When I wrote the post, “3 Reasons Writing Instructors Should Consider Integrating Social Media into Their Classrooms“, I mentioned that I had started experimenting with social media in my virtual classrooms. I’ve also started using it in different ways in my traditional classes, so I thought I’d share an experience.
In a literacy class, I asked my students to watch “Txtng Is Killing Language JK“, a TED talk from John McWhorter about texting and language, coupled with the article “Instant Messages, Literacies, and Social Identity” by Cynthia Lewis and Bettina Fabos. In keeping with the spirit of digital writing, students wrote their responses to the texts in the form of a series of tweets (although they were not actually posted). I knew that not everyone tweeted, so this exercise would be a stretch for some…and that’s what I was looking for.
Here are a few of the responses:
- “interesting finds by study on instant messaging; skeptical tho about lack of quantitative evidence, opposed to qualitative. #justsayin. (this was fun. tough at first, natural as I went along. felt oddly ‘guilty’ about responding to a prompt in this way, enjoyed it.)”
- @jmcwhorter since the world is adjusting so smoothly to texting and IMing, do you think we’ll move away from traditional writing?
- “@jmcwhorter do you think that slang and shortened words will ever be accepted in writing?”
- @johnmcwhorter You say that texting is beneficial to developing a balance of language. But is digital communication as a whole beneficial to one’s overall social and communication skills?
There are a couple of successes I see here. One is that many students wrote the tweets as questions directly to the authorities. They were actually trying to engage in a conversation with the ideas and writers. Isn’t this what we’re hoping for in student research papers? If it is, here is an opportunity to show students how to engage with texts through a channel that they are both, at least somewhat, familiar with and that encourages such dialogue.
This was tough, though, for some who had never tweeted before, but this is where I find a second success. This activity asked them to find the conventions in a new genre and mimic what they found. We, and our students, expect this in their academic writing, but the execution often falls short. Presenting this challenge through a more everyday channel gave us an opportunity to talk about genre conventions and how to successfully navigate those when you’re in unknown territory.
There are an increasing number of various digital writing courses that incorporate strategies like this, but my question is, why do they have to be digitally focused? Why aren’t we asking students to engage with text in new ways in more general writing classes?
I’ll be continuing to experiment with and share different productive ways to incorporate social media into the writing classroom, and I hope you’ll share ideas, too.