“The Rhetoric of Reach”: Social Media in the Classroom

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Elise Verzosa Hurley’s and Amy C. Kimme Hea’s “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media” offers insights into the cultural narratives that surround social media use while presenting an argument for the responsibility of technical communication instructors to engage with social media in the classroom. The article begins with some well-known cases where mistakes made through social media ruined people’s careers and public standing. Due to Americans’ social media use, the topic is timely, and instructors might consider being more aware of social media’s impact in daily life and in the classroom.

Part of Hurley’s and Kimme Hea’s argument is that instructors must work with students to engage with social media critically, which requires pushing back against the dominant narrative of social media as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and combating stereotypes about social media use. Such an approach involves the use of social media in the classroom. The authors rely on the work of Selber, Johnson-Eilola, and Turnley for this part of their argument. I agree with Hurley and Kimme Hea that technology and platforms should be engaged in the classroom as I don’t think an approach can truly be critical if technology and platforms are merely talked about. What I find interesting about this argument is that it has implications for other texts for study such as video games. Similar statistics can be presented that show the prevalence of video game use in America, and yet there is still some pushback for including video games in the college classroom. And many seem hesitant to even acknowledge video games as texts. However, just like social media (all media really), video games reflect the cultures that produce them and are not merely technical instruments. As Hurley and Kimme Hea point out early on in the article, it is important for students to critically understand their media use in order to recognize their roles as rhetorical agents (58). I believe this extends to all media.

Ultimately, through their courses and study, Hurley and Kimme Hea found that technical writing students “came to understand that social media use might actually forward professional careers rather than derail them” (65). Students thought critically about social media use, realized its potential, and challenged notions of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ social media use. An important part of taking such a critical stance is recognizing the social and cultural connections media has as communication. Social media is connected to greater social practices, which is, in part, why relying solely on ‘cautionary tales’ is a disservice to students.

I think this article is significant not only for what it tells educators about students and social media use but for its commentary on the academy and approaches to technology (though this is not the authors’ main point). When dealing with technology and media, it’s important for educators to assess what students and society have to say, but it’s also important for educators to reflect on their assumptions and the narratives perpetuated by academics. While this article was published in 2014, discussions about the place of media in classrooms are ongoing. I don’t know the full context for this piece, but it seems like a significant contribution to this discussion in that it shows the relevance of media in peoples’ lives and how that media can be viewed critically.

Hurley, Elise Verzosa & Amy C. Kimme Hea. “The Rhetoric of Reach: Preparing Students for Technical Communication in the Age of Social Media.” Technical Communication Quarterly, vol. 23, 2014, pp. 55–68.

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