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Shepherd, Ryan P. Facebook, Gender, and Compositon. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 03/06/2016.

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Shepherd, Ryan P. “Men, Women, and Web 2.0 Writing: Gender Difference in Facebook Composing.” Computers and Composition 39 (2016): 14-26. Web. 22 Feb. 2016.

Ryan P. Shepherd discusses a study to investigate how gender differences affect the use of Web 2.0 platforms, specifically Facebook, as these differences relate to composition classes. He argues that, although a great deal of work has been done within composition studies to explore how gender manifests in writing classes, and much work has documented gender differences in online activities in fields such as psychology, education, and advertising (16), the ways in which gender differences in Web 2.0 affect students’ approaches to composition have not been adequately addressed by the field (14).

Shepherd notes that discussions of gender differences risk essentializing male and female populations, but cites research by Cynthia L. Selfe and Gail E. Hawisher as well as Nancy K. Baym to contend that evidence for different behaviors does “persist” across studies and should be considered as composition teachers incorporate digital practices into classrooms (15). Without attention to the ways online composing relates to “aspects of identity and how these aspects shape composing practices when integrating social network sites (SNSs) into FYC [first-year composition] classes” (15), composition teachers may miss opportunities to fully exploit Web 2.0 as a literacy experience and meet student needs (15, 24).

The data come from a survey of FYC students about their Facebook activities and attitudes toward Facebook as a composing platform. Developed through multiple pilots over the course of the 2011 academic year, the survey gathered 474 responses, mostly from freshmen enrolled in some form of FYC at Shepherd’s institution and at other “large, doctoral-granting institutions” from which Shepherd solicited participation via the Council of Writing Program Administrators’ listserv (17). The survey is available as a supplemental appendix.

Shepherd argues that Facebook is an appropriate site to study because of its widespread use by college students and its incorporation of “a number of literacy practices,’ in particular what the 2004 CCCC Position Statement on digital writing calls “the literacy of the screen” (15). Shepherd first explores discussions of Facebook as it has been recommended for and incorporated into writing classes since 2008 as well as studies of student use of the platform (16). He then considers comprehensive work outside of composition on gender differences in the use of Facebook and other SNSs.

These studies vary in their results, with some showing that men and women do not differ in the amount of time they spend on SNSs and others showing that women do spend more time (17). Some studies find that women use such sites for more personal uses like email, compared to the finding that men are more likely to “surf” (17). Women in some parts of this body of research appear to engage more in “family activity,” to provide “more personal information in the ‘about me'” areas, and to worry more about privacy (17). Shepherd discusses one article about student use of Facebook that reveals that women use varied media more often; the article expresses concern about student comfort with online spaces and urges careful scaffolding in incorporating such spaces into classwork (17).

Shepherd presents his findings in a series of tables that reveal that gender had “a more statistically significant effect on more questions and often with more significant differences than any other independent variable” (18). The tables focus on the aspects in which these differences were evident.

In Shepherd’s view, gender difference significantly affected participants’ “rhetorical purposes,” their “different view[s] of audience,” and their varying “rhetorical stance[s]” (21). In general, he states that the data suggest that women are more concerned with “communicating with a broad audience,” while men appear more likely to see Facebook as a way to engage in “direct, personal communication” (22). Evidence for this conclusion comes from such data as the degree to which women and men invested equally in comments and chat, but women were more likely to post status updates, which Shepherd suggests may be a type of “announcement . . . to a large group of people at one time” (22). Women are also more likely to visit friends’ pages. Shepherd’s data also indicates that women think more carefully about their posts and “were more mindful” about the effects of photos and other media, even to the point that they might be thinking in terms of visual arguments (22). Shepherd believes these findings accord with conclusions drawn by Linda A. Jackson, Kevin S. Ervin, Philip D. Gardner, and N. Schmitt in the journal Sex Roles, where they suggest that women are more “interpersonally oriented” while men are more “information/task oriented” (qtd. in Shepherd 23).

In general, women were “more aware of audience on Facebook” (23). Shepherd cites their tendency to consider their privacy settings more often; he proposes that women’s tendency to post more personal information may account for some part of their concern with privacy (23). Moreover, he found that women were more likely to be aware that employers could access information on Facebook. In short, it may be that women “tend to have a greater awareness of people beyond the immediate audience of Facebook friends than men do” (23).

Shepherd sees differences in “rhetorical stance” manifested in the ways that men and women characterize Facebook as a location for writing. In this case, men were more likely to see the platform as a site for serious, “formal” writing and argument (23). The data suggest that men saw many different types of Facebook activities, such as posting media, as “a type of composition” (23). Shepherd posits that because women tend to do more multimodal posting, they may be less likely to think of their Facebook activities as writing or composition (23). He urges more investigation into this disparity (24).

Gender is just one of the differences that Shepherd contends should be taken into account when incorporating Web 2.0 into writing classrooms. His study reveals variation across “age, year in university, language, and attitude toward writing” (24). He suggests that women’s tendency to reflect more on their writing on Facebook can be helpful in course work where reflection on writing is called for (22); similarly, women’s use of multiple forms of media can be leveraged into discussions of visual rhetoric (22). In particular, he writes, students “may not be aware of the rhetorical choices they are making in their Facebook use and how these choices relate to the audience that they have crafted” (24).

Attention to gender, he contends, is an important part of making exploration of such choices and their effects a productive literacy experience when Facebook and other SNSs become part of a composition class (24).

Author: vanderso

I'm a recently retired associate professor of English in Southern Indiana. I've been teaching writing for twenty-five years, but I feel I have much to learn about how people really learn to write. In this blog, I'll be sharing research and thoughts and hopefully gathering information from others about the process of learning to write.

2 thoughts on “Shepherd, Ryan P. Facebook, Gender, and Compositon. C&C, Mar. 2016. Posted 03/06/2016.

  1. I do want to qualify this just a little bit: This is what held true for the men and women in my study. They were mostly freshman students from large research institutions. This isn’t likely to hold true for all men and women.

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    • Thanks so much, Ryan, for the clarification! I really appreciate author input. I probably often leave out important points and welcome more information on the articles.

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