Upvotes for Good Thesis Statements

In his video, ‘An Anthropologial Introduction to YouTube” Michael Wesch explores the YouTube phenomenon. YouTube is so prevalent  in our culture it’s likened to ‘google’ – it’s avideo uploading site, it’s a social networking site, it’s a comment platform, it’s a verb. I appreciate Wesch’s discussion of the many different roles that YouTube has and the many ways people use it. It’s not only a place to rewatch old 90’s tv shows anymore.

But what about the classroom? Others have asked this question already and I think it’s an important one. During Wesch’s talk, I was keyed into what he terms “user-generated filtering.” This is when websites give the power of promoting or  demoting comments or submissions to the users. Wesbites like Reddit, Digg, and even YouTube, deem what is popular by what their users deem popular. When someone first visits a website they don’t see what the editors think is important, they see what the public has voted is important.

One of out goals in our writing courses is teaching rhetorical awareness and hopefully be able to gauge how to write well in a specific context. Could we use user generated filtering to encourage this? Maybe students’ thesis statements have to get a collective number of upvotes or promotions to be deemed successful. Or maybe students discussion questions would have to get a certain amount of popularity to be used in a discussion. Would this encourage students? Or maybe this would be too harsh for a classroom? I do think there is something cool, as well as productive, about having students deem what is good or bad writing for the classroom.

I had an assignment (which I didn’t end up using) that had students do a rhetorical analysis on a social media website. They would have to discover what type of writing typically occurs on this website, what it’s purpose was (to inform, to share, to entertain) and articulate what made a good or successful post (short? witty? using pictures?). I thought this would get at the same habits of mind that using user generated filtering would – we are responsible for what is successful writing/posting. Further, we always write to an audience and to a reader.

Do we think user-generated filtering would work in a composition course?

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4 comments on “Upvotes for Good Thesis Statements

  1. I think you’re assignment idea is great and I’m wondering what stopped you from using it. I am curious as to how you would scaffold user-generated filtering in composition… what exactly would that look like?

  2. I really dig your idea about having students thesis statements needing enough upvotes to be used or the fact that certain discussion questions need get a certain amount of popularity to be addressed. I think in the right class, this would really take off. Perhaps a class where we’re certain everyone is going to be actively engaged. Or perhaps (since this is a digital literacy class) students can pose questions on a blog or something such as iLearn before a class, and then they can go in a vote for the top five. Might be groovy.
    It sorta makes me wonder about the blogging and the iLearn postings we do. I sometimes can’t help but notice some posts usually get more replies than others. To be honest, I usually end up checking my old posts, both blogs and iLearns, just to see how many replies I get. I wonder if perhaps thats our own little graddy-student way of ‘liking’ a certain post without actually having to come and say we ‘liked’ it. Or even when an instructor say’s in class, “that’s a good question.” I sometimes wish the instructor would say to other questions, “thats an okay question,” or “that question shouldn’t cause me to think too much,” or “this question will spark a discussion,” or “I’ll just respond to be polite.” I could go on and on and on, but I’ll stop right there.
    Bottom line, I think you’re ideas are groovy.

  3. I don’t remember the part about user-generated filtering but I am intrigued by its implications. I agree with you with most if not all the points you brought up. While it would be a fun and interactive way for students to share ideas, there is the risk that it turns into an unforgiving environment for students. The classroom atmosphere might (and hopefully will) keep user comments and content appropriate, but the format is open to abuse.
    And not that this is a particularly serious issue, but it seems like users can be hard to please; only a few of the popular topics tend to get upvotes and the brilliant but less appealing ideas are often left to flounder. There is always content that doesn’t receive the recognition it deserves. But I suppose that rings true for any idea in any medium.
    I think user-generated filtering has plenty of potential but it might be prudent to have the teacher serve as a filter before any material gets posted for the whole class to see. With careful monitoring, I think it would work.

  4. Do we think user-generated filtering would work in a composition course?

    That is the question- whether its our job to subject students to our own notion of good writing, or whether we ask them to define it for themselves…

    I have thought a lot about this! How much, for example, does peer-editing really work? I wonder how effective it is for them to read for what is “good” rather than for what works? Because I think that is what they do… I did this “pop-up project” with my students where I let them just go crazy on a text, free-associating with any words or phrases that stuck out to them for any reason on a text, and they came up with some really interesting insights about experiencing enjoyment vs. tension with the text. On the one hand, I have never seen them this engaged, and it was a total one-off assignment. On the other, though, is it really getting at the kind of thought processes we want them to see that we value? Just how valuable is engagement and enjoyment? Might they end up perpetuating completely different values for quality than I would, and is that such a bad thing?

    I guess at the end of the day, I don’t trust their opinions because I wouldn’t trust my opinion at eighteen. This class is putting me face-to-face with what an agist I am. Maybe it’s time for me to let it all go and give them some real agency…

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