Session J.11: What’s Social Media Got to Do With It? Students’ Social Media Writing in and across Contexts


Presenters: Merideth Garcia (University of Wisconsin-La Crosse), Anna Knutson (East Tennessee State University), and Aubrey Schiavone (University of Denver)

Respondent: Stacey Pigg (North Carolina State University)

This panel explored how students engage with social media in academic, professional, and personal contexts. In addition to looking across these different contexts, each presenter discussed students with different academic and professional experiences, with a focus on high school students who had entered college (Garcia), first-generation college students in the workplace (Schiavone), and feminist college students (Knutson). The respondent, Stacey Pigg, provided connections she saw between these three presentations. As someone who uses social media for personal, professional, and pedagogical purposes, and as a scholar who studies digital forms of social media, I found value in this session because it provided new ways to consider both social media writers and contexts.

Opening Reflection

At the beginning of the panel, audience members received a set of five questions about perceptions of students’ social media uses as rhetorical and their own social media practices. After five minutes of reflecting in writing, audience members shared their responses with one another, which we then briefly discussed as a group before moving to the first presenter.

Merideth Garcia, “High School students Crafting and Coordinating Ethos Across Contexts”

In the first presentation, Garcia discussed how students in eleventh grade classrooms utilized networked devices to create connections and engage in multiple ethos performances. Students in her study expressed different views of social media: some deemed it a distraction, some saw it as a way to empower themselves and be more informed, and others considered how they created identities in social media spaces. She observed that students tended to respond to their mothers promptly in texts or on social media but not their cousins and friends, a factor she argues is dependent on both a sense of urgency and upon the student’s relationship with the texter.

Across her four case studies, Garcia found that social media habits shifted as these eleventh-grade students moved on to university and developed professional identities for their jobs or internships. One used Instagram to engage in fan culture but had to expand her repertoire of platforms to include Facebook and Twitter when she became the social media coordinator for a non-profit organization. Another student, an African American female, often sent daily snaps to her mother through Snapchat but over time stopped using social media entirely with the exception of Black Twitter. The third student described herself as being anxious without her phone and used food blogs to connect after moving away to a small liberal arts college. The fourth and final student, an immigrant, used Facebook to communicate with her family.

These case studies also raise ethical questions, particularly in terms of algorithms, and in terms of the lasting duration of posts, which, even if deleted, can be preserved through screenshots and persist.

Aubrey Schiavone, “First-Generation College Students’ writing With Digital Media in Workplace Contexts”

Schiavone focused on the strengths, successes, and resources first-generation college students bring to college. Because employment is often a large part of these students’ lives—the students in her study had jobs in high school and continued to work in college—she looked specifically at the sorts of genres that students write in the workplace.

Her methods included surveys, observations, and a set of three interviews: the first asked about the student’s life, the second about their first-year writing contexts, and the third about their writing experiences at home, work, and in extracurricular contexts. Among the 15 students participating in her study, she identified 32 genres of workplace writing. In providing details about two of these students, Schiavone noted that one described his experiences creating content for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat for a non-profit performing arts camp. In doing so, he also identified his consideration of audience, specifically what he wanted them to do, whether that was to participate in the event or add comments to the original post. Similarly, the second student identified both PowerPoints and blog posts in the genres she created, and that in one instance, she used her knowledge of Spanish words to create a PowerPoint for middle school students. In considering her audience, she also chose references to sources they would be familiar with, like the Disney movie Frozen.

Schiavone closed by highlighting several important implications: first, students learn rhetorical strategies in the work place. Second, she advocates for using more multimodality in academic writing and for more professional and civic writing courses. Finally, she recommended positioning academic writing as one kind of writing in the classroom.

Anna V. Knutson, “Feminist College Students’ Writing Across Domains”

In this final presentation, Knutson discussed the challenges of transfer across modes and media. She studied eight feminist college students, each of which she interviewed four times, and collected both academic and non-academic writing samples. To ensure all students were feminists, she limited her participants to those who were actively engaged in a feminist organization. Most students in this study were upper division, but they were from numerous undergraduate majors.

Knutson conceptualized social media writing as it emerged from her study: her definition is grounded in those that participants vocalized. Their definitions included macrobloging platforms (e.g., WordPress) and microblogging platforms (e.g., Twitter and Facebook). In addition to relating social media writing closely to online writing, participants often viewed the practices of reading, remixing, and reblogging as blurring the lines between reading and writing. Her findings revealed that two types of transfer occurred among the students. In the first, inventional transfer, participants drew on content knowledge of feminism to substitute for genre knowledge. In the second, adaptive remediation, participants writing longer genres on social media drew on their knowledge of academic genres to do so. She mentions one participant who had to “go against [English major] instincts” when writing or social media but who realized that the argumentative aspects of academic writing move across contexts. The student specifically mentioned listicles, which included visual elements and felt more intimate than traditional academic writing and that, as a genre, differed from a five-paragraph essay.

Ultimately, Knutson views adaptive remediation as playing a role in the presentation of public, political, and professional selves, but in academic settings, the multimodality of this self-presentation is reduced and the personal is stripped away. In closing, she questioned how remediation and identity relate to multimodality and expressed interest in visible versus invisible transfer.

Stacey Pigg, Respondent

In her response, Pigg pointed out that social media can be a means to an end that fulfills learning outcomes and a place for teaching students about writing. Among the presentations, she identified several connections: first, research shows why positioning classrooms as centers may limit students’ abilities to see current composing practices on social media that are part of the work place; second, social media is integrated into all aspects of our lives; third, we should acknowledge the complexity of social media in the classroom, both in terms of how we position social media and how transfer works.

Reflecting as a Social Media User

Overall, this panel gave me new considerations as both a social media user in multiple capacities and as a social media scholar. As an instructor, I am reminded of the ethical questions Garcia brought up, particularly in terms of essay mills targeting some of my students on social media. Admittedly, the Grammarly ads I constantly see on YouTube also bring those ethics into question.

Yet, I also feel an important takeaway is how social media writing varies between contexts and how we might bring these differences to student’s attention in the classroom, not merely for transfer, but also to benefit the classroom in other ways and to help students connect to social causes. Together, these presentations reaffirm and expand the idea that social media writing can happen anywhere, not just within the classroom; that just because it is a pedagogical tool in one context does not eliminate its communicative aspects in other contexts; and that recognizing those contexts can help raise new pedagogical and ethical implications.

About Author

Amanda May

Amanda is a third year PhD Candidate at Florida State University. When she isn't working on her dissertation about writing centers and social media, she's likely knitting or playing video games, both with the "help" of her cat.

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