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Social Media as Authorship: Methods for Studying Literacies and Communities Online

Author: Amy Stornaiuolo, University of Pennsylvania, Jennifer Higgs, University of California, Berkeley, Glynda Hull, University of California, Berkeley

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

Young people today grow up in a profoundly textual world. Encountering digitally mediated texts via computers, television, tablets, cell phones, and gaming devices, youth have more opportunities than ever before to engage with and make meaning across many forms and varieties of text. And it appears that young people are embracing these opportunities in record numbers, with 95% of young people ages 12-17 in the US using the Internet to search for information, create original content, or exchange messages with others (Lenhart, 2012). Many of these textual engagements are conducted across social media sites that connect people and media with one another, with at least 80% of online youth now participating on these sites (Lenhart et al., 2011). These socially oriented communicative environments are highly participatory and collaborative, offering amplified authoring opportunities for young people to produce and shape content online for and with others across a variety of modes.

As more people become authors, writing for purposes of work, learning, citizenship, and leisure, they are writing in the context of other writers, a “mass daily experience” that is transforming our reading and writing (Brandt, in press, p. 2). Audiences tend to be interactive, collaborative, and participatory, made up of other writers who function as engaged interlocutors shaping the writing process (Ede & Lunsford, 2009). As people write for multiple (often unpredictable, distant, and invisible) audiences, contexts overlap and collapse (boyd, 2011), rendering it necessary as authors to actively and jointly construct contexts through their interactive textual practices (Haas & Takayoshi, 2011). And they do so using a variety of rhetorical strategies particularly afforded by the multimodal, global, and participatory potentials of social media (Hull, Stornaiuolo, & Sterponi, 2013; Stornaiuolo, DiZio, Hellmich, & Hull, in press) as they compose in the context of networked publics—publics restructured by networked technologies that offer people the opportunity to connect with others beyond their immediate circle in newly interactive ways (boyd, 2011, p. 39). One of the central challenges facing researchers who investigate these networked literacies is how to study the emergence of “new models of composing” in these contexts (Yancey, 2009; cf. Bezemer & Kress, 2010; Hass & Takayoshi, 2011), particularly the way our practices and understandings of texts and authorship shift, transform, and emerge.

This chapter takes that central methodological challenge as its focus. We first review empirical research on youth’s literate, multimodal endeavors with social media, looking particularly at how researchers have addressed key questions of mobility and interconnectivity as they investigated the ways young people read and write online using new tools and engaging with global and interactive audiences. We then briefly describe our own recent efforts to study youth’s networked literacy practices, including both insights and challenges from our mixed

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

methods design research project ( We conclude by presenting possible future methodological directions as networked publics shift the methodological landscape for young people and researchers alike. Drawing on boyd’s (2011) characterization of networked publics, we examine how the dimensions of persistence, searchability, replicability, and scalability can operate as a generative framework to guide our practices in studying networked literacies. We argue that socially networked environments afford new authoring opportunities for young people to engage in potentially equitable (Warschauer & Matchuniak, 2010), participatory (Jenkins et al., 2006), and hospitable (Hull, Stornaiuolo & Sterponi, 2013) literacy practices in our global, digital world—and that as researchers, we need to develop methodological approaches that can better capture the complexity of these endeavors.

Authoring Practices in Networked Spaces

With the recent “digital turn” in New Literacy Studies (NLS) research (Mills, 2010), a number of researchers have begun to study changing semiotic and textual practices associated with digital tool use across various contexts. In this section, we synthesize current empirical research that explicitly examines social media from the standpoint of literacy studies. We are interested in the ways in which scholars aligned with NLS, who understand literacy to be a repertoire of diverse, shifting practices used for communicating deliberately in our multiple social and cultural worlds (Gee, 2000; Lankshear & Knobel, 2006; Street, 1995), have conceptualized and studied literacy practices in social media contexts. To wit, we examine the spectrum of methodologies currently employed to study these new literacies (cf. Coiro et al., 2008).1

Aiming to gain a fuller understanding of researchers’ methodologies across a broad range of socially mediated authoring spaces, we turned to Kaplan and Haenlein’s (2010) classification of social media to organize our search. Defining social media as “a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated Content” (p. 61), Kaplan and Haenlein identify six categories of social media environments: blogs/microblogs (e.g., Blogger, instant messaging, Twitter, texting); collaborative projects (e.g., wikis); social networking sites (e.g., Facebook, MySpace); content communities (e.g., fanfiction sites, Flickr); virtual social worlds (e.g., Second Life); and virtual game worlds (e.g., World of Warcraft). These categories represent the preponderance of research on online literacy practices.

We searched relevant academic databases (including ERIC, ProQuest, EBSCO, and Google Scholar) using keywords derived from Kaplan and Haelein’s (2010) classification system, such as “blogs AND (literacy OR new literacies) AND data” (including the word “data” to help winnow out non-empirical pieces). Since we were interested in empirical studies on literacy and social media, particularly those addressing social media as potential authoring sites and the methodologies used to examine them as such, we looked for studies that 1) reported

1 We focus on peer-reviewed empirical studies rather than non-empirical explanations and descriptions.

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

observational research; 2) provided details on methodological approaches; and 3) aligned with a New Literacy Studies focus. As of July 2012, the searches of the databases as well as hand searches of reference lists yielded a total of 521 articles, of which 43 were included in our review. We organized the results of our review according to the aforementioned social media categories in order to look for patterns in the methodologies used across them, even though we recognize that many of the studies could fit more than one category.

Our examination of these studies revealed a growing but still nascent body of research attending to social media and literacy practices. Studies on blogging and microblogging have been most common, which may not be surprising given the fact that blogs “look” most like literacy activities and, as bounded texts, may be more straightforward to study than literacy activities in other online environments such as virtual social worlds (e.g., Lee, 2007; West, 2007). Also evident is a pronounced research interest in open and closed social networking sites (SNSs), such as Facebook, Remix World, and Space2Cre8, as spaces for multilingual writing practices and learner-learner interactions (e.g., Reinhardt & Zander, 2011; Hull, Stornaiuolo, & Sahni, 2010; Richards & Gomez, 2010; McLean, 2010; Lam, 2009). The literate practices of content communities are also of increasing interest to NLS scholars (e.g., Black, 2009; Davies, 2007), although this category is less well represented in the current empirical literature, as are the categories of collaborative projects (e.g., Luce-Kapler, 2007), virtual social worlds (e.g., Gillen, 2009; Merchant, 2009), and virtual game worlds (e.g., Steinkuehler, 2007; Sanford & Madill, 2007).

Methodologically, the majority of the reviewed studies featured standard qualitative approaches to capture and analyze the authoring activities represented across the six social media categories. For example, in her case study of a Caribbean American adolescent’s uses of online social networks, McLean (2010) gathered data in the participant’s school, home, and physical and online communities, including semi-structured interviews, websites, emails, and researcher field notes. In a similar vein, in their work on the closed Digital Youth Network Remix World site, Richards and Gomez (2010) collected data from the program’s in-school and after-school components in the form of thick descriptive field notes, informal surveys on Remix World use, and semi-structured interviews. Mills and Chandra (2011) analyzed preservice teachers’ microblogged stories by systematically coding key themes and using concept maps (graphic organizers) to trace characters and plot developments in the stories. In combing through methods sections, we found that certain kinds of qualitative methods predominated: e.g., participant observation in or across bounded virtual or physical sites, field notes, semi-structured interviews, talk-alouds, focus groups, textual content analysis. A smaller number of studies blended qualitative and quantitative approaches (e.g., Lam, 2009).

We appreciate the rich detail such traditional qualitative methods offer, and we hope this kind of work continues, especially given the press of a “big data” world. Our review of the most prevalent approaches for studying networked literacies also raises important questions about future methodological directions for NLS scholars. For example, to what extent do new times, new tools, and new practices require us to reconceptualize the role of literacy researchers and

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

reinvent our methods? How might we add new entries to the methodological catalogue, thereby gaining fresh purchase on literacy practices without relying on the assumed “newness” of networked literacies? Davies’ (2007) stance as an “auto-ethnographer” on Flickr offers one intriguing answer to these queries, as does Lankshear and Knobel’s (2006) call for increased “insider research,” or research on new media by those who are also active participants in the studied spaces. Black’s (2009) participation as a fanfiction author as well as an interested researcher gestures toward this notion of “insider” investigation that could help scholars explore social media environments from perspectives animated by a willingness to examine familiar environments and/or practices in new ways. Similarly, Gillen’s (2009) virtual literacy ethnography, with its diverse interpretive methods and understandings of semiotic practices in virtual worlds, provides a productive methodological model that grapples with the uncertain boundaries of “real life” and virtual environments, as well as the uncertainties surrounding “appropriate” methods for studying these blurred, literacy-rich spaces.

The reviewed studies collectively suggest the potential of various social media as powerful, interactive authoring spaces that can bring together diverse cultures, languages, perspectives, knowledge, and skills (e.g., Greenhow & Robelia, 2009; Dowdall, 2009; Yi, 2008), with implications for literacy learning in and across formal and informal learning contexts (e.g., Leander & Lovvorn, 2006; McLean, 2010; DePew, 2011). For example, the fiction written and read by adolescents in virtual fandoms illustrates an array of literacy practices that often bear a striking resemblance to school-sanctioned composition activities and writing practices valued by professional writers (Black & Steinkuehler, 2009). Our review also demonstrates the need for more studies that explore how users, particularly children and adolescents, employ social media to engage in interactive, multimodal discourse, and how their everyday, technology-mediated literacies might serve as powerful authoring tools in school contexts. As various scholars have noted (e.g., boyd & Ellison, 2007; Greenhow & Robelia, 2009; Hull & Stornaiuolo, 2010; Merchant, 2011), much of the research to date has focused on the presentation of self, identity development, privacy and risk issues, online/offline relationships, and “friending” behaviors. Five years after boyd (2008) highlighted how much youth love SNSs, we still have limited knowledge about young people’s literate practices in online authoring spaces, and how those experiences may create discursive spaces for developing as writers across offline and in-school contexts (e.g., Davies & Merchant, 2009; Merchant, 2011). The integration of social media into K-12 schooling in particular looms as a largely unexplored terrain, as college and university students remain the most studied participants of in-school investigations.

Studying Networked Literacies: The Space2Cre8 Project

In order to ground our discussion about the methodological challenges and opportunities of studying youth’s networked literacies, we turn now to our own efforts during our three-year mixed methods research study. We examined adolescents’ literacy practices on a private social

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

network, Space2Cre8 (S2C8),2 built in collaboration with a team of programmers, teachers, researchers, and teens in a design research project (Collins, Joseph, & Bielaczyc, 2004). Over four design cycles, guided by interactions with and input from youth participants in Norway, South Africa, India and the US, we created a social network that could serve as a generative authoring space for youth. Over these iterative, responsive, and theoretically-driven design cycles, we created a network that offered participants many ways to share and interact around texts, including multimodal blogging, commenting, video sharing, microblogging, chatting, and profile page design. While the first months of the project were especially challenging as we learned how to imagine, design, and study a social network from the ground up, we found that the design research approach proved fruitful for examining literacy development in the context of social media.

The central benefit of a design research approach for our project was the methodological complexity it afforded, especially the possibility of adjusting and refining our methodologies over several theory-driven cycles in response to participants (Barab & Squire, 2004). Across the multiple design cycles, we worked to understand youth’s literacy practices with social networking without making a priori determinations of what such participation looked like, refining our methodological approaches as we learned, with our participants, what functionalities worked and which did not. For example, we found that youth wanted to respond to one another online about their posted artifacts but at times were reticent to comment (because of a lack of confidence in their writing ability or language facility, shyness, uncertainty about what to say, etc.) . In response to this concern, we introduced a new icon that participants designed (a happy face with thumbs up), which allowed participants to mark multimodally their engagement with texts. Methodologically, this also allowed us to trace youthful reading patterns in new ways, because we could see which texts young people clicked on, which they labeled via an icon, and which they provoked their comments. As we were particularly interested in the ways that the social network and classroom contexts functioned as complex learning environments that influenced textual engagement, a design research approach offered us, not only the opportunity to examine the ways that social context factored into youth’s textual practices, but also to shape those learning contexts in theoretically-informed ways.

We used a variety of methodological approaches in the project, tweaking them across the different design cycles to collect a mix of qualitative and quantitative data. Ethnographically, we tried to capture as much rich detail as possible in the classroom contexts by filming class sessions, writing field notes, collecting youth-produced artifacts, and conducting a variety of interviews at different points in time. On the social network, we collected a significant amount of data via analytics that archived all online activity. In addition to conducting qualitative analysis of all online content, especially multimodal discourse analyses of participants’ online

2 We gratefully acknowledge the efforts of the entire Space2Cre8 team as well as the support of the Spencer Foundation; the UC Links project of the University of California; the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley; and the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University.

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

interactions, we analyzed data quantitatively as well, looking at friendship networks, ascertaining patterns of connectivity and tabulating frequencies of interactions and postings. We worked across the ethnographic and network data in the analysis, turning to data analysis software (e.g., Atlas.ti) and creating data matrices using different data visualization tools (e.g., Gephi, Timeline).

While this mix of qualitative and quantitative data offered the benefit of seeing patterns over time and across different scales, we faced a number of challenges in studying youth’s composing processes in relation to others across online/offline spaces and across multiple languages and semiotic systems. For example, we had difficulty tracing intertextual links between participants—how could we understand the ways that viewing artifacts on the network shaped youth’s composing processes? We often saw references, sampling, and other remixed elements appearing in youth’s compositions, but the trajectories were difficult to trace, particularly when young people worked collaboratively. Similarly, we tried to track the movement of artifacts through the network, but observational methodologies coupled with quantitative analysis of viewing and posting patterns still provided just a partial glimpse of the complex online/offline movements of texts and the iterative interplay between authors and audiences across texts and contexts. These queries were made more complex when we attempted to trace collaborative work within and across school sites, especially as youth began to create new genres of radically collaborative texts. We turn now to consider how these challenges, echoed in many of the other studies we examined, can be understood as characteristic of meaning making in the context of networked publics.

Methodological Implications of/for Networked Publics

Clearly, one of the central questions now facing educational researchers who would examine young people’s networked literacy practices is how to study the circulation of texts, ideas, and people as social media blurs boundaries between virtual and real, audience and author, public and private, local and global. As authorship becomes more distributed, interactive, and participatory within networked logics, “there is a new intricacy to the choreography of collaborative authoring and feedback” (Gillen, 2009, p. 72). Indeed, social media complicates what it means to compose collaboratively, negotiate audiences, and engage in public life (Baym & boyd, 2012). Networked publics function as a central organizing principle in our cultural and social practices (Varnelis, 2008), with people taking up active roles in producing and circulating knowledge (Ito, 2008). In light of methodological challenges associated with studying shifting relationships among texts, authors, and audiences in the context of networked technologies, we propose that literacy researchers attend more closely to the characteristics of these networked logics to guide their methodological practices.

We have found the work of danah boyd (2011) to be particularly generative in conceptualizing the way networked publics are transforming composing. While boyd finds that networked publics share much in common with other publics—for example, allowing people to interact beyond familiar circles of friends and family and gather for social and cultural purposes—she argues that networked publics are characterized by “fundamental architectural differences” (boyd, 2008, p. 125). As mediated publics in which “spaces and audiences … are

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

bound together through technological networks,” networked publics have new affordances for amplifying, chronicling, and circulating information and social activities (boyd, 2008, p. 125). boyd (2011) characterizes these affordances along four dimensions that have the potential to destabilize people’s assumptions and thus influence their textual practices: persistence, searchability, replicability, and scalability. As these four characteristics of networked publics influence how young people now make meaning with texts, they must also inform researchers’ practices, both in how we investigate youth’s networked literacies and in how we make meaning in networked contexts. In the following section we draw on boyd’s formulation of these four affordances of networked publics to articulate how literacy researchers can expand their methodological horizons in studying networked literacies.

Persistence: What To Do with All That Data?

Persistence refers to the way that online material is recorded and archived, accessible over time and across contexts. Soep (2012) calls this phenomenon the “digital afterlife,” arguing that researchers need a robust methodological repertoire for studying the ways in which young people’s artifacts persist online well past the processes of production. How can researchers address the persistence of young people’s compositions, given the sheer visibility and quantity of their writing as well as their artifacts’ unpredictable paths of circulation over time?

One of the central methodological tensions regarding the persistence of data centers on how to adequately account for the deluge of accessible information. How might researchers arrive at their decisions regarding the kinds of data to collect, the contexts of data collection, and the duration of collection? How do they demarcate data and the research field? As people’s literacy practices become increasingly mobile across online and offline spaces (Leander & McKim, 2003), a number of researchers have turned toward ethnographic approaches, especially multi-sited ethnography (Marcus, 1995), as one means of tracing how knowledge, texts, and human and nonhuman “actants” converge and interact over the course of authoring activities (e.g., Leander & Lovvorn, 2006; Soep, 2012). While these kinds of rich ethnographic methods can provide a detailed portrait of youth literacies, we believe that the complexity of meaning making in networked contexts requires researchers to adopt equally complex methods. One way to expand our methodological repertoire, Stornaiuolo and Hall (in press) suggest, is to embrace “methodological heteroglossia” by bringing together a hybrid cross-section of methods from diverse traditions to better capture the multidimensionality of networked learning.

The abundance of data and their relative permanence present ethical challenges to researchers, who bear increased responsibilities to make reasoned, respectful, and justifiable decisions about where to draw methodological boundaries. When information is persistent, researchers are required to articulate methodological choices even more carefully: what they take as an object of study, how they choose to study it, what data are included and not included in their study, and over what period of time. Most importantly, researchers need to consider their own vantage points, or the perspectives, theoretical stances, and historically situated understandings with which they approach the data. In our review of the empirical research literature, we were struck by the paucity of detail regarding researchers’ methodological choices

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

and positionality, despite Smagorinsky’s (2008) call for researchers to display increased rigor in articulating the methods used in studying writing.

Searchability: How To Make Sense of Everything?

While the archive of material online seems overwhelming, we are greatly assisted in making sense of this wealth of information via the affordance of searchability. Through embedded metadata and search engine algorithms, the capacity to search renders information more manageable and usable. Methodologically, researchers can capitalize on these different search capacities for parsing data meaningfully, using units of analysis that retain sufficient complexity and flexibility. In our design research project, for example, we were able to trace individual artifacts and users through our analytics, but an individual unit of analysis proved inadequate in relation to our questions. We needed more flexible units of analysis that could capture the collaborative composing processes we traced ethnographically, but our system was initially limited in its search capacity, especially in meaningfully tracing youth’s interactions and collaborations. We thus need to design and adopt new analytic tools if we are to make sense of data, including algorithms sensitive to multiple parameters and data visualizations that help render patterns viewable in new ways.

While we can improve our own interfaces and search algorithms to make data more useful to us, we would also do well to be attentive to the many ways that networked technologies allow users to categorize and sort data. Tagging, for example, allows users to code material themselves for a variety of purposes, an emergent, participatory literacy practice consistent with other kinds of “hacker literacies” to which researchers should attend (Santo, 2011). These kinds of user-generated search parameters offer insights into the ways in which young people organize their understandings of their worlds and how they see their texts in relationship with others. In as many ways as possible, then, researchers should endeavor to account for users’ understandings. Happily, researchers with “insider information” about youth’s search efforts may bring a unique expertise and familiarity that will illuminate networked literacy practices.

Replicability: How To Trace Practices?

One of the most vexing challenges in our own work has been around the issue of replicability, or the ease with which people can duplicate and copy material, ultimately making it impossible to identify the original. As more young people remix and recontextualize, it has become increasingly difficult to trace intertextual linkages and creative provenance, particularly as people compose with multiple others. Stornaiuolo and Hall (in press) call these intertextual echoes resonance (cf. Hull, Stornaiuolo, & Sterponi, 2013). While new media tools offer great promise in helping to make this resonance more visible, we have not yet discovered adequately complex methodologies for tracing the movement and relationship between texts as authors repurpose, recontextualize, and revoice texts across different contexts and media. To us, this area offers the greatest challenge—and the most promise—in understanding networked composing now.

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

Part of the challenge of studying youth’s composition practices with easily replicated texts is in negotiating the “digital afterlife” (Soep, 2012). Describing how young people’s radio broadcasts have been taken up in mainstream media and responded to by anonymous (and unpredictable) audiences, Soep highlights the importance of attending to the circulatory paths of youth’s writing by working with authors to examine the impact of their work. For example, Soep describes how all authors need to be able to access and read analytics that reveal how readers took up their texts, what they clicked on, and so on. While these are important resources for researchers, certainly, Soep calls our attention to the ways in which we might work with young people to develop their online authorship capacities as they advocate for their work and trace its circulations.

Scalability: What Does It Mean To Be Visible?

The last dimension, scalability, refers to the way that material in networked publics spreads and becomes visible to others. One repercussion of scalability is that participants and researchers are visible to one another in new ways. For example, our study participants now have greater access to our published materials and can thus respond to that record of research more easily. And our work can extend to new audiences in ways that were previously unavailable, impacting policy and creating notoriety for researchers in unanticipated ways.

Similarly, our participants’ online materials are more visible to researchers, particularly in “public” forums and websites in which participants are not even aware that they are being researched. As young people’s work becomes more visible to us—and to unanticipated others— there may be consequences far beyond what young composers might imagine (Hull, Stornaiuolo, & Sahni, 2010; Soep, 2012). Further, the ubiquity of online writing—and its social, fleeting, and mundane nature—makes it hard to remember how textually saturated our everyday communications are. Such mundane textualities, often practiced “in spaces and with content that may not be always sanctioned by adults” (Steinkeuhler, 2007, p. 315), challenge researchers to gain critical distance and determine how these efforts constitute new models of composing (Yancey, 2009). In light of this increased, reciprocal visibility, researchers and participants engage in relationships that stretch and puncture the more traditional roles of researcher/researched. As we now have access to reams of archived material, made more search-friendly and easily replicable, ethical considerations are heightened and brought into relief. What are our obligations to participants and their online information, as researchers and participants become visible in new ways and operate in new relationships?

Future Directions

Even a decade ago people would have been hard pressed to imagine the ways that authorship would shift for so many people, with new opportunities to write for, with, and to others across great geographical and ideological distances. These interactive contexts for composing in our everyday lives have transformed how we imagine writing. In this chapter, with a focus on social media as authoring contexts, especially for youth, we have argued that changes are likewise afoot in how we conceptualize the study of these emerging practices. We have

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

turned to boyd’s (2011) framework for understanding networked publics in order to highlight how the four dimensions of persistence, searchability, replicability, and scalability are reshaping not just the way youth compose now but our methodological landscape.

These dimensions of networked publics highlight that in an era of proliferating texts and contexts for composing, researchers bear greater responsibilities. One responsibility is to become more reflexive in our practices, considering our role in the research as we interact with participants in new ways. Buckingham (2009) helpfully calls for this kind of reflexivity when using creative and visual methods, taking care not to interpret youth’s media creations as transparent representations of their ‘authentic’ voice but to understand our role in their creation, interpretation, and circulation in order to redefine and challenge the power dynamics of researcher/researched relationships. Part of this enterprise includes the researcher’s examination of his/her positionality in the work, including how we recognize, incorporate, and invite participants’ multiple ways of making meaning.

A second responsibility of researchers is to make our work more visible and our methods more transparent, especially to the research field more generally, but also to the participants in our studies. We are obligated as never before to articulate our methodological decisions carefully and thoroughly, a practice, as we noted in our review, that is not yet common. Our continual grappling to understand the literacy practices associated with new technologies must be paired with a continual striving to make visible our own procedures and approaches. In this manner we can cull the most effective methods for studying particular social media and devise from these new and potent ways of analyzing and representing data. Lastly, we encourage researchers to expand their methodological repertoires, learning to exploit the affordances of networked publics. Continually reflexive, methodologically inventive, and ethically alert, all in equal measure—then literacy researchers will be able to trace youth’s meaning making across mobile, global, and multimodal contexts.

Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.


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Draft copy to appear as: Stornaiuolo, A., & Higgs, J., & Hull, G. (in press). Social media as authorship: Methods for studying literacies and communities online. In P. Albers, T. Holbrook, A.S. Flint (Eds.), New Literacy Research Methods.

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