Sharing, Tweeting, and Authorial Control

The purpose of sharing information on social media is to spread content. However, in order for it to spread, it requires the creator to let go of some of the control. As Johnson-Eilola points out, the model of a single author speaking in a unified voice needs to be revised as “we live (and literally are at least partially ‘composed’) at the nexus connecting an apparently infinite number of social and technological forces of varying weights, strengths, and directions.” While most instructors of process-driven writing argue that a text can be endlessly revised and improved/updated, the revision and updating is often discussed in terms of the original author. We may have “conversations” with others’ writings, but their writing does not become our own. This type of ownership does not fit in the online environment, where words are easily copied, quoted, linked, rearranged, etc. For example, no one has complete authorial ownership of a Wikipedia entry.

One of the new media sites that best conveys the concept of writing in fragments is Twitter. A Twitter feed is composed of microblogs — some self authored, some retweeted, some retweeted with comments, some quotes, some images, and some merely links. We are not self-contained univocal writers on Twitter, but curators of information, remixed beings organizing and reorganizing our identities through sound bytes and images. Topics aren’t explored by one authoritative voice but by defined by multiple voices via hashtags. It is here that we can explore true collaborative writing.

Unfortunately, not every user of the web is able to let go of their authorial control. Earlier this summer I read a blog post I liked and I clicked the icon to share it on Twitter. A Tweet was automatically generated with the title and a link. Subsequently, the author complained because her name was not cited in the Tweet, nor was her Twitter handle. The question is, did she have a right to complain?

Yes, I could have taken the time to add more to the automated Tweet. I could have went to her Twitter feed to search if she had posted a link there and then retweeted it. I could have added my own commentary. However, if she did not want people to share an automated Tweet, she should not have that function available on her blog posts. By including it, she is not only giving her permission, but encouraging this type of sharing.

Writing online is more than just typing and posting words. The way a writer presents their words and the navigation/web functions they choose dictate how people will interact with those words. If an individual wants their ideas to be shared widely, then they need to make sharing a click away. When individuals share a blog post on Twitter or Facebook, they drive traffic to the site. Ultimately, this writer caused herself more harm by complaining, as I removed the Tweet, shutting down a possible avenue for site traffic. To use a cliché, she won the battle but lost the war. Her print mindset does not fit in with the rhetorical situation of her content. What she should of responded to those who chose to include her content on their curated Twitter feeds: thanks for sharing!

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Composition I: Defining its Value and Mission

At the community college, we have an increasing number of transfer students who simply want to grab credits and go. However, not every class fulfills a general education requirement at other universities. Some colleges only accept our second-level of composition, not our first, for their writing requirement. Naturally, students transferring to those schools simply want to waiver past our Composition I and sail into Composition II. As the English Discipline Coordinator, this has led me to reflect on the singular value of our Composition I course and what necessary skills it provides beyond helping students succeed in Composition II. If that was its only purpose, then some well-prepared students should be able to simply skip ahead.

Patrick Sullivan’s text, A New Writing Classroom: Listening, Motivation, and Habits of Mind, helped me devise a better defined vision of what I want to achieve in my own Composition I class, which encompasses more than preparing students to write academic research essays in Compositon II. Sullivan lays out a noble mission for the writing classroom, to embrace a pedagogy that prioritizes “listening, empathy, and reflection.” I gravitated to this description as a possible response to our increasingly polarized political culture and to the stress that comes from our attention-consuming digital devices. We have a classroom of students struggling anxiety and living in digital filter bubbles. Through readings, exploratory and reflective writing, and media literacy, students can not only cultivate better writing skills but better habits of mind, such as openness.

We often lament the damage of the five-paragraph essay. But Sullivan extends this to critique not just the structure, but the types of arguments students are asked to make. The villain in his text is the thesis-driven, argumentative essay, where students are asked to take a stance on an issue too soon and with little evidence. He states, “By concentrating almost exclusively on thesis-support exposition in college composition classes, we are implicitly teaching that the ability to support an assertion is more important than the ability to examine an issue.” I agree to a point.

The question is, what can a student argue? A student can argue that a summer internship led to them switching majors. This type of argument requires self-reflection and is not simplifying an issue. A claim-based essay can be exploratory as well. A thesis statement can claim that an issue has many sides, which is why consensus is hard to reach. In this case, the thesis statement would map out essay, which needs to give voice to multiple perspectives, even if the writer personally disagrees with those perspectives. Essentially, the purpose of the essay is key. If the purpose is simply to defend a thesis statement, then the assignment is not doing all it could. As Sullivan writes, “If our goal is ‘empowering individuals to know that the world is far more complex than it first appears’ (King and Kitchener 1994, 1), then our assignments must be designed with such outcomes as their primary focus.”

I love the emphasis on the exploratory. However, I am struggling to figure out how to deepen my use of reading and still have room for significant student inquiry. When students are driving the questions and the assignment content, it’s difficult to consistently find space for readings. Course planning often feels like Sophie’s Choice. Perhaps the difficulty I am having lining up Sullivan’s model course and my own course is related to his model course being a basic writing course, where the exploratory projects may have less source and length requirements. Whatever the case, I do want to make an effort to increase my use of texts that are relevant, engaging, and difficult enough to stretch students.

Going into this new academic year, I am looking forward to deepening my use of reading, listening, reflection, and exploration in Composition I. This is necessary foundational work, which should not be bypassed. I understand students desire to minimize their financial costs and time commitment, but education should not be about cutting corners. Perhaps this is the set of readings I will begin with – the meaning of education.