Monday, June 15, 2009

Does the web make students better writers? Several longitudinal studies try to find out

This is big - we'll finally have some empirical data to help us determine whether Web 2.0 is helping or hurting the writing abilities of students, according to this very interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Ed.  Of course, one of the many interesting points the article makes is that teachers often make the erroneous assumption that written work students submit for class is the sole criteria by which to judge their writing abilities.  As one Michigan State academic noted:  "The unstated assumption there is that if you can write a good essay for your literature professor, you can write anything. . . . . That's utter nonsense."

Among the many points raised by the CHE article:

Digital technologies, computer networks, the Web — all of those things have led to an explosion in writing. People write more now than ever. In order to interact on the Web, you have to write.

Some scholars say that this new writing is more engaged and more connected to an audience, and that colleges should encourage students to bring lessons from that writing into the classroom. Others argue that tweets and blog posts enforce bad writing habits and have little relevance to the kind of sustained, focused argument that academic work demands.

This is a new kind of composing because it's so variegated and because it's so intentionally social. Although universities may not consider social communication as proper writing, it still has a strong influence on how students learn to write . . . . We ignore it at our own peril.

The data may show that students routinely learn the basics of writing concepts wherever they write the most. For instance, students who compose messages for an audience of their peers on a social-networking Web site were forced to be acutely aware of issues like audience, tone, and voice.

On the other hand, why is it that with young people reading and writing more words than ever before in human history, we find no gains in reading and writing scores?

Determining how students develop as writers, and why they improve or not, is difficult. Analyzing a large enough sample of students to reach general conclusions about how the spread of new technologies affects the writing process, scholars say, is a monumental challenge.

Read the whole thing here - you really need to.

I am the scholarship dude - bringing you the good stuff day after day (mostly).


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