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Social Change Through Social Media (proposed class)

I recently submitted a proposal for a new class I'd like to teach in a nearby graduate communications program. Here's the gist:

CLASS PROPOSAL: Social Change Through Social Media:

1.ABSTRACT: In practice, Click-to-Buy differs little from Click-to-Signup. But these similar looking online behaviors differ significantly in their potential for offline impact. One can deliver a book to your door; the other can mobilize a nation for an election. Why? How? What systemic and behavioral factors apply when digital & social media succeed in effecting social change? What kinds of change can social media effect, and how can that change be sustained measureably? This class will explore these questions in three ways: (1) a theoretical basis for understanding change in human systems, (2) case studies of successful and unsuccessful attempts to change human behavior using digital and social media, and (3) small-team projects to effect change using digital & social media.


  • General Systems Theory (von Bertalanffy) and Network Theory (Barabasi)
  • Communications in Complex Systems (Capra)
  • Chaos Theory (Gleick) and Tipping Points (Gladwell)
  • Change Agent Styles (Coblentz) and Technical & Adaptive Change (Heifitz)
  • Learning Styles (Kolb) and Innovators & Laggards (Rogers)
  • Online Collaboration (Scholz) and Distributed Teams (Jassawalla)
  • Case Studies (2 from each field):
    • Politics & Democracy
    • Social Good & Philanthropy
    • Education & Research
    • Games & Law Enforcement

3. OUTCOMES: The objective is to equip students with models, methods, and experience with which they can (1) understand responses to change (including their own), (2) evaluate the effectiveness of change initiatives that rely on social media, and (3) design sustainable change initiatives using social media. By participating in this course, students will be able to:

  • Describe a set of related human behaviors in terms of inputs, outputs, loops, and waste streams
  • Articulate the spectrum of behavioral responses to change, and their preferences on that spectrum
  • Indentify opportunities to convert waste streams into closed feedback loops to effect change
  • Design and implement a sustainable change initiative using digital and social media tools
  • Identify meaningful measures of change effectiveness

4. BACKGROUND: Alex M. Dunne was a founding columnist and contributor to the noted online magazine Blue Ear Daily in 2000. He later became its managing editor, followed by managing editor for Microsoft’s portfolio of business-audience web sites. He was also a launch advisor to Crosscut magazine ( He currently consults on communications and collaboration for Microsoft and other clients, and relies on digital and social media daily to manage diverse projects for them. He is an experienced presenter and instructional designer, and holds an MA in Applied Behavioral Science and a BA in Regional Science. A fuller profile is available at LinkedIn ( He can be reached via email , Twitter, or via his blog, now it its 10th year.