach first-year students, or graduating seniors? Men or women? Students with lots of technology experience, or those with very little? Knowing your audience at the outset will help you make choices about content and marketing strategies later on. You may want to talk to some of your friends outside of class to test your ideas about audience interest.
Decide upon an authorship strategy: authenticity, pseudonymity, or anonymity. Your site will be available to the public. However, you do not have to attach your real name to your site. Instead, you may choose to author your site under one or more consistent "pseudonyms," or you may choose to author your site entirely anonymously. Your group should decide on a strategy. You may want to explore your pre-existing online persona doing some Google searches before you decide on a strategy!
Decide upon a comment strategy: authenticity, pseudonymity, or anonymity. You must allow comments on your site and these comments must be "curated" (or moderated for content). You will need to decide whether you will require commenters to reveal their identities, allow them to post using consistent pseudonyms, or allow them to post completely anonymously. And you must divide up the labor of moderating the comments. Track the number of comments you get over time, and track which postings yield the most comments.
Create your site skeleton. Using your chosen weblog service, create a new weblog and choose a template and design for your site. Post an introductory statement about what your site is trying to accomplish, how long it will be active, and what audience you are trying to reach. Consider introducing yourselves on your site if you will be posting authentically or pseudonymously.
Optimize your site for search engines. You should fill in all of the descriptive metadata for your site that you can, and see if you can get your site to rise in the search rankings. (First, decide what search terms you would hope people will use for your site!) Once you decide on relevant search terms, you should track your position in the search rankings over time (eg. every Sunday).
Begin to populate your site based on our course materials. Each week you will be reading two different articles on media fluency. Each week, three students from your group will summarize and react to each of these articles in a one-page, single-spaced written essay to be handed in to your TA. Why not post these reactions to your media fluency blog as well? You may want to condense, expand, or change the format of your reactions for variety on the blog. Will you write up a 250-word blog post? Will you shoot a two-minute YouTube video? Will you create a set of resources linking to the text of the article, to its author's web page, and to other books or articles online that support or refute it?
Extend your site based on your own research and imagination. Don't simply stick to the course readings for your site content. Follow the theme you came up with at the beginning, and produce original content that your competitor sites will not think of. Each week, each member of your group must supplement the blog with at least one substantive content addition. This may be based on your article summary/critique assignment, or on something new.
Get graphic. Add some illustrations, graphics, patterns, charts, cartoons -- any kind of visual interest to your site, either as background resources or new posts.
Set up your analytics. Sign up for Google analytics on your blog (simple if you are using Blogger, more complicated if you are using a different service) and explore what kinds of data you want to keep track of over the course of the semester. Are you only interested in the raw number of site hits that you get? Are you going to track unique visitors? Would you like to try to have the broadest global reach of any of the student sites?
Engage in social marketing for your site. Using at least one social network that you belong to — Facebook, Myspace, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. — try to market your blog to your target audience and see what kind of changes your analytics show after your marketing push. Do you identify yourself as a site author in your marketing, or simply claim to be "passing along an interesting link"? Is it effective to market your site to your personal social network of friends and family? Are their "groups" you can market your site to? What about setting up a "group" page of your own to connect back to your site? What are the privacy implications of doing this?
Create a Twitter account in parallel with your site. Twitter can be a useful tool to engage social media audiences and point them to richer content on your site. However, keeping a Twitter feed "fresh" is a lot of work. You will have to divide up the labor of posting to Twitter and decide how often to post; every time there is a new blog posting or site update? Every day? Every week? Track how many followers you accrue over time by measuring your followers once a week (say, every Sunday night).
More ideas for creating unique blog content ...
Create a YouTube multimedia audio or video resource and post it to your site. Using either digital audio recording, digital video recording, or slideshow narration tools, create a four-minute multimedia presentation on some topic related to your site, and make it accessible via your site. You should also post it to YouTube.
Review a book related to your topic on your site. This may be a book that you read for another class, or it may be a book that you choose specifically for this class. Write a thorough, analytical review of the book, indicating the topic, audience, thesis, and source of evidence of the book. Link to other book reviews as well and summarize each review that you link to. Include a photo of the book jacket, the author, and links to where you can buy or borrow this book.
Review an article related to your topic on your site. Use the UW Madison library "Find It" service to access the online journal "New Media and Society". Then search this journal for an article that connects to your media fluency blog. Download the article in PDF format. Read the article and write a response to it that you post to your blog. Link back to the original article so that UW-Madison users can access it directly.
Review a TED talk related to your topic on your site. The TED organization has become a popular site for technology innovators, educators, and researchers to present short, provocative talks on their work and ideas at conferences around the globe. Most of these talks are digitized and available for free online viewing. Find one that relates to your media fluency theme, link to it, and give a summary/reaction as you would for a text from your reader.
Review a Wikipedia or Wikia article that is related to your site. You might even want to edit the article and talk about that on your blog. Your edit can be small or large, but it should be substantive; that is, it should matter to the value of the article. You may want to consider developing an image for an existing article to clarify a particular point, or tracking down citations to an article with unsourced claims. Link the Wikipedia article back to your original site.
Learn from your peers. Each section has three groups of students, and there are three sections, so all in all this class will be generating nine different "media fluency" blogs. Visit your competing blogs and see what strategies they are employing that you are not. Participate in their conversations as a commenter.
You will build a digital artifact based on your understanding of "media fluency" from your weblog and your class experiences. This digital artifact should draw the majority of its content from the work you have produced in your individual assignments and through your collaborative weblog. However, it will have to be organized, structured, clarified, summarized, and presented in an efficient and attractive way. You will turn in your digital artifact on a USB drive on the day of the final exam.
Your digital artifact may take many forms. It may be a traditional printed report, in PDF format, with graphics and weblinks (maybe a graphic QR code?) as appropriate. It may be a rich-media web page or web site (or Google Document). It may be a lively and clearly-narrated PowerPoint presentation (maximum five minutes). It may be a digital movie (maximum five minutes). Or it even may be an interactive digital book for the iPad, created using the new freely-available iBooks Author program for the Mac.
You will deliver a five-minute presentation on your experience with this assignment in the course, including your site's purpose, audience, design, execution, and results. This presentation will be performed (or screened, if it is a self-playing digital presentation like a narrated slideshow or digital film) during our final exam session. Your group will then be invited on-stage to answer questions about the presentation for about five minutes afterward. You should use your Google Documents site to organize the contents and the labor of the presentation. Mine your individual assignments and your collaborative weblog for presentation materials, ideas, and insights. You may even want to use the Google Documents presentation tool to create and deliver your presentation visuals.
Your digital artifact may play a big part in your presentation (or it may be equivalent to your presentation) but they don't have to be the same. In other words, if your digital artifact is a graphically-interesting and weblinked PDF report, your presentation can be a five-minute PowerPoint slide show that your whole group helps to narrate. Or both your digital artifact and your presentation can be a single five-minute movie.
You will be graded on the total impact, depth, and quality of your presentation AND your artifact, whether they are separate or combined. If there is a clear difference between the two, however, you may estimate that your presentation will be worth 10 points, and your artifact worth 10 points.