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November 7, 2012

Ma'ayan Plaut ’10

I know you know about ExCos (they're the greatest) and I know you know about my love for them (no, seriously, anything that allows you to share the things that you love with other people in a symbiotic melding of learning is a great great great thing), but I realized that I haven't told you about the new ExCo I'm a part of yet! I dearly loved teaching Learning to See: My Camera and Me for three semesters, but it was time to move into another challenging space from which I could learn and teach: the ever-changing map of social media. Enter #SoMeXco: the Social Media ExCo — one part examination, one part awareness, and three parts action, or as I like to call it, the best lunch hour I have all week.

Sometimes I make ridiculous faces. Enjoy.

I knew I couldn't keep the coolness of this class to myself, so I enlisted the help of special guests Barbara Sawhill and Ben Jones to help take on this daunting task of trying to teach social media. How in the world do you teach social media? One way is to teach tools, and that's hard because tools change all the time. Tools also can't fix something that isn't social in the first place. Another way is to teach how to set effective goals that can be reached via social media. That's cool too, but setting goals means that there's an ending, and success and failure are closely tied to it. Hopefully some learning comes out of that (and it usually does), but it places too much emphasis on reaching a specific point and reflection. What we wanted from #SoMeXco was sustained thinking about what makes something social, why that spreads, and how we can make it work — with goals and tools thrown in for good measure.

On the first day we drew. We started with crayons, drew "social," passed the paper, drew "media," passed the paper, drew "social media," passed the paper and then explained what we received. In short: there are lots of definitions, lots of interpretations, and all of them involved people and connections and things. 

The next class, we slashed buzzwords. That is, we defined them, and then we started getting rid of the ones we didn't think had a place in the class and emphasizing the ones we hoped to explore more. It was cathartic.

Once we did a Google+ Hangout. What an awesome tool, but gotta work on audio and connection stuff before we do it again.

I'm always a little scared that in talking big we can't act small, but I'm really really pleased to report that through our shifts and changes in the class structure, syllabus, and group learnings, we're moving towards thinking big yet acting small, too. Rather than just talking about how we can do great things, we are actually doing great things. Over the past month, we've been devising a project that's launching during parents and family weekend.

In case you had any doubt, we love family here, in all forms (I've written about family a lot, at least six different times here on the blogs — and yes, each of those highlighted words is a link. Beware, one of them just made me cry.). The Oberlin family is big and grand, obnoxious but lovable, much like our blood family (pokepokeHIBENANDIMMAANDABBApokepoke). No matter who we were born around or who we choose to keep around us, they're a part of who we are and what we become. Oberlin is a place that changes you and by extension, those around you, so it seems only natural to create an opportunity to connect our families together over this thing all of us have here: Oberlin.

We toyed with a number of possibilities before landing on this one — yeah, that's right, I'm holding you in suspense for at least another sentence or two, promise it's worth it — like documenting the happenings of the weekend on different channels, doing a "my Oberlin" tour (Emily did this one, right here on the blogs!), taking family photos of our Oberlin families to share with our non-Oberlin-based families, trying out some livestreaming... all in the name of sharing things beyond campus.

The only thing is that many of these activities involved us translating and projecting pieces of Oberlin to folks who aren't here to better include them in what we're doing every day. That's totally fine, but it's not deep or sustained beyond the activity itself. The internet is ephemeral and we're relying on people who are online to be a part of what we're trying to share. And this is where this awesome project comes in. We're bringing Oberlin to you, families. Oberlin through eyes you already care about. Enter: the Oberlin Family Postcard Project.

Planning this afternoon in class. Ahhhhhhhhh.

From Friday through Sunday (or whenever we run out of supplies), the fine members of SoMeXco will be sitting with piles of postcards at the following locations:

  • Wine and Cheese with the Deans (and OSteel!) on Friday, 4:30-6:30pm at the Science Center. - Say hi to Tess, Jake, Willa, and Chetan here!
  • Open Planetarium and Observatory Hours on Friday, 8-11pm at Peters Hall. - High-five Kirk and Luke while you're here!
  • Obertones Parents Weekend Performance on Friday, 9pm at Finney Chapel - Ellen and Barbara will be your postcard-writing guides here!
  • Oberlin Jazz Ensemble on Saturday, 8pm at Finney Chapel - Julian will be jazzed (punny!) and ready with postcards, just for you!
  • Il Mondo della Luna (our fall opera) on Saturday, 8pm at Hall Auditorium - Emily will be your fair postcard-keeper here.

(If all goes according to plan, you'll see my shining face around campus soaking up all the vicarious family loveeeee, but if we have some postcards left over on Sunday morning, you might see me at the president's breakfast.)

By dropping by any one of these tables, you'll get to:

  • meet a SoMeXcoer,
  • fill out a postcard to anyone in your family (blood or might-as-well-be) in the whole wide world you want to tell about your weekend,
  • be a part of the bigger picture.

That last part is not just a saying, but a real thing. You see, we took a giant picture, cut it up into 336 postcard-sized chunks, numbered them all, and after you write yours, we'll be keeping track of where in the world your message ends up with a nifty website (heading your way next week!).

What better way to visualize the vastness of the Oberlin family than to send us out there to them? I'm jumping up and down inside — and on the outside this weekend, I assure you — just thinking about where this can go, and to where in the world I'll be sending my postcard. Hey, Ben, perhaps we should team up and plan it out! (Look, our project is connecting families already!)

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