George Lucas Educational Foundation

An Academic Use for Social Media

You can leverage micro-writing—tweets, Instagram posts, and the like—to help students improve their communication and writing skills.

August 31, 2017
© Tim

If we look at digital literacy and its implementation in the classroom for the past 10 years, we can see the impact on students’ writing and communication skills. In an online survey by the Pew Research Center on the impact of digital tools on students’ writing, half the teachers who responded said that digital tools made it easier for students to write and that when using digital tools, students were more engaged and motivated to write.

In another survey, 40 percent of teachers said that their students already shared their work publicly using wikis, blogs, and websites, and that those students were also adept at micro-writing, a mode that uses different digital platforms to convey, describe, and analyze thoughts and opinions and share them with a particular audience in short forms.

Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, and even Snapchat are tools that our students use and that we can leverage in the classroom to help practice micro-writing and improve students’ overall communication and writing skills.

Teachers are increasingly incorporating technology in the classroom, and allowing room for social media and other micro-writing tools can be beneficial—students can see that writing is relevant to communicating their opinions and ideas in this digital age.

Instagram and Twitter in particular can be powerful tools to help students to practice micro-writing for a larger audience.

Instagram Stories

Students can use Instagram’s “Stories” feature to show a series of short videos to their audience. They can accompany their story with a photo that expands on the videos and relates to them, and they can explain the meaning and significance of the photo in writing in the space provided.

This type of activity helps students get to know each other, and more importantly, it allows them to be creative in writing about topics that are directly relevant to their everyday lives.

“Social media has a wider audience and is more likely to hold someone’s attention. A well-done essay may be enjoyed by some, but a well-written tweet or Instagram caption can be enjoyed and understood by much larger numbers,” says Hannah Menendez, a college composition instructor in Florida.

Menendez has completed a few really interesting and socially impactful projects with her students using micro-writing. In one, a student explored media representations of immigrants and refugees. He asked a few international student organizations on campus if he could interview and take photos of immigrants willing to share their personal stories with him. He created a profile on Instagram that featured photos of immigrants on campus with their stories as the captions.  

That type of project allows students to see how relevant and powerful writing and storytelling can be and how they can use social media to spread a positive message or idea. More importantly, in that type of project, social media and micro-writing are so powerful because they rely on three basic elements: the concept, the mode of writing or platform, and the story.

Menendez’s micro-writing project was a part of a remedial research project component that required students to convey their large reports in small pieces of writing using social media in order to make their findings and point of view heard. She believes that this method will help her students to reach a wider audience and thus make their work more impactful.

In an age when we have to battle and sort through fake news, “online discourse is fast and far-reaching, and that can also have negative consequences,” explains Menendez. She says that last term she dedicated one class to fake news and false conspiracy claims.

21st-Century Skills

When we look at 21st-century learning skills, it’s important to see students as co-creators in their own learning. Social media is the outlet where most of us, including students, get the majority of our information. It’s important to integrate digital platforms and social media tools in the classroom to bridge the gap that we have between traditional approaches to teaching writing and the 21st-century communication skills our students need to develop.

“It is vital to get students to apply the critical thinking and research skills they learn through writing their research essays to the social media that consumes so much of their lives,” says Menendez. Encouraging and promoting critical thinking, analysis, and synthesis in micro-writing is a good approach.

When creating micro-writing assignments, such as an argumentative or descriptive paragraph, it’s important to emphasize that the skills that need to be applied in long-form writing, such as a research paper or essay, also need to be applied in micro-writing. As a result, students will be able to create pieces that include research and critical thinking skills throughout their micro-writing.

Menendez stresses the importance of these skills to her students. “I want them to think through what they read online, to apply all the skills they learned in the class—evaluating source credibility, identifying logical fallacies, recognizing bias, basing written arguments on solid evidence—to social media platforms just as much as they do in their academic work.”

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