Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Social Proof Successes by Students

I'm on fire about the concepts of social discovery and especially social proof, about which I've recently blogged. As I said in that post, social proof can make your content legit.

I wanted to give an interim report of the successes that students are having as they are attempting one of the four types of social proof that I outlined before (finding, contacting, interacting, and having one's work used by others). Most students are in the first two levels, working their way up.

Here, then, are case studies of how students have been getting social proof through various sources. I have also noted how students are altering their research projects in response to the social proof they are getting. Proof that social proof works!

Annotated Contact List
Before contacting people (the second phase of social proof) one must spend time identifying people appropriate to contact. Several of my students have taken my suggestion of creating an annotated contact list to keep track of potential contacts. Making the list helps students document their finding process while giving them a way of evaluating people who could be contacted.  The annotation for each person listed could include the reason why this person is listed, their credentials or links to their work.

Social Proof via Classmates, Peers
It may seem silly (or even slightly artificial), but getting feedback or suggestions from classmates is a good initial type of social proof that can encourage a student to move forward with their ideas. If one is in a class where learning has been socialized through some means, then students can be aware of and contribute to one another's projects. For example, after one student, Mallory, posted on her blog about researching Shakespeare in Asia, another student, Kaleigh, left a comment referring her to an article she found while doing her own research. Obviously, this is helpful and encouraging to Mallory.

Students can end up being consultants or collaborators with one another, again providing peer-level social proof (which is such a motivating force for younger people). This works well when students are encouraged both to share resources and to publicly document their learning and research processes. For example, in this post Bri Zabriskie ends up giving a fellow student, Ellie, some resources that she will no longer need since her topic has since evolved to something else. Social proof from immediate peers can be a much-appreciated source of motivation:

Social Proof via Presentations Site
Ellie Custer found a PowerPoint on (about Hamlet and Carl Jung). She contacted the author, a professor. This was immediately helpful to her, as she explains:
After writing to Dr. Fike, he responded within an hour-and gave me useful resources as well as a critic of my idea. As a result of this communication, I am beginning to form more questions and have found a few very helpful resources that were linked to in his communication to me.
Social Proof via Conferences
Mallory was overjoyed when a conference organizer contacted her and provided her a great set of very current sources. She had first found out from a Stanford professor she emailed that this conference had taken place right on Mallory's topic. Who better than someone that organized a conference could help to filter the most relevant resources? A great find for Mallory (and a boost to her ego when high ranking professors are reaching out to help her).

Social Proof via Social Network Groups
Ashley Lewis, studying Ophelia in Hamlet, discovered that there is a group on Facebook devoted to Ophelia. There she will be able to post queries and interact with others currently interested in this literary character.

Social Proof via Twitter
The nice thing about Twitter is that discussion there is very current, very live, and it is easy to contact people in this method. This is something my student, Carlie, discovered. After she tweeted a direct message to @webenglishteach (Web English Teacher), the brief tweet back was enough to help Carlie focus her research topic.

Social Proof via Email
Once experts or appropriate people have been found, students are reaching out and contacting them very successfully via email. Note the enthusiasm from these students when they get word back (often extremely quickly)
Altering Course via Social Proof
One of the great benefits of social proof is that it is an informal way of vetting one's ideas early in the developmental process. 
  • Changed emphasis after interview
    Following a personal interview with a professor regarding Carl Jung, Ellie Custer altered her whole approach to studying Shakespeare through Jung.
  • Refined Concept after email exchange
    When Kayla consulted a peer (outside of our class) on the topic of abuse, a topic Kayla's friend had presented on elsewhere and which Kayla wished to apply to The Merchant of Venice. Her friend corrected Kayla's use of the term "obsession" and introduced a key concept in abuse studies, dependency. Kayla will more accurately analyze the play from this point of view now.
  • Changed topic after email responses
    After emailing various high school teachers about their methods of teaching Shakespeare, my student, Alicia, got several responses. The feedback made her realize that her topic was more appropriate for a different educational level (college instruction). Social proof saved her time chasing down a blind alley. 
  • Added new subject of study after response
    When artistic director Kevin Klassen emailed Bri Zabriskie in response to her letter, he recommended a play on the topic of her research (folklore in Shakespeare). She has now added this play to one by Shakespeare as she moves forward with her research.
This fits with what I have seen previously, when students have been corrected by experts and then shift their approach. Rather than be discouraged, however, they are elated that an expert would care enough to steer them right!

Social proof is where it is at. Are you reaching out for it?