Facebook? Why not Reddit?

Please excuse my lame attempt to connect this blog to the Zoidberg meme.

Social media are spaces in which people can connect with others online or in some technological medium.  Today, many academic discussions about social media seem to gravitate towards MySpace, Facebook, and Twitter.  Will Richardson, the author of Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, discusses two ways in which users use social media: “friendship-based” and “interest-based” (131).  Friendship-based is pretty straightforward; people engage in social media to stay in contact with people they met, and use platforms like Facebook to communicate with others.  Friendship-based social media usually relies on profile pages that display one’s identity and a group of friends to begin with.  Richardson also argues that Facebook also helps users form groups or other social networks based on interests.  This leads to individuals learning through a self-build network created by connections with other people.  Furthermore, Richardson’s definition of interest-based learning applies more to a newer website that’s on the rise: Reddit.com.

Reddit, as many people already know, is a social networking and micro-blogging site in which users can submit content and others comment on it.  Redditors (users of Reddit) can either “upvote” or “downvote” content, which generates a quantitative score for that post.  The more points a post has, the more popular the post is.  The posts with the highest amount of points go on what Michael Wesch (who I’ll discuss shortly) would call the “front page” (a term he used to describe YouTube’s most popular video sites).  Furthermore, comments can also be upvoted or downvoted; thus, users can view the most popular response to a post.

However, despite Reddit’s obvious connections to social media, I have not seen many scholars discuss the pedagogical implications of Reddit, even though it has been increasing in popularity over the past few years.  Furthermore, based on Michael Wesch’s and Danah Boyd’s discussion of social media, Reddit can serve as a useful tool to illustrate participatory, connective learning through social media.

Wesch’s talk, an Anthropological Introduction to YouTube, details how YouTube has become a site for users to distribute user-generated content, engage in discussions regarding various topics, and experiment with identity.  YouTube is a site of participatory remixes and remakes, that often go viral, and the recreated content serves as a celebration of this process.  Reddit is no different.  Aside from having a similar front page display on the home page, Redditors often post viral content (including pictures, .gifs, videos, articles, etc.) that get reposted and re-commented on frequently.  Furthermore, similar to YouTube, these users are usually not friends commenting on friends’ content, but rather strangers of an “invisible audience” (Boyd 120).  In other words, Redditors post for the public, and the public responds to the post.  This allows for what Boyd would call a “networked public”.  Boyd defines the networked public as a space for persistence in asynchronous communication, searchability for certain content, replicability of original content, and as already stated, the invisible audience.  For Boyd, social media is a site where all people from all space and all time can connect.   Reddit fits all of these characteristics.

Furthermore (and perhaps more interesting for scholars of social media,) Reddit is divided into what Redditors call “subreddits,” in which the content is categorized based on interest.  Redditors can find a subreddit for almost anything: gaming, sports, politics, culture, and more.  Each Redditor also has its own front page complete with the most popular posts.  (I should note that Redditors can friend other Redditors for easier access to postings and comments by their friends.)  Thus, Reddit’s community organizes itself into different categoriesThese sub-communities display a shared understanding that is mediated by its users, and defined by the types of discussions and content present within the subreddit.  I think this is what’s at the heart of Richardson’s excitement over social media – the ability to form discourse communities with the public.  This is also what Boyd notices in youths’ ❤ for social networks.  Boyd recognizes that youth desire to participate in a system with common understandings, interaction with other members, and discoursing in a mediated public (125).  Furthermore, the more interesting part of these interactions is that a Redditor’s identity is based more on the comments they make on a post, rather than a profile page with an image that constructs their identity.  A person’s wit, humor, intellect, etc. is the first impression.

The main question that I’m left with after this short discussion is why isn’t Reddit talked about like Facebook or Twitter?  I understand that Reddit is newer than these mediums and often has more viral content (like cute cat pictures).  However, Reddit is arguably a stronger example of how people write anonymously for the public, and create discussions based more on interest than friendship than other forms of social media.  Furthermore, I also wonder how composition instructors can incorporate Reddit into the classroom.  My initial reaction would be to tell students to find a topic that interests them on Reddit, and respond/engage in a conversation with the public, and see where that takes them.  Students can also create their own post on an academic subreddit, and see how the public responds to their content and ideas. I feel like there are a lot of possibilities, and interested to hear how other people may approach using this in the classroom.

What do you guys think?  I know I did not cover everything that can be said, but I’m also trying not to go overboard here.  🙂

Using New Literacies as Quick Fixes: Blog it! Wiki it!

I feel that blogs have become the Band-Aid to the myriad of problems in freshman composition. Students not motivated? Use blogs! Students not grasping audience? Use blogs! Students not interested in what you’re assigning them? Use blogs! Because of this reliance and potential over enthusiasm for blogs, I myself have grown skeptical.

I valued Richardson’s (2010) detailed explanation of Blogs in the classroom because he’s right – blogs can be very powerful when used in the right way. As a new teacher, I find myself struggling to have students write for authentic and real audiences, besides myself. Writing individual papers only aimed at me makes them both boring and stagnant. Blogs seem like a good alternative.

If we use blogs, though, like any type of new literacy, we, as instructors, have to be careful about how we introduce it in the classroom. Benson & Reyman’s (2009) exploration of blogs in the classroom showed me the many pitfalls of using blogs. I think one of the best reasons to use blogs is because of its direct connection to audience. As Richardson comments, “the relevance of student work no longer ends at the classroom door” (27). Students are no longer just writing for each other and the teacher – the audience is now potentially the whole Internet world. With this larger audience comes a new responsibility for students. Their writing now has both purpose (since it’s actually being read) and responsibility (if people are going to read it, I should try). Blogs work for the type of meaningful writing we want students to do and for the way we want them to approach, anticipate, and write for an audience. However, as Benson & Reyman (2009) comment, “understanding of audience does not necessarily lead to a strong sense of the potential consequences for their public writing” (16).  I’ve been a part of many class blogs, have created my own class blog, and have worked with students on their blogs here at SF State. They all have very few hits. My own blog has had 156 visitors from the US and 21 from Russia and then 20 from Latvia. I would say my blog is pretty representative of the kinds of blogs that students will write. I didn’t do much connective writing, so maybe that had an effective on views to my site. However, when I Google some terms I talked about like race, class, gender, my blog does come.

The point of this example is to show that, really, people are not reading my blog.

Students in the Benson & Reyman class discussed how they really felt that they could say anything they wanted to on a blog because they “had a perceived sense of a private, exclusive audience when writing to the class blogs” (18). While the potential audience is potentially massive, the actual audience seems to be fairly small for these blogs. And the students perceive that, negating the value of writing for an audience that blogs encourage.

If students don’t think anyone read the blogs, are we promoting audience awareness? Or are we just assuming there is a wider audience and turning a blind eye?

Because of my jaded view of blogs, I was intrigued by the discussion of Wikis. My knowledge of Wikipedia was cursory before these readings. I use it all the time and I frequently encourage students to do so as well, but I didn’t get how it works. I believe writing can be powerful when it is a collaborative, social, and constantly in flux. So, in other words, when it mirrors Wikipedia. Students who “purposeful[ly] work [at] negotiating and creating truth” understand that their writing has to be valued to be kept on the Wiki – it has to have purpose, be articulate, add something to the conversation, synthesize material (57). In essence, what some of the core values of freshman composition are.

I am intrigued by the idea of having students work on creating a document together. This could be revising and reworking our notions of genre through the semester, or adding to a list on good thesis statements. Either way having a place where everyone can add, and everyone has agency to change, what we are discussing. iLearn has a pretty user friendly version of Wiki’s built in and I’m trying this out next week in my class.

If Compositionists have been so struck by blogs why have Wikis been given the wayside? Blogs provide a platform to publish and write to an (imagined) audience. Wikis also provide a platform to write to an imagined audience but also encourage collective revision.

I think part of it is our reluctance to let go of authorship in the classroom. Blogs maintain this because each student writes their own blogs. With wikis, collaborative writing and learning takes place meaningfully and thoughtfully. While we can track who adds what, the goal of the Wiki is for information to be revised and rethought together, not for everyone to have their own independent voice. As Hunter (2011) suggests in his study of World of Warcraft Wikis, wikis both “erase a sense of authorship” (45) and “individual contributions are deemphasized” (54). This is very interesting to our notions of how we teach writing in the classroom: as a very individualized, independent, and frequently isolated activity.

            Wikipedia has always been scorned in the classroom for its unreliability. But more people have access to making it reliable than something written by one person from the The Times or Wired. I think part of our hesitancy with Wikis is the lack of authority, specifically in regards to assessment. We typically assign each student a prompt, to be completed independently. When we assess, through feedback and/or a grade, we are responding to that specific student. We know they wrote the essay. With Wiki’s then, this individual writer becomes problematize. How do I evaluate a Wiki that every one adds to? What about individual grades? What if nobody adds anything to the Wiki because it is already pretty good? I foresee problems arising when students post something in a wiki because they have to, not because it furthers the discussion. With these questions aside, I do think that Wiki’s add a new dimension to the classroom that values collaboration and revision.

As I hop off the blog bandwagon, I hop on the Wiki bandwagon. Students don’t collaborate? Wiki it! Students don’t see their revisions as purposeful? Wiki it! Students aren’t grasping the exigency of writing? Wiki it!

Greased Pig: Nailing our role as FYC instructors

Just when I think I have a grasp on what the role of the composition instructor is supposed to be, a new comment, article, blog posting, book chapter acts as a beckoning finger, a mental hyperlink meant to lure me from the comfort and safety of my own home page of understanding.

Richardson suggests that it is our job to teach safety and accountability to our students as we shepherd them through making educational use of participatory media. Sure, why not? If our main focus as FYC instructors is on not only writing, but also on improving the overall literacy of our students then making students aware of the effects of their own participation as well as the participation of others is absolutely a part of that.  In some ways we are just being asked to modify or expand upon pre-existing lessons on topics such as plagiarism, audience, voice, etc.

Richardson oversimplifies the divide between the techno-savviness of educators and their students — certainly how much divide can there really be between a 23 year old and the 18 year old high school seniors she is teaching?  And there do exist seven year olds who have never set a finger on an iPod or visited a website.  We must be careful to avoid ageist generalizations on both ends and keep our focus on which literacies are most relevant and how we can obtain or maintain our own relevance as educators.

But truly, does reporting from a camera phone or to a blog equate news that is anymore “true” or educational than the news that used to come through the phone tree of the community busy body? Even in the days before computers people who were socially literate knew that information from a known gossip could not necessarily be counted on, but should be questioned and examined in light of the possible motives behind passing on the information. I do buy, at some level that amateur reporting is in many ways more truthful, and less tainted with motive, than conventional reporting but I’m not exactly sure that the critical muscle to examine such things is so vastly different than those which we have been using all along. Teaching the type of examination necessary to determine what sources are and are not reliable really falls under the critical thinking umbrella (which we are asked to touch on in our teaching as well).

If we are meant to teach FYC students to be socially literate critical thinkers as well as readers, writers, editors, collaborators, publishers, reporters, viewers, designers, activists and composers, then that drastically changes our identity as a discipline and the things we need to know in order to be effective composition instructors. For me the challenge is exciting, and I am always open to reinterpreting my role. My partner teaches seventh grade Spanish and, several years ago was having behavior issues with many of her students. At that time I asked her, “What is the most important thing you can teach them in your class?” It wasn’t much having to do with learning Spanish – they could pick that back up freshman year of high school and be right back on track – it was more having to do with being a respectful class member, figuring out what the boundaries were in a junior high environment, etc. Once she let go of the fantasy that she alone was going to imbue them with the music of the Spanish language, she was able to relax and understand that her class, much like FYC is about exposure, not mastery.

imMEDIAcy and reMEDIAtion

Will Richardson draws our attention to several new forms of literacy and composition that are changing the way the world communicates, composes, and consumes information. The proliferation of accessible avenues for the immediate production, dissemination, and consumption of information – information here is used in the broadest sense, comprising facts, opinions, thoughts, feelings, interpretations, impressions, visions, rants, poems, songs, movies, videos, photo- and video- journalism…and the list goes on – has changed the face, indeed the foundation and material makeup of what we have come to know as “the media.” The fourteen year-old two houses down could easily be engaged in investigative journalism, capturing snippets of life that Geraldo Rivera would give his eye teeth for. But unlike Geraldo, the neighborhood youth needs no camera crew, make-up team, or catering service; he needs only his camera-phone, a reasonably up-to-date computer, and the urge to tell a story. The now almost ubiquitous ease of access to instant publication constitutes a reconstitution of the media, a reMEDIAtion. The fourteen year-old boy two houses down IS “the media.”

There is a long-standing credo (though by some estimates it is no longer standing strong) among journalists that dictates accuracy and responsibility in reporting. To safeguard the integrity of the information that is produced for public consumption, journalists have long been supported by teams of editors and fact-checkers who strive, ostensibly, to verify the veracity and uphold the integrity of the writing that is distributed to the public. The girl-with-the-cellphone-camera-two-houses-down likely has no eager collegiate intern to uncover the errata in her reporting. The girl-next-door-cum-investigator-reporter-editor-anchorperson must rely on her own skills to ensure, if she is so inclined, that what she is offering up for pubic cyberconsumption is true and accurate. Where does she learn these skills?

Richardson tells us that, as composition instructors, it is our duty to “prepare our students to become not only readers and writers, but editors and collaborators and publishers as well” (5). Inherent in this toolbox of skills is knowledge and appreciation of (or, perhaps, reverence for) responsible and socially-conscious citizenship. Is this too much to ask of the step- (bastard-?) child of the English department? Composition as a discipline was born of the perceived need of immediate remediation in 19th C. Harvard students. It now appears the domain of Composition to respond to and take responsibility for the imMEDIAcy of modern communication and its pursuant reMEDIAtion. I think we might need some help.