First Year Composition in Twenty Tweets

Could social media be the key to getting students engaged with elementary composition? I decided to investigate.
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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.

  • The writing process has five steps: inventing, organizing, drafting, revising, and editing. Use your time wisely to complete each step.
  • It's distracting and rude to chat, text, or play on your laptop during class. Some of this is boring, I know, but it's still important.
  • You must think critically. Question yourself -- why do you think what you think? Consider your assumptions and biases.
  • You must read critically. Make annotations, ask questions, and look up unfamiliar words. What's the point and how is it being made?
  • You must write critically. You have choices when writing: what is the best way to reach your audience and achieve your purpose?
  • I am very sorry that [reason for absence] happened, but, as it says on the syllabus, attendance is required.
  • You may not care that plagiarism is intellectual theft, but you should care that I have to turn in all cases, intentional or not.
  • Any research you use must be credible. Google is not the only way to find information. Use the library. Please.
  • I don't see the logic in all MLA documentation rules either, but we both have to follow them. It's as simple as that.
  • I'm here to help you. Ask me questions. Come to my office hours. Go to the writing lab. Use the resources available to you.
  • Arguments are claims supported by evidence and reasoning. Just because others rely on logical fallacies doesn't mean you should.
  • No, you cannot write your essay on lowering the drinking age or legalizing marijuana.
  • It strengthens your argument to appropriately respond to objections. Try to find an area of common ground.
  • I am very sorry that [reason for lateness] happened, but, as it says on the syllabus, all work must be turned in on time.
  • Think about the best way to organize your ideas. Use topic sentences, paragraphs, and transitions. Make connections between your ideas.
  • No one writes a perfect first draft. All essays can be improved if writers allow themselves enough time to revise.
  • Punctuation is important. You have the right to disagree, but it is.
  • Proofread your writing. You, not your computer's spell check program, are responsible for polishing your work.
  • You'll be expected to apply the lessons you've learned here to your work in future classes and to continue to improve your writing.
  • 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.

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