OhMann The Pressure’s On!

Kathleen Blake Yancey comes to us with what seems like a magnificent step forward in writing – the general public is writing of their own volition outside of the classroom, completely unprompted (pun intended) by English teachers.

4558046In fact, Yancey points out that people have chosen “a rhetorical situation, a purpose, a potentially worldwide audience, a choice of technology and medium – and they write” (302). This sounds like a marvelous accomplishment for writing, but Ohmann points out, in a more recent article, that there is a lot of baggage that comes along with this. Namely, Ohmann is concerned that through the marketing of computers and microcomputers, we are essentially being led in our literacy by corporations and political interest. Of course, I believe we all acknowledge that there are always outside influences going into the shaping of literacies in our world, but Ohmann points out that in classrooms, microcomputers are used for little more than a medium to construct texts, and a storage place for files.

Now, I believe it is up to us to bridge the gap between writing in a personal, self-chosen place, and the writing we see and strive for in the classroom. To its credit, the CCCC’s position statement on Technology has asked that classrooms with technology “provide students with opportunities to apply digital technologies to solve substantial problems common to the academic, professional, civic, and/or personal realm of their lives,” but simply stating this isn’t enough. How do we get students to utilize good Habits of Mind (please scroll if opened) outside of the classroom and think critically about all (realistically most) texts that they create? According to a survey conducted by Jeff Grabill (2010), students held the perception that writing done socially or for personal fulfillment is not valuable outside of its specific realm of personal gratification. I believe that we need to find a way to get students to see social media, blogging, and perhaps even texting, as something that is not only valuable for their own development, but also can have repercussions for the world. I recognize that this is a large problem to tackle, and know it will be a process to complete. Ideally, we as instructors must start to show the intellectual potential of technology platforms in our classrooms, while also remembering to draw attention to the biases and money-driven goals surrounding those platforms (a la Ohmann).

So now I pose some questions to all of you (I have opinions and at least somewhat formed answers to these, but for the sake of conversation I’d rather hear your thoughts):

  • How do we incorporate social media based writing in a way that is both productive for our own classroom and will keep students more informed/intellectually engaged outside the classroom?
  • How far should we push students into recognizing the academic and intellectual potential of the writing they do solely for enjoyment?
  • How do we keep Composition relevant without losing the qualities in writing that we aspire to?
  • Everyone talks about writing, but what about reading? How can we facilitate good reading habits of social media, etc? More importantly, do we, as instructors, even know the full scope of what “good reading” looks like for majority of personal writing platforms out there?

14 comments on “OhMann The Pressure’s On!

  1. “…as instructors, even know the full scope of what “good reading” looks like for majority of personal writing platforms out there?

    I think the know when someone does good reading.

    We can see it when arguments not just based on opinion but with solid evidence to support the opinion. Presidential nominees are all the rage, so I will go with that. Say if the writer was a supporter of Hillary Clinton. One could make a meme with facts such as: http://www.thefederalistpapers.org/us/meme-nails-how-badly-hillary-clinton-has-flip-flopped

    This demonstrates the reading research that could go into a defense.

    • I’m not sure I know good reading when I see good reading, haha. I have a hard time assessing reading ability, just because I have a hard time defining what I mean by “good.” And then my version of “good” might not line up with other instructor’s or student’s notions of “good,” causing a whole mess of confusion and conflicting expectations.

      I wouldn’t feel confident pinpointing what good reading looks like with new media because I don’t even feel very confident defining what good reading is when it comes to traditional texts. I think I can make a positive judgement call or be able to evaluate if a student effectively locates, defines, analyzes, and applies ideas for something they read.

      Perhaps it’s just “good” that throws me off. I don’t like using that word, mostly because all of my tutoring experiences have taught me not to use it. And this program requires me to be skeptical of these loaded words. In 704 we had a whole damn 3 hour discussion and activity centered on the kerfuffle of defining, explaining, and teaching “good” writing.

      Anywho, I think we can describe what we think of when someone says or calls for “good writing,” but that’s all subjective. I think “what it looks like” varies, depending on the individual using the terms or working within those terms.

  2. Zach, I’ve considered using social media in the freshman composition classroom. As instructors, we’ve been taught to make sure that there is a purpose to what we teach and how we teach it. While I think it’s definitely possible for us to use social media in the classroom, we should incorporate Facebook, Twitter, or even Snapchat in such a way that what students learn about and practice in class mimics what they normally do in outside the classroom. I’m sure social media can be used as a platform to practice posting content that addresses a rhetorical situation. In terms of reading, as a class I think students should look at the comments in posts that deal with a trending topic on Facebook to see what people are rhetorically doing. Note, however, that I’m suggesting a larger quantity of smaller, lower stakes activities using the Facebook. I’m uneasy about using social media for something that is high-stakes, honestly. If students associate their normal out-of-school activities with something that has harsher consequences, their ability to genuinely enjoy and engage with the activity and to have a lived experience in the classroom with what they already regularly do and learn something meaningful from it would diminish. After all, Facebook can be just a smaller scaffold for a bigger, higher-stakes assignment involving writing for a rhetorical situation.

    • Michelle,

      I won’t be able to speak to the results for a couple of weeks, as the assignment is not due until next week, but my 214 class is currently working on a rhetorical analysis paper that incorporates Twitter.

      Basically, I’ve asked students to find a scholarly article about a pressing issue in their major or potential future career, as well as find 5 Tweets that also circle that issue. In their paper, they perform a rhetorical analysis on the scholarly work as well as the Tweets, and conclude with an analysis of audience between the Tweets and the article – whether or not there is audience overlap, or if Twitter’s opinion on their subject exists in a different social sphere than that of the articles intended audience.

      To be honest, using Facebook scares me more than Twitter – but I’m open to some ideas for assignments. This is the first paper I’ve assigned where Tweets play a more academic role, and is the highest stakes paper I’ve assigned that relies on Social Media – but it’s a type of assignment I want to experiment more with in my future classes. I’d be interested in hearing more ideas from you.

      • A very interesting assignment! Let me know how it unfolds. You are using elements from Twitter – 5 tweets – to incorporate into an academic paper. I think this is the right approach, because asking them to produce an academic paper exclusively on Twitter, made up only of tweets, would be far too chaotic. As far a Facebook: you could try a similar approach. More thoughts in my response to your post…

      • Zach,

        Let me know how this goes when the assignment is over and done with! I think this is a great way to incorporate rhetoric and new media into the classroom and am curious about its effectiveness. I would be curious how the assignment would work with Facebook too, looking up posts with various hashtags to find ones related to a subject, though those posts might be significantly longer than a tweet and thusly take much longer to rhetorically analyze. I am also curious how you introduced rhetoric in the classroom since it is such a point of interest to me (and I have found that students sometimes have trouble with the complex wording), I would love to speak to you about it sometime.

  3. I think it’s imperative to distinguish between a finished product (e.g. and academic paper to be submitted for grading) and the tools that can be used to produce such a paper (e.g. computer, paper, supporting sources, word processing software, class discussion, peer review, social media platforms…)

    So, Social Media Platforms – are they a tool for writing or are they the finished product? Perhaps a rhetorical answer would be that they are both. You post something on your Facebook Timeline and it is published, finished and ready for the consumption of your audience. Facebook can be used for personal reasons, but also for marketing reasons, political ones, and I don’t see why it shouldn’t be used for academic purposes (mind you, this statement is coming from the person who rebelled against and completely rejected Facebook for ten years). So, yes, As a tool or stepping stone or scaffold, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat can and should be used as tools for instruction – why not? They are available, they are free, and they are ubiquitous (at this time). Students should be rhetorically aware of the technology the use, as well as the writing and reading that they do.

    Now, I would not assign my students to post their paper up on Facebook (unless they want to share their finished product with their list). What I am saying is that an assignment that incorporates Facebook is not an assignment that would be submitted or delivered to Facebook. This is where the lines would cross, I think. I am grading the paper, not Facebook; I am the one who designed the assignment, not Facebook; so I see Facebook as a complement or supplement of the student’s project and not as the platform for a finished product. That finished product should be submitted in hard copy or e-Copy but in a common space that belongs only to the student, the teacher and their classroom (e.g. iLearn, Blackboard) – not the rest of the world.

    We as teachers design our courses and we draw from many resources – other teachers, our own teachers in grad school, all the thousands of readings we do, feedback we get from others. We have control (as long as we operate under the guidelines of our institution), so we also have control of all the tools and resources that we’ll make available to our students, including the digital and technological ones. Some teachers, like myself, incorporate blogs, ILearn, websites, and audio-visual presentations into our classes; other teachers, like Zach, also invite the Tweets in – I think this is a wonderful use of technology for educational purposes, perhaps not what the Big Tweets intended for their platform (or maybe they did anticipate such a use). Incidentally, I am fascinated by this Twitter thing, and I think I’ll try it in the classroom in my next class (as a low stakes activity as Michelle suggests). I was utterly confused last semester, when Zach shared with me about his Twitter assignments for his 114 class. I guess the confusion is because I never have used Twitter myself; I never used Facebook before either, and I was deadest against it – now I can’t say why. If a new tech appears, I say we use it, milk it for what it’s worth, and why not use it in the classroom if it serves a purpose.

    OK, sorry for all this rambling. I’ll shut up now.

  4. Zach,
    Your first question made me start thinking about how people get into such heated discussions on Facebook and how that could be emulated using a Facebook community for a class. If a theme is created surrounding current events it could generate some interesting discussion. If the students are aware that they can be casual with their responses, especially in language they might be more inclined to engage. this could be generated by having students share posts they find interesting in the Facebook group as well as having the teacher post some interesting things to further prompt engagement. These posts could be articles, memes, or snapshots of conversations (of course there are for more options than listed). I would probably offer this kind of new media as low stakes assignments, though I have seen that backfire first hand, but I fear taking something that students enjoy and ruining it because it becomes work instead of play.
    Further I think we still have to stress the importance of learning different styles of writing. Just as we might speak differently in differernt settings so must we learn to write in the same fashion. I think composition in its academic style is not going away any time soon.
    Man, though reading habits. That is a difficult one, as I have seen my own reading habits plummet insofar as books, but skyrocket for my reading articles and other internet based writings like Cracked.com. With the reading habits of New Media, I wonder how to effectively build reading habits for books and similar old media. Instant gratification is hard thing to combat with the accessibility of technology. Maybe the important thing is that they are reading in the first place, but then that seems to have difficulty translating to other mediums. I wouldn’t really know where to start with figuring out how to create good reading habits with many forms of new media or how to create that habit. Maybe an assignment looking into what students are reading on their walls or on Instagram and seeing the worth of those different interactions, but now I feel like I am rambling.

    • Regarding your last comment about reading habits – I have the same questions. However, I think you provided a potential answer earlier in your post. I think when it comes to the question of good reading habits and different media usage, we need to keep in mind that everyone is going to have a different learning style and a different preference for how they enjoy experiencing information. As a teacher, I think I would try to just give my students the tools to read many different types of texts in different media rather than master certain forms. I’d like to think that my classroom wouldn’t emphasize “good” or “bad” reading, or superior or inferior texts and media…I think I would just emphasize the importance of reading in the first place, as you said.

  5. “How far should we push students into recognizing the academic and intellectual potential of the writing they do solely for enjoyment?”

    This is a tricky issue. For many students, “the university” or “academia” is simply an oppressive, hierarchical institution that creates a confusing system of hoops and gatekeeping-mechanisms they have to overcome in order to get their degree. For some students, academic work does not always equate to intellectual work, and they don’t necessarily see a connection between their own valued intellect and the type of work they’re required to do in school. (To be honest, there have been many points in my education where I’ve struggled to see the connection.)

    For this reason, I don’t think we should force younger students to intellectualize ALL of their personal writing. I think it’s fantastic to show them the potential and give them the materials to begin thinking about it, but we need to do so with a lot of flexibility. I think we need to encourage this in a gentle way or risk destroying students’ sense of curiosity and ruining their potential for future reflection and meta-cognition.

    We also need to watch out for the issue of sincerity: students can sense when their teachers are using something as a means to an end, and this can easily put a damper on the given activity or lesson. If we’re going to try to get students to intellectualize and academicize (not sure if this was a real word, but now it is) their personal writing, we need to make sure that we are *genuinely* interested in analyzing and critically engaging in the essence of their work itself and that we are not simply using their writing to achieve institutionally-mandated SLOs.

  6. Everyone talks about writing, but what about reading? How can we facilitate good reading habits of social media, etc? More importantly, do we, as instructors, even know the full scope of what “good reading” looks like for majority of personal writing platforms out there?


    An excellent question and one not easily answered. Like most people, when I think of “reading,” I think of the act of sitting in front of words organized in “familiar” forms, typically giant blocks of text across which some meaning is intended to be transmitted. Perhaps a way to facilitate “good reading habits” would be to take a step back and position “reading” as the process of internalizing and interpreting multiple scenarios and texts. We often use the word “read” for social situations and facial expressions, so a pre-existing structure in which we can broaden the definition and conception of “reading” already exists. We do not need to reinvent the wheel, rather take that existing construction and expand it to include other forms of “reading” – and highlight the simultaneous, multi-tiered reading processes that occur in the everyday.

    For instance, when one is having a face-to-face conversation, you are reading faces, reading voices, interpreting the other speaker’s diction, and reading various other cues. If we superimpose this dynamic, contemporaneous “reading process” onto new media, and specifically in regards to your question, social media, suddenly all things become a form of “reading,” and texts take on multiple forms and quite honestly, the writing and reading on social media platforms suddenly become a large conversation to be “read” and assessed by none other than our students.

    There are commonalities in communication across the board that we have internalized, socially, and academically via the institution that we can convey to our students. Many of these commonalities or conventions are centered on habits of mind and SLOs, genre and audience awareness, knowledge of various rhetorical situations, etc. Although we would not be able to address the issue of traditional grammar in quite the same way, we could tie the “lack” of grammar to larger compositional imperatives that involve specific decisions involving say, concision, based on a younger, perhaps less attentive or focused audience, as well as the constraints of the form itself (140 characters). This can also go the other way in that we can include images, film clips, audio clips, etc. and instill or tap into the issue of relevancy, which is another hallmark of “good writing” and certainly something a “good reader” should be able to notice and grasp.

  7. Sorry to be late to the party. It’s been an eventful and emotionally overwhelming past couple of days, but here I am. Anyway, let’s get straight to these questions.

    Ideally thinking, there are so many ways that I can think of going about it: a community Twitter and/or Instagram that relates to the topics done in class, a community blog like what we have for this class, and even an on-going wiki page for what students have learned so far. Again, I’m speaking from a place of “ideals” here. Just because it sounds like a good idea and that it “might” work, it doesn’t mean it’ll actually work. Like what a good amount of us said already, the students’ own concept between academic writing and social writing is so different because of the rules and limitations that students feel with academic, intellectual writing. But to give some sort of definitive answer to this question, I think the only way is through trial and error. Test it out. Keep what works and scrap what doesn’t.

    To keep the authenticity of their writing done outside of school, I believe that we should be minimalistic in our approaches in pushing them. If we push too hard, we run the risk of either stunting their writing outside of the classroom or ruining the authenticity that they originally had. By minimalistic, I mean that we should acknowledge to them the potential of their writing, offer them assistance if they need help in pursuing it, and wait for them to come to you from there on out. Students need to want it first before anything else.

    In regards to reading the personal writing of students, I believe that we first must also part of the community that the students are writing to. If they’re a Tumblr contributor, you also have to be a Tumblr writer to truly understand it. Again, it’s the concept of keeping things as authentic as possible.

  8. As teachers of heterogeneous classrooms with both digital natives and possible digital immigrants, it is essential for our lessons to be meaningful and academically driven. Before we even attempt to bring social media into our lessons we need to expose ourselves to the media and the ways students use it outside of our classrooms by building rapport and knowing our demographics. It is also essential to have clear guidelines what we expect from students and how the social media is purposeful in executing academic requirements or goals.

    In an English classroom:
    Students can create and develop their own character using a Facebook account.
    Students can demonstrate their knowledge of a character in a text and how they/he/she development throughout the text using a Facebook account, where the events and characteristics have to accurately represent who the character.
    Students can use the academic vocabulary and persuasive genre characteristic of social media forums in which students have to participate providing reasoning, textual evidence and sound claims.

    It is hard to generalize students and their enjoyment of writing. I find that as a secondary teacher most of my students hate it because teachers throughout their experience made it a boring laborious process. Writing is more about the approach and getting students to feel more confident. We want to push them to take position of competency or even “mastery” which that takes time and is done through classroom culture, habits of mind, and the again building rapport. I do not believe that students can be verbally pushed into recognizing academic and intellectual potential of writing. However, through meaningful assignments where students acknowledge and draw clear connections of writing and its application in real world situations students can themselves draw connections and determine importance.

    This is with reading as well. We want our students to read critically. We can tell them that they need to understand bias writing in order to not be consumerist sheep, however we have to have them draw these conclusions on their own. If we create purposeful assignments where students are applying their critical reading skills to independently realize for example that they are being manipulated as a target audience to consume, feel, or behave a certain way, they will take that knowledge and view it as useful. This is something that we cannot push onto students but help them guide and practice this knowledge in order to ideally to feel empowered and a sense of individual responsibility of their learning and application. The best part of teaching is the Ah Ha moment we see on our students faces. When their learning is internalized, applied, and theirs.

  9. How do we incorporate social media based writing in a way that is both productive for our own classroom and will keep students more informed/intellectually engaged outside the classroom?

    SO I have created my own hashtag research projects for students that have turned out awesome, but I am always looking out for new ways teachers are incorporating social media into assignments. This analysis project I stumbled across looks like a really awesome way to integrate social media, writing, rhetoric, research and analysis:

    How far should we push students into recognizing the academic and intellectual potential of the writing they do solely for enjoyment?

    A colleague of mine had students look at the last 10 comments or posts that they had made on facebook. She asked students to pick one that could be turned into a research paper, one that could be turned into a narrative, and one that could be analyzed stylistically and culturally. Then the students had three weeks to turn those posts or comments into the 3 papers. The results were fascinating and largely based on what interested them socially and intellectually.

    How do we keep Composition relevant without losing the qualities in writing that we aspire to?

    I think there is a void between our social media identities and our academic identities when it comes to writing for the different platforms. I think it would be interesting to have students publish their composition and academic works on their personal social media account for an entire semester and reflect on the reactions they get from peers. Then we can enter a conversation with our students about which identity and writing style is more validating.

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