Join the Clubhouse: communication course goes mobile

November 29, 2021
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In CMNS 453, students learn about the mobile information society on mobile applications.

“The idea behind this approach was to teach a course about mobile technology using the mobile phone,” says Instructor Nicole Stewart, who teaches her students on Clubhouse, a popular audio social application where groups of people can connect in audio chat rooms.

“Early May 2021, I submitted a question to Clubhouse Townhall to let co-founder and CEO Paul Davison know my desire to teach a fourth-year communication course on the platform,” says Stewart. Davison noted that he hadn’t considered the platform for a university course, but eagerly added, “That’s awesome. That’s very exciting, and I love that. I want you to teach that also.”

The first audio social university class was taught over applications like Twitter Spaces and Clubhouse, using WhatsApp as a backchannel. With improved accessibility of the Clubhouse app, Stewart now teaches exclusively on Clubhouse. Since the first audio social class in summer 2021, there are now university professors from Harvard, Stanford, and around the world using Clubhouse as a classroom space.

“The history of higher education began with conversations, and we are taking the old tradition and putting it on a new platform,” says Stewart, whose students are excited to attend class entirely from a mobile device.

As a class, students join the Clubhouse floor each week to discuss different topics, including mobile infrastructures, network governance, social media, algorithms, content moderation, and privacy. Throughout the week, students stay connected on other mobile spaces like WhatsApp.

Reflecting on their time in the course, communication students Grey Nguyen and Zeeyan Meghjan were happy to try something different.

“I think Clubhouse is a great platform that provides students with a new approach to learning materials by turning the usual lecture into a discussion board,” says Nguyen. “Clubhouse indirectly encourages students to contribute their thoughts and ideas in every discussion. For students like me, who have problems with public speaking and do not feel comfortable showing my face on camera, Clubhouse is an ideal platform as it does not require much, aside from my name and an avatar.”

“I believe that communicating lectures with students on mobile technologies, and even integrating social media applications like Facebook, Twitter Spaces and WhatsApp can make an amazing learning experience,” says Meghjan. “Students get to think out of the box and use social networking apps that they have been using for so long to connect, now to participate and learn a course.”

Instructor Nicole Stewart and Professor Richard Smith and CMNS 453 students on the Clubhouse app.

The learning experience on Clubhouse raises questions about the future of formal and informal classrooms. Stewart, alongside School of Communication professor Richard Smith, associate professor Frederik Lesage, and doctoral student Ben Scholl are reviewing the experience on Clubhouse in a new research project that extends into 2022. The team will take a closer look at how platformization in higher education is evolving and examine how universities can use audio platforms to elevate knowledge mobilization.

“Even though the course would seem a little different it was one of the best experiences I have had so far at SFU, and CMNS 453 was one of the best courses I have taken so far,” says Meghjan.