IM Learning 2 Write? A Study on how Instant Messaging Shapes Student Writing
Spatafora, Julia Nadine
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The increasing popularity of Instant Messaging (IM) among adolescents in North America (Kids' Take On Media, 2003; Lenhart, Ranie & Lewis, 2001; Tagliamonte & Denis, 2006) is prompting two educational debates. One debate contests whether IM is more like speech or writing (e.g. Tagliamonte & Dennis, 2003). The second debate disputes whether IM has a positive or negative effect on school writing (e.g. O’Connor, 2005). This thesis addresses these debates from a New Literacies Studies (NLS) stance. It reports on a qualitative study of the perspectives and literacy practices of high school students. The purpose is to examine how IM shapes student writing and perception of literacy. The study focuses on the communication that transpired between five experienced IM users—one researcher and four adolescent participants—during a six-week IM writing group. Findings indicate the participants regard IM as a space for written slang; a space where speech and writing merge. Sensitive to context, the participants note that they can switch language registers to accommodate their audience, but they think confusion between registers may be a possibility. They demonstrate an attitude of “linguistic whateverism” (as described by Baron, 2002) when writing in the context of IM to increase efficiency, but they do not use as many acronyms as expected. The “whatever” attitude is linked to mistakes in writing, but it also exposes them to a sense of freedom and enjoyment. In general, IM provides these students with a new purpose for language, which they perceive as disconnected from school literacy. The findings suggests that IM language is a hybrid of speech and writing, and connecting IM with school writing (both literally and figuratively) may help teachers be more effective in making school writing processes more relevant to students’ lives. While making this connection, it is important for teachers to emphasize the plurality of literacies and the importance of revising and editing “finished” writing. In conclusion, this thesis considers new opportunities and concerns for writing pedagogy and new prospects for language research.