Twitter – the newest teacher for twenty first century writers

In a world of digital natives, microfiction and social media in academic settings, Twitter is the ideal tool for regenerating twenty-first century writing, according to a recent study in New Writing.

With its live nature – the need to edit at speed, the strict character limit – the imposed brevity, Twitter enforces critical enquiry. The text based social media channel equips the twenty-first century writer with the necessary skills to thrive in the face of emerging technologies.

Josie Barnard, Senior Lecturer in Creative Writing with Journalism, Middlesex University, conducted a study to determine whether Twitter can help students develop creative writing skills in the classroom and in what way. She argues that pen, paper and imagination alone are no longer sufficient tools for competing in the writers’ arena. The pilot study was undertaken to test if there was any value in introducing Twitter to the creative writing classroom.

“The learning experiences were exciting to see. The exercises helped students develop a new rigour. Tough self-editing is needed to pare a narrative right back. The exercises also helped with writer’s block, providing fresh stimulation that aided students’ creativity. The 21st century brings new challenges for aspiring writers. They must become multimodal writers, that is, flexible enough in their creative practice to be able to move between different types of writing for different modes of dissemination often within small time frames. The Twitter exercises helped the students begin to develop these skills.”

Traditionally, the best creative writing was thought to arise within a solitary environment. In twenty-first century writing, there is a need for new writers to engage in self-promotion and communicate with their reader community. Social media invites writers to build author platforms and post regularly. Generating publicity is no longer the sole responsibility of the publisher. However, in spite of a burgeoning interest in the literary world with ‘microfiction’, a genre that Twitter, with its 140 character limit, is well suited to, there remains a reluctance to embrace Twitter in the teaching of creative writing. In a Faculty Focus survey of 1,958 education professionals, academics view Twitter, ‘as more technological clutter,’ explaining why Twitter may be rejected in an academic setting.

Two BA creative writing classes were asked to complete exercises as well as an evaluation sheet between November 2012 and March 2013. Students were invited to tweet about a set topic and given a hashtag to embed within tweets. Storify was used to collate the tweets and projected on a smart board where the micro-narratives were arranged accordingly. In the class, students still considered and submitted work in conventional formats but moved between different forms of writing. Working together as a group inspired confidence in editing the work of others highlighting the importance of community on what was once considered an isolated pastime. The majority of participants in the pilot study claimed that Twitter helped meet all the learning objectives stipulated in the assessment forms.

The use of Twitter in creative writing teaching challenges convention – brevity replaces the long words often perceived as signs of good writing. The absence of handouts and live nature of tweets refined the skills needed to critique on the spot. Twitter lays foundations for crafting the story for the twenty-first century writer.

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