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Doctoral student links social networking with writing composition

March 04, 2013

In today’s technology driving society, how do we help students bridge the gap between social media and learning in the classroom?

Ryan Shepherd, doctoral student in the Department of English at Arizona State University, is analyzing how we can help students see the connection between writing on social networking platforms and writing in first-year English composition courses.

Shepherd says that in first-year composition courses, students learn skills such as audience awareness, rhetorical awareness and invention. Unconsciously, students are employing these same ideas when posting to platforms such Facebook and Twitter. However, in a study that Shepherd conducted in 2011 of 474 students from various institutions, his findings revealed that students do not see this connection.

“When I started doing this research, I told my students to look at their social profiles as a piece of writing, which I thought would be obvious," he says. "But they didn’t see that it was a composition and that they were making choices when posting photos or text updates.” .

As a prime example, Shepherd asks students to think about who they are friends with on these profiles and what their interests are.

“If you are friends with your mom on Facebook you probably will think twice about posting something inappropriate. Likewise, you won’t post photos that make you look bad because this does not portray a positive image of who you are. That is a very rhetorical move,” he says.  

Once they understand the concept, students must learn to see posting on these profiles in the same way they view writing a class paper. Doing so, Shepherd says, will help them write more effectively and learn to transfer skills. In another example, he says that whether students are filling out a job application or writing a memo for business, they should be using the same skill set.

Shepherd said students were aware of the appropriate language to use when writing a paper versus writing on social media.  

“When you are typing a wall post to your best friend, you may be more lax about spelling errors and using word abbreviations like 'LOL.' When students craft a paper they know that is just not appropriate to do,” Shepherd says.

The next step in Shepherd’s digital research includes individual interviews with students to better understand their point of view on the subject. He hopes that through this he will be able to help students see the overlap and translate their writing abilities.

The Department of English is an academic unit in ASU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.