Is technology helping hindering or helping students learning to write?
There's no denying that technology has had a seismic impact on education in recent years. Thanks to the internet and digital tools, students have more help than ever at their fingertips when it comes to academic writing. However, it has also had some negative impacts on their writing, too.
The changing landscape of student writing
If you look back even ten years ago, the way students approached their writing assignments was very different, says writer Timothy Reeves from Australian Help. ‘If students wanted to find information, they'd have to visit the library of their school and hunt out the information. They would only have access to peer reviewed information, and they would always write in a more formal manner.'
Today, things are different. Students can access anything they want from the palm of their hand, thanks to smartphones. The information they get is different, too. It is possible to find highly researched studies, thank to services such as Google Scholar. However, there's lots more information out there that's unsubstantiated or just plain wrong.
How plagiarism has changed
With the internet and digital tools, it's much easier for students to find the information that they need. However, it also leads to issues with correctly citing their work. Many students don't realise that sources such as websites and online journals need to be properly cited, too. Educators need to keep one step ahead of the sources their students may use, and educate them on how they should be used in their own writings. Online tools can help them as well. For example, Cite It In can be used to create correct citations for almost any source.
Worse, some students use online sources and pass them off as their own writing. Although this doesn't happen as often as some think it would, it's still an issue. That's why it's important to keep on top of it. Running students' writing through a plagiarism detector such as the one at Academized is a good way to check that their work is their own.
The language students use in their essays nowadays is also a problem, due in part to the way they now communicate. Fiona Davies, a proofreader at Ox Essays, says ‘We see a lot of first drafts that we have to substantially edit with our students. The language they use isn't suitable for academic writing.'
Students communicate via writing more than ever, but the language they use isn't what you want to see in academic texts. Professors report seeing more ‘text speak' making its way into assignments and emails, where it's not appropriate. There's also a blurring of the line between formal and informal writing.
The downsides to digital tools in education
There are plenty of issues that have been created, thanks to digital tools becoming so freely available. These include:
– Digital tools are seen as a shortcut to learning: There's a school of thought that says that students have much less patience than their predecessors. That can be seen in their writing. Educator Peter Finlay says ‘students now aren't willing to think in a more long form way about their topics. Online, they can find the answer to anything within seconds. Why would they want to pull apart a topic when they already know the answer?'
– Not all students have the same access: Educators think of students as all being glued to their phones and computers, but that's not actually the case. Some students don't have the same access to digital tools thanks to differing family and living situations. Because of this, the gap widens between students who need help and those who have all these tools to hand.
– Digital tools as distractions: Every teacher knows the pain of having a class distracted by their phones while in class. Even if the tools need to be used for educational purposes, there's very little to stop students from being distracted by them.
The benefits of digital tools
Although there are downsides, there's a lot of benefits to having digital tools in the classroom too.
– Collaboration is easier: You want your students to learn to work together, so digital tools are the best way to help with that. Students can create projects together even when they're not physically together in the classroom. You can even team up with classes in other countries, and give students a taste of what it's like to learn elsewhere in the world.
– Wider audience to share with: Students can use digital tools in order to share their work much more widely than they could before. Videos, blogs and wikis all go a long way towards giving students a greater appreciation and ownership of their own work.
– Give students the opportunity to be creative: Digital tools give students a much wider range of expression than they've ever had before. You can give assignments that can be completed in various different ways, giving them choices and enabling further ownership of their learning.
– Tools help educators too: There's almost no professor or teacher now who hasn't used a digital whiteboard at some point. There are a wealth of online tools enabling instruction with assistance of videos, interactive content, games, and more.
What is the impact of educational tools on education?
There's no doubt that they way students write continues to change. They are using less formal language, being more succinct in what they're saying, and some students are sadly plagiarising. However, digital tools aren't the worst thing to happen to writing skills.
When used properly, there are many ways that digital tools can help students improve their skills. It's the educator's job to steer their students in the right direction and help them get the most from this relatively new breed of tools.