In the Writing Classroom

        It seems that many professors who use Twitter view it as a way to communicate, whether for new developments in the field or for discussion purposes during and out of class. Some educators, scholars, and bloggers discuss potential practices to use micro-blogging in the classroom. But even though micro-blogging involves composing in short bursts, there is a gap in the scholarship on how to use sites like Twitter in the English classroom.


        Anthony Pennay discusses a new type of literacy that has evolved from use of the Internet and cell phones: techno-literacy. Pennay examines students’ writing benefits of blogging that include understanding audience, examples of good or effective writing, and development of a voice.


        But with the introduction of micro-blogging, these rhetorical features change yet again. What is unknown is how they change and if students are aware of these changes.


        DeCosta et al. discuss social media sites and areas on the internet that involve collaborative writing and the English classroom. The authors present Twitter as a way to improve writing conciseness, share updates and feelings, and respond to and reflect on others’ tweets. The authors discuss a vital point in the conversation: collaboration is changing with technology, and it is the job of teachers to use the affordances of this technology to the student’s benefit.


        But that is not the only form of collaborative writing that is found through the use of social networking. McWilliams et al. discuss a high school English course that combined Twitter and fan fiction, finding that student motivation was increased because everyone had to participate in the writing. David Parry suggests using Twitter as part of a writing assignment where everyone must add to a story. Parry also suggests using Twitter to create a classroom community, allow students to discover a sense of the world, or to track a particular word or conference. Parry even suggests grammar misuse can be studied as students practice this new way of communication. Surprisingly, Parry’s Twitter account (@academicdave) is full of conversations—replies to other users—about school, social topics, and even opinions. Diane J. Skiba discusses ideas found on higher education and teachers’ blogs, continuing the trend of encouraging Twitter use for communication with students and colleagues. Skiba references a PBS teachers’ blog that discusses the potential collaborative writing aspects of Twitter. She also suggests different writing activities like the One-Minute Paper and the One-Sentence Summary (111).


        While social networking is clearly finding a niche with collaborative writing practices, some scholars examine other ways these sites are affecting students and their writing. Chris Byrne discusses how the immediacy of composing—whether in text messages, Facebook statuses, or tweets—changes the way people are composing, creating what the author calls “linguistic short cuts” (272).  And because the Internet has become a place for some scholarly journals and e-books, Byrne claims it is only time before this new form of unconventional writing meshes with the formality of academic writing. Stephanie Vie believes compositionists need to learn how to integrate social media and other technologies in the classroom effectively; as writing continues to change because of these developments, so must writing instruction. Vie describes a survey she distributed that showed a discrepancy between students and teachers’ use of social networking sites, concluding that teachers may hesitate to incorporate these sites for fear of blurring lines of authority and control in the classroom. Yet Vie does not believe this apprehension should hold instructors back.


        This hesitation and confusion of using social media sites can be seen among other scholars as well. Jane Mathison Fife references this puzzlement, claiming those over 35 cannot understand the attraction of Facebook. Yet unlike other scholars who discuss the role of social media in the classroom, Fife has a specific plan for using Facebook as a heuristic by examining ways of communication and use of language on the site. As a class, she and her students compile a list of features on Facebook that could have rhetorical significance, often drawing from concepts of ancient rhetoric. This rhetorical analysis is similar to Bronwyn T. Williams’ discussion of the “performance of self” that students and Internet users compose on their social networking profiles (684). Students may not be aware of the identity they construct regarding gender or social class, Williams says.