Home Collaboration & Brainstorming Looking at The Impact Of Digital Tools On Student Writing

Looking at The Impact Of Digital Tools On Student Writing

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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.

Student language

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.

 

10 COMMENTS

  1. Digital tools definitely help to make education more interactive and effective. Of course there are downsides of digital tools but I think that there are even more benefits.
    Thanks for an interesting article!

  2. Just on the physical aspects of writing. My nephew (who is in Grade 7) had a 1 hour English test. All their learning is done digitally but testing is written. He said to me that he (and many others) couldn’t finish the test as he couldn’t physically write for that time length. He couldn’t understand why it was a written test. Same with me too?

  3. Thank you for your valuable comment, Michael. I’m glad to know that there are people who understand the importance of using digital tools in students learning and writing. We need to focus on how we can have a good use of possibilities which digital world give us and make a step forward.

  4. Thanks for the thoughtful commentary Michael! Great points. Indeed, we do need to “teach to tomorrow, not yesterday” – that’s certainly a part of what we’re all about here on EmergingEdTech.com.

    BTW, this was a guest post and your comment made me realize that I missed setting up the author and assigning the post to her (my bad! … the author was Brenda Berg and I’m working to get her bio in here).

  5. Kelly makes some good observations in this article, though little is particularly new. More importantly, we as educators need to focus on adapting to this changing landscape rather than complaining about it or resisting it. This is the world in which today’s business happens, in which social communication happens, and in which personal and academic learning happen. Rather than pushing back, how can we embrace change and better prepare our students for new challenges of the digital life?

    We need to help students understand how to dig beyond surface pabulum like most mass-produced newsletter/blog articles to identify and access quality sources, to ethically use those sources to support ever more insightful and impactful writing than was possible before, and to deliver that new knowledge in a form and register that best accomplishes the writer’s purpose with the intended audience in a given rhetorical situation.

    The shortcut problem can be turned into an opportunity to take the “long” cut.

    Decreasing device costs and increasingly available free Wi-Fi have significantly reduced access issues.

    Responsible use of devices and tools should be part of digital literacy in every classroom.

    This brave new digital world may be scary to non-digital native faculty, but we need to teach for tomorrow, not yesterday. We need to recognize that the five paragraph MLA essay is ancient history and serves as little more than a starting point for real world communication. Our students need to learn to effectively consume and produce powerful Twitter-length sentences, meaty paragraphs in which they contribute valuable commentary to the public conversation, well-supported and visually appealing but concise multi-paragraph blog posts and web pages, and longer documents of all types written and formatted and supported in a manner suitable for communicating in a digital environment.

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