The Writing-Technology Connection
Copyright 1995 Miguel Guhlin
The blank page, the quill pen with its dark fluid were long ago replaced by more mechanical means. The typewriter, the computer, and the tape-recorder now serve as the means to bring order to chaos. While some are nostalgic for the old ways of writing, technology has brought sweeping changes to how we write and publish.
Just a few months ago, I published my writing without ever visiting the Post Office. Nor did I have to send out my unsolicited writing to my editor. Rather, the editor came to me. How did I accomplish this? How did I avoid the rejection-slip, the months of waiting for an answer to the question, 'Will my writing be published? Did I make it?� All was done electronically through the Internet. What were my writer's tools? A computer, a word processor, and a modem. These tools were integral to my achieving the goal of being a published writer. Yet, are these tools available for our children? At thirteen years of age (1983 then), I remember my first attempt at word processing. I used my brand-new Apple //e that cost my parents $1500.00 to make print statements in a BASIC program. Each print statement would print a sentence I had written. My high school English teacher wondered out loud why my sentences came in paragraphs. Things have changed now.
When I attended computer camp in 1981, the instructors attempted to teach us how to program in BASIC. I failed miserably, yet that first encounter had a profound influence in my life. Now, in the summer of 1995, at the Kids Summer Computer Camp I facilitate, students employ MacIntosh computers to copy and paste graphics into their computer journals. They converse electronically with students in San Antonio, Texas at the Kids' Summer Technology Institute (KSTI) using electronic mail (e-mail). How things have changed.
As the tools have changed for writing and publishing, so has the approach to writing. We are now more process-oriented. Marjorie Montague (1990) states that a process-based approach to writing instruction is. . . particularly well-suited to computer-assisted composing since it is student-centered, stresses an interactive model of composing, considers the dynamic and recursive nature of the writing process, seeks to understand how children develop as writers, and documents writing development by analyzing the writing processes as well as the products.
Research over the past few years also suggests that children tend to enjoy writing more when writing on a computer. Children think writing on a computer is easier and more fun than using pencil and paper because it eliminates recopying compositions. Children usually write more and stay with the writing task for longer periods of time (Daiute, 1985b). Other studies have found that children wrote longer pieces, continued to write onpieces produced on previous days, conferenced more with their teacher about writing, included more detail in their writing, revised more, and seemed to be more involved in the writing process. Positive effects were also noticed on student transcribing skill, spacing, printing, and spelling. (Phenix, Hannan, 1984). Other research suggests the use of voice-aided word processing with young children (Lehrer, Levin, et al, 1987).
The introduction of multimedia software has made a significant impact on the writing process. When first grade students in Suzi Thomas' class, located at E.C. Brice Elementary in Mt. Pleasant, Texas, wrote their story about "The Fuzzy Worm," they did so using Broderbund's popular software, "Kid Pix 2." Each child contributed a line and illustration to the story. After entering their sentence and illustration into this collaborative writing project, the teacher recorded their reading of the sentence using the microphone built into their MacIntosh computer. According to the classroom teacher, one child would not have spoken if it had not been for the computer. Ms. Thomas later shared this multimedia slide show with the school board. Have no doubts about how well the school board received this work. Third grade teacher Tina Baker, at E.C. Brice Elementary, also used multimedia software, Roger Wagner's "HyperStudio," to raise the level of excitement for students in publishing their "My Most Important Book."
Students created a Hyperstudio stack that incorporated what they had learned about the solar system, written as short journal entries with illustrations. Students also recorded themselves reading their writing. These two multimedia documents, one a slide show and the other a hypermedia document, were published along with other student work on the Kids' Web Project (on the World Wide Web, access the URL: http://198.213.72.24/KiWePro/kiwepro.html) managed by the webmaster Ken Task (e-mail: ktask@tenet.edu).
Work from bilingual kindergarten, second and third graders is also featured on the Kids' Web Project. After having taught various grade levels, grades 3-6, the key to writing success is not the computer. Sure, research on the impact of computers on the writing process do highlight that students write more. What keeps them writing, though, isn't the arduous process (even though the computer eases this process). Nor, is it the joy of finishing a piece through sweat and tears after many hours, days, and/or weeks (or longer). It is something referred to as 'postwriting.� Postwriting, according to Larry Nicholl (1989), includes all the activities that teachers and students can do with a finished piece of writing.
Nicholl writes: A writer's message needs to be shared aloud, sent to a pen pal, entered in a writing fair, stuck in a bottle and tossed out to sea. Yes, in some fashion, it must be 'published,� in the root sense of the word: 'made known to other people. Through the use of technology, especially computers and telecommunications, publishing student work is a phone call away. Students can publish their writing through on-line magazines which have few guidelines. Five such online student publishers include (the description is taken directly from their home pages on the World Wide Web):
*ISN KidNews (URL: http://www.umassd.edu/SpecialPrograms/ISN/Kidnews.html) ISN KidNews is a news service for students and teachers around the world. Anyone may use stories from the service, and anyone may submit stories. We also invite comments about the news gathering, teaching, and computer-related issues in the Discussion sections for students and teachers.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Send e-mail directly to: powens@umassd.edu or webmaster@umassd.edu for more information or visit their home page.
*Midlink magazine (URL: http://longwood.cs.ucf.edu/~MidLink/) MidLink Magazine is an electronic magazine for kids in the middle grades--generally ages 10 to 15. Browse through our interactive space to enjoy art and writing that will link middle school kids all over the world. MidLink will be published bi-monthly, and each issue will have a new and exciting theme. You can participate just by logging-in to the home page.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: *Any* school is welcome to contribute to MidLink Magazine. There is no fee for joining this educational project. Yes, we accept submissions by "snail mail," as well as FTP. For details about how your school can participate, send e-mail to Caroline McCullen at: Caroline_McCullen@ncsu.edu.
*Global Show-n-Tell (URL: http://www.manymedia.com/show-n-tell/) Global Show-n-Tell is a virtual exhibition that lets children show off their favorite projects, possessions, accomplishments and collections to kids (and adults) around the world. Global Show-n-Tell is for kids, it's for fun, and it's free. The exhibition consists of links to children's artwork in the form of multimedia pages residing in Worldwide Web or FTP servers.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Send e-mail to "show-n-tell@manymedia.com" and include in the body of the message the following information: In the subject line, include the URL (or the FTP site and filename) of the page where the text and/or graphics reside. In the body of the message, please provide a sentence or two that we can paste into the exhibit page containing the child's name (first names only are OK); age; home town (or region); and medium.
*Eyes of Texas (URL:http://198.213.72.24/Eyes/Eyes_of_Texas_Diz.html) Presents students with the opportunity to share information about their part of Texas through student-authored, teacher-directed multimedia projects available at the WWW site above. Students use TENET to share information (history and culture) about their local community electronically.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: Any district in the State of Texas can participate, however, refer to details online for more information.
***KidPub (URL:http://en-garde.com/kidpub/intro.html) KidPub is a corner of the World Wide Web where children are encouraged to publish their stories and news about their schools and towns.
HOW TO PARTICIPATE: To publish your story, just mail it to KidPub@en-garde.com. Along with your story, you can also publish a brief note introducing yourself, with things like your favorite food, hobbies, how many pets you have, and so on. As you can guess, publishing guidelines are a bit different from what many of us have come to expect as writing teachers. Here's an excerpt from ISN KidNews guidelines:
  • When submitting a story, please include your name, your grade, your e-mail address, your school, and a headline (optional). * Please try to be aware of readers from around the world and edit your submissions so that people who don't know you or your school can make sense of your story. Instead of penpals, students can now use "keypals." With keypals, response time is limited only by how long it takes a keypal to write back.
The need for Internet access is justified in just the use of electronic mail, or e-mail. Students can write to other students around the globe and have their writing received instantaneously no matter the location of their keypal. They can also publish their writing on-line through e-mail, participate in on-line discussion groups with other same-age writers. The power of technology can bring the power of postwriting into the hands of young writers. I still remember the pride the parents of three fifth grade students felt when their children's poetry appeared in a May 1992 issue of "The Cotulla Record," a small South Texas town newspaper. And, I remember the "Wow!" that echoed in my bilingual third grade class when I told them their Hyperstudio stack had been published on the Internet in May 1995 on the Kids' Web Project (Imagine explaining the internet in Spanish to children who have only been using computers in their classroom, the library and in a non-networked computer lab).
That "Wow!" carried with it the pride of being published, of knowing that millions of people would see their work. The Kids' Web Project, online kids' magazines, and the use of e-mail to share student writing across the globe are only some of the ways technology can be used for postwriting. The publishing experience, although different for my students over the years, is still central to that need to reach for a writing implement and begin again. Begin again to put down on paper, to see characters form into words on a computer screen, what makes them feel alive. That satisfaction, of students having their work made known to other people is at the heart of information technology and the multimedia experience.
The reward of writing, what happens after we have produced a finished piece, is publishing. Technology facilitates the creation of the document (for example, using concept mappers such as Intuit's "Inspiration"), the formation of the document including revising and editing (word processors), and, the publication of the document. Yet, it is in the publication that the process gains meaning. While the journey is worthwhile in itself, our students must have the opportunity to complete the journey. The Writing-Technology Connection makes that possible.
The quill, the typewriter, the computer. . .each a way of ordering the chaos human beings must face daily. Just as adults publish their writing via the Internet, so can our children. Technology is simply a tool. The Writing-Technology Connection is about choosing the right tool for this mystically muddy task, and sharing what we've learned in completing the task with others.
References
Daiute, C. (1985). Writing and computers. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
Lehrer, R., Levin, B., DeHart, P., & Comeaux, M. (1987). Voice-feedback as a scaffold for writing: A comparative study. Educational Computing Research, 3, 335-353.
Phenix, J. & Hannan, E. (1984). Word processing in the grade one classroom. Language Arts, 61, 804-812.
California Writing Project, Teachers of the (1989). From literacy to literature. Regents of the University of California, 143.