High School Students and Laptops

Technology has been a tool for teaching writing since its introduction into the public schools. The effect of this practice is widely disputed, and the evidence is mostly subjective. Few scientifically designed research studies on the effects of technology on the teaching of writing have been carried out, and the results of these studies are contradictory on the actual benefits of word processing for writing. This question is part of a continuing debate on whether technology and educational media are more than a mere delivery system for instruction and on the importance of the teacher’s role.

The use of technology for writing instruction includes computer-based word-processing, projects to provide laptops to all students in schools, software programs that direct writing instruction and assist students in developing their own writing skills, as well as classroom email, website and blog activities. Schools in Maine, Kentucky, Virginia and British Columbia have invested funds in providing laptops to all students in certain schools. Jefferson County, Kentucky, has recently provided laptops with wireless access cards to every student and teacher at four under-performing middle and high schools.

Maine, through the Maine Learning Technology Initiative, has been providing laptops to all eighth grade students for two years and is planning to expand this program to include high schools. They are also planning to experiment with testing online. Since 2001, Virginia’s Henrico County Public Schools has provided 25,000 wireless laptops to its middle and high school students and teachers. For grades six and seven, a school in British Columbia initiated the Wireless Writing Project, which focuses on improving written expression.

Other state-wide one-to-one computer programs are underway in New Mexico, Michigan and New Hampshire. Many schools are continuing to utilize classroom and school-based computer labs and related software to teach writing. Teachers are also using email, blogs, (personal weblogs) and websites to encourage student writing and communication. Most evidence supporting the effectiveness of technology on teaching writing is anecdotal. Most reported results included in this brief are from small samples of students in classroom situations with few or no controls on the other variables, such as methods and strategies.

Schools with laptop programs in Maine after two years have made no gains in standardized tests but report “measurable gains” in writing on an online writing test at 60 schools (Kenning, 2004). These gains are not described nor scientifically documented. School systems just beginning the laptop program in Kentucky are predicting higher achievement and a reduction of the “digital divide,” but have no data to support such an effect. Likewise, the results of Virginia’s $24 million program are still being measured.

In one school in British Columbia, a similar laptop program called Test Scores Fuel Laptop Debate raised the percent of students scoring at proficiency levels in writing from 70 on the pretest to 92 percent. These results are from one school and the other factors that might have changed are not indicated. In a study published in the Journal of Research on Computing in Education (Langone and Levine 1996), the use of computer-based word-processing was found to have a positive effect on the writing of students with disabilities by making them more independent.

Other students’ writing showed little improvement, except that they were more likely to edit, spend more time on their writing and express a more positive attitude toward writing. Only small differences could be definitely linked to the computer use (Langone and Levine 1996), but more study is necessary to identify the other variables that might be affecting the outcomes. One of these variables is the increased social nature of writing when students work together on computers during the composing process.

Also, evidence indicates that mechanical concerns, such as those that can be alleviated by using a word processor, can interfere with the higher level skills involved in the writing process (Macarthur 1999). Without these barriers, students should be able to concentrate on generating ideas, organizing, making generalizations, evaluating and the other aspects of writing. A meta-analysis of 176 studies from 1992-2002 (Goldberg, Russell, Cook 2003 Annie Goldberg, 2003)) indicated that using technology for writing instruction was valuable in improving writing because of the ease of editing. Thus the quality of writing was improved. Also, writing that was shared over a network with other students was of higher quality than that which was only shared within a classroom. Macarthur (1999) theorizes that the idea of publishing their work is a motivational factor that increases students’ efforts and personal concern for doing well.

Works Cited Annie Goldberg, M. R. (2003). The Effect of Computers on Student Writing . JTLA .

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