Affect and Technology: Social Motivation, Literacy, and Facebook

Quick background: I was too old to play Pokémon when it was popular.   In fact, I worked in Waldenbooks (now out of business) and sold Pokémon cards to parents when I was in my late 20’s.  Even though I don’t understand the social and cognitive complexities of playing Pokémon, I do agree with Mimi Ito: interest-driven learning with a high social component motivates children and adolescents.

In terms of adolescent learning and motivation, I see Ito’s distinction between friendship-driven and interest-driven online environments as being particularly useful.  More specifically, her distinction highlights how both of these online environments use and situate affect differently.  For example, social networking sites allow friends to chat and learn about “local peers groups, friendships, and romantic relations”(n.p.).  In other words, these sites, like Facebook, provide updated analogues of the after school hang out, like the mall, or an even older setting, the soda fountain.  In this online update of friendship-motivated, social contexts, gossiping (for both boys and girls), romantic and platonic pairings, and the comparing of garments (photo updates) keep teens in touch with each other.

On the other hand, the interest-driven sites that have teen writing with peers online repurpose their natural social motivation to focus on a topic or to reinforce a particular skill set.  Like the social networking sites, communities like Faraway Lands push peer-to-peer interaction into the foregrounded, but in a more pedagogical fashion.  For example, peer-to-peer, and adult mentor-to-student interactions motivate Clarissa to improve her writing.  As Clarissa differentiates her online, creative writing community from her school writing community, “ [Online creative writing is] something I can do in my spare time and not have to be graded on it…You know in school you’re creative, but you’re doing for a grade so it doesn’t really count?”(n.p.) It doesn’t really count?  Count for what?  Ito answers my question:  “The evaluation and appreciation by peers who share her same passionate interests feels both more authentic and consequential to her” where Clarissa gets opportunities to network and publish her work” (n.p.) like an adult writer would.  As Ito says, school would not afford Clarissa such opportunities.

As both a novice academic writer and writing instructor who is interested in online writing communities, I’ve come to realize the importance of socially motivated learning in online writing.  Additionally, I wonder how, as a novice academic writing and writing instructor I could borrow and apply what Ito discusses to my own (which I somewhat do now) and my students writing practices. For example,  I could encourage my students (maybe even require them) to respond to Facebook newsfeed posts and take screen shots of the comment thread and submit the hardcopy to me for my consideration.  On a social networking site like Facebook, I do think that Ito’s contention that “[s]kills and literacy are a by-product of social engagement” (n.p.) does have traction.  Granted, Facebook doesn’t necessarily engage teenagers (or college students) in situations that work to reinforce literacy and writing skills to the level a high school- or college-level writing class can. Nonetheless,  with the presence of New York Times, Literary Reviews, and other discourse communities available on Facebook’s newsfeeds, teens (and college students) can get updates from the stories they like or comment on. Case in point, like the community where Clarissa receives feedback for her work, teens and young adults could use the postings and comment threads as places to get feedback on their ideas; and in the case of more extended discussion, feedback on their writing. I realize that a site like Facebook doesn’t provide the close reading and peer-to-peer editing that a community like Faraway Lands provide.  However, if teens and college students are going to “play” around on sites like Facebook, then that sense of play that Ito discusses be superimposed unto learning opportunities for their writing and thinking, while also honoring the social component (gossiping, status updates) teens and college students want.

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