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Technology-Based Writing Instruction

Writing is linked with technology, plain and simple. Technologies exist which can aid your students in improving their writing, whether you’re concerned with content or with commas.

Recommended: A view of literacy and technology that may surprise you: “Introducing the Book.”

Plan ahead: What kind of improvement would you like to see? Have your students mastered content but not punctuation? Are your students writing clean, coherent sentences which aren’t related to anything in particular? Or is it a combination of problems? Whatever the issues, writing instruction takes time and effort, and it’s up to the instructor to decide how much time and effort to put in.

The Bright Side: Even the simple act of responding to an email means that writing takes place, and that rudimentary act can help solidify important ideas concerning course content, communication, and professional demeanor.

The Best Tool: A good assignment will lead to better papers. What improvements would you like to see in student work? How involved? How long? How many and what kind of resources? How formal?

The Model: If you wanted to write poetry, you might start by reading it. What would you read if you wanted to write a solid, respectable marketing report?

Computer-mediated instruction offers the following possibilities for communication:

  • Asynchronous. Email, listserv, discussion groups, blogs: all of these technologies allow students and instructors to communicate in writing and at length. Encouraging students to contact you this way gives them a safe, non-graded approach to writing.
  • Synchronous. Real-time discussions can help students answer short questions. Sometimes just being available will boost student confidence, which helps boost student performance. Make sure you keep an archive of discussions for later referral.
  • Web-based. Regular web pages, static and simple to produce, can serve as an easy reference. Try putting some assignment prompts and models online, then let your students know.

Whatever technological tool you choose, look for ease of use. You do not need to spend time teaching (or learning) the software—the more transparent the better.

For multi-section courses or for large classes with small discussion groups, check for the ability for students to communicate across sections. For example, you might have students read and comment on the papers of peers from a different section.

For more information, check the following websites. This list is not exhaustive. If you know of writing software we should include, please contact Valerie Balester.

  • Calibrated Peer Review (CPR) – CPR is an Internet-based tool for making writing exercises viable for large classrooms. Students are given a writing model and asked to judge it, based on standards supplied by the instructor (calibration). Later in the semester, students begin writing for each other as well as reviewing each other’s work (peer review).Contact: Dr. Wendy Keeney-Kennicutt
  • ConnectWeb is a product made available by W. W. Norton Publishers and developed specifically for writing classes. It includes discussion and management features and is accessible from the Web. Students can buy access individually either from the bookstore or online for a $20 annual fee.
  • Daedalus Integrated Writing Environment (DIWE™) runs on a LAN and is available on both Macintosh and PC platforms. Daedalus allows for text-sharing, synchronous and asynchronous conferencing, documentation help, class management, and excellent tools for writers. It also has special tools for non-native English speakers. This is an award-winning program developed by writing teachers. UWC Director Valerie Balester was involved in its initial design and has experience using it in the Department of English at Texas A&M since the early 1990′s. DIWE requires a local server.
  • Instructional Technology Services at TAMU provides support for TAMU faculty using technology to teach, from workshops and handouts to consultations.
  • Sequence for Academic Writing is a textbook linked to a website. Many publishers offer such print-linked publications. This one from Longman Publishers includes conferencing capabilities and an on-line handbook as well as helpful links to other sites. For companion websites from Pearson, try the Online Solutions Finder.
  • Multimedia Educational Resource for Learning and Online Teaching (MERLOT) free resource for faculty and students investigating online pedagogical solutions and projects. MERLOT is can be browsed by subject or by direct query.
  • SAgrader - SAgrader (Semantic Analysis Grader) is one of several new programs that seek to evaluate essays within strict, given criteria. The program contains a knowledge base and rubric, supplied by the instructor, to judge whether students’ essays include appropriate information and concepts. From their website:“SAGrader™ is designed to assess a student’s substantive knowledge and ability to reason about the subject matter in a specific writing assignment.” The makers of SAgrader admit that their program is not for broad, or even upper-level college essays; however, it is an ongoing initiative and worth looking into. Pricing information is available on the product site.
  • StudyMate - Offered by Respondus, StudyMate allows you to quickly and easily create stand-alone, Flash-based learning activities for your students.  You can make flash cards, memory games, and more.  Texas A&M has a site license, and you need to contact Instructional Technology Services for a copy of the software (itsinfo.tamu.edu).

Additional Resources

Longo, Bernadette, et al. “The Poetics of Computers: Composing Relationships with Technology.” Computers and Composition. (March 2003): Vol 20: 1. 87-118. <http://www.sciencedirect.com>. Focuses primarily on a humanistic discussion of the relationship between students and technology and not specifically on writing instruction. It does, however, offer some insights as to how students position themselves relative to technology, and therefore serves as a good starting point.

Language Learning Online: Theory and Practice in the ESL and L2 Computer Classroom. Ed. Janet Swaffar, Susan Romano, Phillip Markley, Katherine Arens. The Daedalus Group, Inc., 1998.

<http://www.daedalus.com/downloads_public/llo/llo_standard.pdf>. An online booklet from the Daedalus Group includes “scholarly essays on computers and writing, with a focus on networked computer interactions in ESL and foreign language classrooms.” The booklet contains essays on facilitating classroom discussion through technology, writing assessment, and how to use email with international students.