Monday, October 31, 2011

"Cruising" with Facebook/Myspace in the Classroom? Scary!

The article, "Paradox and Promise: MySpace, Facebook, and the Sociopolitics of Social Networking in the Writing Classroom," written by Gina Maranto and Matt Barton has a few good points. They discuss the injustice of the Ohio Education Association, and their effort to control teachers' social networking activities. They discuss the advantages of social networking to establish/create students' identities. The fun word "cruising" is used to create a sense that social networking is a relaxed, chill, harmonious experience for everyone. They acknowledge that misuse of Facebook/Myspace is a no-no, and that impostors have been dealt with. Facebook and Myspace are the new "in," and should be used to teach rhetorical writing, while diligently monitoring students on the websites. Does that sound good?

My problem with this essay, and other essays that promote social networking sites because students are "writing and reading," is that they never dwell on the rhetorical lessons these sites teach. Granted, I think any teacher should be able to have an account for private purposes, but I don't think social networking sites are a good idea in the classroom. Teachers cannot control students on Facebook & Myspace. Are we to spend our waking hours writing: "that's inappropriate," "that's rude," "stop that," "not in my space" etc.? What's the point of Myspace if you aren't really exploring your space in the manner you choose?

I feel this article doesn't accomplish what it set out to do. They definitely promote Facebook and Myspace because of its benefits, but they don't really spend too much time discussing the benefits in relation to rhetorical writing. I think they start the essay well in the beginning:

"Determining whether or how teachers, scholars, and students should use Facebook and MySpace brings up many thorny and difficult issues. This article situates current theoretical, rhetorical, and ethical analyses of social networking sites and explores the implications of bringing (or not bringing) these web sites into the classroom by comparing how students, teachers, and administrators use (and abuse) these spaces. We contend that teachers should not try to colonize these spaces, but rather should enact pedagogical practices and theoretical approaches that employ them as a means of teaching students about identity construction and social networking." (38)

They're not shy - they're definitely in favor of bringing it in the classroom setting. The argument sounds sophisticated as it's phrased in the quote, but I think they spend less time discussing the "rhetorical" aspect than the "theoretical." Isn't the writing the most important consideration when this type of move towards social networking is made? They vaguely mention the different discourse students use on these sites, and the lack of proper grammar being used by students.

I suppose that could be an opportunity to teach students grammar while using Facebook or Myspace, but would they listen when you're not monitoring? Students relish the misuse of words, and the growing number of abbreviations for words and phrases. Those social networking sites are their space to do whatever, so I'm not sure they would like "rules" to be thrown at them. The would feel more constricted with their posts because they would try to avoid making mistakes since the teacher is monitoring. It's the same thing with student papers: they write what they think we want them to write. Not many students are adventurous with their writing, especially high school students, because they are afraid of being "wrong." We would also be robbing them of their creative, social persona if we meddled in that domain. It's difficult to break down the student - teacher barrier in the classroom, how is to be accomplished online? I personally would not like to be the one doing online patrol.

Would students post as much, especially if we force them to interact with each other as "friends?" Maranto and Barton claim that identities are created online. Sure, but are those identities 100% real? People always want to sound and seem awesome. I sometimes don't trust online identities, and for good reason because there are many impostors, as they mention. I don't like the idea of students showcasing their identities in a shared "F & M" classroom space where we'll be "cruisin' along cyberspace getting to know each other and our writing." Don't students deal with enough peer pressure and public censure in school? However, on the flip side, this could have a different effect because students might be more careful if they feel as if they were monitored. Whichever way, I think it would be difficult for the student to become totally comfortable in either situation.

I have one last quote to discuss from the Maranto and Barton article and I will leave it alone.

"High school and underprivileged students may seek membership on Facebook and similar sites for reasons beyond simply wanting to be “cool.” It’s entirely conceivable, for instance, that a high school senior may wish to befriend Facebook users who are currently attending her chosen college, and others might use them to learn how best to prepare themselves for the transition from secondary to higher education. Of course, this “other crowd” might simply want to create their own social networks and enjoy the same benefits enjoyed by the college students, yet our cultural norms still insist that anyone under eighteen years of age is irresponsible and ill-equipped." (41)

Isn't this ridiculous? I felt this was the weakest aspect of their argument, but sadly true. I do believe that if a student was to request someone from the college they wanted to attend, the college student would most likely accept just to increase the number of friends. I have a problem with the word "friend" on Facebook. I am not familiar with Myspace, so I'm not sure if it uses the same word to refer to acquaintances. Facebook has totally abused the word "friend." What does the word mean? Facebook is a way for people, that are acquaintances, to showcase themselves online. Most people you interact with on Facebook is people you are in regular correspondence with via email or phone. Everyone else is either an acquaintance or someone you don't know. Have you ever accepted someone as a friend that you barely knew, or didn't know at all? The list of "friends" can become a bit out of control. The number of friends people typically have are somewhere in the hundreds. Are all those people friends, acquaintances, friends of friends, or unknown people? What about the waiting period before you're accepted as someone's friend? It can be absolute torture! What if someone you don't want to accept request you? It's a gamble with people's emotions and online sanity.

I probably should stop there because I could go on and on about social networking. James Paul Gee's article discussion of "situating meaning" in the "domain" is more insightful than the Maranto and Barton article because he is more specific. The quote below provides a better understanding of possible rhetorical approaches to social networking.

"This issue of networking is deeply consequential for schooling. We have tended to ask very general questions about why some groups of people (e.g., certain minorities and lower socioeconomic groups) tend to do less well in school and to seek very general comparisons and contrasts between “home culture” and “school culture”. The framework I am developing here would suggest that we need also to ask how specific semiotic domains mastered (or not) locally in homes and communities, as well as in peer groups, relate to (or don’t relate to) specific semiotic domains encountered in school (e.g., types of science, art, music, math, etc.) and in society." (Gee 9)

Gee is always writing about the different discourses that is immersed in mainstream schooling. I think it's fascinating that he is sort of attempting a Bartholomew "Study of Error" stunt online. But, this is more specific to the relationship between networking and school. This approach suggests a more thorough research to help students improve in school using the sources available to them. Maranto and Barron might have been suggesting the same thing, but their argument seemed less organized to me. Gee has experience discussing struggles students face from different cultural and racial backgrounds. I don't agree with some of his arguments, but I think he did a better job articulating the kinds of relationships that would benefit students between learning and establishing a "semiotic domain." We could discuss the strengths and weaknesses of both articles in class.

Works Cited

Barton, Matt & Gina Maranto. "Paradox and Promise: MySpace, Facebook, and the Sociopolitics of Social Networking in the Writing Classroom." Computers and Composition 27 (2010) 36–47. Print.

Gee, James Paul. "Learning in Semiotic Domains: A Social and Situated Account." Literacies, Global, and Local. Philadelphia, PA: John Bejamins Publishing Co., 2008. Print.


  1. This might come as a surprise, Alem, but I share your deep-seated skepticism about the value of Facebook for the classroom. Even if we set aside the enormous problems that are created by this hybrid public/private space, I think the "colonization" issue that Barton and Maranto highlight is very important to consider. I've often found myself resistant to many efforts of educators to "bring the outside in" (no offense to Kajder, actually, who I think has a reasonable approach) because this assumes that if students are engaging in activities/literacies outside of the classroom, we as educators should co-opt these and incorporate them into our instruction. In other words, just because students are using Facebook does not mean that we should make facebooking a central pedagogical strategy. Rather, I think we should teach students how to use literate spaces in general, whether they be printed books or twitter feeds. This does not mean that we should "friend" our students and create assignments that force us participate in the same social networks. Instead, I think we need to teach our students, as you suggest Alem, to analyze these rhetorical situations and respond appropriately within those particular textual contexts.

    I am not suggesting, however, that all social networking should be banned from the classroom. In fact, I have been in contact with a teacher who had her students create facebook profiles for literary characters in course texts. Then, the characters interacted within their own imagined network. This strikes me as a reasonable use of Facebook that does not require that the students be exposed to the tagged high school reunion photos of their teacher, for example. This may be fascinating to the student, but what does it accomplish? It may humanize the teacher, but I don't think that this public display of the teacher's private life leads to any real pedagogical benefits.

  2. PART I:
    Alem – Thanks for such a great post with much criticism! I ended up looking at the articles a second time with a completely different approach with the help of your arguments.

    I’ll start off by saying that I am for using social networking sites in education and in the classroom, however I personally don’t know what that “looks like” just yet, nor am I willing to experiment until I see a master teacher’s model on how to make using them effective and meaningful (and hence, a reason why I took this class). I used Facebook in a class I taught last Fall, but it was specifically for the socially networked aspect and not necessarily for teaching…which is what I think we could use more of. I assess my teaching philosophies with an open mind as I’d like to think I can adopt best practices and make them my own over time…the way I see it, if there are master teachers doing innovative things with MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, YouTube, etc…then I’m just as capable (or I hope to be at some point), but like I said, I’m not going to compromise my classroom with half-informed experimentation just yet. So – I mostly agree with you – none of us are going to learn best practices from Maranto and Barton, but I found the article helped me make sense of and understand assumptions I’d already made.

    I appreciate and value what Mayes and Fowler claimed (quoted in Maranto and Barton) about online social spaces extending and facilitating classroom discourse and also as increasing the likelihood that students will not only learn from teachers and texts, but also from each other (39). I agree with this, however I’m not sure the inclusion of this point gets at teaching composition or literature, specifically. It could with further discussion I’m sure…but it’s not stated here. I get having to or shifting toward understanding learners in terms of meaning, relationship and identity (this is the sort of approach with my previous work as an academic advisor and with my work in Adult Education), but can this help me be a better Freshman Composition instructor? I’m also of the belief that, at times, just as Maranto and Barton claim in referencing research done through UMinnesota’s Digital Media Center, “[t]heir activities led them to engage in openness, sharing and peer review of both academic and creative work” (44); awesome for the students, but how does this translate, or how does this get worked into my writing curriculum? We could all come up with something if we had to, but the article is misleading. Funny how “Writing Classroom” is mentioned in the title, but there are no real references to actual networking within the “writing” classroom. How does this help me help my students become better writers (and not just better students)? Furthermore, there is all of one reference having to do with teaching writing or composition or literature in the reference list. Interesting.

  3. PART II:
    Having said that, I think the article makes a good case for using social networking, as you mentioned ‘theoretically,’ but lessons in the writing and rhetoric are not apparent. This is the part I need. And because this missing piece has become an opportunity for brainstorming for me – I’ll say: sure we can use social networking in the writing classroom, but of course the entire thing has to first be structured right down to the last detail, otherwise it remains “perilous terrain” (37), and second, the intention has to be made explicit to the students. I think you could take many of Kajder’s lessons and use them in social networking – maybe. Her experiential lessons can certainly be used in blogs, which is maybe a better place, but I could see students posting their progression of building digital stories or visual word collections on Twitter or Facebook (maybe Twitter, more so, I feel skeptical about Facebook, but I feel like I should have an open mind about it…). When students use their cameras, in Kajder’s Chapter 5, to “read their world,” (60) perhaps it’s an opportunity to post within a classroom community on Facebook. Granted it isn’t too much of a departure from the photoblogging project (93) she talked about, but it’s certainly doable in other networking sites and perhaps even has its advantages. Who knows...I’m at least willing to speculate in order to fill in the gap between using social networks in the classroom and using social networks in the “writing” classroom.

  4. I think Alex Mueller both brought up more interesting points about social networking. Social networking with fictional characters seem like a fun project to do. I know some people that create an online profile as a group and provide feedback as a group. They usually comment about controversial issues that people discuss. In that sense, it's group work online! Creating a fictional character, and placing themselves in that persona online seems like a mesh between fiction and theatre art. They would be playing a role - no identities, and no need to get personal. It might even help students become more comfortable criticizing because they would be criticizing the character. That might also generate good discussions because they would be defending their character. That would be a creative use of social networking. But, the teacher would still have to closely monitor to make sure students aren't digressing too much from the text - perhaps that's okay; I'm not sure.

  5. Lindy,

    I completely agree with your statement:

    "We could all come up with something if we had to, but the article is misleading. Funny how “Writing Classroom” is mentioned in the title, but there are no real references to actual networking within the “writing” classroom. How does this help me help my students become better writers (and not just better students)?"

    That's one of my problems with this article. Why state in the title something you're not going to really address? Although I'm not a big fan of Facebook (obviously), I was willing to be open to their argument, or even suggestions. I actually expected suggestions, or possible methods of introducing rhetorical writing on social networking sites. There wasn't any suggestions, or even the logic behind it. Gee makes a more compelling argument (as usual), and he seemed as if he understood what to scrutinize in these types of domains.

    Gee is a writer that I like to discuss with others. His writing is so sophisticated and compact, and I always find myself agreeing with him, even if I have to suppress the inklings of doubt that creeps over me. The matter-of-fact way in which he makes his arguments can sometimes be disturbing, especially when he discusses the acquisition or learning skills of students.

  6. Alem, I appreciate your resistance to using social network sites in the classroom as a way of promoting and teaching rhetorical methods of writing. Similar to you, I also felt that we did not receive an extended explanation as to how Facebook or Myspace could promote and foster good rhetorical strategies. Maranto and Barton give an example of a teacher, who puts himself into the social network realm with his students, stating, “The notion that a ‘collective presence’ of ‘adults’ might alter students’ online behavior is not unlike rhetorical ‘modelling,’ which goes on all the time in composition classrooms, where the assumption is that students gain ethos by emulating the practices of a given discourse community” (39). It seems interesting that Maranto and Barton put “‘adults’” in quotation marks, as if to say that teachers are a different kind of adults or to separate students from teachers into two different categories. If students need to learn the proper way to conduct themselves online or about which words that they should use to one another, a parental figure on Facebook may be a good source. How many of us know of someone young who is on Facebook and has posted a somewhat offensive status that has been commented on by an adult who suggests that he/she removes it from his/her page? The aunts, uncles, older cousins, or other family members, or even adults that are not in the family, can be good monitors to make sure that children are posting good comments on Facebook and respecting the space of others. I know some may say that these adults do not exist for some students, but I think that teaching students how to deal with others in a good manner and how to write well are two different topics. If Facebook is used to foster good writing and to expose students to different types, then I think it could be used in a beneficial way. But if Facebook is used to make sure that students can see good online behavior and model that of the teacher, I think this is a bigger issue that needs more than just a teacher addressing it.

  7. Continued...

    Another thing that struck me in this article is how Maranto and Barton state a study in which young female teachers were caught posing seductively on Facebook with beer bottles and exposing their skin. It seems that younger teachers are targeted as those who do not have the right sense to post appropriate content online, not realizing that students can see it. I receive conflicted messages based on what Maranto and Barton say. They state how Facebook can be a positive way of showing good conduct, but does this mean it can’t be shown by younger teachers who may have private lives that include pictures of them drinking? I’m a young teacher and I know what is appropriate to post on Facebook and what should be kept offline, in my private life, among people who are closest to me. Even though I’m young and know what I should and should not post online, I don’t think I should be on Facebook with students. There is always something in the news about relationships with students that are misconstrued, and I know I wouldn’t want to have to put myself out there, looking to help students for it to be taken the wrong way.
    Alex Mueller brings up a good point in his post about how Kajder has good intentions with “bringing the outside in,” but social network sites should not be a center of teaching students the English subject. In chapter 5, “Working with Words,” Kajder says how she lends digital cameras to students so that they can take pictures of words and imagine them in new ways, helping them own their language rather than merely memorizing it. Although I think this is motivational (even though it involves school resources that allow for cameras to be readily handed out), just like I think telling students to monitor what they say/how they say it on social network sites, I think it can run into problems, similar to including Facebook in the classroom. What if students use the digital camera and take inappropriate pictures that the teacher is forced to see upon grading their work? I think with anything, we as educators need to take every piece of suggestions and instruction in moderation.

  8. I definitely agree that the articles didn't give great explanations in using social networking in a rhetorical setting; however, I wonder if it could actually be a good thing--using these sites in the classroom with a set of guidelines or rules. Wouldn't this be a great way to show students that they have different identities when speaking to different people? Couldn't this relate to writing techniques like how we write differently according to the audience reading our papers or work. We speak to our parents much differently than we speak to our friends or professors. We also write differently in a journal entry or personal narrative than we do in an academic paper and isn't this what students have difficulty with--determining how to use these discourses in different ways? Although I definitely agree with all the skepticism, I am sort of leaning towards using these sites in a constructive way to help students see this difference of identity and maybe even help them see how they portray themselves will affect people's perceptions of them.
    I do also see Nicole's point about Kajder's suggestion of using digital cameras and how some students may take inappropriate pictures. What would we do about this? How do we reach this "moderation" everyone talks about? Isn't it always take the good with the bad? I wonder if the only way to find this moderation is by trial and error--maybe use these sites and see how it goes. We do learn by doing so what better way to test these theories than try them out?

  9. I really agree with everyone who is saying that peoples personal facebook's should be kept out of the class room. Its not the teachers business to know what his or her students are doing on facebook and its not the students business to know what their teachers are doing. Facebook is a social network that is meant for people to share things with their friends and/or family.

    Nicole pointed out some ways in which facebook might be useful. if used with a set of guidelines and rules. I agree that facebook as a tool can be useful, but I think the students personal facebook as well as the teachers really should stay out of the classroom. If it is going to used in the class room everyone should have a separate account for classroom use. I really like the idea Alex presented about a teacher who had their students make facebook pages for literary characters. That has potential to get the students to think about that character and the world they live in a way they might not do just from reading. Now Nicole was saying that it can be used to show students how they talk and write in different ways when communicating with different groups of people. This could be done with out using the students personal facebook page.

  10. Part I

    I'm on the fence.

    I think sharing a common digital space like a social networking site has potential to bring about a greater sense of community for our students. But would this transfer from the work we ask them to do on the internet into the classroom?

    Certainly, and by definition, interaction on these sites creates dialogic interaction between members. This is a good thing. At least, it is good for my students who are encouraged (forced is more accurate but it sounds horrible) to enter dialogic engagement with a text, concept, image or some other medium before they begin to write. I want my students to engage in conversation as part of the writing process.

    But why wouldn't we just use BlackBoard or other in-house engines to accomplish the same purpose? Just because it might appear more fun to do the work on a trendy social-networking site, or it might appear to be fun because it's what they do during free time, does that mean we should bring classroom conversations to those sites? This I am unsure about.

    But one thing I am sure about is this: Alem, you said, "Students relish the misuse of words, and the growing number of abbreviations for words and phrases. Those social networking sites are their space to do whatever, so I'm not sure they would like 'rules' to be thrown at them," and I agree. To bring academic work to the spaces in which our students play would give them cause to be resistant to instruction. This is their domain. To mesh our academic work space with their play space seems unrealistic. There is no guarantee we can promote the level of formality college writing requires because they get along just fine using this space, and informality is a norm.

    Yet, this type of communal engagement has a great deal of appeal for me because I believe that students emulate what they like, respect or otherwise relate to. This is particularly true when it comes to writing. As much as we would like to think formal instruction in the English classroom is imperative, as much is absorbed by our students through sheer exposure to new writers and writing styles.

  11. Part II

    If we do academic work in a space in which students otherwise play, I wonder how this would effect self-esteem, and academic self-worth. Students would likely be at a level of comfort as if speaking with friends and family, posting to their pages, sending emoticons. But we don't want out students speaking to us, and their fellow classmates, they way they speak to friends and family. At least not while class is in session. We want more formality.

    Perhaps this is why I believe that rather than imposing academic work onto the spaces in which our students play we should create a new space. A new, specialized social network to which we invite our students to become apart of. A space where formality is part of fitting in. Where good academic conversation is what gets you "friended."

    The goal is intellectual work done through a medium students are likely to be familiar with. They're "masters of the domain," as Gee would say; they're masters of My Space, Facebook, and Switter. So to do work within these types of forum, there may be a level of comfort. But again, we can not indulge comfort at the expense of formality.

    If we keep the expectations high, students who are comfortable with academic language will be able to use academic language. For those without such comfort will be exposed, and on a regular basis, to such language that their peers produce. Not only does this space become a venue for sharing ideas, it becomes a venue to share options we have when we undertake academic writing.

    It all has potential. But like Lindy, I'm waiting it out. I need to see it done, successfully, before I can commit to an opinion. I am leaning towards the positive side of things. I believe that student's will be able to absorb and eventually emulate the ways of academic writing their fellow classmates embark upon, because I feel publicly produced class work would foster student "willingness to be socially and culturally motivated" to "take another person's perspective." When they begin to view their work along side that of a classmate with more experience with academic writing, I believe emulation will be the result.

  12. Alem, I agree with your skepticism regarding the Maranto and Barton article. I do not really see the need for teachers to use Facebook or Myspace to teach writing just because the students are using these pages. However, I really like the idea that Alex presented that students could create their own personas from the literary texts that they are using in class. I think this would go a long way toward alleviating many of the problems students face associated with online bullying, peer pressure, and the need to seem “cool.” I think it works as well to maintain a separation between the students’ private lives and the teachers’ private lives. Having the personas would allow each student to keep his or her own personal Facebook or MySpace page private from the rest of the class and the teacher. I do not like the idea of students being forced to have their personal online writing on these sites policed by their teachers. I think giving students guidance about appropriate online behavior is fine, but when it moves into their personal lives I think it crosses a line.
    I agree with Sara that “Facebook is a social network that is meant for people to share things with their friends and/or family.” I have my own personal Facebook page, but I do not want to feel as if I have to invite my students to view it. The reason I created a Facebook page in the first place was because I was taking a class and the professor had a class Facebook page, so I felt compelled to create one. However, I would rather have kept my private life private, and I had no desire to share any of my personal information with classmates who I barely know. I would not want my future students to feel as if they had to participate in something that they were uncomfortable with, but I think having an online persona would eliminate this issue. Having a wiki page seems like a much better option and it maintains the public/private barrier between teachers and students.

  13. I think in an ideal world, Facebook/Myspace could be appropriate in a classroom setting. But the reality we live in may not make this possible. We seem to be wanting to use the internet as a means of discourse. While these websites allow for this to be possible, and would make it easier, we can still do this by having students engage in conversation and comment on others work. I’ve used in my classroom and students would upload and edit each others work using a common classroom name. It required some paperwork from the parents and it was a challenge for students, but the discourse was created and that itself was enough for me. I like my students to talk about writing. Facebook/Myspace are not a place for students to be sharing with school. Just as we teach them the power of different voices amongst characters in a novel, they learn that they have a different voice in school, at home, and yes, on the internet. I’m not prepared to have them use the internet when they are just beginning to find their voice here. Today’s students are more than prepared with the knowledge of what is appropriate internet behavior, but we complicate matters when we enter into this world with academic expectations.

  14. I realize I’m posting late, however, after tonight’s discussion I have a few ideas floating around.

    First, it’s interesting that Facebook got its start on a college campus. That college also happens to be one of the most prestigious universities in the U.S. I can also remember when Facebook was only available to college students with an .edu email extension. During this time period, Facebook allowed students to post their classes and find out who else was in their class. During my sophomore year of college, I found this feature very helpful. It helped keep me on track with a few homework assignments and since my friends were only arranged by classes, I made some real friends outside of the computer. It seems that once Facebook opened the floodgates and let EVERYONE enroll, the academic tone was quickly diminished. For that reason, I would say that Facebook as a utility shows very little promise of ever becoming a viable website for collaborative writing or learning.

    Second, Alem asked if we thought Facebook had potential for teaching in the future. I would have to say no, only because the online culture around Facebook brings mixed feeling from students and administrators alike. A week doesn’t go by where I don’t hear of some overprotective administration firing a new teacher for a rather innocuous picture or comment. Ironically, the student profiles are often far worse in comparison. However, this has drilled a negative image of Facebook into the public mind. These stories are often featured on FOX25 and other stations that frequently allow gossip to pass for news. I say this is unfortunate because just like Wikipedia, society at large has failed to see the potential good these websites can do in the world.


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