Usually I spend my summers stacking up educational books to read by the pool and then switch them out for The Hunger Games or Harry Potter but I decided that this summer I should actually do something educational. That’s why I applied for the DC Summer Institute for New Media and I was lucky enough to be accepted. Before I dive into the exciting almost two weeks we’ve had so far I should probably give some background on what this Institute is all about.
The DC Summer Institute, or DCSI (because not having an acronym in DC would just be criminal), is comprised of three institutes: National Security, Leadership and Community Engagement, and New Media. So what exactly is “new media?” To answer that question I’m going to ask you to unlock your phone and look at your apps. If you’re anything like me, and most of the students at William & Mary, you have social media apps, news apps, interactive games, and even photo-sharing apps. There are all examples of new media. (Blogs and websites are also included, but sadly you don’t usually have apps for that on your phone. For those new media sources you have to look to your trusty computer.)
So now you’re probably thinking, “Wait, so basically you’re taking a class about Twitter and blogs?” (In fact, I’m pretty sure that’s exactly what went through my parents’ heads when I told them about this institute.) Yes and no. We do look at Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, blogs, and other forms of new media, but we do so by looking at them more as marketing strategies or avenues through which news can be spread. In this class we’ve heard a lot of amazing speakers from places like the National Smithsonian Museum of American History to the U.S. Institute for Peace to PBS Newshour. Each speaker had a different perspective on how new media can be used in “the real world” and how it can be useful for companies in many ways. The speakers stressed a multitude of different (and surprising) concepts such as the importance of well-formulated tweets, the hardships of creating educational but still fun and engaging games, and the use of Tumblr as a way to spread knowledge of little known global issues. So the short answer is yes. I am taking a class about Twitter and blogs but if you were to listen to the conversations we’re having and the people we’re meeting you would realize that our class is so much more than just scrolling through a Twitter feed or reading a blog.
Like I said before we’ve been to a lot of crazy awesome places. I could list out every single place we’ve been and tell you all about the speakers, what we learned, and why I loved hearing every one of them speak, but you would be sitting in the chair for an unacceptable amount of time. After much thought I decided that I would choose two to tell you about. (I was going to do my top four but then I realized I would be writing a short story rather than a blog post.)
The first on the list is PBS Newshour. As someone who is considering a career in political televised media I was speechless for most of the time we were there. The second I walked in I could tell that everyone there cared about the quality of the news they reported and about spreading knowledge of the news as well as their own personal experiences with anyone who was willing to listen. There were countless people who popped by just to give us advice and answer any questions we may have had about their job or department and how they got there. We spoke mainly to Alexis Cox, a William & Mary alum who works as a reporter/producer, Jenny Marder (Senior Online Editor), and Coleen Shalby (Social Media Editor). We were also able to go inside the studio, meet one of their outstanding newscasters, and watch a live taping of the show. Altogether it was an amazing experience and I learned more than I could have asked them to teach me. (They even offered to have us come by again!)
The second speaker I chose is Erin Blasco from the Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Erin works in the department of New Media at the NMAH and controls the museum’s social media. She taught us more about Twitter in 30 minutes than I learned from my almost two years as a Twitter user. I never realized how important the time you send out a tweet or the way you formulate the tweet was. Erin taught us that a good tweet is a work of art. You have to be able write a readable and fun yet still informational tidbit in only 140 characters. How she does that and got so good at it I may never know but she did a great job at telling us exactly how we can use Twitter as a marketing resource and educational tool. She was able to shift my view of social media from a recreational activity to a productive and useful one.
Bill Williams, our speaker from Discovery Communications, told us that, “you learn something from everything you get into.” Getting into this program has definitely made this my most educational summer, and it’s only about two weeks into the program. I can’t wait to see what else I’ll get into this summer and what I’ll learn from all of my experiences!