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Summary:

Teachers acknowledge that casual language is finding its way into formal writing, thanks to digital media. But they also believe that new technology is positive force in teaching students to write.

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In middle and high-school classes across the country, students submit papers with “u” instead of “you” and “r” instead of “are.” But despite those digital-era indiscretions, English teachers seem to be more bullish on technological tools than many may think.

To close out a three-part study on trends in digital learning, the Pew Internet & American Life Project polled more than 2,000 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers to get their thoughts on how digital technology is affecting students’ writing. While the teachers said the impact of digital tools isn’t entirely positive, they mostly indicated that the internet, social media and mobile technology are helpful in teaching students to write.

“On the whole, teachers feel that the positives outweigh the negatives,” said Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at the Pew Internet Project. “I think some of the data really challenged common perceptions that digital tools are destroying teens’ writing skills.”

For example:

  • 78 percent agree (including 26 percent who strongly agree) that digital technologies “encourage student creativity and personal expression”
  • 79 percent agree (23 percent strongly agree) that digital tools ““encourage greater collaboration among students”
  • 96 percent agree (52 percent strongly agree) that digital technologies “allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience”

For students, digital technology, from blogging platforms to social media sites, means that they’re writing more, they’re able to get a wider set of opinions and commentary on their writing and they’re more engaged in writing assignments. And, Pew adds, new technology may be helping teachers with their jobs: 50 percent of the teachers said tools like whiteboards, blogging platforms, wikis and Google docs are making their jobs easier.

But, consistent with news reports and other anecdotes, the teachers said informal grammar and style, which is often the byproduct of sending dozens of text messages a day and corresponding on social media, is finding its way into formal writing assignments. (K-12 students are hardly alone in this – college professors and job interviewers report the same kinds of patterns. And they’re not the only ones.) The teachers also said they’re concerned about students’ impatience with the writing process and their challenges with understanding plagiarism, citation and fair use.

According to Pew:

  • 68 percent of teachers surveyed said digital tools make students more likely to take shortcuts and put less effort into their writing
  • 46 percent said digital tools make students more likely to “write too fast and be careless”
  • Only 8 percent say students are “excellent” or “very good” in navigating fair use and copyright issues, while 30 percent said students are “poor” when it comes to these issues

An earlier Pew study released in November found that students not only need help creating literate content, they need it on the consumption side as well (for example, in understanding the credibility and biases of sources). That report also found that 64 percent of teachers believe digital technology is doing more to distract students then help them academically.

  1. bENNY mARZOLF Monday, August 19, 2013

    Interesting study, particularly this: “That report also found that 64 percent of teachers believe digital technology is doing more to distract students then help them academically.”

    Writing courses should not restrict students by limiting them to outdated platforms and what is considered the proper way to write. Instead they should focus on using modern tools to advance their process.

    Yes maybe informal grammar style may be finding their way into the class, but hasn’t that always been the case with kids no matter what technology is around? And isn’t that why we teach kids grammar and writing, for them to delineate between the informal writing they are used to, and the formal writing they need to understand?

    In short, schools need to learn how to further adopt the tools their students are already using, rather than blaming technology for students’ shortcomings. As they say in tech, go to where the users are.

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