JPEE doctoral candidates reveal how undergraduates actually feel about writing on social media platforms*

Jathan Day and Adrienne Raw, doctoral candidates in the Joint Program in English and Education (JPEE), wrote an op-ed for The Michigan Daily about their research on the online writing habits of college students. With U-M professor David Gold’s mentorship, they uncovered students’ feelings about writing and reading online, especially on social media. The team’s full findings will be published this year in the journal College Composition and Communication.

The team reported that a majority of the 803 undergraduate students they surveyed worry about their online writing practices. Students are especially concerned about “the reactions of both intended and unintended audiences, the consequences of their writing being online forever, and their ability or authority to write on various topics,” said the researchers, who found that less than 30 percent of students reported never worrying about these concerns.

“Despite the popular treatment of students as benighted ‘digital natives,’ unaware of the effects of technology, young learners often recognize its influences and limitations, which may lead to more thoughtful decisions about what they write online, for whom and for what purpose,” they wrote.

The op-ed explains that students tend to interact with social media through reading far more than though writing, which also suggests that students are gauging tone and risk level before choosing to engage with these media in writing.

“One of the great fears about young adults writing online is that their activities will bring them into contact with the darker aspects of online culture: predators, cyberbullies, and unknown others whose response to their still-forming opinions might have real consequences in their everyday lives,” they wrote, adding that students tend to limit their online audience to people they trust.

The research team recommends that college writing instructors teach students how to use social media for creative and civic purposes. “Let’s leverage what students already know and help them use it to become active, thoughtful digital citizens,” they said.