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Does 'Writing 2.0' Represent Progress?

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For a while now, there's been a debate brewing in the education community about the impact of Web 2.0 tools and the Internet on students' writing skills. Critics say that the abbreviated and grammatically incorrect nature of Web 2.0 writing makes it harder and more confusing for students who are learning the basics of writing, while others argue that anytime a kid is writing, it's a good thing, and those same tools encourage and motivate kids to write more often.

This story in The Miami Herald takes the latter stance, saying that blogs, social networking sites, text messages, and e-mail have resulted in an "explosion of writing."

One reason for the increase in writing, the article says, is that instead of a student-to-teacher exchange of writing, students who use the Internet are motivated by a wider audience of peers. They know that whatever they write will be read by a variety of people, not just one, and that encourages them to put more effort into their writing.

It should be noted that the professors and experts quoted in this story are mostly talking about higher-ed, not K-12 education, which in my opinion, is somewhat of a different story. It could be that college students have mostly learned proper usage and grammar and can toggle between "web-writing" and "proper English," while students who are still learning those skills might have a harder time distinguishing between the two.

The article reminds me a lot of a couple of stories I wrote for Digital Directions about cell phone novel writing and Twitter. In both of those pieces, the educators I spoke with said that even though student writing on the Internet might not be the most articulate or eloquent prose, just the fact that they were writing was a positive development, and part of the benefit of exercising writing skills in that way was to learn what type of writing is appropriate in what setting.

As someone who has grown up with the Internet and been interested in writing from a young age, I can confidently say that the Internet is an infinitely valuable tool for anyone who likes to write. Still, I can't help but think that all that practice constructing sentences and narratives has impacted my writing skills in a very positive way.

1 Comment

As a professional educator who has taught grammar and writing skills for over 30 years, I can confirm that writing in emails, test messages, and instant messages is very far removed from expository writing. Unfortunately, most students no longer receive a solid grounding in the mechanics of the language, so they don't know how to improve. Holistic grading does little or nothing to improve the situation. Understanding is the first step to improving. Teach the rules and demonstrate how students can apply them to their writing. Using technology is terrific, but students often rely on the editing tools included in word processing programs, which are inadequate and sometimes misleading.

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