Are Digital Technologies Hurting Student Writing

Are Digital Technologies Hurting Student Writing

One of our schools has a literacy goal that includes transliteracy. It is both encouraged and expected that we explore what the vast digital tools do (both positive and negative) to various forms of expression including the written word.

Most of us have seen the various positions by the National Council of Teachers of English that support writing in the digital age. We’ve also no doubt heard that this generation of students is lacking in quality writing despite an increase in it.

What to think…

Andrea Lunsford conducted one of the most important studies on the impact of digital writing by comparing student samples from 1917 through 2006. [pullquote1 quotes=”true” align=”right” variation=”slategrey” textColor=”#000000″ cite=”Dr. Andrea Lunsford”]Good writing is writing that made something happen in the world.[/pullquote1]

What did Dr. Lunsford conclude about the debate over whether digital technologies are hurting student writing? It isn’t if you look at their writing. This is critical. We can assume, speculate, and hope (in some cases) that blogging, texting, wiki’ing, social networking, emailing, and more are hurting students; however, this isn’t the case if we actually look at student writing and compare it to writing from the past.

The details of the findings are illuminating:

In a 2010 interview, Dr. Lunsford does point out changes that have occurred do digital technologies that have implications for schools:

I would point to changes in audience and audience awareness (the whole world can now be your audience, introducing a huge set of problems in trying to find effective ways of addressing an audience); the increasingly collaborative and participatory nature of writing ( and Google.wave, to mention only two), allow groups of writers to work together in real time to create documents of all kinds. Students today are much more accustomed to producing and disseminating knowledge rather than simply consuming it.

Important findings. Important changes. However, it is but one study and the study was done prior to societal immersion into the digital technologies.

What to do…

I’d like to see schools replicating the study on a smaller level is both possible and critical. I think it is especially important for schools that are or have gone 1:1.


  1. I’m working with a Charter School in Watsonville which is dedicated to making the arts the center of their curriculum, and I expect we could provide some interesting documentation of the increases in various measures of writing similar to that study, however with a limited set of tech tools. The first step has been to get all of the teachers comfortable with their own presence on the web via their classroom sites, so now it will be even easier for the students to find a local audience among their peers and hopefully enter wider fields as well.

  2. I’m wondering about what is really behind the theory that digital technologies hurt writing.

    We are 1:1 iPad, but also BYOD. I teach kids who are ages 8-10. We switch between writing on paper and writing digitally multiple times a day, and then discuss what they are more likely to do as they get older (write digitally). The kids still spend time in pre-writing, writing drafts, and revising multiple times. It’s time consuming, but very worthwhile. Points of discussion about their writing include effective communication, message, voice, etc. These kids don’t spend a lot of time on social sites without an adult present, but they do recognize the difference among texting, using emoticons in comments, and formal writing.

    Kids are smarter than we often give them credit. Is the assumption based upon what people see on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.? I like that my kids, even as young as they are, can already discern which type of writing they will need based upon the media they’re using.



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