Expressive innovation: How first-year college students introduced emoticons to the curriculum

Kreniske et al., 2019 / Cognitive Development / January 2019

students on computer

For the initiated, college may be remembered as a care-free and playful time. However, for contemporary college students the transition to college is challenging with only 1 in 3 returning for their second year of study, and the challenges are even greater for first-generation and low-income students. The interactive digital platform of the current study invited low-income first-year students to write about and reflect upon their transition to college. It was through the higher order cognitive process of writing, which involved deciding which words, symbols, and punctuation to use to express a particular thought to a particular audience, that the students made-sense of their experiences. Our analyses detail how students integrated new approaches for communicating their thoughts in writing and how these techniques changed over time. We show how first-year students used the affordances of the keyboard and an interactive blog to create a reflective and supportive digital writing style somewhere between the formality of the college essay and the freewheeling social media post.