Socially Networking the Past: Digital Mediation of Disciplinary Writing

Socially Networking the Past: Digital Mediation of Disciplinary Writing

Michael Manderino (Northern Illinois University, USA) and Lisa Hoelscher Ripley (Leyden Township High Schools, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-5982-7.ch007
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This chapter describes a historical inquiry project that used a social networking site ( to engage students in writing both traditionally and multimodally about the 1960's. Students were provided basic demographic information about a fictional individual living in the 1960's and then were instructed to build a social networking profile as they conducted inquiry of the 1960's over the course of eight weeks. Data were drawn from screen capture videos and semi-structured interviews (n=8) as well as online artifacts (n=185) that high school students generated to construct a profile page akin to Facebook for the project. This project demonstrated how student writing in a history class was mediated by the social networking task and the variety of multimodal texts that they could use to represent their historical inquiry.
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The expansion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) has generated a proliferation of digital texts that are both produced and consumed. Additionally, Web 2.0 tools and social media have made the production and sharing of content (written, visual, aural, and in combination) easier than ever. For example, it is estimated that 30 billion pieces of content are shared each month with individual users who create 90 pieces of content each month (Facebook, 2012). Adolescents, in particular, are immersed in this digitally mediated environment with a majority of teens creating online content and a third sharing the content they create (Rideout, Foehr, & Roberts, 2010). Jenkins (2006) refers to these practices as being part of a participatory culture that includes collaboration, affiliations, expressions, and circulation of ideas and content.

The literacy practices mediated by digital technologies in this participatory culture have been labeled as new literacies. New literacies not only make use of multiple semiotic resources (Kress, 2003) but also consist of literacy practices that are enacted differently online and require different skills (Coiro, 2003; Coiro & Dobler, 2007; Leu, Kinzer, Coiro, & Cammack, 2004). As a result of the expansion of new ICTs, the nature of literacy is rapidly shifting from traditional reading and writing to new ways of engaging in meaning making and meaning production (Lankshear & Knobel, 2003; Reinking, Labbo, & McKenna, 2000). Writing then is not limited to traditional forms; rather it is “created out of word, image, sound, and motion; circulated in digital environments; and consumed across a wide range of digital platforms” (DeVoss, Eidman-Aadahl, & Hicks, 2010, p. ix).

Despite claims made by teachers about the importance of the affordances of digital writing, few identify it to be essential for students to work with audio, video, or graphic content (Purcell, Heaps, Buchanan, Friedrich, 2013). Conversely, the same sample of teachers, agreed that digital technologies are critical for student opportunity to share their work with a wider audience (Purcell, et. al., 2013). However, while teens are immersed in the consumption and production of media texts, they are less adept with examining and evaluating media itself (Jenkins, Clinton, Purushotma, Robison, & Weigel, 2006). He and his colleagues postulate that:

Youth need skills for working within social networks, for pooling knowledge within a collective intelligence, for negotiating across cultural differences that shape the governing assumptions in different communities, and for reconciling conflicting bits of data to form a coherent picture of the world around them (Jenkins, et. al., 2006, p. 20).

Social networking is a common practice among youth because it enables them to participate in identity work (Boyd, 2008; Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009). Social networks are dynamic examples of Web 2.0 that require participatory literacy practices. One such literate practice is the design of one’s page through the use of copying and pasting code in order to create a personalized page (Perkel, 2006). Additionally, communities of practice emerge through the use of social networking (Rodriguez-Illera, 2007). Within these communities of practice, teens construct social networks through the use of multimodal texts and are intentional about their communicative practices, like content, tone, style, and word choice (Greenhow & Robelia, 2009). Given teen affinity for these spaces and the rich literacy practices enacted in social networking sites, it appears fruitful to leverage social networking spaces for more robust writing instruction.

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