Josie Ahlquist on social media, higher education and epic rap battles
At the forefront of last week’s two-day-long “Navigating the Digital Age” workshops at TRU, Californian student affairs educator Josie Ahlquist encouraged students and faculty to push the boundaries of how they use social media on campus.
In an interview with The Omega, Ahlquist spoke to her recent doctorate research on the subject, her take on bringing university social savvy to the next level, and lessons learned from her husband Lloyd “EpicLloyd” Ahlquist’s 11-million-subscribed YouTube channel Epic Rap Battles of History.
RYAN: You’re working on a doctorate right now – what is the focus of your research?
JOSIE: For my dissertation, I looked at college student leaders from the U.S. at two institutions. I basically looked at their experiences with social media. We talked about their usage even as far back as middle school, and how their usage back then is impacting their views and usage today. Then I observed their usage for a year on Facebook and Instagram to see how their leadership positions are playing out online.
RYAN: What were some of the most interesting or surprising key findings of your research?
JOSIE: The students want to use the tools for building relationships, mainly with family and friends, and maybe a bit of stuff at campus. As leaders, are [students] using social media tools to be engaged in social activism or community service? Those
were areas they weren’t so interested in using social media for, because of how they grew up using it, because of fear tactics from parents and schools, or because of conflict they’ve seen online.
That makes us as educators look at these tools and how we should approach helping students and ourselves to view them not only through a critical lens of worst case scenarios, but… [as] tools of what’s possible. We know that horrible things and weird things can happen on the Internet, but really cool things can happen also. [Things like] global conversations, and putting your passions to a digital purpose.
RYAN: Some of your workshops are directed towards TRU faculty – what are some of the recommendations that are coming out of those talks?
JOSIE: There’s actually a decent amount of published research about curricular use of [social media] like Twitter and blogs, so being able to provide faculty with that kind of data backs up the legitimacy of using something like Twitter for teaching and learning. Even something as simple as creating a Facebook group for a class would allow for additional interaction.
But there are also some methods that one should think about. [There’s a difference between] just throwing Twitter into a class and expecting learning to happen, [and] tying it into learning outcomes, projects and the syllabus [so] you’re seeing it live out and you’re able to look back and see if it actually worked.
RYAN: For the students who missed out on your workshops, what are some quick tips for improving their social media presence?
JOSIE: Have a sense of your digital identity. Google yourself and know what’s out there. You don’t have to be on all of the sites. You’ll enjoy the ones that really fit with your personality, and what’s more ideal is if a site also fits with what you want to do as a professional. If you’re a skilled photographer, you definitely should be on Instagram – if you have time for it. Know the tools that will help you put yourself out there.
For me, it has really paid off using Twitter for more than just tweeting about my brand, but also to purposely interact with professionals.
RYAN: I made a point of saving this question to the end but I have to ask, have you learned anything about YouTube from your husband’s work on Epic Rap Battles of History?
JOSIE: I bring an interesting perspective to my household because I’m an educator. On a leisurely basis, I watch the comments and suggestions, and I’ve seen people build community around the rap battles. There’s this group of girls from across the globe…a girl in Kansas, a girl in Australia and a girl in the U.K. all met because they’re fans of the rap battles, and they follow and interact with each other on Twitter. What I’m finding again, as a nerdy educator, is that YouTube can build community and touch with people that you never would have found otherwise, based on interests.
I definitely learned a lot about strategy too, and how they use social media to interact with fans and get suggestions. In the YouTube space, they asked for suggestions, even from the beginning. Legitimizing getting suggestions for content, which you don’t see in traditional Hollywood. So it’s fun to be on the outskirts of a project that’s setting those kind of trends.