Some educators—and even some students—might ask why; why teach with social media? The generation entering college is nicknamed the Millennials, characterized as diverse, politically progressive, and socially open-minded. The Millennials are also described as “the first generation in human history who regard behaviors like tweeting and texting, along with websites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Wikipedia, not as astonishing innovations of the digital era, but as everyday parts of their social lives and their search for understanding” (Keeter and Taylor).
Social media sites are present in students’ lives, and it is ignorant of educators to dismiss the potential they have for classroom use. After a survey revealed only four out of 141 participants did not have a profile on the site, Browning et al. suggests integrating Facebook in the classroom to deliver content and engage students. Because of the invention of smartphones, many students are able to check updates in the palm of their hand, and others can access the information from any computer with an Internet connection. What makes this different from traditional classrooms is that it makes the lessons and information portable and assessable in a variety of forms for technologically savvy students. Social media sites have already changed the way students communicate; they also have the potential to change how, when, and where students are learning.
Although plenty of scholarship on implementing social media in the classroom has been written in the past five years, most authors address their audiences as if they are unfamiliar with these sites. Twitter, a micro-blogging site that challenges users to communicate "What's happening?" in 140 characters or less, seems to need the most introduction. Almost every article on Twitter first describes what it is and how to set up an account; while it might seem well known to users, it is clear these conversations in various fields do not want to neglect Twitter novices.
Facebook, however, seems to need no introduction. The story of Facebook’s creation is well known to the millennial generation, students who cannot remember a time when they did not have profiles. The founder, Mark Zuckerberg, created the site at Harvard in 2004 as an extended directory of freshman students. Popularity of the site spread and opened to include other Ivy League schools; by 2005 the networking site became available for any users with an email address. To understand the influence of Facebook in society, one could watch The Social Network, a 2010 movie based on the development of the site; the movie was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and has grossed almost $100 million (“The Social”).
The span of these two sites is overwhelming. Facebook has over 500 million users (Statistics) and Twitter has over 200 million accounts (Johanameyer). These sites are an everyday part of communication for many people across the world.
While much scholarship has focused on the implications of using Facebook in education, ideas for using micro-blogging in the classroom are still developing. It is not surprising, therefore, that many of these ideas are found on regular blogs or surface in a variety of forms, from newsletters to case studies.
As many educators, bloggers, and scholars are apt to point out, teachers are prone to jumping on the technology bandwagon. Unless new technologies and developments are tested in the classroom, however, there can be no conclusion whether or not they should be implemented in education. The question that needs to be answered, therefore, is how these technologies can be implemented into the classroom.
This text examines a quarter of tweeting in a freshman composition classroom at Ohio University in the fall of 2011. Each section is written in two ways: the first is a scholarly, empirical study of the class and activities; the second is a less formal approach that focuses on teacher and student responses. The goals of the study were to examine the impact of using Twitter for class activities like free writes, thesis statement workshops, and discussion in order to discover how students compose rhetorically in this space. Understanding the impact Twitter has on the conscious and unconscious rhetorical actions students take while composing will begin to fill a gap in the scholarship on how to use sites like Twitter in an English composition classroom.
Participants were required to use Twitter daily, for both homework and in class work. Students’ participation was completely voluntary; that is, they had the option to choose whether or not they took part of in the study. The purpose of the study was to explore the gateway into the Twitterverse to analyze how students’ writing and communication practices change on this site compared to the academic writing they do for the university. Other questions to be explored included:
- Communication in a new form. Does Twitter alter certain aspects of the student-teacher and student-student dynamic?
- What are the conscious rhetorical decisions and stylistic choices students make when composing in a different form than the traditional academic essay?
- Are students aware of their code switching when they enter this online space?
Students wrote bi-weekly reflection papers about the use of Twitter in our classroom. Some of these responses can be found in the “teacherly” sections of the study. Students were asked to address some of the following questions, sometimes referring to a specific assignment or activity:
- How is the use of Twitter affecting your writing? What specific exercises helped you learn or improved your writing?
- What decisions are you making regarding word choice, language choice, mentioning, etc.?
- Are you a new user? Are you a veteran of Twitter? Compare your Twitter use to other students in the class. What are those students doing that you are not?
- What do you notice about other students’ tweets?
- How is the use of Twitter affecting your learning? How is it hindering your learning?
- Examine your use of hashtags. What rhetorical effect do they have?
- Have social media sites or the internet been used in your other classes? How so? Was it more beneficial or less beneficial than our use? Why do you think that?
- Did you feel Twitter is useful in a composition classroom? Why or why not?
I hoped students would benefit from the study in a variety of ways. First, students would experience a twist on classroom learning through the utilization of Twitter. Second, they might find Twitter use beneficial for their learning retention. Third, they might prefer the immediate communication that Twitter offers. Fourth, students might recognize characteristics of their writing they previously did not. Fifth, students might communicate more effectively with their peers about classroom work. And lastly, students might find it easier to stay organized and focused on the class.