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Keynote Address: “My Space, My Place, My Face: Social Networking Comes of Age”

Keynote Speaker—Michael Day, Northern Illinois University

In papers, magazines, and blogs, we see new stories every week about people whose online words or images in a social networking site have gotten them into big trouble with a school authority, prospective employer, or the law. Yet many of our students tell us that they “don’t even exist” without a presence on Facebook or MySpace, and some suggest that they care more about their online friend lists and comments on their “walls” than their families, their jobs, or their studies. They don’t see a problem with sharing questionable material about themselves and their “friends” with a million other people on the web, and seem shocked when we, their teachers, suggest some forethought and restraint. One thing is certain: our students will compose versions of themselves in online spaces, and they may need guidance in creating and maintaining these online presences. But who should provide such guidance?

The computers and writing community has affirmed the value and encouraged the use of online discussions for at least 15 years because we know that most of these discussions foster engagement, bridge great distances, and encourage collaborative idea generation. But what about online social networking sites? Should we consider using these environments in writing classes because they are a natural extension of the text-rich invention machines we recognized in Daedalus Interchange, usenet, listserv discussions, chats, blogs, and now wikis? Should Facebook and MySpace be tamed or harnessed to fit the goals of college composition classes, with their characteristic emphasis on correctness and “academic” writing? Or, should we leave our students’ social networking sites alone, so as not to drain them of their spontaneity? Can we find a constructive middle ground? This keynote address draws upon historical and current practices of online collaborative writing, social networking, and electronic portfolio pedagogy to speculate on possible scenarios at the crossing of academic, civic, and social sites for online writing.

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