Tech talk can lead to poor writ­ing skills

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WASH­ING­TON: Tech­nol­ogy in the class­room has made stu­dents bet­ter col­lab­o­ra­tors, but not nec­es­sar­ily bet­ter writ­ers, a new study in the US says.

The sur­vey by Pew Re­search Cen­ter’s In­ter­net & Amer­i­can Life Pro­ject found most teach­ers thought the use of tech­nol­ogy – from tablet de­vices to Google Docs – en­cour­aged col­lab­o­ra­tion among stu­dents in mid­dle and high schools. But teach­ers were wor­ried about stu­dents us­ing in­for­mal lan­guage and im­proper ci­ta­tions in their writ­ing.

The use of shared blogs in class­rooms led stu­dents to work to­gether, teach­ers said. Forty per­cent said they made stu­dents write on class­room wikis or web­sites, while nearly 30 per­cent said they made stu­dents edit one an­other’s writ­ing.

Some com­mon com­plaints about tech­nol­ogy – the use of ab­bre­vi­ated tex­ting lan­guage and an in­abil­ity to fo­cus on longer pieces – were also brought up in the study.

Nearly 70 per­cent of teach­ers thought dig­i­tal tools made stu­dents more likely to “take short­cuts and put less ef­fort into their writ­ing”, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Stu­dents were rated poorly on their abil­ity to “read and di­gest long or com­pli­cated texts”.

But that didn’t mean teach­ers were averse to us­ing tech­nol­ogy. In fact, half of all teach­ers in the study said dig­i­tal tools made it eas­ier to teach writ­ing, ac­cord­ing to the re­port. Eigh­teen per­cent thought tech­nol­ogy made teach­ing more dif­fi­cult, while 31 per­cent said it had no im­pact.

Con­ducted in 2012, the study sur­veyed more than 2 000 mid­dle and high- school teach­ers across the coun­try, mostly from pub­lic schools.

The re­port found that the in­ter­net’s vast maze of re­sources had mixed im­pli­ca­tions for writ­ing.

On one hand, stu­dents’ ease of ac­cess to mul­ti­ple sources raised con­cerns about in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty. A ma­jor­ity of teach­ers said they de­voted class time to ex­plain the con­cepts of fair use, copy­right and ci­ta­tion. The chal­lenge fac­ing teach­ers was how to help stu­dents nav­i­gate the murky world of at­tri­bu­tion, the re­port said.

“There tends to be a per­cep­tion that stu­dents wil­fully copy and paste in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty out of lazi­ness and dis­re­gard,” said Kristen Pur­cell, as­so­ciate di­rec­tor of re­search at the cen­tre and lead author of the study. “But teach­ers em­pha­sised to us that more of­ten than not, it’s a gen­uine lack of un­der­stand­ing.”

On the other hand, the plethora of on­line sources made teach­ers rate stu­dents highly on the abil­ity to in­cor­po­rate mul­ti­ple view­points in their writ­ing. In ad­di­tion, the ease of self-pub­lish­ing on the in­ter­net – and reach­ing a po­ten­tially vast au­di­ence – made stu­dents con­cen­trate on what they chose to write about, teach­ers said. “When ev­ery­thing is share­able, stu­dents pay a lot more at­ten­tion to the mes­sage they’re shar­ing,” said Joel Mal­ley, an English teacher at Cheek­towaga Cen­tral High School out­side Buf­falo, New York, who par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey.

The idea of their peers or peo­ple they don’t know read­ing their work made stu­dents more thoughtful, said Jennifer Wool­l­ven, an English teacher at West Lake High in Austin, Texas, who also par­tic­i­pated in the sur­vey. Nearly 80 per­cent of teach­ers in the study said dig­i­tal tools “en­cour­age stu­dent cre­ativ­ity and per­sonal ex­pres­sion”.

But teach­ers weren’t thrilled about stu­dents us­ing ca­sual writ­ing in for­mal as­sign­ments.

“It does take some work to get them out of ‘tech talk’,” said Wool­l­ven. “They’ve grown up in this world of short­en­ing.”

Mal­ley and Wool­l­ven said their stu­dents of­ten had trou­ble with cap­i­tal­i­sa­tion. Pur­cell added that teach­ers pro­moted writ­ing by hand when they wanted stu­dents to slow down and think about the process of writ­ing.

Al­though Pew’s study ex­am­ined the in­creased use of tech­nol­ogy in the class­room, Pur­cell said it also high­lighted a per­sis­tent dig­i­tal di­vide. There still ex­ists a stark dif­fer­ence in chil­dren’s ac­cess to tech­nol­ogy at home – and teach­ers in the sur­vey thought it was widen­ing.

“We heard con­sis­tently from the teach­ers of the low­est in­come schools that they have very dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences us­ing tech­nol­ogy in the class­room,” she said.

Those teach­ers had to de­sign their lessons to ac­com­mo­date dif­fer­ent skill lev­els be­cause – un­like the com­monly held per­cep­tion – not all young peo­ple were “dig­i­tal na­tives”, the re­port said.

Mal­ley, who teaches in a school where 43 per­cent of stu­dents are eco­nom­i­cally dis­ad­van­taged, agreed. “I get kids in my dis­trict, some of whom live in McMan­sions (big, lux­ury houses on small properties) and some that live in neigh­bour­hoods that bor­der the city,” he said. “There is not equal ac­cess to dig­i­tal tools.” – Wash­ing­ton Post

TECHNOKIDS: Nearly 70 per­cent of the teach­ers sur­veyed felt dig­i­tal tools en­cour­aged pupils to take short­cuts.

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