This interactive course explores social media from the perspectives of information analysis and community building. Students will learn the theory and practice of civic engagement and community building through social media. Ideally suited for individuals interested in working with nonprofit organizations, educational institutions, healthcare and nursing, community health, arts and humanities, government, and remote or rural communities. Utilizing a service learning approach, students will engage in the theories and methods related to social media community building through both in-class discussion and community outreach. 


Scott W. H. Young:

Doralyn Rossmann:


By the end of this class, students will be able to:

  • Explain the historical development and definitions of social media

  • Critically evaluate information exchanged via social media

  • Define the ethical and privacy dimensions of social media

  • Apply theories of media and politics for designing ethical spaces of social media engagement

  • Create and implement practical applications of social media for real-world community and civic engagement


There is no required text to purchase. Our course readings will be provided through Brightspace.


Since this is a collaborative course that focuses on discussion, you are responsible to yourself and your classmates to prepare for discussion by reading and carefully considering the assigned articles each week. The class will be a community-focused cooperative learning experience, so discussion participation is central to the work of the course. You and your work are, in a very real way, the primary texts for this course. In order for the class to work together as a community, it is important that you read the assigned work for each week’s class. If you can’t finish the assigned work for any reason, please discuss this with us in advance so that we can find a solution together.


Office hours will be by appointment. We are available for a face-to-face meetings in the library if scheduled in advance. We’re always happy to meet with you to discuss the course or just to chat. This is the most effective way for us to give you individual attention and get to know you better. We encourage you to meet with us as early in the semester as possible, especially if you have any particular questions or concerns. We’re also very easy to reach by e-mail. You can send questions or comments to Scott at and Doralyn at


This course focuses on the theoretical concepts and practical applications of social media community building. We will explore the theoretical component of the course through weekly readings and in-class discussion, and we will develop the practical component through a series of community-focused projects. Each unit of the course will be framed by a number of guiding questions that will in turn be illuminated by readings and in-class discussion. There are four projects in the course. The first three projects will help provide an in-practice application for the readings and discussion, while the final project will be a culmination of the course’s theory and practice work. At the beginning of the semester, you will self-sort into small groups of around 5 people each. Your group will function as a discussion group for the weekly readings and as a working group for the project assignments. The week-by-week readings and project assignments are described below.

  • Unit 1: Introductions and history of the landscape (Week 1)

    • Guiding Questions

      • What is social media and can we arrived at a community definition?

      • How many social media platforms can be identified?

      • How can we evaluate information on social media?

      • What is literacy in a digital, networking-based society?

    • Readings

      • danah boyd: It's Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens

      • danah boyd: Social Network Sites: Definition, History, and Scholarship

      • Pew Internet statistics

    • In-class projects

      • Social media information literacy: open Facebook, click on first article in news feed, then evaluate source from an information literacy perspective

      • Social media brainstorming: name social media platforms, define social media


  • Unit 2: Information Sharing and Description Today (Week 2)

    • Guiding Questions

      • How do Snap Stories, Facebook Trending Topics, and Twitter Moments shape our understanding of current events?

      • What are the various types and contexts of communication on social media: gifs, memes, quotes?

      • If personal data is shared with the government via social media platforms, why might that be problematic?

      • How do content algorithms and advertising determine our information production and consumption?

      • Which media companies own which social media platforms? Who benefits from these arrangements?

    • Readings

      • When Machines Speak to Each Other: Unpacking the “Social” in “Social Media”

      • danah boyd: Students and Social News: How College Students Share News Through Social Media

    • In-class projects


  • Project 1: “Get to know your social network.” Platform Analysis -  Historical Development of social media networks (Week 3)

    • Instructions

      • Find readings that compare platforms, demographics of users, how they are used

      • What are the leading social networks? How do we know that? How have platforms characteristics and mechanics changed over time? Consider ephemerality/privacy/cross-platform sharing/content formats/business planning/diversity

    • Output

      • Each group will creates an in-depth report that other students will refer to and peer-assess.


  • Unit 3: Identity and Ethics (Weeks 4-5)

    • Guiding Questions

      • How do the characteristics of the platforms condition our behavior?

      • How does a communication medium direct the formation and expression of identity?

      • How does an organization express its identity on social media in contrast to an individual?

      • How are privacy and consent structured?

    • Readings

      • All the World Wide Web’s a stage: The performance of identity in online social networks

      • Social media and the public sphere (Fuchs)

      • Facebook posts on Billboards

      • Data Ethics & Social Media (Mannheimer, Young, and Rossmann)

    • In-class activities

      • Listen to highlights from This American Life podcast on the bullying of feminist bloggers.


  • Project 2: Digital Dualism (Week 6)

    • Instructions

      • Pick a topic, movement, platform to study. Based on and using the reports from Project 1 (online learning vs. classroom, Snap Stories, social media as real life).

      • Search literature for language that suggests Digital Dualism. Pick one or two examples from the popular press that reinforces a digital dualist perspective. Explore its problematic aspects with respect to identity.

    • Output

      • Compose an op-ed piece in the style of a NY Times column that explores a dimension of social media identity and ethics (backed up with references to other writing)


  • Unit 4: Social and community engagement (Weeks 7-8)

    • Guiding Questions

      • What does it mean to be an engaged citizen using social media?

      • How effective is slacktivism and hashtag campaigning?  

      • How are power structures made and reinforced online?

      • How do you engage with differing viewpoints online?

      • How do you manage your online persona and your “real-life” beliefs?

      • Is your online friend group a community? Why or why not? What is the shape and boundary lines of your community?

      • What is the character of engaging posts for individuals and organizations?

    • Readings


  • Unit 5: Practical applications and methods (Weeks 9-10)

    • Guiding Questions

      • How can media theory form a guiding foundation for social media practice?

    • Readings

      • Building library community through social media (Young & Rossmann)

      • Social Media Optimization (Rossmann & Young)

    • In-class activities

      • Class visit from Forward Montana Bozeman Director, Kiah Abbey


  • Project 3: Community Analysis - Draft Strategy (Week 11)

    • Instructions

      • Identifying a community

      • Identify a platform, and integrate a platform analysis into strategy. Refer to earlier platform analyses.

      • Identify ethical issues present

      • Choosing a methodology for analysis

      • Collect & analyze data

      • Identify any ethical considerations used in data gathering/analysis

      • Develop a social media plan

      • Determine what platforms would be a part of this plan

      • Provide examples of postings/interactions resulting from plan

    • Output

      • Working draft of a social media strategy for a local non-profit


  • Final Project: Synthesized and Refined strategy (Week 12)

    • Instructions

      • Gather peer-evaluation feedback for students along with feedback from local organizations

      • Refine social media strategy

    • Output

      • Final draft of a social media strategy for a local non-profit



For this class, you will make a recommendation to us for your final grade (A, B, or C, with lower grades at our discretion), based on the completion of certain conditions outlined below. While we will assign final grades (as officially required), you will evaluate your own work throughout the course.  At the beginning of the term we will ask you to define personal learning goals that will serve as general guides through the semester. At the middle of the term, you will write a midterm self-evaluation that reflects on your work and contributions throughout the course.  You will complete a similar self-evaluation at the end of the term.  The self-evaluations are intended to serve as (helpful) reflective exercises in which you document your process and overall progress. The self-evaluations will not only inform our own evaluation of you, but will inform how we adjust the course itself as we progress together.

Throughout the course we will not be putting letter or number grades on individual assignments, but rather questions and comments that engage with your work. You will also be reflecting carefully on your own work and engaging thoughtfully with the work of your peers. The intention here is to create a more open organic learning experience rather than a prescriptive grade-driven experience. If this process causes more anxiety than it alleviates, contact us at any point to confer about your performance in the course to date. If you are worried about your grade, your best approach will be to join the discussions, do the reading, and complete the projects with sincere interest. You should consider this course a “busy-work-free zone.” If an assignment does not feel productive, we can find ways to modify, remix, or repurpose the instructions.


An “A” Grade

  • Miss a maximum of one class

  • Participate with good faith and generosity in all discussions

  • Complete all four projects on time

  • Complete the midterm and final self-evaluation with sincere self-reflection and thorough familiarity with course readings and discussions

  • Complete a final project that both demonstrates familiarity with class discussions and readings and shows that you’ve learned the practical applications of social media community building

  • Meet with one or both of us at least once over the course of the semester to discuss your performance in the class, areas of improvement, and any questions you may have


A “B” Grade

  • Miss a maximum of two classes

  • Participate with good faith and generosity in all discussions

  • Complete all four projects, and submit at least three on time

  • Complete the midterm and final self-evaluation with sincere self-reflection and thorough familiarity with course readings and discussions

  • Complete a final project that both demonstrates familiarity with class discussions and readings and shows that you’ve learned the practical applications of social media community building


A “C” Grade

  • Miss a maximum of three classes

  • Participate with good faith and generosity in most discussions

  • Complete the midterm and final self-evaluation

  • Complete all four projects

  • Complete a final project that demonstrates familiarity with most class discussions and readings and shows that you’ve learned the practical applications of social media community building


Midterm Self-evaluation

Due:  E-mailed to us by _______________________


Instructions: Compose an e-mail to us with answers to each of the following questions.  No need to use an attachment.  Just write or cut and paste your answers directly into the e-mail.  You are welcome to approach this self-evaluation either as a series of answers to each of these questions or as a less formal letter to us about the course and your work.


1.  Evaluate your participation during in-class discussion. How would you characterize your involvement in our discussions so far? What are your strengths and weaknesses in this regard? Have you read and thought through the readings? What could have used more work?  How has your thinking evolved from one week to the next?   

2.  Have you completed all assigned work for the course?


3.  What letter grade would you give yourself for the first half of this course and why?  Consider preparedness, the strength of your written work, your participation in discussion, and your goals for the semester.


4. How is this course meeting your personal learning goals?


5.  (Optional):  What questions do you have for us at this point?  About the subjects of the class?  About your work/progress this semester?  Are there any aspects of your work that you would particularly like feedback on?


Final Self-evaluation

Due: E-mailed to us by _______________________


Instructions:  Compose an e-mail to us with answers to each of the following questions.  No need to use an attachment.  Just write or cut and paste your answers directly into the e-mail.  The questions here are less prescriptive than on the midterm self-evaluation, in order to give you the opportunity to reflect on the course in a way that feels appropriate to you.  


1.  Write a short evaluation of your performance in this class (250-500 words), addressing the following sorts of questions:  Were you prepared for each class week?  Did you do all of the required readings and projects?  How would you characterize your overall effort, interest, and commitment to the class?  Did your engagement increase or decrease as the semester went along?  How did you meet the goals for the course?


2.  What letter grade would you give yourself for the semester and why?  Consider preparedness for class, the strength of your written work and other assignments, and your participation in discussions.


We wish to make this class accessible to all. If you have a disability for which you are or may be requesting an accommodation, please contact us or Disabled Student Services.


This course will adhere to the MSU Conduct Guidelines.