Twitter and New Literacy

Greenhow, C., & Gleason, B. (2012). Twitteracy: Tweeting as a New Literacy practice. The Educational Forum, 76(4), 464-478.

Just how useful can social media be to promoting learning?  According to Greenhow and Gleason (2012), microblogging, through technologies such as Twitter, opens up the opportunity for students to connect to “the kinds of new literacies increasingly advocated in the educational reform literature” (p. 467).  New literacy is ” dynamic, situationally
specific, multimodal, and socially mediated practice that both shapes and is shaped by
digital technologies” (Greenhow & Gleason, 2012, p.467) As such is allows meaning and learning to stretch into both formal and informal interactions and to be responsive to relationships that develop within these settings such that authorship is neither singular or static but is constantly being created and re-created and expressed through new means of combining text, images, sound, motion, and color. To examine how microblogging through social media such as Twitter connects to learning and new literacy, the authors conducted a literature search of journal articles to answer questions such as:

  • How do young people use Twitter in formal and informal learning settings, and with what results?
  • Can tweeting be considered a new literacy practice?
  • How do tweeting practices align with standards based literacy curricula?

According to the study, the authors found that studies show  “Twitter use in higher education may facilitate increased student engagement with course content and increased student-to-student or student–instructor interactions—potentially leading to stronger positive relationships that improve learning and to the design of richer experiential or authentic learning experiences” (Greenhow & Gleason, 2012, p. 470). However, at the time of their research, few studies had examined the use of Twitter as a new literacy practice. Looking to research on literacy practices and social media, Greenhow and Gleason (2012), suggested that “youth-initiated virtual spaces,”  such as fan-fiction sites, Facebook and MySpace, afford students “allow young people to perform new social acts not previously possible”, and they demonstrate the new literacy practices (p. 471). Tweets, Greenhow and Gleason (2012) argued, offers similar themes and opportunities since it they are:

  • “multimodal, dynamically updating, situationally specific, and socially mediated” (p. 472)
  • offer “unique combinations of text, images, sound, and color that characterize teens’ self-expressions on social network sites, individual tweets and retweets typically comprise a multiplicity of modes” (p. 472)
  •  develop into “constantly evolving, co-constructed” conversations that require the participant to have understood the situational context of the conversation and the conventions within it in order to participate thereby demonstrating a “. (p. 472)
  • show “a use of language and other modes of meaning” that is “tied to
    their relevance to the users’ personal, social, cultural, historical, or economic lives.” (p. 472)

As a result, the Greenhow and Gleason (2012) argued that, when considering curricula, tweeting creates “opportunities for their development of standard language proficiencies” and “encourage the development of 21st century skills, such as information literacy skills” (p. 473-474).  However, the need for further research is important to addressing how to best addres this as a new literacy within traditional educational practices. Due to the paucity of research, the authors recommended more large-scale and in-depth studies of how students of varying subgroups use Twitter as well research specifically focused on :

  • tweeting practices and “the potential learning opportunities that exist across school and non-school settings,”(p. 474)
  • how learners frame and come to view their experiences and place within the Twitter community
  • developing pedagogy for analyzing social media communications to understand socio-cultural connections
  • how teachers are incorporating social media into secondary and higher education

Given the generally negative perceptions many parents and districts have of student use of social media, along with the hurdles of “authority, control, content management (e.g., managing what is shared, received, tagged, and remixed), security, and copyright,” Greenhow and Gleason (2012) caution that such research will likely focus on higher education until there is “an accumulation of evidence that suggests that the benefits of social media integration in learning environments outweigh the costs” (p. 475).

As Greenhow and Gleason (2012) literature research suggested, there can be a lag between when technology is introduced, when it becomes used in education, and when research strategies are targeted towards understanding its placement and performance in promoting learning among various student populations. At the time of their research,  the authors were only able to locate 15 studies which met their broader search criteria of social media and new literacy, and only 6 that specifically discussed microblogging.  In a more recent literature study, Tang and Hew (2018) found 51 papers which specifically examined microblogging and/or Twitter that were published between 2006 and 2015.  While microblogging platforms, such as Twiducate, have been offered to make microblogging more K-12 friendly, the question of whether or not the use of Twitter has reached its full potential is less certain. Tang and Hew (2018) suggest that Twitter and similar technologies are most often being used for assessment and communication and that more professional develop is needed to make faculty more adept at using and designing learning activities through Twitter as well as in training students to effectively use Twitter and lessen the distractions social media presents to them.  As Tang and Hew (2018) remarked still more research is needed “in how different students experience Twitter and are engaged by it” (p. 112).

Tang, & Hew. (2017). Using Twitter for education: Beneficial or simply a waste of time? Computers & Education, 106(C), 97-118.