Date of Award

Spring 5-15-2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

MA English




Kelly Shea, PhD

Committee Member

Donovan Sherman, PhD


Social media, rhetoric, rhetorical situation, composition, writing


Gen-Z students have been chastised repeatedly for their lack of attention span, addiction to social media, and inability to complete tasks in school in the manner of generations past (Richtel). It would not be productive to attempt to reform the way current college students process information, as their upbringing has largely altered their attention span and methods of content consumption. Older modes of understanding on how to write in a college composition class do not take this into account. What if the method of instruction professors utilized shifted to better meet the capabilities of college students in 2023? To answer this hypothesis, I conducted a case study on two sections of first-year writing students. The study focused on the success rate of integrating the foundational understanding that young people have of social media into the teaching of writing through rhetorical situation. Most young people have unknowingly been assessing the rhetorical situations of different social media posts and content for nearly their entire lives, and framing rhetorical vocabulary such as audience, genre, medium, design, tone, and purpose to be understood within this new context could be the key to unlocking a renewed understanding of communication and writing. The results of this case study are the reflection of data collection from my two first-year writing classes and are the culmination of syllabi and assignments that were designed with social media as the anchor for furthering students’ understanding of rhetorical situation. The writing samples assessed come from both surveys the students took, and references in those surveys to the students’ book review essays in which they were asked to assess the rhetorical situation of an existing social media account and cater their essay response to that account’s audience. By deepening our understanding of how current college students learn through social media, instructors of writing classes such as English I could help build more effective foundations for their futures as writers, readers, and thinkers.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 14, 2024