Effective Online Writing

n this week’s blog I’m supposed to write about teaching writing online. I could regale you with student success stories from my online course. I could point to the ever popular Turn It In, a must-have for the savvy college comp professor on the vigilant trail of plagiarism. Nope. Not gonna do it.

Instead I want to share with you some insightful tips for using social media effectively and watching what you write. Social media is writing online, among a few other things both savory and salacious, but we’re not going there. No no, gentle reader. We’re going to the heart of the pithy post, the terrific Tweet, and the sensational status update: respect for and knowledge of the audience. That, and a bit of fun, after the break.

Journalist, commentator, new media publisher and former member of Second City, David Spark suggests that we can be a lot kinder and gentler to our audience by doing one simple thing: put more content in our content.

From following folks we don’t really know or care about to reTweeting reTweets of reTweets to sharing links without even bothering to read what you shared, we shower our friends lists with all manner of mindless madness. Being a photographer, I find #8 particularly offensive. Before autofocus and the five-point metering system and digital cameras we had an excuse, but now? Seriously folks.

Sharing is not always caring. Sharing in this sense is just following along like rats to a flute. The siren’s call of social media is not telling you to repost that LOLCat that you saw on your sister’s husband’s brother’s son’s MySpace… wait, he still uses MySpace? But I digress. Spark’s message is clear and simple and something old network fogies like your humble author know all too well. The Internet is Forever, and you are what you Tweet.

The message for our students is clear and simple: write with purpose, write with clarity, write with knowledge and understanding of your audience. Throw in a little bit of the funny. But above all, make it relevant and meaningful. Relevancy and meaning are what our students expect from us. The internet should expect no less from them.

And with that, I wish you a happy and healthy Thanksgiving, as well as success on your end of semester papers, finals and projects.

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4 comments on “Effective Online Writing

  1. I enjoyed your post Sabrina. Partly because I’m currently on a Twitter trail with my research project but also because of your witty writing style. If we retweet a retweet of a retweet, but then add a new word, does that make it our own creation? Are we being productive, being creative, when we alter something lightly? Even if we don’t alter it, we really just re-tweet something, doesn’t it take on a new meaning because it came from a different author and hit a different audience? Wouldn’t that mean that even -that- is being productive and creative?

    Sorry for bombarding you with questions. I agree that “sharing is not caring” but have (or will we have) gotten to a place where this is the new production? I think this is a conversation in music and film departments – soon there will be no ideas so we just have to reframe old ones as our own. I think looking at, and articulating, what we count as production versus just “sharing” is an important aspect/conversation in regards to the role of social media both in our classrooms and just in our own lives.

  2. You bring up some great points, Haley. I can’t answer everything but I do want to touch on the conversation vis a vis sound and moving image arts. We’re already seeing great (and admittedly not so great) films and songs finding a second life on YouTube as the mashup of the week. Some of these mashups are insanely brilliant, and do that thing I love so well, juxtapose ideas and turn my brain into knots. The intent is to have fun and play, create witty social commentary and in rare cases, have meaningful impact.

    I know that when I got into filmmaking, it was to have fun and play, but at the time, I would never dream of taking somebody else’s stuff and rebuilding it for my own… not unless my producer told me to! Was that because I didn’t have the tools or I didn’t have the motivation? Let me tell you, if I could have recorded water-cooler chats and after-shoot wrap parties, you know me and my colleagues had the motivation.

    What I’m trying to say is that I believe a bit of juxtaposition and mashup is OK and it is part and parcel of what we do in our chosen art form. AND… isn’t that what a literature review is? Aren’t we just flexing our newly found grad school muscles by mashing up the brilliantly written pundits of our field and putting our own clever spin on what they have to say about comp? If anything, aren’t we just following in the grand tradition of the rhetor and re-envisioning what our foremothers and fathers have passed down?

  3. I liked your post a lot. I had a lot of fun reading because I had to keep guessing what you were going to write about. Normally, that would be annoying but you pulled it off effortlessly. My favorite part about it was that you simplified a touchy subject for students and left the reader with a clear and meaningful message. I share the same views regarding plagiarism but I could never word it as eloquently as you put it.

  4. This is especially hilarious given that I just opened an account at TeachersPayTeachers.com. Blame my father-in-law. But my AP syllabus is there if anyone wants to crib it for their own work (let me know and I’ll send you the link).

    On a more serious note, your quip about “The Internet is Forever” is something I’m trying to hammer home to some of my students right now. I’m not sure they really understand it, because I have a few that have persisted in writing things they really shouldn’t be. When I have attempted (many times) to warn them away from offensive remarks, they tell me that “it is their sincere opinion,” as if that’s what matters, and that my warnings are only a political disagreement, not a) concern for their college and job applications, and b) a challenge to think more deeply and critically about that which they slander. I have a feeling that a few of them are about to get a very heavy does of reality right soon: Their public remarks on their course blogs were mentioned in at least two letters of reference from my colleagues, and very unfavorably. In their cases, the Internet lives forever in the narrowing of their college choices, because nobody wants a student who can’t think critically and advertises this fact on his or her blog.

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