Digital Tools Having Both Positive, Negative Effects On Student Writing

Lee Rannals for – Your Universe Online

The boom of technology over the past two decades has started phasing out cursive handwriting in classrooms. However, a new survey by Pew Research Center finds teachers believe the Internet and social media actually encourage students to write better.

According to the survey, 96 percent of advanced placement (AP) and National Writing Project (NWP) teachers say digital technologies allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience. The teachers said digital tools like the Internet, social media and cell phones “encourage student creativity and personal expression.”

The teachers say students’ exposure to a broader audience for their work and more feedback from peers encourages greater student investment in what they write and in the writing process as a whole.

Teachers in the survey did share some worries about how digital tools are having some undesirable effects on student writing. They said there is an increasingly ambiguous line being drawn between “formal” and “informal” writing and the tendency for students to use informal language and style in formal writing assignments.

Sixty-eight percent of the teachers surveyed said digital tools make students more likely to take shortcuts and not put effort into their writing, while 46 percent said these tools make students more likely to “write too fast and be careless.”

Half of the teachers surveyed said digital tools have made teaching writing easier, compared to just 18 percent who said it has made it more difficult.

Overall, teachers say they have given their students’ writing skills modest marks, and see areas that need attention. AP and NWP teachers tended to rate their students “good” or “fair” as opposed to “excellent” or “very good.” Most of the teachers said their students were best at effectively organizing and structuring writing assignments. Students have also shown to have a better ability at understanding and considering multiple viewpoints on a particular topic or issue.

“Alongside the use of digital tools to promote better writing, almost all AP and NWP teachers surveyed say they encourage their students to do at least some writing by hand,” Pew said. “Their reasons are varied, but many teachers noted that because students are required to write by hand on standardized tests, it is a critical skill for them to have.”