New Syllabus: Social Media Theory and Practice

I’ve been asked to develop a special topics course for our graduate students in social media. I banged this out quickly tonight (it’s still a rough draft) and thought I would post here in case anybody had any feedback.

Thanks to Howard Rheingold of Stanford for the inspiration offered by his syllabus generously offered online, as well as this Topics in Digital Media course taught at NYU by Mushon Zer-Aviv.


Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2008).

Briggs, Mark. Journalism Next. (2009) CQ Press.

A variety of additional articles will be assigned and will be available online or distributed to you via email or will be available using the UM drive.

Objective of Course:

This course will combine theory and practice to help you develop your understanding of the many changes rocking the media landscape and build the skills you will need to join the fray.

Social media is altering how journalists and public relations professionals do their jobs and how we communicate in a Web 2.0 world.  You will read research and theory by some of the most formative thinkers in our field examining the impact of social and new media and applying these core concepts to your real-world use of digital tools. We will be actively using blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter, widgets, social bookmarking, mapping, and other Web 2.0 tools to produce and curate content and interact with other professionals in our field and reflecting critically on this experience.

It’s important to note that particular sites like Twitter or Foursquare may come and go in this fast-changing environment in which it seems every month brings with it a new must-have app, toy, or social network. Ultimately, this course hopes to foster the meta-skill of applying the core values of journalistic practice to new media forms in productive, creative, and intelligent ways. Flexibility and the ability to experiment and think critically will perhaps be among the most vital abilities of the new era.


1. Be sure you have read the material BEFORE class and come prepared to discuss it. Class participation will count toward your grade.

2. Assignments: You will receive a wide variety of assignments throughout the semester designed to help you apply core journalism principles and relevant theory to new media skills.

3.  Blog: You will be maintaining a blog throughout the semester in which you reflect on critically on readings and your experiences using social media and how they apply to your current or future professional life. Borrowing a concept used at NYU, these blogs will function like “travelogues” — travel journals or field reporting — from the social networking sites and new media ventures we will explore.


Blog:  30 percent

Assignments: 60 percent

Participation: 10 percent



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19 responses to “New Syllabus: Social Media Theory and Practice

  1. Carrie,
    Great list. Do you have required materials like smartphones or access to WiFi for most of the day?

    FYI, in my reporting class, I require Twitter participation (including live updates from an event) and one live-blog per term as well (10-week term). Guess those could be assignments!

    And hey, aren’t there any books about digi media by WOMEN? (You and I and others need to write one or more, I guess — but check with @kegill, Kathy Gill, about her forthcoming book, maybe?)

    Oh, and this has me logged in at my full-time job, but check out the Reporting 1 Blog soon for our spring term syllabus.

    I love that you say it’s not all about any one thing but about the flexibility and willingness to deal with a rapidly changing world.


  2. Bravo. Bizarrely, Albert and I were talking about developing such a course for private bloggers and mainstream media managers. Just an overview of theory and practice. On the theory side, you might consider adding The Handbook of New Media: Social Shaping and Consequences of ICTs, anything by Rafaeli (but especially his 1988 essay in Advancing Communication Science) or Rafaeli and Sudweeks (1997) and, well, you know, all that great stuff by Stanfordites (Newhagen, Fogg, Nass, Reeves, etc.) Yee-haw. Go get ’em, lady.:)

  3. woot! I just added Journalism Next to my summer Vox class reading list. Glad to know we’re on the same page.

  4. Suzi,

    I’d love to make WiFi access or smartphones a requirement, but instead I just “strongly encourage it.” Our students tend to have a lot of financial challenges. But, this is a graduate course, so maybe I could rethink that. It does make live Tweeting and blogging a little difficult. And yeah, we definitely need a book by women 🙂

    Do, haha, great minds, thanks for the tips, I’ll check those out. You and Albert would make the best teaching team EVER. And I’m quite serious about that.

    Rob, woot!

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  7. Hey, Carrie — I just wrote a blog post about your course.

    Have you looked at Hanging Out, Messing Around, and Geeking Out: Kids Living and Learning with New Media? Multi-author book published last fall from MIT Press.

  8. Steve Buttry


    I agree with Suzi that live-tweeting an event should be an assignment. I also would require each student to blog at sometime during the course on a case study of the use of social media by a news organization (such as I did on @statesman’s Twitter coverage of the Austin terrorist attack:

    I would certainly spend significant time exploring the use and possibilities of location-based tools such as Foursquare and Ushahidi.

    I also would make sure that your colleagues don’t think that the existence of this course takes them off the hook for incorporating social media into other journalism classes.

    Sounds like a great class.

  9. changingnewsroom

    Thanks, Steve, great ideas!

  10. Nick Jungman

    Carrie, have you also seen Sree Sreenivasan’s syllabus for his crash course at Columbia?

  11. changingnewsroom


    Thanks! I have that bookmarked but I hadn’t had a chance to look at it yet. I will indeed.

  12. Thank you! with this I can learn more.

  13. grovesprof


    Just catching up on my blog posts. One more book I’d add is “New New Media” by Paul Levinson (Penguin Academics). He has lots of good case examples mixed with some good stats and studies.

    In my 8-week grad class, we went through a medium a week (blogs, Facebook/myspace, Twitter, digg/reddit, etc.) using the book as a guide. I’ll send you the syllabus for the other readings. Another great post!

    Keep up the great work, my friend,

  14. changingnewsroom

    Thanks Groves, I’ll check that book out!

  15. Hi!
    I’m sure you have thought about this, but what about adding case studies, such as the “Miracle on the Hudson” where citizen- journalist significantly contributed to the breaking story? What meaning does that have for professional journalists?
    And how about politics (Iran) or even Obama’s groundbreaking political use. What does ‘transparency’ mean for organizations today?
    This is such a great project, good luck with it!
    And, I think you should consider Groundswell to your reading list too.

  16. changingnewsroom

    Thanks Beth! I will definitely check out Groundswell – I wasn’t familiar with that one. 🙂

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  18. changingnewsroom


    What do you mean by “communication culture?”

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