Students Teaching Me Social Media

How My Well-Planned Teaching Internship Went Sideways

Remember that time I talked about the Martin Luther King lesson that didn't get planned? Well, that was only a single week of teaching. What happens when an entire semester — the very idea of what students should learn — hinges on a flawed conception of what students already know?

That's what happened when I tried teaching my students social media. It was the teaching internship component of my Ph.D. comprehensive exam, and I had this idea that I could help my students share their creative writing over social media. This, after all, is part of the new world of publication: using online platforms to build interest in potential audiences. Naturally, I assumed that anyone in creative writing would share my interest in building this kind of publicity.

But I'm a child of the 1980s — as I discovered, my assumptions about the internet followed the idea of traditional mass media. I pictured online sharing as a rather unidirectional process — I imagined my students using digital platforms to reach out to audiences, and then the back-and-forth conversations generated with their new "fans" would help further promote the stories. But for today's students, the internet does more than simply disseminate writing — it changes the entire process of writing, especially in terms of how research, feedback, and revision may all become directly integrated into the drafting process. Because of this, social media cannot be used the same way for every student. Depending on the topic and the stage of the draft, some students (particularly those writing memoir) may actually suppress their own thoughts if they know they'll be typing for an online audience — for other students, the thrill of immediate feedback may encourage far more writing than they might otherwise attempt. For those students writing long novels, the freedom to draft thousands of words without sharing them allows them to focus on content rather than worry about typos. And for others (another group writing memoir), contact with friends, family, and past status updates may serve as a crucial repository of memories.

I didn't realize it at the time, but this was very much a UDL Moment — I had to very quickly redesign my assignments and expectations to focus on what mattered. Rather than gauge whether or not my students could learn a specific online platform to "market" their work, I evaluated them based on whether they were able to select an appropriate means of engaging with the larger reading and writing community based on their individual goals as writers. As I should have realized, there are no "average" students, especially when it comes to writing and social media. I had some students who loved social media, some who hated it — likewise, their skills as creative writers covered a broad spectrum of comfort with language.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay