G.31: Tweeting, Timelines, and Transfer: Opening the Composition Classroom to Students’ Social Media Literacies
Reviewed by Kimberly M. Miller, Grove City College, Grove City, PA (MillerKM@GCC.EDU)
Chair: Christina Armistead, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Speakers: Christina Armistead, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Christine Jeansonne, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, LA
Laura Helen Marks, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA
The use of social media as a means of communication among high school and college students is nothing new. Between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets, the opportunities to connect outside traditional means of communication are practically unlimited. For educators, social media may provide a new opportunity for engagement and continued learning outside the traditional classroom model. The trouble may be, however, that “Educators are wedged into old teaching strategies and are reluctant to change their teaching approaches; hence, (our) students are becoming victims of not being properly educated for the world beyond the classroom” (McMeans, 2015, p. 289). In order to move beyond mere speculation and into purposeful practice, writing instructors need to carefully explore the possible outcomes that can emerge from embracing social media as an educational tool in the classroom.
Professors Christina Armistead, Christine Jeansonne, and Laura Helen Marks tackled this important and timely subject in their CCCCs panel “Tweeting, Timelines, and Transfer: Opening the Composition Classroom to Students’ Social Media Literacies”. In this session, and the lively and informative question and answer discussion that followed, the presenters offered their own experiences as models for using social media to enhance and support classroom lessons. Additionally, the presenters candidly discussed their own failings in these practices, as well as offered ways for other instructors to avoid such pitfalls.
According to Paige Abe and Nickolas A. Jordan (2013), since “a high percentage of students are spending time on social networking sites, college faculty and administrators may benefit from integrating social media into their curriculum to serve as a useful tool to enhance student learning” (p. 16). This suggests that educators should seriously consider this opportunity to increase learning if they haven’t done so already. The trouble is, of course, that with new teaching practices there is a new margin of error, as well as potential downfalls that have yet to be explored. This important conference session elaborated on both the pros and the cons of integrating social media into the composition classroom, and offered practical tips for increasing the effectiveness of these pedagogical practices.
The first speaker in the session, Ph.D. candidate Christine Jeansonne, discussed the necessity for and effectiveness of a teacher’s online commentary. Jeansonne explained that she requires her students to respond via the class wiki page, which she created and maintained, a minimum of three times a semester. Students are required to respond to readings, and respond an additional three times to the comments of other students in the class. Jeansonne indicated that she appreciates social media because it is a controlled space that fosters conversation and furthers classroom practice.
Student comments on social media can serve as an opportunity to increase engagement in the readings as well as foster community among students outside the classroom. Problems occur when comments are not insightful, threads are hijacked, or the online discussion deviates from the original or intended subject. These have all happened at one time or another in Jeansonne’s class wiki.
When the aforementioned problems occur, it is the responsibility of the instructor to nudge students back into the appropriate conversation, and most importantly to stop “trolls” who would undermine the authority of the professor or the respondents. Jeansonne shared examples in her PowerPoint presentation of some of her classes’ conversations and the specific problems that have happened within them. Most importantly, however, she offered numerous solutions to the problems in online conversation, such as hiding comment threads or posts, unfriending “trolls”, blocking those respondents who would cause problems, and determining who has access to specific posts. In the PowerPoint, Jeansonne offered this advice: “You can be an active participant in commenting on your posts and others,” which reminded those attending the session that, as instructors, we should carefully preserve and maintain control over the online conversation.
Finally, Jeansonne found her students appreciated her encouragement and feedback through social media. Through comments on the class wiki, a few students indicated a lack of confidence in their understanding of material, but because of Jeansonne’s responses to their comments, the students appeared to gain a better sense of her expectations and perspective. The challenge in this, however, was that Jeansonne noted some students appeared to see her as an arbiter of the correct answer rather than as a participant in the conversation.
Ultimately, this conversation revealed that social media can be used purposefully in the writing classroom with great effectiveness. According to Abe and Jordan, while there may be perceptions among instructors that social media “has the potential to draw students’ attention away from the lecture content,” it can instead be used to create “new patterns of social encounter” that benefit the students individually and collectively as a more united class (2013, p. 17).
The next speaker was Dr. Laura Helen Marks, whose presentation on Twitter as a rhetorical space, examined another specific angle on the possibilities of using social media in the college classroom. Marks first explored Twitter as a positive space for both students and instructors where all participants have the opportunity to record immediate responses to class material, readings, and discussions. Marks shared that students enjoyed using Twitter because it gave them ownership over their education, as well as a sense of power in the class conversation. As Wayne Journell, Cheryl A. Ayers, and Melissa Walker Beeson noted, “What separates Twitter from other social media applications, such as Facebook, is its hashtag function,” which allows users to distinguish their communication and categorize it, making for easier searches and clarity in this form of communication (2014, p. 64). Additionally, the hashtag allows Twitter users to intentionally pose questions to specific groups of people or to answer questions in a way that can be easily filtered.
While some instructors ban the use of social media or mobile devices in the classroom, there are those who, like Jeansonne and Marks, instead require students to engage a specific number of times via Twitter. Marks noted that for various reasons, she eventually did away with this requirement. She defined the Twitter assignment thoroughly on her syllabus, indicating that students would be required to tweet at least three times a week. Students who chose not to adhere to this requirement could, instead, email their would-be tweets to Marks to meet that requirement; however, no students chose to take the alternative assignment.
Marks observed that while some students took the assignment as an opportunity to share information unrelated to class, most stayed on task and understood that many elements of life also related to the core content of her course, which considered gender and sexuality issues. Marks shared one tweet in her PowerPoint presentation about a video game where a student indicated she or he had broken a gender norm barrier, thus revealing one way that a real-life experience supported learning gleaned from the classroom, readings and discussions. This reveals just one of the many potential benefits of using Twitter in the classroom. Journell, Ayers, and Beeson point out that “Twitter may actually invite more student communication than a traditional face-to-face discussion, despite being limited to 140 characters in tweets” (2014, p. 65). This statement appears to be true in light of the experiences of both Marks and Jeansonne.
Finally, Marks cautioned those in attendance regarding one of her own issues with using social media, calling its use a “lesson in boundaries.” Marks shared that while she enjoys the constant communication that is fostered by using social media, it can sometimes be difficult to know when to turn it off. She indicated that those who intended to use social media in their classrooms would be wise to set up parameters around their personal time so they do not feel obligated to constantly be available to students. Additionally, once Twitter was established as a viable means of communication for the class, Marks noted that students independently moved beyond the class requirements for Twitter engagement, minimizing her need to constantly monitor their online interactions.
The last presentation was given by Christina Armistead, who connected Facebook posts to peer reviewing. Her presentation related two seemingly unrelated subjects by displaying their unexpected connections. Armistead studied a group of first-year composition students in an effort to discover the perceptions students have about peer reviewing, as well as their goals when engaging in the practice of reviewing others’ work. While most students were unsettled in some way about giving peer review feedback, this meant that these students also acknowledged that they were careful about the feedback they shared and the manner in which they shared it. One student participant even said they felt like a merciless executioner when giving peer feedback, a point that may have shocked some audience members for its passion; this theme of the fear of giving peer feedback continued well into Armistead’s presentation.
Armistead compared the perceptions of feedback given by teachers and students when reviewing classwork. Because teachers are viewed as experts while peers are not, the distinctions in feedback perceptions can be largely based in the confidence and respect the student who is being reviewed has in the peer reviewer. Despite this, Armistead revealed that the tone and quality of the feedback resonates more profoundly in many cases than the perceptions of the reviewer. Armistead noted that because peer-to-peer feedback is reciprocal, instructors can relate the relationship between the one being reviewed and the one doing the reviewing to a Facebook friendship where interactions are reciprocal and the “environment encourages displays of social solidarity and support.”
Because the students involved in Armistead’s study were sensitive to their peers’ and their own perceptions of the feedback, she offered numerous methods used by these students to encourage the writers under review. The main idea for these students was to be purposeful in offering criticism as well as or in addition to positive reinforcement. Armistead argued that the use of social media, such as Facebook, can foster and encourage positive reinforcement to counterbalance the sometimes necessary critiques that will help student writers improve their work. One student noted, “When I receive a paper that has only negative comments, it makes me want to throw the essay away and just start over… the best reviewer is one that has a good mix of what the author did right and wrong, and thoroughly explains the comments made in the paper.” This student was aware that their feedback can have a significant impact on the writer, and was something that the reviewer took seriously.
Armistead’s connections were helpful to those instructors who wrestle with the idea of peer reviewing as a worthwhile practice by offering insights into this practice’s perks and shortcomings. For students, the connection of peer reviewing to Facebook commenting is equally helpful, as their fluency in using social media makes for an easy transition to use the same skills and perceptions of commenting in their peer review work. The issue of peer reviewing can be troubling, as one student noted, “Peer review is a very hard thing for me to do. The whole idea is to look at the paper and to see what doesn't fit. However,I don't like telling people that they're wrong in their papers, because I hate being told that I'm wrong.” A benefit of Armistead’s presentation is that she offered relevant and useful ways an instructor can connect something with which the students are already familiar in using social media formats such as Facebook to make their understanding and implementation of peer reviewing more effective and beneficial.
Following the presentation, the question and answer session yielded further insight. One of the highlights of this conversation was that it is good for instructors to maintain a sense of humor when using Twitter, with Marks noting that she even will use #popquiz to make sure students are staying on task. Additionally, she indicated that an instructor can choose to maintain a separate Twitter page for more social interactions that are outside the class content. One presenter noted that it is important for instructors to note boundaries in social media, while another reminded attendees to maintain your authority when using social media with students. Failing to do so can cause untold problems in and out of the classroom.
Although some may argue that school should be a place for students to “unplug and just be present,” (Leicht & Goble, 2014) the reality is that students also need to learn how to use all of the new and exciting technology to their career advantage. And, what better place to do that than at school; and further still, who better to teach them than those who understand the foundational elements of communication?
Finally, an important take-away from this presentation was that each instructor needs to carefully consider what goals and plans they have for a particular class, and whether Twitter, Facebook, or other forms of social media can help support and enhance those goals.
Abe, Paige, & Jordan, Nickolas A. (2013). Integrating social media into the classroom curriculum. About Campus, 18, 16–20. doi: 10.1002/abc.21107
Journell, Wayne, Ayers, Cheryl A., & Beeson, Melissa Walker. (2014). Tweeting in the classroom. Phi Delta Kappan, 95(5), 63-67.
Leicht, Gail, & Goble, Don. (2014, October 1). Should teachers be using social media in the classroom? PBS Newshour. Retrieved April 6, 2015, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/social-media-valuable-tool-teachers/
McMeans, April. (2015). Incorporating social media in the classroom. Education, 135(3), 289–290.