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Whitewater Rafting the Canvas Network Social Media MOOC

I signed up for the Social Media MOOC on the Canvas Network (a.k.a. CNSoMe) because, even though I am involved with e-learning and use educational technology as an educator, I felt a “gap” in my understanding of social media per se.

White Water Rafting the Canvas Network Social Media MOOC

U.S. National Park Service

Of course I have a Facebook page, but I mostly use it to peek at what my extended family is doing and occasionally to exchange news with old friends who live too far away to visit anymore. But otherwise I haven’t used social media much and certainly not as an educator. I had set up a Twitter account a few months earlier at a conference and made a total of two tweets, the first one being “This is my first tweet!” Insightful and unique, I know. That was my starting point.

I expected CNSoMe to be sort of a “lite” class that I could take without risk; a free MOOC that would “update” me — a “keep-up-with-the-trends” class. But it was so much more than that. The course was like riding a raft on a rapids river for ten adventure-filled weeks (from February 25 to May 5), sweeping me along with new information, challenges, connections and understandings. At times I almost went under. But when the class finished, I was not just a tad bit more trendy; my whole internet presence had been re-examined and recreated, and I was empowered with new ways of gathering information and connecting with the world.

This course, I realized after I had been in it for two weeks, suggested that students spend ten hours a week doing the assignments. I don’t know why I hadn’t noticed that when I giddily signed-up, but if you had asked me how many hours I had been expecting to spend on a on a social media MOOC, I would have said something along the lines of four to five  hours a week. But that was before I experienced studying with the all-encompassing, holistically academic instructor Dr. Maria Andersen.

Andersen, who is engaging, inquisitive and challenging, is actually employed at Canvas Network as Director of Learning and Research. Her blog Busynessgirl covers topics ranging from mathematics to futuring and much in between. Who else but someone with a brain this big could develop a course with ten hours of weekly discussions, videos, surveys, activities and reflections? The sheer volume of thoughtful information was impressive, and each week I looked at the upcoming overview in awe.

Topics and activities started with the basics and got steadily more in-depth; Social Networks and Social Media, historical perspectives; The Rise of Social Media on the Web and Social Movements, Issues; Pubic vs Private, Laws, Borders and Social Media, Ethics, to Strategies, Lessons Learned and circling back to personal with Your Many Social Media Selves.

One of our first challenges was to use Twitter and to try to get 50 new followers by the end of the course. After we learned Twitter vocabulary, Maria suggested we start looking for people with similar interests and to then look among the people they followed to find good individuals to follow. The people in the course started following each other as well. By the end of the first week I had 15 followers! I started to get to know my peers through their tweets and links. On March 5 I tweeted, “Strange feeling to have so much freedom in learning. Great brain adjustment in #cnSoMe.”

Andersen replied, “Doesn’t it kind of feel like a more pure form of learning?”

Ah. Yes.

We were asked to choose a book to read during the course from a list of online or low-cost books: I chose Inevitable – Mass Customized Learning: Learning in the Age of Empowerment by Charles Schwahn and Beatrice McGarvey. It is a great read and spot-on about how education has changed and what we can do with it. It re-energized me to consider how there are so many directions and opportunities to explore now as I participated in exactly the kind of thing the book alluded to.

The class also opened a Facebook page, which had about 270 members and is still active, even though the course is now over. (Canvas MOOCs tend to be around 500-1000 students, rather than Coursera’s 5000 – 10,0000. Quite cozy!) We used the page to respond to questions posed by the teacher, explore ideas and share information on social media and to discuss Facebook itself, which launched “Home” for mobile devices during the course.

In March I attended the first-ever Washington Canvas Users Group Conference at Tacoma Community College. I sat down to eat lunch in the crowded cafeteria and a woman at the table looked at me and said, “Liz Falconer? I recognize that name  . . . Are you in the Social Media MOOC?” We laughed in amazement, talked about how much we were learning and posted a picture of ourselves on Twitter.

Each week had about 18-20 activities — readings, videos, discussions, etc. Around mid-April, just when it felt like my CNSoMe raft was about to go over a waterfall and be lost in a swirling whirlpool, Andersen suggested a “social media fast”. She gave us the option of a 24 or 48 hour fast, and asked us to report on the experience. I was surprised at the number of questions students asked. All social media? What about work? etc. It was pretty obvious some of us are more connected than others.

By April 18 I had 37 followers and started wondering if I would make the goal. I started tweeting more aggressively. I was getting used to being able to think in tweet format and forced myself to get into the habit of checking Twitter and adding my own relevant thoughts as soon as they came to mind or posting interesting articles as soon as I ran across them before they were forgotten. My underused smartphone was getting more attention than it had ever gotten in it’s whole boring life at the bottom of my purse. Previously, it’s main function was to let my husband know I was on my way home from work.

In week three we were asked to join a social media group to work on compiling relevant links for a final project relating to our interest area. I joined a higher education group and — not surprisingly perhaps — we ended up with 14 pages of annotated links to articles and sites relating to social media in higher education. Like any group project in my experience, a few people did most of the work. But the final paper was impressive.

The useful tweets were coming in daily, and I couldn’t believe how much information was available on matters that interest me. Google alerts proved to be extraordinarily useful — even though it was announced it would disappear as soon as I signed up. (I try not to take that personally.) I was getting information from the assignments, the Facebook page, tweets, blogs, articles, and videos . . . . all relating to my subject matter. When I felt overwhelmed I remembered what Clay Shirky (just one of the experts you become familiar with in this course) said: “It’s not information overload, it’s filter failure.” I just had to learn how to ride those whitewaters.

On May 4, the day before the course ended, I still needed a few more followers to reach 50. I looked at the account of one of the students who had impressed me with her knowledge and enthusiasm and followed a few of her people. I tweeted, “I feel OLD at Facebook. Relationships and all the baggage. I feel YOUNG at Twitter; Great ideas, articles – people thinking & moving. “ It was soon favorited and I got another follower.

It was late, I was tired, it was sort of cheating and I knew it. But I turned to my husband, who had insisted throughout the course and all my discoveries and attempts to tell him how useful Twitter is that he had absolutely no time for it. He set up an account and followed me. I still needed three more followers.
The next morning I woke up and checked. There IS a god!


I would recommend this course to anyone interested in improving their social media savvy, no matter what your starting point or reason for taking it. (Besides people like myself thinking about the uses of social media in education, there were quite a few people interested in marketing and promotion in the course.) The background information is extensive, and your appreciation of various issues will increase immensely.

If your vocabulary doesn’t currently include hashtags, infographics, RSS-feeds, bookmarks, blogs or bit.ly and you want to have an internet presence, take the Social Media MOOC on Canvas. CNSoMe naturally relates to world events and is guided by a creative instructor who is able to combine fresh flexibility and academic rigor.

Just don’t forget your life jacket.

U.S. National Park Service

Liz Falconer (5 Posts)

I am an educator and lifelong learner, currently in a love-hate relationship with the internet and much of the virtual world around me. My background includes work in storytelling, music performance and composition, newspaper and magazine writing, and exotic things like studying Japanese and living in Japan. I earned an MA Japanese Pedagogy and a doctorate in International Education at the University of Iowa. I have taught in a wide variety of classroom environments, both online and traditional. I am currently RTC’s Curriculum and Technology Specialist. I am fascinated with the challenges and opportunities our internet world is providing.