In the following post, CNDLS Writer/Editor Theresa Schlafly explores questions about technology and students’ writing skills.
We are living in an “age of composition,” according to Florida State University Professor Kathleen Blake Yancey. All of us, especially students, are constantly writing and publishing for different audiences and in different formats – we are blogging, texting, emailing, crafting essays, and composing poetry. The ratio of formal to informal writing that students produce may be surprising: In Michael Wesch’s video “A Vision of Students Today,” a student in a large lecture classroom holds up notebook pages which read “I will write 42 pages for class this semester… and over 500 pages of email.”
Professors often view the informal writing that students do on their own as a distraction from their academic work – it’s easy to understand their aversion to these forms of writing when faced with students emailing during class or turning in essays riddled with abbreviations and spelling errors. But might it be possible to teach students to connect these very different writing processes in a productive way?
While previous studies of student writing have only examined academic writing, a recent Stanford University study, described in this Chronicle article and also discussed in a recent Wired magazine column, explored all types of writing done by its subjects. Academic opinions seem to vary widely on whether useful connections can be made between students’ informal and academic writing. Do blogging, emailing, and other types of online writing help develop students’ awareness of audience, tone, and voice? Or do these types of writing reinforce bad habits of disorganization, misspelling, and sloppy grammar?
Perhaps further research, such as this Stanford study or Georgetown’s Thresholds of Writing project, will shed light on these controversial questions. In the meantime, students will keep producing prolific quantities of informal writing, which Yancey exhorts us to “ignore… at our own peril.”