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Access and Pedagogy


Certainly, issues of material and functional access constrain instructors from developing classroom assignments that ask all students to compose with their smartphones. First, while many students have phones, not all students own or have access to smartphones. Perhaps even more significantly, however, instructors may not yet be performing the same composing acts as their students who own smartphones nor convinced that such activities are worthwhile for the composition classroom. The gap between instructors’ (justly held) apprehensions about the value of phone compositions and students’ composing activities is cause for concern.

young man with cell phone

Studies performed by PEW and Michigan State University’s Center for Writing in Digital Environments (WIDE) show that students do not currently recognize the writing they do in their own time and the writing they do in academic contexts as being connected. WIDE’s (2010) “The Writing Lives of College Students” report found that while SMS texts, emails, and lecture notes are the most frequently written genres, the digital writing that students perform in/with social networking applications is not valued highly (p. 2). Sixty percent of teens do not think of texting as writing, even though social networking writing comprises a significant part of young writers’ literacy habits (Lenhart, Arefeh, Smith & Macgill, 2009). Stephanie Vie (2008) has argued that reconsidering literacy with respect to these social networking habits “will be key to harnessing the potential of these sites for composition pedagogies appropriate for the 21st century” (p. 21). Of course, while cell phones are not the only location where this writing takes place, they have become the dominant technology that supports such literacy practices.

The formal integration of cell phones into writing classrooms is a complicated one, as their abilities to broaden students’ education beyond the confines of a classroom can be in conflict with the (historically) more contained expectations of institutional education. Yet, even for those who have incorporated technology into their classrooms, the charge to stay current and continuously advance pedagogy, as new aspects of technological literacy emerge, can be confounding. For example, Educause’s National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology found that technology makes students more productive, helps them feel connected, and can create a more immersive, engaging, and relevant experience (Dahlstrom, 2011). Without proper support, such research results such can seem like expectations that pressure instructors, many without access to appropriate resources, to bridge the gap between students’ constantly shifting literacies and what writing courses can account for and integrate. Further, most discussions of cell phones in education—critical analysis of how cell phones are fostering new literacy practices—has arrived from other, related fields.