I've taught first year composition to hundreds of students. I am not unaware that most students don't enjoy the class -- they think it's boring. The truth is many instructors feel the same way. However, freshman comp is a requirement at most colleges and universities because it teaches skills that will be needed throughout a student's college career.
Is there a way to spark more interest in the course? Is there a way to get students to actually enjoy it? This year, a study by the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland discovered that "most college students are not just unwilling, but functionally unable to be without their media links to the world." Could social media be the key to getting students engaged with elementary composition? I decided to investigate.
I considered Facebook first. However, the site has too many distractions: reading updates, poking friends, looking at embarrassing photos, playing games. By the time I had done all these, I had forgotten about my research.
Twitter, though, had potential. I could connect with students without revealing personal information. I could use the brevity of the tweets to model concise and precise language. I could post links to helpful websites. And I could follow Ashton Kutcher!
I reviewed lectures I've delivered. I thought about feedback I've given. I recalled class discussions and one-to-one conversations with students. I thought long and hard about the course requirements.
I now present the most important lessons of freshman comp, boiled down to twenty tweets.
- This is freshman comp. I know you're not here because you want to be. Read the syllabus. There is info on it you need to know.
Have I just tweeted myself out of a job? I don't think so. Because although these tweets cover the key lessons of the course, learning how to be a better writer takes more: it takes practice and understanding and repetition. It takes time. And Twitter isn't about taking one's time.
Most of these lessons are on the syllabus, we discuss them in class, I write them on assignments. I'd even be happy to repeat them via Twitter. Social media can be used to reinforce lessons, but not teach them. If it were that easy, students would only need one tweet: Write well.