Below you can find some extremely rough drafting of what I’ve written so far for mine and Scott’s chapter, tentatively titled “Breaking down barriers: defining ourselves as social instructors.” I invite anybody from 560 (or anyone else, really) to comment or offer feedback. I don’t know what use this will be without being positioned in the whole piece, but there it is. As I add larger chunks, I’ll include it here.
To define ourselves as social instructors, we must do what we can to encourage our composition students to become more social themselves. Part of that is going where the students are social, where they are comfortable. After all, they have to step into what they see as your turf when they enter the classroom; why shouldn’t you be willing to step into what is arguably their turf?
Students are increasingly social online, through popular social media outlets, and the happy accident of this is that they are therefore writing socially. So far, as several high profile venues entered and exited the “it” zone in the past decade, almost all have had a crucial commonality: networked, socially connected writing. Jeff Rice, responding to a College English prompt to what College English should be, warned that early college composition classes still rely heavily on isolated, unidirectional writing modes: one writer engages singularly with one text or set of texts, creating a single new text about their individual experience or opinion. The space somewhere else,” Rice offers in contrast, “… is the open space constructed out of connections where multiple writers engaging within multiple ideas in multiple media at multiple moments function. That space somewhere else is the network” (130). This space is enabled by student use of social media. More than functioning as a mere “You already write more than you think; look at your Facebook activity” ward against the “I don’t like to write” students, this networked student writing is a great model for class writing. By encouraging (or requiring?) students to write regular, varied entries to course blogs, message boards, social media feeds, and whatever other public writing you can conceive of, and by encouraging (or requiring?) discussion with each other about their writing, you can build an understanding that any writing can be more networked, more social.
Before we can attempt guiding others through this sort of border crossing between closed and open networks, perhaps we should demonstrate our own ability to make the crossing. At the time of this writing (and, as much as this sort of disclaimer may be awkward, the fickleness of the online socialscape supports it), Facebook remains the most populated place such social, open network writing can be done. Further, it also lends the instructor the ability to craft their social image outside of the classroom. A 2009 study gauged student reaction to varying levels of their instructor’s activity on a social network, in this case Facebook, drawing a cautious conclusion that instructors who are open and accessible on Facebook may reap classroom benefits: “The findings suggest that teachers who exhibit high levels of self-disclosure on a Facebook website may appear more credible than teachers low in computer-mediated self-disclosure” (Mazer, Murphy, and Simonds, 179-180). “High-levels of self disclosure” is explained as corresponding with friends and family, posting many pictures, and expressing opinions. More simply: the instructors are free to be themselves. By carrying on with the same social persona online as in class, especially if it is not restricted just to class topics, strong impressions of both the instructor’s social verity and social writing are delivered to students. In fact, doing the opposite online has the corresponding opposite effect:
Although our findings reveal a positive association between teacher self-disclosure and perceptions of teacher credibility, instructors should be consistent with their self-disclosure on Facebook and their teaching style in the classroom. Teachers who exhibit a relaxed personality on Facebook with informal photographs and entertaining messages, but operate their classrooms strictly, may create violated expectations resulting in negative effects on students (180).
(? Sociably doing the more common duties of instructorship.)
Being a sociable while performing in an instructor’s capacity extends beyond face-to-face office hours and after class discussion. Even when doing the duties of maintaining online contact, there’s justification to do so in a less minimalist, more engaged way. Whether used as an out-of-class continuation of in-class discussions or as a stand-alone discussion space for online learning, course message board systems offer obvious benefit. There is room for a more considered role for instructors moderating online discussion boards; several studies in recent years offer insight into how an instructor’s digital presence can shape class, both in-person and online.
A study of email interaction with students at risk of poor performance, while lasting only a brief 4 weeks, showed that the way an email is constructed is important. Students were split into groups: those who received motivational, but nonspecific email contact about course details, and those who received personalized, individually-detailed correspondence motivating them to improve their progress. The results show that those who received non-personalized contact fared worse in measures of confidence, motivation, and achievement than those who were emailed with individualized messages (Kim and Keller 45-48). (*** Rework)
Instructor conduct on message boards, however, seems a trickier path to walk. A 2007 survey by Margaret Mazzolini and Sarah Maddison of a significant number of message board postings and their corresponding student feedback surveys teased out two observations: when instructors post, the student conversation tends to die in that thread and; despite a widespread instructor opinion that their own posts are designed to open up conversation and encourage follow-up, the vast majority of their posts are actually closed-ended, direct answers (210-211). Instead of being discouraged from contributing, instructors might be able to take heart: Mazzolini and Maddison disclaim that “forums with fewer student postings and shorter discussion threads than most are not necessarily deficient. It may be that frequent instructor intervention makes discussions more efficient, with less time spent by students pursuing false trails and conducting inconclusive debates” (211). Instructors can also reasonably draw an opposing conclusion from the study details. If student contribution drops off after an instructor jumps in and the instructor contributions are primarily closed to follow-up, then a truly Socratic form of open-ended questions, as the study authors mention, might in fact encourage a more engaged discussion board. (*** Drifting? How is this “social?”)