Monday, April 26, 2004
Compuers and Electronic Writing
When word processing first made its appearance, it was welcomed by many composition teachers. They saw it as a means to improve the standard freshman essay (Trupe, 2002). "Today, the expanding possibilities for writing engendered through desktop publishing, email, Web-based bulleting boards, MOO's, Web pages and other hypertext authoring and presentation software, show up the limitations the freshman essay imposes on thought and writing" ( 3).
The sense of audience has always been an important construct to the theory of writing. Students write for authentic audiences is even given as a best practice example by the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (n.d.). For a large majority of students, the authentic audience is limited to the classroom teacher and their classmates.
With access to the Web, authentic audiences are available on an almost unlimited number of online journals, magazines, newspapers, MOO's, blogs and wikis. When writing for blogs or wikis, the audience is no longer passive. They take on an active role by becoming collaborators. The Internet has brought a whole new context to the aspect of writing for students. In addition to a seemingly endless amount of resources, writers can experience "a whole new level of engagement with peers, professionals, and other sorts of experts" (Wilinsky, p.1).
In a study of fifth grade students, Garner and Gillingham (as cited in Hu, 2004) found a positive impact of an online authentic audience. These Illinois students were not only more conscious of mechanics, they formulated their writing to meet the specific needs of their online audience.
Motivation is experienced by all levels of students when writing for an online community; a factor not present in conventional paper and pencil writing (Daiute, 2000). Cohen and Reil (1990) conducted a study using seventh grade Israeli students. Works written for Internet audiences by these subjects received higher scores than the works written for the classroom teacher. "Writing in cyberspace seems more purposeful and meaningful to students because it involves reaching real audiences" (Daiute, 2000, 12).
Steve Karause (1995) conducted a study to determine if there was a correlation between students who demonstrate a high degree of interactivity online and those who demonstrate a high degree of audience off-line. Though Karause found a strong correlation between the number of posts and the number of words with the interactivity score, his research did not support his initial supposition. This author suggests further studies focus on defining writing and the impact of online writing environments rather than on whether or not their effect transfers to other environments.
The time when students had to hope their work would be displayed in the hallway or read aloud in class in order to share it with others is gone. Today, sharing work with a student in another country is simply a matter of posting it online. The Internet has connected writers and their audiences in a way never before possible. However, Daiute (2000) contends, "Arguments in favor of cyberspace as a context for writing development may not apply if the nature of interaction does not support purposeful, communicative, socially conscious writing" ( 11).
The question of the effect of computers on student writing has yet to be answered. Early research revealed conflicting results. Computers were shown to be responsible for an increase in quantity of writing, but not in quality. Yet there is a common belief that increased opportunities to write will lead to increased skill and ability.
There was also an increase in students' perception of their writing ability and attitude towards writing. But again, there was no correlation to an increase in quality.
There are numerous articles on the effect of electronic publishing, in various forms, on students' writing, but little if any research (Bartlett-Bragg, 2003). Every year, students will gain more experience with Cyberspace and its realm of possibilities (Trupe, 2002). Few teachers will desire or make an effort to keep up with this pace. They would be wise to heed Constance Hale, "If you think all this can't change a whole history of language and literature, think again" (as cited in Jeske, 2004, p.1).
It's no longer a question of if computers will have an impact on student writing, but a question of how to use computers to bring about the greatest impact. Consider the articulate words of Mark Bernstein (2004).