Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Pew Research Center's study on effect of internet on student writing skills

The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has just issue the results of a survey of Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers about what they see as the effect of the internet on middle and high school student writing skills.  There's both good and bad news.   On the plus side, of the 2,462 teachers surveyed, the vast majority said that digital technologies encourage student creativity and collaboration in their writing.  On the downside, a majority also said that digital tools encourage students to take shortcuts, put less time into their writing and thus write more quickly and carelessly. 

You can access the full survey results here. Below is a summary prepared by the study's authors.

Overall, [the] AP and NWP teachers see digital technologies benefitting student writing in several ways:

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

The combined effect of these impacts, according to this group of AP and NWP teachers, is a greater investment among students in what they write and greater engagement in the writing process.

. . . .

In focus groups, these AP and NWP teachers shared some concerns and challenges they face teaching writing in today’s digital environment.  Among them are:

  • an increasingly ambiguous line between “formal” and “informal” writing and the tendency of some students to use informal language and style in formal writing assignments
  • the increasing need to educate students about writing for different audiences using different “voices” and “registers”
  • the general cultural emphasis on truncated forms of expression, which some feel are hindering students willingness and ability to write longer texts and to think critically about complicated topics
  • disparate access to and skill with digital tools among their students
  • challenging the “digital tool as toy” approach many students develop in their introduction to digital tools as young children

Survey results reflect many of these concerns, though teachers are sometimes divided on the role digital tools play in these trends.  Specifically:

  • 68% say that digital tools make students more likely—as opposed to less likely or having no impact—to take shortcuts and not put effort into their writing
  • 46% say these tools make students more likely to “write too fast and be careless”
  • Yet, while 40% say today’s digital technologies make students more likely to “use poor spelling and grammar” another 38% say they make students LESS likely to do this

. . . .

Asked to assess their students’ performance on nine specific writing skills, AP and NWP tended to rate their students “good” or “fair” as opposed to “excellent” or “very good.”  Students were given the best ratings on their ability to “effectively organize and structure writing assignments” with 24% of teachers describing their students as “excellent” or “very good” in this area. Students received similar ratings on their ability to “understand and consider multiple viewpoints on a particular topic or issue.”  But ratings were less positive for synthesizing material into a cohesive piece of work, using appropriate tone and style, and constructing a strong argument. 

Hat to Inside Higher Ed.



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