Social Media, the Classroom, and Literacy Sponsorship: An Analysis of DALN Narratives with Positioning Theory




When teachers introduce new technologies into the classroom, they face a series of challenges: assessing possible technologies, selecting technologies that may support learning, and supporting students as they use those technologies for scholarly purposes. The Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives makes it possible to identify behaviors and attitudes that help some teachers feel supported and confident in selecting and leveraging technologies in their teaching. In this article, I model this identification process by analyzing three narratives from the DALN, all submitted by teachers of composition who use social media to support their scholarship. Using positioning theory (Bamberg, 1998, 2007; Harré & van Longenhove, 1999) and the metaphor of literacy sponsorship (Brandt, 1998) as critical lenses, I examine how the narrators describe human mentorship as a contributor to their use of social media to support scholarship. Across these narratives, four shared traits of effective mentorship emerge: 1) the mentor and mentee share an intellectual or practical goal; 2) the mentor seems willing to maintain the mentorship relationship over time; 3) the mentor encourages meaningful choice among multiple technologies that may suit the task at hand; and 4) the mentee perceives the mentor as being proficient with the technology at hand. I discuss how these four mentorship traits manifest in the narratives, then discuss they suggest possible improvements for teaching practice. I also discuss how positioning theory and literacy sponsorship might be useful frameworks for classroom analysis of DALN narratives.



Throughout The Archive as Classroom, scholars describe ways to use the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives to enhance student learning. This chapter focuses on a different but closely related topic: how the DALN might help us examine and improve teaching practices, which in turn affect student learning. It demonstrates one method of using DALN narratives to explore teacher-scholars’ description of their teaching practices. In particular, I focus on stories from teacher-scholars about human mentors who encourage their use of social media for scholarly purposes. Social media may be a relatively new wave of technologies, but mentorship is a time-honored practice. By addressing mentorship and social media together, I hope to elicit lessons about mentorship that may cross beyond the domain of social media, yet are also useful for teachers who are evaluating new technologies for scholarly purposes.

Using the DALN, I identified three video narratives from teacher-scholars in various contexts, all of whom describe how mentors impact their use of social media for teaching and other scholarly projects. The three narratives examined in this chapter share a common focus on human mentorship. Each narrator describes either themselves, or someone who encourages teacher-scholars to embrace social media in collegiate contexts. To be clear, these narratives were not solicited by this study’s author as part of a research project; rather, the narrator assembled this group of narratives based on searches for particular keywords in the DALN, as described in the methods section below.1

Fig. 1. Screenshot of DALN search interface, with results for the search query “cccc” to find narratives collected at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.
Figure 1. Screenshot of DALN search interface, with results for the search query “cccc” to find narratives collected at the Conference on College Composition and Communication.

To rhetorically analyze these narratives, I use positioning theory, a conceptual framework drawn from narrative theory and sociology. In the field of sociology, positioning theory (Harré & van Longenhove, 1999) examines how individuals use language and stories to position themselves relative to other people and to situate themselves within social discourses. To focus more specifically on the rhetorical dimensions of positioning theory in a literacy narrative, I employ a three-tiered model for positioning theory articulated by narrative theorist Michael Bamberg (1998, 2007), which encourages attention to

  1. the position of the narrator as a character within the narrative,
  2. the position of the narrator to the audience, and
  3. the positioning of the narrator as a self who represents that selfhood in a certain way.

Bamberg’s approach to positioning provides a model for examining the rhetorical ways that story narrators position themselves in their tellings of stories. For that reason, Bamberg’s work has influenced a variety of recent scholarship related to literacy, rhetoric, and composition, including the rhetoric of the literacy myth in Appalachia (Bryson, 2012), the dynamics of multilingual literacies (Frost & Blum Malley, 2013), and the dynamics of cultural schemas and pedagogical narratives (Sharma, 2015). Some of those studies, and many others, specifically apply Bamberg’s work to literacy narratives from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, as I describe below in the literature review. In this study, Bamberg’s three-tiered model for positioning provides a framework for examining how narrators and story characters are being represented in stories about social media and teaching.

My analysis of these three narratives through the lens of positioning theory (Bamberg, 1998, 2007; Harré & van Longenhove, 1999)—and informed by Deborah Brandt’s (1998) metaphor of literacy sponsorship—identifies four traits of social-media mentorship that manifest in all three narratives:

  1. the mentor and mentee share an intellectual or practical goal,
  2. the mentor seems willing to maintain the mentorship relationship over time,
  3. the mentor encourages meaningful choice among multiple technologies that may suit the task at hand, and
  4. the mentee perceives the mentor as being proficient with the technology at hand.

As I describe in the chapter’s concluding sections, these four traits suggest possible best practices for teaching with social media. They provide a starting place for considering how teachers can support students as they use social media in scholarly contexts.

Below, I discuss why this investigation focuses particularly on social media and what advantages that focus offers. The chapter then reviews literature relevant to narratives and the DALN, including a discussion of related research in rhetoric and composition and a discussion of narrative analysis as a research method. After exploring the analytic value of positioning theory and the concept of literacy sponsorship for DALN narratives, I demonstrate the results via a close-reading each of the three DALN narratives in the data set. Finally, the chapter closes with possible implications for further research and suggestions for teachers who hope to explore these mentorship principles in their teaching.


To date, a number of composition scholars have examined social media as a contemporary set of literacy practices that offer potential affordances for composition teaching. Although the term social media is rarely defined in composition scholarship, for purposes of this article, we will define it broadly as “a category of online technologies that facilitate the creation and sharing of online content.” The narratives analyzed in this sample set mention popular tools that are widely accepted as being “social media,” including the social-networking platforms Facebook and Twitter, weblogs, social-bookmarking sites such as and Diigo, and social citation management tools like Zotero.

Composition scholars have considered social media as a body of technologies that may be useful for composition teaching. For example, scholars have described social media as part of a Web 2.0 movement that privileges user-generated, user-published, and user-circulated content (DeVoss & Porter, 2006; Gerben, 2009). Others have defined social media as a set of technologies through which information can circulate quickly and change in rhetorically complex ways (Sheridan, Ridolfo, & Michel, 2012). As a result, scholars uphold social media as a space where students can engage with discourses of identity, politics, and social construction (Dubisar & Palmeri, 2010; Maranto & Barton, 2010; Swartz, 2010; Dadurka & Pigg, 2011; Potts & Jones, 2011; Buck, 2012; Vie, 2014). In some cases, these scholars even suggest that social media is a discourse that can contribute to the public good and to democratic freedom. In her article “Why Teachers Must Learn: Student Innovation as a Driving Factor in the Future of the Web,” Erin Frost (2011) passionately defends her students’ voluntary decision to use Facebook in their research:

Web-based social media are a major shaping factor in the future composition classroom. These media are important not only because they are ubiquitous, but also because they lend themselves to the sorts of inquiry privileged by composition instructors. We have seen time and again—through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and more—the ways that Web-based media can be used to promote a democratic ideal, a common movement. ( p. 270)

But as Frost’s statement implies, composition teachers have found more than just rhetorically and civically rich engagement through social media. Some teachers have also found social media useful at a functional level, providing tools that are helpful for coordinating common tasks in the composition classroom. For example, scholars have described how social media can be used to organize and streamline research processes (Purdy, 2010), visualize complex information (Sorapure, 2010), coordinate collaborations between multiple people (Moxley & Meehan, 2007; Frost, 2011), and host critical conversation around sources, texts, or classroom projects (Balzhiser et al., 2011; Kaufer, Gunawardena, Tan, & Cheek, 2011; Davis & Marsh, 2012; Coad, 2013).

Despite the many affordances scholars ascribe to social media, there are also challenges to using social media for scholarship and teaching. For example, some scholars describe a crisis of confidence among teacher-scholars, in which teacher-scholars envision themselves as being hopelessly “behind the times” and unable to acclimate to social media (Vie, 2008; McClure, 2014). Other scholars have pointed to gaps in our understanding about exactly how online learning takes place and what constitutes effective practices (Sackey, Nguyen, & Grabill, 2014), which is a potential barrier to using social media in the classroom.

To this list of challenges, we might add the potential for social media to overwhelm users with its breadth and depth. Social media is a diverse category of online sites and services that evolves quickly and changes often. To get a sense of the category’s breadth, depth, and speed of evolution, we might consult anthropologist Brian Solis’s (2016) web visualization titled “The Conversation Prism” (see Figure 2 below), which he describes as “a visual map of the social media landscape.” As of 2013, Solis’s prism included logos representing over 185 social-media tools. Solis notes that in his most recent revision, he deleted 122 logos from the visualization and added 111 new ones. This high number of additions and deletions speaks to the speed at which social media evolves, both in terms of the number of tools available to users and the connotations that the term social media carries over time.

In short, no matter how one defines the term social media, there are many potential tools to assess for classroom potential. And when there are many options available to someone, coupled with a potential sense that someone is “behind the times” and may have difficulty acclimating to a new tool, there may be reluctance or anxiety about uptaking a new tool (like social media) for scholarly purposes.

Fig. 2. “Conversation Prism 4.0” by Brian Solis (2016). Solis, an anthropologist, visualizes over 185 social-media tools in a “visual map of the social media landscape.”
Figure 2. “Conversation Prism 4.0” by Brian Solis (2016). Solis, an anthropologist, visualizes over 185 social-media tools in a “visual map of the social media landscape.”


This study’s data sample is three video narratives from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives, an open and publicly available archive of narratives about literacy. As the authors in the collection Stories that Speak to Us (DeWitt, Selfe, & Ulman, 2011) remind us, narratives are interpretations of lived experiences, not reflections of an objective truth or reality. But interpreted experiences have research value insofar as they help us understand how individuals perceive their lived experiences. In other words, the research value of DALN narratives is their subjectivity. By analyzing DALN narratives, we might find patterns in the ways that people narrate—and therefore represent to others—their subjective experiences.

My goal is to situate descriptions of social-media literacy practices in terms of their embedded cultural and historical contexts, a goal that underpins much of the scholarship associated with New Literacy Studies (Street, 1993). NLS scholars David Barton, Mary Hamilton, and Roz Ivaničc (2000) describe literacy practices as “usefully understood as existing in the relations between people, within groups and communities, rather than as a set of properties residing in individuals” (p. 8). In other words, by examining how an individual describes and conceptualizes their literacy practices, we can learn things about how literacy circulates in a larger context.

Previous scholars have established that analyzing small groups of narratives can yield valuable research findings on a variety of subjects. For example, Genevieve Critel (2013) used four DALN narratives to identify four common considerations in how minority women develop and perceive digital literacy practices. Krista Bryson (2012) used DALN narratives to explore how Appalachian identity interacts with Harvey Graff’s concept of the literacy myth. Other scholars, especially in the 2012 collection Stories that Speak to Us, have also used the DALN to explore the experiences of particular groups, including multilingual students, Black women, women with transnational literacy experiences, and many more (Frost & Malley, 2013; Buck & Hawisher, 2013; Voss, 2013; DeWitt, 2013).

Fig. 3. Screenshot of the homepage for Stories that Speak to Us, a peer-reviewed digital collection of scholarship about the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.
Figure 3. Screenshot of the homepage for Stories that Speak to Us, a peer-reviewed digital collection of scholarship about the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives.

There is also precedent for using the DALN to better understand how teachers and students interact with technological literacies. For example, in “Returning Adults in the Multimodal Classroom,” Lynn Reid (2015) describes how encountering stories from the DALN helped her become aware of contextual factors that influence how returning adult students experience digital composition assignments. Similarly, Kory Lawson Ching and Cynthia Carter Ching (2012) used technological narratives to explore what factors contributed to future teachers’ postures toward technology in the classroom. Julia Voss (2013) used literacy narratives to explore how students’ previous experiences with technology impact their perception of technology in college contexts.

In broader terms, composition scholars have long valued the literacy narrative as a means for students and teachers to share and reflect on experiences (Soliday, 1994; Scott, 1997; Tinberg, 1994). For example, Susan Kirtley (2012) invites her students to compose and reflect on literacy narratives about technology in order to encourage “revelations about their identities as writers and helping them better understand their best writing practices” (p. 192). A number of composition scholars have used their own literacy narratives to bolster ethnographic arguments about innovations in teaching, including in Peter Elbow’s (1973) Writing Without Teachers, Mike Rose’s (1999) Lives on the Boundary, Victor Villaneuva’s (1993) Bootstraps, and Linda Brodkey’s (1994) “Writing on the Bias.” More recently, in his video literacy narrative “Writing a Professional Life on Facebook,” Timothy Briggs (2013) demonstrates how he uses social media to connect and share ideas with colleagues across geographic distances (see image and video below).

Fig. 4. Screenshot of Briggs’ (2013) literacy narrative piece “Writing a Professional Life on Facebook,” available online through Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.
Figure 4. Screenshot of Briggs’ (2013) literacy narrative piece “Writing a Professional Life on Facebook,” available online through Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy.
Video 1. Excerpt from Briggs’s (2013) video narrative, available in full online through Kairos: A Journal of Rhetoric, Technology, and Pedagogy. [Text transcript]

These studies confirm that literacy narratives, including small sets of DALN narratives, can yield useful conclusions for understanding composition pedagogy and improving teaching practices. It is notable, however, that many of the above studies focus on literacy narratives that were created or solicited specifically for that research project. This project, like some others, uses narratives that were submitted to the DALN by their authors, independent of this research project. Indeed, all three narratives were submitted to the DALN months or years before this research project was even imagined. Thus, unifying these narratives for analysis requires the adoption of theoretical frameworks that would facilitate comparisons. For that, I turn to Deborah Brandt’s concept of literacy sponsorship.

Literacy Sponsorship in Narratives about Technology

Since this investigation focuses on mentorship relationships between two or more people, the study employs Deborah Brandt’s (1998, 2001) metaphor of literacy sponsor as a guidepost for thinking about mentorship. Brandt defines literacy sponsors as “agents… who enable, support, teach, and model, as well as recruit, regulate, suppress, or withhold literacy—and gain advantage by it in some way” (p. 19). To be clear, within the parameters of this study, the terms mentor and literacy sponsor are not assumed to be synonymous. Mentor tends to be a more generous and positive term, connoting a relationship in which a relative expert offers advice and support to a relative novice. Literacy sponsor, by contrast, more broadly interactions between two entities that might afford or constrain literacy practices. Brandt’s definition reminds us that literacy acquisition is always a motivated act on the part of the sponsor. Sponsors can encourage and enable access to literacies, but they can also constrain, suppress, or withhold literacy. And as some of the examples in this study reveal, even acts that a narrator might represent as “affording access” can also reveal dynamics of constraint, suppression, or withholding.

The lens of literacy sponsorship, then, helps us consider the complex ways that motivation and behavior affect the movement of technological literacies through a culture. Because the metaphor of literacy sponsorship broadly interrogates the ways that human beings afford or constrain each other’s access to literacy, this lens encourages attention to particular dynamics within a mentorship relationship. We are reminded to examine a mentor’s motivation and that motivation’s role in affording or constraining literacy. We are encouraged to consider not only what mentors support or provide to their mentees but also what they suppress or withhold. I return to this perspective on mentorship in the chapter section titled “Implications for Teaching,” where I consider how the four mentorship traits described in this article might intersect with teaching practice.

Fig. 5. portal for Deborah Brandt’s (2001) Literacy in American Lives, which builds on Brandt’s earlier work on the concept of literacy sponsorship.
Figure 5. portal for Deborah Brandt’s (2001) Literacy in American Lives, which builds on Brandt’s earlier work on the concept of literacy sponsorship.

Literacy sponsorship is also a useful metaphor for describing composition instructors. Almost by definition, composition instructors are in the business of upholding particular literacies and suppressing others. After all, every teacher makes decisions about which literacy practices and technologies they’ll welcome in their classroom—and which they’ll discourage or actively forbid. This dynamic of support and affordance, as well as regulation and constraint, arguably applies to all literacies–including electronic literacies, as shown in Cynthia Selfe and Gail Hawisher’s (2004) Literate Lives in the Information Age. That study, which Selfe and Hawisher explicitly describe as being inspired by Brandt’s work, was followed by the more recent Transnational Literate Lives in Digital Times by Patrick Berry, Cynthia Selfe, and Gail Hawisher (2012). Therefore, there is significant precedent for using the concept of literacy sponsorship to examine how the motivated behaviors of individuals can influence developing or changing literacies in electronic environments.

As this study demonstrates, coupling literacy sponsorship with positioning theory lends a rhetorical dimension to our understanding of DALN narratives, one that reveals how the agency of non-human actants intersects with narrative to impact how we understand the centrality and purpose of literacy in electronic environments.


To examine how DALN literacy narratives shed light on literacy sponsorship in social media environments, I draw on positioning theory, a conceptual framework from sociology that has connections to rhetorical theory. Positioning theory provides a methodology for examining how individuals use language and stories to position themselves relative to each other and within social discourses. Many scholars credit positioning theory’s genesis to Wendy Hollway’s (1984) work on social positioning between male and female individuals, but today, positioning theory is used by a variety of social scientists, discourse analysts, and narrative theorists. As it expanded in use, positioning theory has grown to more generally examine “the discursive construction of personal stories that make a person’s actions intelligible and relatively determinate as social acts and within which the members of the conversation have specific locations” (Harré & Van Langenhove, 1998, p. 16).

Fig. 6. portal for Rom Harré and Luk van Langenhove’s (1999) Positioning Theory.
Figure 6. portal for Rom Harré and Luk van Langenhove’s (1999) Positioning Theory.

Much like some rhetorical theories about discourse, positioning theory considers people as motivated individuals who use their agency to position themselves in particular ways for particular purposes. For example, Davies and Harré (1998) suggest that positioning theory allows us to “think of ourselves as choosing subjects, locating ourselves in conversations… and bringing to those narratives our own subjective lived histories” (p. 41). Harré and van Langenhove (1998) emphasize that self-positioning can be deliberate and strategic, for which we must “assume that they [the speaker] have a goal in mind” (p. 25); we can similarly assume that attempts to force the positioning of others might also be deliberate. However, most versions of positioning theory recognize that positioning is not always deliberate, nor is it always in the full control of a single narrator. Thus, positioning theory allows for a fluid understanding of individual agency in a socio-cultural milieu, where outside forces and social structures help to shape an individual’s choices about positioning.

Michael G.V. Bamberg’s (1997) model for narrative positioning has particular relevance to studying DALN narratives. In “Positioning Between Structure and Performance,” Bamberg suggests a three-tiered approach that focuses on how the narrative itself can “intervene, so to speak, between the actual experience and the story” (p. 335). Bamberg suggests analyzing a narrator’s positioning at three levels:

  • Level 1 (BPL #1): Narrator as character within the narrative and its story-world
  • Level 2 (BPL #2): Narrator to an audience
  • Level 3 (BPL #3): Narrator’s position of themselves to themselves

To take a simple example of this, suppose you are telling a scholarly colleague about this very book chapter. As you narrate your reading of the chapter, you represent yourself both as a character in the story (person reading the chapter, BPL #1) and someone who is narrating to them at that moment (the story’s narrator, BPL #2). You may also be positioning yourself as a scholar who is interested in ideas about teaching and technology, a state that perhaps predated your reading of this chapter and persists afterward (BPL #3). This example suggests how positioning theory might help us parse a narrative into its different simultaneous modes of representation. As we will see below, narrators do not always represent themselves the same way at all three levels. These differences in positioning provide a framework for considering how stories about mentors and mentees might reflect (or not reflect) stable traits of mentorship that may be generalizable beyond the individual narrative.

Although Bamberg’s scholarship about positioning has influenced a broad variety of ethnographic research that involves narrative (Vergaro, 2011; Riessman, 2002; Hamilton, 2005; Subhan, Hons, & Dip 2012), explicit use of his three-tiered framework for rhetorical analysis has seen limited to date in studies within literacy, rhetoric, and composition. However, Bamberg’s framework plays a prominent role in Amber Buck and Gail Hawisher’s (2013) “Mapping Transnational Literate Lives: Narratives, Languages and Histories.” In this piece, Buck and Hawisher use Bamberg’s model to examine how narrators position themselves and their literacies across multinational contexts. This study owes much to Buck and Hawisher’s analysis of how the narrators they examine position themselves to themselves and to the audience. I seek to build on that analysis model here by more systematically analyzing how each narrator in my study positions themselves in three different ways: as a character in a narrative, as a narrator to an audience, and as a rhetorical self.


To identify literacy narratives relevant to this project, I used the Advanced Search function in the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives. I began by focusing on the keyword social media, which I placed in quotation marks to avoid receiving search results for just the word social or just the word media. But as of November 2011 when I began gathering data, searching the DALN for “social media” yielded only 4 search results.2 To widen my data pool, I then added the names of two popular social-media tools to my search query:

“social media” OR Facebook OR Twitter

This search yielded a total of 35 possible archives for investigation.3 I reviewed each of these 35 submissions in turn, looking for evidence that the narrators self-described as teachers or scholars in a collegiate setting. At this point, I had seven archives remaining in the sample pool. I viewed those 7 narratives twice each, taking informal notes on any major themes in these narratives. At that point, I noticed that the three narratives in this study’s sample set shared a common theme of mentorship in social-media environments.

Having narrowed my data set to these three narratives, I began taking informal notes on the traits of mentorship that emerged across the data set. The four proposed traits were revised and made more specific through a systematic review of these three narratives, using this process:

  1. Review of each archive’s metadata, including titles, descriptions, keywords, and associated files
  2. Transcription of Marino (2010) and Chang (2010) with the software MovieCaptioner
  3. Review of the text transcript of Pignetti and Cochran’s (2009) narrative, already part of their DALN archive courtesy of TranscribeOhio
  4. Analysis of multimodal data from each video file, including attention to the narrators’ body language, voice tone and pitch, gestures, and posture


Of the three narratives in this study’s sample set, Mark Marino’s (2010) “The Birth of Writer Response Theory (.org)” most explicitly frames itself as a story about mentorship and social media. Indeed, early in the video, narrator Mark Marino states that the narrative is specifically about his mentor. Marino says that he writes “on a collaborative blog with with a person named Jeremy Douglass, and this story is about him.”

To put this in Bamberg’s terms, within the world of the narrative and his characters (BPL #1), Marino positions himself as a mentee and positions Douglass as a mentor. This positioning manifests both in the video narrative itself and in the archive’s metadata. For example, the video archive’s dc.description line alludes to a mentor-mentee dynamic between two characters: “a young scholar drinks from a friend’s thermos of Web 2.0.” Although Marino does not define the term Web 2.0 in his DALN archive or the narrative itself, evidence from the video suggests that he sees this term as closely related to social media, collaboration on user-generated content online, and participatory culture. Thus, even before an archive visitor views the video file, there is evidence that this narrative will involve two characters with disparate levels of knowledge about “Web 2.0.”

Fig. 7. Screenshot of DALN Archive #1359, home of Marino’s “The Birth of Writer Response Theory (.org).” The green square shows the prominent location of the narratives “Description” near the top of the interface, just below Marino’s name and the narrative’s title.
Figure 7. Screenshot of DALN Archive #1359, home of Marino’s “The Birth of Writer Response Theory (.org).” The left-hand column shows the prominent location of the narratives “Description” near the top of the interface, just below Marino’s name and the narrative’s title.

But while Marino positions his character within the story as someone who was mentored by Douglass (BPL Level #1), Marino positions himself to the audience as a teacher and scholar (BPL Level #2 and #3). Early in his video narrative, before mentioning Douglass, Marino introduces himself as “teach[ing] over at the University of Southern California at present” and being “involved with the Electronic Literature Organizatio… which promotes experimental literature” (see Video 2 below). He also mentions being a co-founder of the scholarly blog, a project on which he collaborates with scholar Douglass. By beginning his narrative with this introduction, Marino positions himself with the audience as having been a teacher-scholar in the past and present. In other words, Marino is encouraging the audience to not only see him as a teacher and scholar at this moment in this narrative (BPL #2) but also as an ongoing state over time (BPL #3). This will become important momentarily when Marino delves into a story from the past, in which he portrays himself as a confused novice.

Having established his ongoing ethos as an active scholar and teacher, Marino then encourages his audience to concentrate on a particular character in the upcoming story. In fact, Marino states that this narrative is “a story about him [Jeremy Douglass]” (see Video 2 below). In other words, at this moment in the narrative, Marino uses his position as a narrator (BPL #1) to encourage the audience to position characters in the narrative in a certain kind of relationship (BPL #2).

Video 2. Marino introduces himself to the audience, positioning himself to the audience as a teacher-scholar. [Transcript | Caption file]

Marino then begins recounting events from the past, positioning himself as a novice user of social media. Marino’s position as novice is reflected by both what he says and his body language and tone as he relates the story (see Video 2 above). For example, Marino relates that during a meeting with Douglass about a possible upcoming collaboration, Douglass suggested that the pair “should pull our social bookmarks together.” Marino responds to Douglass with the question, “What… would we be pulling together at that point?” When Marino re-enacts this moment of dialogue, his voice rises in pitch, he speaks more slowly than he was speaking before, his eyes widen, and he visibly shrugs his shoulders. This combination of voice effects and body language suggests that when Marino asked his question, he was trying to convey a sense of confusion and overwhelm. In short, Marino is calling for greater explanation and help from Douglass.

Marino then describes Douglass’s response, and this description frames Douglass as a mentor to Marino in social-media spaces. For example, Marino states that “we started talking about social bookmarking,” which implies that Douglass began explaining to Marino what the term social bookmarking means and demonstrating how some of the relevant online social bookmarking sites functioned. More specifically, Marino states that Douglass “proceeded to explain to me [about] social bookmarking” and used his computer to “pull up… and… Diigo,” two online social bookmarking tools, on his computer (see Video 3 below).

Video 3. Marino describes how Douglass introduced him to social bookmarking. Clipped from Marino (2010), original timestamps 00:01:13-00:01:38. [Transcript | Caption file]

This mentor-mentee dynamic repeats several more times across the narrative, and each cycle reinforces Douglass’s position as mentor and Marino’s position as mentee. Marino describes Douglass asking Marino a series of questions, like “What is your Wiki platform of choice?” and “What is your free open-source educational platform of choice?” Marino describes his response as, “And I said I’m not—I’m not teaching any—I’m not, I don’t know the tools of which you speak.” This halting diction and syntax reinforces Marino’s character position as a novice in need of mentoring. Meanwhile, Marino describes Douglass as showing him “a million of things,” including social-media tools like Zotero (an online citation management system that has sharing capabilities) and Moodle (an open-source learning management system that facilitates sharing of content among users).

Video 4. Marino describes Douglass showing him “a million of things.” Clipped from Marino (2010), original timestamps 00:01:42-00:02:10
[Transcript | Caption file]

Narrative #1 and the Four Traits of Social-Media Mentorship

Having established that Marino portrays Douglass as a mentor figure, we can now turn to considering what attitudes or behaviors Marino ascribes to this mentor. Here is how Douglass’s behavior, as narrated by Marino, correlates with the four proposed traits of social-media mentorship in this chapter:

  1. The mentor and mentee share an intellectual or practical goal: Marino frames Douglass as his collaborator on, stating that this entire conversation about social-media tools was undertaken in service of that project.
  2. The mentor seems willing to maintain the mentorship relationship over time: Although Marino does not explicitly state that he continues to receive support and mentorship from Douglass, he does state that he continued to collaborate with Douglass using the tools that Douglass introduced. In Marino’s words, “that [conversation] led to a collaboration on these very collaborative platforms that we later ended up studying more in depth on a blog, or through our bookmarks, or through our Zotero group… the list goes on.”
  3. The mentor encourages meaningful choice among multiple technologies that may suit the task at hand: Marino frames Douglass as introducing him to many tools. In at least one case, that of social bookmarking, Douglass shows Marino at least two different tools, Diigo and bookmarks.
  4. The mentee perceives the mentor as being proficient with the technology at hand: Marino describes Douglass as showing Marino “a million of things,” implying that Marino was struck not just with the particular tools Douglass suggested but also the variety of tools that Douglass displayed. Marino also comments on Douglass’s functional proficiency with the physical hardware at hand, noting that “very quickly, we were on the computer and his fingers were flying” as Douglass showed Marino a series of social-media tools.

Interestingly, at the very end of the narrative, Marino re-positions himself from a novice and mentee to a relative expert who mentors others. Notably, this happens only after the interviewer asks the follow-up question, “So are you now a user of these tools?”4 In response to this question, Marino describes himself as both a user and teacher of these tools. He mentions a specific class in which he uses and teaches these tools, English 340, a senior-level writing course at University of Southern California. Marino also describes himself as “an evangelist for those tools.” He posits that exposure to what he calls “participatory culture” equates with “wanting to get your friends involved.”

Marino’s narrative casts Marino in the character role of a mentee receiving mentorship from someone else. In an ideal research scenario, we could enrich Marino’s perspective by examining a narrative from Marino’s mentor Jeremy Douglass, in which Douglass narrates the same events from the mentor’s perspective. But in the absence of such a narrative within the DALN, an alternative is to examine another narrative that offers a mentor’s perspective on social-media mentorship. In Patrick Chang’s narrative, which we examine next, Chang describes his use of Twitter in terms that position him as a social-media mentor. By considering how Chang’s description of mentorship intersects and departs from Marino’s, we can build a better picture of how mentorship in social-media spaces may function across multiple users and contexts.


Patrick Chang’s (2010) “My First Tweet” gives us a glimpse into how social-media mentors may go about informing and motivating their mentees. And in the case of Chang’s narrative, the mentee is the members of the viewing audience. Unlike Marino’s narrative, Chang’s narrative does not unfold as a chronological story-world with multiple named characters. Rather, Chang seems to be speaking directly to the camera, or at least to the interviewer who holds the camera. At the end of the narrative, Chang even promises to “keep you in touch about what’s happening as I continue working with it [the social-media platform, Twitter.]”

Thus, one way to analyze Chang’s narrative is to consider how he positions himself in relation to the audience (BPL #2). Within the first twenty seconds of this narrative, Chang begins to position himself to the audience as a confident user of social media to connect with students and push the boundaries of writing pedagogy (see Video 5 below). For example, early in the narrative, Chang states that “I’m gonna talk about my experiences with Twitter.” He then says that he’s “always interested in how to better communicate with students.” Later in the narrative, he notes particular ways that he uses Twitter with students (as described below). Chang also describes Twitter “as a form of writing” and states that “The challenge [when using Twitter] is you’ve got 140 characters to write something with.”

Video 5. Chang positions himself in relation to the audience (BPL #2) as someone who confidently uses social media to connect with students. Clipped from Chang (2010), original timestamps 00:00:07-00:00:24 [Transcript | Caption file]

Interestingly, within the narrative, Chang does not explicitly describe himself as a teacher or scholar. He does, however, position himself as someone who is conscious of national debates about composition pedagogy and how social media might fit positively into writing pedagogy (see Video 6 below). For starters, he frames Twitter early in his narrative as a writing tool, saying that he starting using it “in January, as a form of writing.” Chang also defends social media as a means for teaching and connecting with students. He states that, “I know several writing professors have expressed concern, nationally, about, “Is the quality of writing of students going to go down as a result of this [Twitter]?’” Chang then mentions a “recent Chronicle of Higher Education” article that “indicated that… programs such as Twitter are forcing students to think more concisely, to write more… precisely” (see Video 6 below). By sharing these details with the audience, Chang shows the audience that he is informed about debates surrounding composition pedagogy and still thinks Twitter has potential for use in educational contexts.

Video 6. Chang positions himself to the audience as being conscious of national debates about writing pedagogy and social media as a form of writing. Clipped from Chang (2010), original timestamps 00:00:42-00:01:05 [Transcript | Caption file]

In this regard, Chang is arguably positioning himself as a mentor of social media to and for his audience. Like Jeremy Douglass in Mark Marino’s narrative, Chang is showing his mentees (that’s us, the viewers) a social-media technology that he has embraced, then helping us understand how it might be used and how it might fit into scholarly work. For example, Chang describes how “someone is using Twitter to release daily recipes” that are entirely included within the space of one Tweet (140 text characters). Later in his narrative, Chang provides an example of how he uses Twitter with students: to survey students about “the new housing policy” on campus. Chang states that the “response was pretty good,” and he received responses from both current students and alumni (see Video clip 7). These moments help us fill in the gaps of what someone like Jeremy Douglass might say to someone like Mark Marino. In other words, by talking to his DALN narrative’s audience, Chang is giving us one example of how social-media mentors engage with their mentees. He models particular attitudes and behaviors, and he informs the mentees about particular topics.