Surrender the Crown: Informal, Student-centered Discussion with CourseNetworking

Watch This Session

Watch This Session

Brief Abstract

Change the online discussion paradigm—from overly formal, instructor-provoked decrees into a creative, student-led learning community—with CourseNetworking! This free tool can take your class discussion to another level. Participants will be granted access to a live example course to try it out themselves.


Adam is an educator and instructional designer with a fondness for backwards design and a passion for all things gaming.
Adam Maksl is an associate professor of journalism and media at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Indiana. He teaches courses focused on digital journalism and researches news and media literacy. He is also the Faculty Fellow for eLearning Design and Innovation within Indiana University's eLearning Design and Services unit, where he is charged with promoting and supporting innovative teaching and learning, especially in fully online courses, across all Indiana University campuses. Maksl has served as a Journalism & Media Program Coordinator (2016-2019) and the Director of Student Media (2012-2019) at IU Southeast. Under his leadership of student media, his students won hundreds of awards, including national awards such as the Pacemaker, considered by some to be the Pulitzer Prize of college journalism. He is an award-winning teacher, including honors such as the Teacher of the Year award from the Small Programs Interest Group of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Honor Roll Newspaper Adviser Award from the College Media Association. Maksl’s research has been published in top-rated journals in his field, including Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly; Journalism & Mass Communication Educator; the Journal of Media Literacy Education; Electronic News; and Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking. He has co-authored a book focused on news and media literacy, "American Journalism and Fake News: Examining the Facts." Maksl earned his PhD in journalism from the University of Missouri, an MA in journalism from Ball State University, and a BS in secondary journalism education from Indiana University Bloomington.

Extended Abstract

Online classroom discussion has become an overly formal, even stifling exercise that rarely allows for students and faculty to build real connections. This discovery session will briefly address the research around the importance of informal, student-centered discussion, and then introduce and provide hands-on experience with a free, academic social network tool that can help make this easy: CourseNetworking. The presenter, an instructional designer, will provide many examples of the tool in use in live courses. Finally, participants will be invited to a virtual “OLC Innovate 2020” CourseNetworking class to get hands-on experience using the tool, and to continue scholarly discussion of the benefit of community building through informal discussion even after the conference.

Few academics deny the power of the informal discussions that go on in classrooms every day. Yet, take a look at online classes, and you’ll rarely find that same energy and freedom of expression. Open-ended, student-centered online discussion has been ignored in favor of formal assessment masquerading as discourse— formulaic response posts to predetermined questions. Is it any wonder that students have come to dread the “1 post, 2 replies” model of mandatory online interaction? In the first part of our session, we’ll cover how informal online interaction via a social networking platform is valuable for:

  • Content- Learners can use social media tools to share a wide variety of topic-relevant content from other sources with one another.

  • Connection- In an academic social media platform, learners feel more connected to one another and to the instructor.

  • Creation- Learners become free to create unique content.

  • Collaboration- Collaboration is only as difficult as it is to facilitate, and a platform for informal interaction makes it much easier.

  • Community- Instructors can combine classes or cohorts, loop in outside experts in the field, and allow students who have graduated to guide their peers.

Then, we’ll address common concerns regarding social media, which is often rightly criticized in academic circles for distracting learners with irrelevant content, blurring the lines between professional and personal life, exposing learners to privacy risks, and providing an avenue for superficial communication. CourseNetworking (CN) leaps these pitfalls by offering a unique social networking experience to learners and the instructor. CN is FERPA-compliant, accessible, and provides a variety of moderator tools and features.

At this point, a card will be given to participants with a QR code and information on how to log in to the CourseNetworking site and enroll in our “OLC Innovate 2020” class in order to try out the platform. The presenter and several other colleagues will be active in the CourseNetworking class for weeks (or longer) to continue the discussion about the benefits of informal classroom discourse, and to answer questions and share further research and resources.



Redecker, C., Ala-Mutka, K., and Punie, Y. (2010) Learning 2.0-the impact of social media on learning in Europe. JRC Scientific and Technical Report. EUR JRC56958 EN. Retrieved from: