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.
- Error rate: a difference of .15 in errors per 100 words from 1917-2006 (2.11 in 1917 | 2.26 in 2006)
- Student Experience (out of class writing): deep level of engagement with writing not for class
- Length of Formal Writing: an increase in length of writing of 876 from 1917 to 2006 (162 in 1917 | 1,038 in 2006) including an increase in transcription fluency.
- Quality of Formal Writing: it is not getting worse but has grown to be more inclusive of different media along with the written word. In fact, the research points to an increase in complexity and sophistication including a redefinition of writing.
- Frequency of Writing: today’s students write much more frequently than in the past.
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 (Google.docs 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.