Yik Yak and Metaliteracy
One of the reasons I’ve been excited about metaliteracy is because it foregrounds the need for students to be producers of information rather than simply consumers. It makes direct reference to social media as a legitimate source for research and as an effective way to communicate inside and outside of an academic context. It validates many of the information practices in which students are already engaged, even though social media and other participatory online environments don’t look like sources that would traditionally be highly-valued in the academy.
Yik Yak is a new(ish) social media mobile app that students of traditional college age are using to share information. It allows users to post “yaks” anonymously and then upvote, downvote, or comment on other users’ yaks. If a yak gets five downvotes it is automatically deleted. Yik Yak’s main difference from Whisper is that it uses geolocation technology, only allowing users to interact with yaks within about a 1.5 mile radius. It’s possible to “peek” at Yik Yak feeds from different colleges, but a user can only post to a feed in her own location. Users get “Yakarma” points for posting yaks and for commenting and voting on other users’ yaks.
A colleague told me about Yik Yak and I downloaded it, thinking it would give me some candid information about the students at the new school where I’m working. And that it did! Students post yaks about everything from the cafeteria food, to how much they miss their dogs at home, to intellectual questions about their course content, to confessions about fears and insecurities. I learned what a “basic white girl” is and what Vineyard Vines and duck boots are. I watched a post unfold in which students discussed the meaning of LGBTQ and the resources for these students on campus. I even learned a little bit about how they use the library (mostly that they’re frustrated with the printers and don’t like it when the sorority study groups are loud at night).
As I’ve observed CNU’s Yik Yak feed over the past couple of months, it’s become clear that it’s not just random, anonymous posting–it’s actually an ongoing conversation based in our community. Yaks that get a lot of upvotes tend to be clever and insightful, while users will often downvote yaks that are repetitive or boring. And right now, as students are returning to campus from Fall Break, there are many yaks about how happy they are to be back–not just in terms of being back on campus, but also of being on their “home” Yik Yak. As one user wrote, “It’s good to have everyone back.”
A lot of the time in IL instruction we’re trying to help students as they create information in formats that feel unnatural (argumentative research papers in Standard English) about topics they’re not necessarily interested in (especially in lower-level classes) for a one-member audience (the professor). It can be a painful process for many students (and, by extension, sometimes for librarians). I’m interested in social media like Yik Yak and Instagram because students are choosing to use them to write and create, and because they represent an involved conversation between users. Users have to know the norms and nuances of creating information, produce content that will be interesting to others, and evaluate the usefulness of information created by others–even if, in the case of Yik Yak, they have no idea who the other users are.
Right there, we’ve got several tie-ins to the new Framework for Information Literacy, which revises the IL Standards to focus on students as creators of information. There are connections to the general idea of a conversation within a community (Frame 1), to the slippery nature of authority in an online environment (Frame 3), and to the notion that information can be valuable even if it doesn’t come in a traditionally-accepted package (Frames 4 and 6).
I see potential for using the example of Yik Yak as a starting point for talking about scholarly conversations and evaluating online information. With little more than an HDMI cord, smartphone, and projector, one could pull up the school’s Yik Yak feed and find examples of yaks that were upvoted a lot because they shared useful information, or comments on a yak that require nuanced evaluation. I’m all about starting from what students know in the classroom, and their use of Yik Yak shows that they know a lot about creating and evaluating information that’s meant for an audience of their fellow students. Students can be prompted to recognize similarities between information practices they’re comfortable with (like Yik Yak) and new information practices in an academic context (that can involve both traditional sources and online content).