#Hashtags in the Writing Classroom

hashtag

Hashtags are used to group messages and label topics. Today, hashtags are widely used in the social networks as a markup for groups of interests that belong together and a language for expression that is used outside the traditional sentence structure. Steve Boyd in a blogpost describes hashtags as “twitter groupings” that can be “wonderful for serendipity.” Hashtags are to Twitter as Likes are to Facebook, until Facebook stole the light recently by launching its own hashtagging function.

Read about the origin of Twitter hashtags here.

How do #Hashtags work?

By simply writing the pound symbol (#) in front of a keyword or a phrase (written as one word), e.g. #love, #writing, #instructionaltechnology, etc. you turn the words/phrases into searchable terms and clickable links on your posts or tweets. Depending on your social platform, you will be redirected to a feed of posts/tweets that contains the hashtagged term when you click on them.

For example: Failure is inevitable. Misery is optional. #365empowerment (A hashtag project that I started on Facebook before hashtags were possible on the platform!)

Due to its searchable nature, hashtags allow trending topics/terms to be featured in your social networks. Twitter shows an updated feed about the most popular hashtags in its streams.

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Using #Hashtags in writing instruction

Writing instructors may take advantage of the functions hashtags offer to help students engage with public conversations as they learn to write. The following exercises are some of my ideas on how to utilize hashtags in making composition pedagogy more interesting for students:

  1. Use hashtags to group research/writing topics on Facebook groups for schools
  2. Post announcements to class (social media) pages using hashtags to markup categories
  3. Use social media management dashboards like TweetDeck to monitor and manage trending hashtags
  4. Conduct real-time virtual discussions using Twitter streams during lectures or peer review sessions
  5. Really, it is up to your own creativity on how you’d like to use hashtags in your classroom!

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Using dashboards like TweetDeck, students can handpick topics they would like to follow, e.g. #rhetoric, #insomnia, #fitness, etc. as part of the research process. Students may curate useful information, blog links or websites that are helpful toward their respective research projects.

A new language?

Languages evolve. As the impact of hashtags is becoming more profound in the composition process, we as writing instructors should teach our students to be more flexible and rhetorically aware of the language(s) in digital media. Keeping up with the ever-evolving new media is just as important as learning any new skills, since the corporate world relies heavily on the latest computer and mobile technology in their operations. Teaching students the language of digital media is preparing them for the competitive job market.

Do you use hashtags in your classroom/workplace? How do you use them? Share your ideas and comments below.

7 thoughts on “#Hashtags in the Writing Classroom

  1. For settings where we do not have access to computers for every student in the classroom (sound familiar?), the flipped model becomes much more feasible, and powerful. Instead of relying on in-class time to tweet, use that class time to reflect on the rhetorical aspects of flash mob tweeting, regroup, and even apply theories to the phenomena. Discussions about hashtags should always involve questions like, “Who can tweet, who has access to tweeting, who owns the data generated on twitter, how do we develop connections through hashtags, what is the genre of the tweet, and does the small number of characters constrain writers or enable them to write things in new, creative, and evolutionary ways? All of these questions inspire in-class conversations about the literacy practices of students — I’m just not convinced that tweeting during class would work as powerfully. I mean, if they can tweet outside of class, then what are they coming to class for?

    • I still believe there’s value in in-class tweeting, esp. during peer reviews and other collaborative exercises. I think of tweeting as part of the exercise. Of course, students can still tweet when they are out of class to continue the conversations we started in class. Gaining access to technology has always been an issue for me. But you’re right, discussions about the rhetorical aspects of tweeting are an important facet in literacy practices.

      • I respect your decision to do that, but to me, peer review is already messy and difficult to manage. There are also issues of comfort and ownership during peer review. If students are reluctant to read their papers out loud to their peers, what will motivate them to tweet questions, comments, and observations –about their own writing or the writing of their peers– to anyone on the web who wishes to access them? Any peer review session should honor the ownership of the original writer and reflect nondirective practices. We have enough trouble helping our students understand the desired conventions of peer review, and the addition of tweeting only complicates any notion of ownership and nondirective methods that are desired in that practice.

        If anything seems evident so far, I’m playing devil’s advocate here, not to discourage you, but to reiterate how tools and technology must be selected and utilized with extreme care.

      • I can definitely use some critical perspectives here. I understand what you mean about the issues of comfort and ownership. I am motivated to challenge that discomfort and to push the envelope in terms of conventions. But again, I see where you’re coming from, and thank you for your insights!

  2. Have a question for you. I am a graduate student at a university located on the deep South Texas, right at the Mexico/USA border. You wrote, “Teaching students the language of digital media is preparing them for the competitive job market.” Students who already use Tweet are using the language already, they might not be aware of the rhetorical implication, but they are users. How is tweeting going to prepare students for the competitive job market in this ever-evolving media? Can you give an example? #rclf14

    • Hi Marce,

      Thanks for your comments. I see my argument hasn’t been made in better context. I do agree with you that students who are already on Twitter/using it know the basic mechanism of its language. However, I think being able to understand how and what Twitter can be used to accomplish (i.e. connecting with professionals, interjecting with ideas, overturning hierarchies, organizing social movements, etc.) is crucial to someone who is looking to increase his/her “market value.” In other (McLuhan’s) words, the medium is the me(a)ssage, not the content.

  3. Thanks for sharing this article. I’ve been struggling with getting students to be engaged with feedback during my workshops, so I’m definitely going to use # streams to give feedback. Obviously there is a character limit to this, so it would be very focused feedback. I love the # idea too for the ongoing lecture. I think the students I have taught will be much more interested engaging with this idea rather than writing feedback.

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