The effects of technology, the internet, and social media on writing and academia is a topic that is widely disputed. In recent years, there has been a lot of negative cultural response to social media use, as older generations of scholars focus on the ways that social media corrupts students’ thought processes and serves as a perpetual distraction. For example, in 2008, Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, stated that technology was responsible for “the slow destruction of the basic unit of human thought–the sentence…because young Americans are doing most of their writing in disjointed prose composed in Internet chat rooms or in cell phone text messages” (Dillon). Even more specifically, a PEW Research Center 2013 report, “The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools,” found that 40% of teachers think that “todays tools make students more likely to ‘use poor spelling and grammar’” (National Writing Project 3). These teachers also rated students very poorly on “reading and digesting long or complicated texts,” which they blamed on “the general cultural emphasis on truncated forms of expression,” such as instant messaging and social media (National Writing Project 2-3) .
In her essay, From Selfies to Self-Representation in Electronically Mediated Reflection, Elizabeth J. Clark also addresses the negative sides to social media, discussing the ways it has affected the rhetoric of the current generation. However, she draws a parallel between the writing students do for class and the content they post on social media: “often, students experience curriculum and produce assignments in the same way they do a selfie: as a single experience disconnected from the whole” (Clark 164). This is one of many wildly important parallels between social media and academia, and yet these parallels are not often enough drawn, among scholars, teachers, or students. Because of this, Clark asks an important question that needs to be answered in pedagogy: “If social media presence involves continually playing into an audience, how then do students understand themselves in a meaningful way?…Where do students engage with meaningful thinking and writing?” (Clark 153).
The critical portrayal of social media, without the addressing its positive aspects and its similarities to crafting academic work, is becoming a somewhat dangerous and unproductive trend, because, “persuading teens to believe digital writing..is a valuable skill that should be practiced is less about the technology and more about the mindset” (Dagostino, Castelli 94). Katie J. Monsour, English Professor at University of Pittsburgh, identified the centrality of Instagram in the identity construction of young writers, saying that it is on Instagram that “students…begin to identify as writers, as their works are instantly published and disseminated to a wide audience for reception” (Monsour 37). This is extremely problematic because “Recent literature supports the direct correlation between student perceptions of themselves as writers and their writing output” (Nobles, Paganucci 18). Therefore, students often being fed the idea that social media is a bad thing, that the writing they do there has no importance, lack authority and confidence in their “diminished” skills as a writer. In fact, students often don’t even think of themselves as writers. The National Commission on Writing discovered in their 2008 survey that, while “most teenagers spend a considerable amount of their life composing texts,…they do not think that a lot of the material they create electronically is real writing” (Lenhart i). And this With the cultural depreciation of the sites on which students are now most commonly forming their identities as writers, comes the lack of students’ belief that what they write has any value. However, And this problem extends even beyond teenagers, well into upper college level students, and yet most research focuses on the negative effects on the younger generation of students, and surveys everyone but the students themselves.
And what is even more important is that there a positive side to students’ almost constant exposure to audience-related content creation, as the development of an important rhetorical skill, that is not often enough discussed. Social media, despite some negative side effects, has a lot of potential to improve student writing, as well. For example, Nobles and Paganucci discovered in their 2015 study that “digital tools positively impact the writing process in three ways: increased feedback, connection to authentic audiences, and opportunities for multimodal composing” (Nobles, Paganucci 17). In light of these ideas, many scholars have shifted their criticisms: the problem then becomes not about how to eliminate the effects of social media, but rather how to harness its tools effectively.
Professor Katie J. Mansour, in her article “In an Insta: Bulding Writers’ Identity Through Instagram,” argues that, in order “to guide students to use social media to create knowledge and shared writing, teachers should use the technologies students have familiarity with and enjoy” (Mansour 37). And while students are highly aware….Elizabeth J Clark added to this idea, suggesting the ways that teachers should use those technologies. She argues that what is needed is a greater incorporation of reflection on how these new discourse communities affect student’s identities, as people and as writers. She makes a call for greater amounts of meaningful self-reflection in the classroom.
Based on these ideas, I developed my project with that exact goal. Through a survey, that I shared with high school and college students on social media, I aimed to get students thinking about their own rhetoric and technology use by asking questions and presenting them with some of the information I found in my research. The purpose in this was not only to collect first hand knowledge on how students felt about their writing and social media interactions, but also to begin to present students with a more realistic, positive view of their online writing platforms, hopefully boosting their opinions of themselves as writers ad closing the disconnect between the content they create in school and the content they create online.
I also aimed to test out the theory that “students could benefit from adding an academic use to a popular platform” (Mansour 37), by creating an instagram page for our class. I attempted to use this Instagram to link all of our final projects, giving them meaning in relation to each other and serving as a platform on which to give each other feedback and reach larger audiences.
Clark, J. Elizabeth. “From Selfies to Self-Representation in Electronically Mediated Reflection.” A Rhetoric of Reflection, edited by Kathleen Blake Yancey, UP of Colorado, 2016, pp. 150-65.
Dagostino, Lorraine, and Christine Casatelli. “Content Creation for a New Generation: A Guide for Digital Writing.” The NERA Journal, vol. 52, no. 1, 2017, pp. 94-105.
Dillon, Sam. “In Test, Few Students Are Proficient Writers.” The New York Times, 3 Apr. 2008. The New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/03/education/03cnd-writing.html. Accessed 19 Mar. 2018.
Mansour, Katie J. “In an Insta: Building Writers’ Identity Through Instagram.” English in Texas, vol. 45, no. 2, Fall-Winter 2015, pp. 36-37.
The National Commission on Writing. Writing, Technology and Teens. By Amanda Lenhart et al., Pew Internet & American Life Project, 24 Apr. 2008.
National Writing Project. The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools. By Kristen Purcell et al., PewResearchCenter, 16 July 2013.
Nobles, Susanne, and Laura Paganucci. “Do Digital Writing Tools Deliver? Student Perceptions of Writing Quality Using Digital Tools and Online Writing Environments.” Computers and Composition, vol. 38, 2015, pp. 16-31. ScienceDirect, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S8755461515000705. Accessed 5 Mar. 2018.
Swales, John. “The Concept of Discourse Community.” Genre Analysis: English in Academic and Research Settings, Cambridge UP, 1990, pp. 21-32.