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Social Networking I: Social Networks and Computer Classrooms: Where Do Collaboration, Play, and Pedagogy Fit?

By Randall McClure

This panel shared a range of interpretations of the relationship between social networking, collaboration and the writing classroom. Through their collective examination, the panel supported the common belief that social networking creates a collaborative environment in the writing classroom and teachers can use a range of social networking activities or technologies to facilitate this collaboration. The speakers demonstrated, however, the outcomes of the activities hinge on the expectations, epistemologies, and ideologies that guide the activities, no matter what technologies are used to construct them.

In her presentation “Social Networks as Collaborative Tools: Where Pop Culture and Pedagogy Collide,” Lori Baker argued that the difficulties with collaboration and social networking in classrooms often stem from opposing expectations, epistemologies, and ideologies between teachers and students regarding both collaboration and social networking. Baker argued teachers’ conceptions of collaboration and social networking are based on a dialogic model of collaboration, and this model is often thwarted by the expectations and cross-purposes that students bring to these activities. Baker explained this disconnect by applying mathematical and sociological theories of social networking to the composition classroom. Baker noted that social networking theory emerged from mathematics and moved from a disciplinary to an interdisciplinary pursuit, especially in its ties to collaborative learning theory.

Since composition has maintained a strong connection to collaborative theory, Baker concluded social networking has moved from a noun to a verb and has been transformed from a hierarchical conception of social networking as positioning and power to a dialogic conception that repurposes social networking for interaction and collaboration. Further, Baker explained this development in social networking as a movement from an exponential to a scale-free network in which “networks are not random; they continuously work and grow.” Finally, Baker found applications of math theory present in the composition classroom, such as hubs, directed networks, preferential attachments, and the dynamics of and on the network.

In “Those that Play Together, Learn Together: Using Play and the Social Network of the Classroom to Promote Computer Literacy,” Teresa Henning explored what she terms “social play,” how it impacts the literacies (computer, rhetorical and interpersonal) of students and how the definitions of these literacies help to shape the professional writing classroom. Henning acknowledged the work of Andrea Lunsford and Michael Salvo in her definition of social play to explain how students collaboratively and leisurely explore technology. Henning used this definition to explore common applications for the features that are not commonly used in order to create an environment of social play and co-inquiry for her students in the writing classroom. Further, Henning noted social play synthesizes the literacies at the heart of the writing classroom.

Henning demonstrated social play through two examples, focusing primarily on the example of the “diagram” function in perhaps the most common application of them all, Microsoft Word. Henning explained how this function allows for more play and, more importantly, adds critical rhetorical awareness of technology. Henning commented social play “mimics the way many of us learn technology,” through our interactions with other users. Finally, Henning maintained that incorporating structured social play in the computer-based writing classroom allows both students and teachers to capitalize on the opportunity to learn from each other, and this is just one definition of social networking.

In “Gallery Walking and Online Talking: Tapping Technology to Create a More Engaged Writing Community in the Composition Classroom,” Marianne Zarzana focused on “gallery walking” in the computer-based composition classroom and how it helps to establish and maintain social networks. Zarzana argued, “An engaged writing community creates writing that is engaging,” and gallery walking taps technology in such a way that coerces students gently into engaging the writing process. Zarzana defined gallery walking the following way: students write on one computer and then move around the classroom from computer to computer to read and respond to each other’s work. In addition to making the claim for gallery walking as a key part of social networking pedagogy, Zarzana explored the advantages and disadvantages of this pedagogy for composition instructors and students as well as provided several examples. Reminiscent of the concept of “inkshedding,” gallery walking has provided for discourse that is authentic and meaningful, according to Zarzana.

The three presentations during this session on social networking highlighted the impact and range of social networking on writing pedagogy and the computer classroom. Further, they reaffirmed the influence of collaborative and process theory on the teaching of writing. In this sense, social networking can be seen as another technological ripple of the theories and pedagogies that have grounded writing instruction for decades.

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