Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing

Purcell, K., Buchanan, J., Friedrich, L. (July 16, 2013). The Impact of Digital Tools on Student Writing and How Writing is Taught in Schools. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/07/16/the-impact-of-digital-tools-on-student-writing-and-how-writing-is-taught-in-schools/


The study discussed in this article states that digital technologies are changing student writing in different ways. The tools have become helpful for teaching writing to middle and high school students. Tools such as, social networking sites and cell phones and texting really help to generate personal expression and creativity.  These tools encourage teens to write more often and in different formats.

Even though these tools are great for expression, they are challenging because it encourages a more informal writing style.  Teachers in the study state that there is also a great need to better educate students on plagiarism and fair use.

Some of the benefits for digital technologies are:

*Allows students to share their work with a larger, differentiated audience

*Encourages greater collaboration among students

*Encourages creativity and personal expression


Some of the challenges of teaching writing in a digital environment are:

*Tendency to confuse formal and informal writing

*The need to educate students on using different voices and registers

*Truncated forms of expression are now changing student’s ability to write longer texts and to think critically

*Little knowledge of fair use/ plagiarism

*Lack of knowledge when citing sources

*Diminishing grammatical skills and vocabulary

Even though there are challenges to teaching in a time with digital technologies, 50% of the teachers in this study state that these tools make it easier for them to shape or improve student writing. Some of the examples mentioned were the use of collaborative tools that allow teachers to “see their students thinking” and allow teachers to work alongside students during the writing process. Digital tools are also thought to make students write well because they can easily revise their work. As a writing teacher myself, I really enjoy the ability that allows students to collaborate in a digital format as well as my ability as a teacher to see what they are working on and immediately give advice, guidance, and positive feedback before they get to the end product. I think it is a great way to be able to conference with every student and not miss a part of the process.

Although these technology tools are for the most part helpful, 94% of teachers encourage or require students to do some of their writing by hand. Several teachers in this study believe writing by hand has advantages because students will need to do handwritten work on standardized tests, in discourages the temptation to copy and paste others’ work, and it encourages active thinking, synthesizing and editing.

I also agree with having students do some of the process by hand.  It is a great way to brainstorm and activate creative thinking. I don’t think we should only rely on the digital tools especially when it comes to writing.  Paper and pencil activities are not wrong and shouldn’t go away completely.

What I found really interesting was the second part of this article that discusses how teachers and students define writing.  Most students stated that they define writing as something that teachers “make” them do.  Most teachers are requiring their students to write short essays or responses as well as journal. Many students use journals in class but do not see them as a form of blogging. This thought process might change as students begin blogging for classes. Blogging may become the more official writing in the future.  I think that is a great way to get students to buy in to the idea of journaling. I plan to create an area on my classroom blog that allows students to journal. I think it’s a great idea and a great way to look back at the events, activities, and thoughts for the school year.

Most teachers agree that social media and texting are very engaging for students and these formats give them a reason to write. Even though these are not traditional forms of formal writing, they can serve as a form of pre-writing. There are some limitations to social media, but the upside is that students are communicating and writing more than we ever did at that age. Due to all these social formats and technology tools, students are writing constantly. The value of writing lengthy papers is not as important as the content and quality of that writing. I have always thought the same thing and I tell my students that when I teach writing lessons.  I don’t want to see how much writing they have on their page, I want to see quality writing.  This is such a great thought!

When teachers were asked what they think students need for the future, at the top of list was judging the quality of information, writing effectively, and behaving responsibly online.  I was kind of surprised that writing effectively was second on this list and that the list automatically jumped to behaving responsibly online.  All of these ideas are important, but I think to be successful at any job, you have to be able to write effectively and communicate appropriately first.


(114 pages)


  1. Love your synopsis! It truly is amazing how technology, when introduced and used correctly, can GREATLY enhance our students academic growth!

  2. Wow! I love your post, especially since I grew up been an ESL student, I wish all of these writing tools (technology tools) would have been invented 35 years ago, they would have been very helpful. I've always struggled with writing, it's a challenge to translate as I write. It's a longer process. I do agree with you that pencil and paper should still be around.