I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Frostburg, Maryland in June for the 29th annual Computers & Writing Conference. One of my favorite sessions was “From Quill to Tweet,” where three professors from Gardner-Webb University discussed 600 years of literacy.
Following medievalist David Parker’s discussion of commonplace books in Tudor London and English professor Shana Hartman’s description of an activity where her students create physical daybooks, Rhet/Comp scholar Jennifer Buckner presented her work on the materiality of tweeting.
Buckner emphasized the significance of the situated use of digital tools, arguing that the way we think and talk about digital tools influences the ways in which we use the tool. She then reviewed several academic journals to explore the discourse around Twitter in the field of composition studies. She found a few interesting things: first, most journals group multiple social media tools together under blanket terms like “social media” or “web 2.0 technologies,” which implies that distinct tools contain similar materiality. She also found that most composition scholarship advocated for the use of Twitter in the classroom but did not present empirical evidence as support. Scholarship outside of the field of composition offers more empirical studies, and many of the articles describe Twitter as a distraction that negatively influences teaching and learning.
The take-away is that we must do more than simply advocate for social media in the classroom because social media tools are popular and available; we need empirical research to support our claims and we need to remember that our use of social media tools in the classroom influences the discourse around it both within and outside of the classroom.