Take a stroll through the campus quad, or even sit down in a college cafeteria. Attend a class at a large university, or maybe even walk through a school’s athletic center. Wherever you are on a college campus, you cannot escape technology. Everywhere you walk you’ll see at least one student on a cellphone, laptop, computer, or tablet. Our generation has been raised through a technological awakening. We have seen some of the largest forms of social media created during our lifetime with Myspace, Facebook, and Twitter. We have transition from flip phones to slide phones to iPhones. We have gone from dial-up to Wi-Fi. Our generation has seen it all. So doesn’t it only make sense to incorporate these technological advances we have grown through over the years into the classroom? Many colleges have made the push to incorporate technology in the curriculum, but as of lately more professors have began to introduce digital writing in their classroom. Let us explore the evidence that supports the uses of digital writing primarily through social media and blogs inside the classroom to benefit the student’s overall learning experience.
With the increasing use of social media across college campuses, many professors are beginning to adapt their curriculums to the expanding innovation. In “Tweet Me A story” a chapter out of the textbook Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning, a journalism professor by the name of Leigh Wright explains how she used social media, primarily Twitter, along with traditional writing to teach her students how to write concisely (Wright “Tweet Me A Story”). As future journalists, Wright’s students need to learn how to write leads, or introductions, for their stories in a concise manner. Wright explains Twitter is a perfect way to practice writing leads because Twitter allows a maximum of 140 characters per tweet. By repeatedly writing leads using twitter, Wright’s students were able to work towards their goal of 20 character leads.
Wright also notes that writing in a social media environment, like Twitter, allows the student to develop a new style and voice, separate from the traditional academic tone they typically write for the classroom. She gives an example of how tones incorporated in digital writing may very between disciplines saying, “a student might experiment with a creative style for an English class but need to develop a more authoritative style for a history or political class. One style does not fit every situation” (Wright “Tweet Me A Story”). Writing in the digital environment allows the student to exercise different voices and styles, diverging from traditional academic styles.
Twitter and other forms of social media provide an online environment that is linked to millions of other individuals. These large-scale interactive sites provide great uses in the classroom setting. As mentioned in in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, “integrating these applications [social media software] into learning and teaching practices has the potential to trigger significant educational innovations as they enable new forms of interactive and collaborative learning” (Abe 16). When you tweet a tweet, it is accessible not only to all of your followers, but also every individual who has a twitter account (assuming your account is public). Now if the tweet is hashtagged, individuals searching that hashtag can find that tweet or any other individuals tweet with the same hashtag. Katrina Gulliver explains how she uses hashtags for academic purposes in her article “10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics”. She created a hashtag of her own on twitter, #twitterstorians. “At first I was just curious to find and connect with other historians. But the hashtag has turned out to be a useful way of marking posts on historical topics and finding colleagues working in the same topic” (Gulliver). Leigh Wright also used a hashtag to facilitate a discussion amongst her students during their live-tweeting scavenger hunt exercise. The students used #wright294 to detail clues and tweet live interviews across campus (Wright “Tweet Me A Story”). The use of hashtags on Twitter can effectively engage not only a discussion between students of the same class, but also between students across the world.
Although not considered to be a type of social media, blogs create an online collaborative environment similar, yet very different to the environment created by Twitter. Instead of 140 character-limited tweets, blogs allow individual to post lengthy, detailed assortments of digital writing that can be found by anyone searching the Internet community. Amanda Hagood and Carmel Price have challenged their students to create course blogs in an effort to expand their student’s writing ability by building a powerful learning community that can be used inside and outside of the classroom. Hagood and Price argue traditional academic writing in the classroom is often only reviewed by the instructor, whereas writing in a class blog allows for peer review and reflection from a much larger audience. “Unlike course journals, blogs provide a means for transforming this scholarly monologue into a dialog through the readership and community of peers and, in some cases, wider audiences” (Wright “Sister Classrooms”). Larger audiences allow for larger feedback, which ultimately improves the author’s writing ability through criticism and advice. Blogs create an extensive collaborative community where readers have the ability to comment their ideas and criticize or even critique the author’s post, essentially providing the author advice through peer review.
In the article Digital Rhetoric: Toward an Integrated Theory, James P. Zappen states that one of the major outcomes of communication in digital spaces is the participation and creative collaboration that serves to build communities of shared interests (Digital Rhetoric 321). Digital writing on social medias and blogs require participation from not only the author, but also the reader, which serves to create an interactive and collaborative community assembled around a common interest. As stated by Zappen, “the formation of communities of shared interest is an outcome of processes of interactions, both online and offline, between ourselves and others” (Digital Rhetoric 323). Observations have also supported the belief that those who are more active online are also more active offline, which strengthens the relation between a community. Applying this to a classroom setting, a group of students who are highly active online, discussing academics through social medias and blogs, will also be more active offline, during classroom discussions or debates. A well-knit group of students that are able to participate in organized classroom discussions should have no problem translating similar discussions into the digital or internet realm, which in turn should improve their overall educational experience.
Here at Dickinson College, some departments are making the push to increase digital writing inside and outside of the classroom. As a biology major, I feel as if the science departments are behind in this digital writing surge. If you look around the biology, chemistry, and physics labs you will see an overwhelming amount of advanced technology used daily in a laboratory setting. Yet the only technology used in lectures is a projector and a computer. So how can the science department catch up in the rise of digital writing that is sweeping through this liberal arts institution?
Similar to our class, Writing In and For Digital Environments, I believe the science departments could benefit from the use of class blogs. I’ll use my Animal Development class as an example and show how the class would benefit from the creation of a blog. Three times a semester our class has journal club, where the professor assigns a scientific article that relates to the concepts we are studying at that time. The students are required to read the article and formulate a question that addresses a topic from the reading that confuses them. The next day in class, students share their question and the class, with the help of the professor, discusses the question and tries to develop an answer. Imagine the class time that would be saved if this journal club were integrated into a class blog. The teacher could post the article on the blog, and each student would follow by posting his or her question to a forum. From there the students would then discuss the questions in the forum, with the help of the professor, eventually agreeing on a unanimous answer.
Let’s stay with the blog idea, but instead of focusing on biology, we will shift to the fields of chemistry and physics. Chemistry and physics classes have potential to incorporate blogs into their curriculum just like biology. There are an outstanding amount of demonstrations in both sciences that are fun and exciting, but also educational at the same time. A professor could assign each student to create his or her own demonstration and post it to the blog. The student would record the demonstration and provide a brief commentary as they go. They would then post the video to the blog and provide a short write-up with the procedure and findings resulting from demonstration. These online demonstrations save students’ time since they are watching, rather than performing, the demos while also giving them the chance to grasp the major concepts and outcomes.
Our generation is beyond any other in our ability to understand and use technology. It is hard to find a student around a college campus who does not know how to use an iPhone or MacBook. Technology surrounds us here at school and professors are beginning to tap into the well of potential we call digital writing. Slowly but surely, professors are realizing the advantages digital writing provide through the use of blending academics and forms of social media and blogs. Incorporating digital writing in a classroom setting benefits the students by giving them a unique educational experience. Times are changing, and there is no escaping technology so do not try and hide from it professors. Help out your students by integrating digital writing into your curriculum.
Abe, Paige, and Nickolas A. Jordan. “Integrating Social Media Into the Classroom Curriculum.” About Campus (2013): 16-20. Print.
Gulliver, Katrina. “10 Commandments of Twitter for Academics.” The Chronicle of Higher Education (2012). Web. 25 Oct. 2014.
Hagood, Amanda, and Carmel Price. “Sister Classrooms.” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning (2013). University of Michigan Press at Michigan Publishing. Web. 31 Oct. 2014.
Wright, Leigh. “Tweet Me A Story.” Web Writing: Why and How for Liberal Arts Teaching and Learning. University of Michigan Press at Michigan Publishing,. Web.
Zappen, James P. “Digital Rhetoric: Toward An Integrated Theory.” Technical Communication Quarterly: 319-25. Web. 31 Oct. 2014.