Monthly Archive: January 2016

Social media events as a model for ‘triggering’ cognitive presence

According to pedagogical researchers Garrison, Anderson & Archer (2001) the first phase of cognitive presence in their Community of Inquiry model is a ‘triggering event’ which includes the recognition of a problem and a sense of puzzlement.  This initiates further exploration into possible solutions, ideally through collaborative information exchange and integration, before applying new ideas.

I’ve always considered ‘controversial’ questions as a good way of introducing a topic, forcing participants to reflect on an engaging issue as the first way of approaching a topic – to make it more ‘real’ to them. However, this doesn’t always come naturally, and perhaps we can learn something from viral social media events as triggering events, as the HumanMOOC has suggested in it’s final week. But can we engage our participants in the same way? Most successful social media events take off because of a commercially created video, big news story, strange event or brilliantly clever idea – not very easy to replicate!

Well one thing that viral social media events have in common is that they provoke a response by touching on real human issues.  The best events have framed controversial issues that relate to issues that are relevant to everyone – for example the “10 hours of walking in NYC as a woman” video that exposed everyday harassment or the Dove “Choose Beautiful” campaign that touched on issues of negative self-image. Such questions demand a response because they are relevant to everyone. Depending on the topic, it should be relatively easy to find material (whether it be a youtube video or opinion article) on a ‘controversial’ subject relevant to the subject that has a human ‘angle’, whilst being careful not to use offensive material or trivialising serious matters.

Another thing that popular social media events have in common is that they provide a simple template/structure for responses, making it easy for people to be involved in the conversation. For example the ice bucket challenge, which followed a common format – a video of a person having a bucket of water poured on their head after nominating 3 others for the same fate. #Likeagirl and #thisgirlcan used Twitter hashtags as the driving message behind the conversation, whilst campaigns like #notinmyname or #bringbackourgirls would ‘humanise’ the hashtag by using a ‘selfie’ with a self-penned version of the hashtag.

So the most successful social media events are good at provoking a human response, but also very good at making it quick and easy for people to respond.

Learning from Twitter hashtag events

There is also a lot to learn from the smaller spontaneous Twitter hashtags that popup from time-to-time. For example #nicerfilmtitles, where people changed one word in a film title to make it nicer (Snacks on a Plane, The Bourne Diplomacy) or others more open to comedic or topical interpretation such as #2015in5words, or #11thCommandment.
These hashtags are very popular for short periods of time, and quite often get picked up by celebrity tweeters. What I like about these is that they allow people to participate very easily, either by changing a single word, or providing a short snappy sentence. It also encourages people to write concisely, which is an important skill in academic writing.

Thinking about how to apply this concept to my own work, our online course participants are international researchers, so we try to avoid using humour too much, as there are many cultural differences and it’s easy to be misinterpreted (for example, my British sense of humour can be rather ironic and surreal). Here are some ideas that might work better:

Summarise your idea

I like the idea of getting participants to summarise their research idea or a research gap in a certain number of words (perhaps 7 or 8). This could happen via Twitter, or could be done within a forum or a tool such as padlet. This would be a good model for how they communicate their research ideas in the future, and I think this could lead organically to follow-up discussions between people with similar interests. There could also be a follow-up exercise where participants write a longer summary (perhaps an abstract).

Summarise learning

This concept could also be used as a way of testing participants understanding of key concepts, for example “summarise what you have learnt this week in 7 words”. This tests learning, conciseness and gives the student a chance to be creative. It’s also fun!

I tried replicating this on the HumanMOOC Twitter conversation with a #humanizedelearningin5words hashtag. Not particularly catchy, and It didn’t quite go viral, but we got some interesting contributions:

Twitter also allows for attaching images for extra impact – expand the tweets above to see these!


Garrison, D. R., Anderson, T., & Archer, W. (2001). Critical Thinking and Computer Conferencing:A Model and Tool to Assess Cognitive Presence. American Journal of Distance Education.

“Watch This Woman Get Harassed 108 Times While Walking in New York City”, retrieved from Time website, 03/01/2016

“Here are Some of the Best Viral Campaigns of 2015”, retrieved from Small Business Trends website, 03/01/2016