Transfer and Social Media

Millersville is bringing Kara Taczak to campus for a discussion during our first Writing Summit event – a half day conference to discuss student writing with disciplinary faculty. While I’m still working on the details of the event (because I have problems with taking over conference events at institutions, obviously), I’ve also been reading up on the work published by our speaker and with transfer.

My primary goal with my transfer reading is social media related. I began using Twitter in grad classes at NAU to foster better discussion and engagement because many view social media tools as tools for communication – but I also cared very deeply about how graduate students experienced education and learning in these courses, how they intend to draw from these experiences and that learning in their future careers (while many are current or future educators, the program drew students with various career aspirations as well!).

I’ve designed and redesigned the twitter assignment in my course to correspond with and supplement reading notes.

Small tangent: I read a blog today that referenced King’s On Writing – specifically mentioning how King views writing as a daily task, and how important reading, a lot, is to writing. The goal is to read everything, every genre you possibly can. This is something I think students misunderstand about college – your professors don’t want you to just read the course materials (although they really really really need you to do that much) they want you to read everything else too! It will help strengthen your reading and writing.

The more I assign and use and engage with twitter, the more helpful I see it can be for reading notes, learning through reading and learning through writing. But, learning through reading and learning through writing need to be discussed and taught first. Up to this point, i’ve focused on digital rhetoric resources for theory support to my pedagogy. But as we began discussing possible guest speakers at the Millersville Writing Summit we focused on Writing Across the Curriculum speakers as most appropriate for a campus-wide audience, so I began reading more WAC theory.

Robertson, Liane, Taczak, Kara, and Yancey, Kathleen Blake. “Notes toward A Theory of Prior Knowledge and Its Role in College Composers’ Transfer of Knowledge and Practice.” Composition Forum, vol 26, 2012.

Robertson et al view transfer as a dynamic activity where students actively use prior knowledge as they complete writing tasks. Important to note is prior knowledge used and applied does not guarantee effective use of transfer practices by students. To address this idea, Robertson et al discuss models of transfer and prior knowledge, building a working model of how people learn and how writing and reading operate within that framework.

Importantly for me, Robertson et al discuss Applebee and Langer’s work on absence of prior knowledge, especially pointing out that high school experiences focused on high-stakes tests often prevent students from understanding writing as a way to construct knowledge. Writing to learn and writing as a mindset would be absent from high-stake test approaches to teaching writing.

Additionally, high school curriculums and these high-stakes tests focus heavily on literature. While literature analysis, and literature in general help students understand how writers reflect the human condition and struggle with culture, they don’t prepare students for non-fiction reading and writing prevalent in college classrooms.

Both of these absences of prior knowledge points struck me as especially relevant to discussions of social media in the classroom.

  1. how do the situations teens experience social media in outside the classroom shape their writing practices? What should that tell digital composition researchers about composing practices?
    1. I’m beginning to read It’s Complicated to understand boyd’s experiences with teens and social media as a beginning to unpacking my own assumptions
  2. While students currently engage with social media, and write through social media, most don’t consciously rhetorically situate their communication with every post made. What assumptions do digital composition researchers make about student familiarity with social media writing as a genre? In digital composition research we’re often looking to social media writing as rhetorically situated, which it is, but if there’s a lack of genre awareness knowledge – as in what genres are and how we write differently to various genres transfer may not be happening the way we expect.
    1. I think this is really interesting for understanding how my own assignment shape student understanding of writing and my expectations for how social media writing as a genre aids rhetorically situated writing transfer. I plan to go through existing literature to investigate this further.
    2. I also plan to ask my students – i’m still developing these tools for Spring courses

I’m excited to explore these new ways of exploring how social media engagement in composition courses can help students develop strong writing knowledge.


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