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What counts as writing?: an examination of students' use of social media platforms as alternative authoring paths

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In this article-style dissertation, I explore how students used digital technologies, specifically three social media platforms, as multimodal writing platforms while creating a digital portfolio in a senior English class.

In this article-style dissertation, I explore how students used digital technologies, specifically three social media platforms, as multimodal writing platforms while creating a digital portfolio in a senior English class. These platforms are 1) Weebly pages: a website building platform, 2) Weebly Blogs: a feature of Weebly, and 3) Instagram: a photo/video sharing application. Under a multiliteracies lens, I examine the changing nature of literacies and the educational practices surrounding learning literacies when mediated through social media.

First, I conducted an analysis of how the students in this class designed their portfolios. This is done through an examination of each students’ Weebly homepage as well as an in-depth analysis two focal students across each of the social media platforms as illustrative cases. Findings show the students designed complex multimodal compositions that would have otherwise not been possible with the more formal, rigid forms of writing typical to this classroom. Implications for this study include embracing alternative authoring paths in classrooms beyond traditional forms of text-based writing to allow for students’ interests to be included through their designs.

I also examined how students used each of the platforms and the pedagogical implications for those uses. I found that students used Instagram to write multimodally, which allowed them to express ideas in non-traditional ways that are often not present in classrooms. Students used Weebly pages to publically showcase their writing, which afforded them an opportunity to extend their writing to a larger audience. Students used Weebly Blogs to communicate informally, which allowed them to reflect on connections to the text. I offer implications for how teachers can use social media in the classroom.

Finally, I outline how Ms. Lee and her students oriented to the value of writing in this unit. Findings indicate that Ms. Lee, like many others, privileged print-based forms of writing, even in a more expansive project like the portfolio unit. The students oriented to this value by predominantly making meaning through textual modes throughout their portfolios. Implications extend to teachers expanding their classroom practices beyond the traditional forms of literacy for which they are trained.

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  • 2017