Flint: UM-Flint English comp class uses Twitter talk Study: Students rank texting as No. 1 form of writing

By Beata Mostafavi

The Flint Journal

FLINT, Mich. (AP) -- In one University of Michigan-Flint English class, some writing assignments are limited to 140 letters.

Complete sentences aren't required. Or paragraphs. Or even punctuation.

It's a modern twist on learning how to write -- in Twitterverse.

As national surveys rank texting and social media as the most common writing platforms among college-age students, Michigan-Flint joins campuses across the country incorporating the trend into English classrooms.

"We're using Twitter to see what it's like, to see if we can actually sustain academic, critical conversation through this limited communication means," said James Schirmer, who teaches in the university of Michigan-Flint's English department.

"It's been interesting to see how it changes the writing but also the overall culture of class."

And in a world where writing can be published instantly online via blogs and other social media, college instructors are helping mold a more sophisticated class of writers -- even if it's the type of writing whose grammatical faux pas can make traditionalists cringe.

English classes normally don't encourage sentence fragments and abbreviations, but Twitter land has its own language: "abt" for about, "deets" for details and "Gr8" instead of great.

In Schirmer's class, students regularly used quick phrases, links and photos to communicate via Twitter and blogging.

"It was way more relevant than any other writing class I've taken," said nursing student Ginger Zakoor, 29, of Morrice. "I've read Robert Frost and analyzed things and written papers, but I think knowing how to use Twitter is going to be more useful in the real world."

Jeff Grabill, professor of writing and rhetoric at Michigan State University, studied the writing behaviors of more than 1,300 first-year college students across the nation.

His study found that college students ranked texting as the No. 1 form of writing and cell phones as a top writing platform.

Some critics may argue that texting is "bad writing," he said but it's how most people communicate.

"This generation of students write more than any other generation in history," Grabill said. "The written form of communication is more widespread and commonly used than what it had been. They're using different languages with different audiences, and managing that is hard."

Other findings from the study: E-mail is described as being for "old people." Facebook is used for writing everything from screenplays to poetry.

Grabill said that as the platforms for writing continue to evolve, college classes need to help students maximize the technology available to them.

"Traditional writing classes have ignored those writing technologies," he said. "You can instantly publish what you write to the world, and that is a very significant difference, not just in how writing is produced but how it's distributed.

"We can help students understand that activity in new ways and become increasingly powerful writers in those environments."

But young people need to be wary of getting too informal in more formal situations, such as cover letters, résumés or even some e-mails.

"We see an awful lot of texting and Facebook practices leaking into e-mails and other kinds of formal correspondence," Grabill said. "What you can get away with in a text probably doesn't belong in an e-mail to your manager."

Michigan-Flint psychology major Katee Welte said that for some, text language has become a bad habit.

"I've noticed that people shorten words all the time now, like writing 'ddnt' or 'w/o,' even in their papers," said Welte, 20, of Lennon. "I honestly think it has ruined our vocabulary and grammar a little bit because that's what people have gotten used to."

She estimates exchanging hundreds of text messages in just a day.

It may be a simple "guess what" to a friend, making plans or entire back-and-forth text conversations with several people at once.

"I know a lot of people would rather text than talk on the phone," she said. "It's fast and easy."

Published: Wed, May 11, 2011


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