Saturday, January 1, 2011

Online vs. Paper Writing

Over the holidays, I had a lovely conversation with a friend about her next job and how educational technology relates to it. A few things you need to know about her to preface this discussion: 1) She's going into her 3rd volunteer job in Africa, adding up to about the last 8 years of her life. 2) The job she's beginning this year is heading an English department at a girls high school that is opening in February in Rwanda. 3) She's an amazing writer and just finished a master's degree in creative writing. 4) She's in the editing stages of writing her first novel.

With these things in mind, we had a discussion about whether or not (or when) it would be appropriate to have her forthcoming students do online writing in any form. Her first assumption (being a very pen and paper type), was that it would be better to spend quite a bit of time getting the students used to doing general writing on paper before heading them into theoretically uncharted territory of writing online.

My response, (after she told me that they'd be on a wired campus) was that they should absolutely give online writing a shot. I do think students need to practice writing thoughts out on paper as this form of writing hasn't been completely outdated yet, especially in Africa. However, I think that it's critical for students all over the world to learn how to write online for many reasons.

I believe this is an imperative part of writing instruction in this day and age because it gives students incredibly real audiences. Through this, they can learn about writing in a form that is useful and/or interesting to an audience that does not know you and does not have to read your writing. Too often, classroom writing takes on topics that do not engage an outside audience at all, and are merely exercises in the conventions of writing, not the content of writing. (Ex: No one cares about how your basketball practice went outside your family, unless you can find a way to make it useful to others.)

Also, in online writing, particularly through blogging and other kinds of technology that allow commenting by readers, students learn about giving and receiving useful comments and criticism. While it does leave them open to ridiculous comments, it teaches them that those types of comments do occur, and how best to respond to them. If we leave students to discover this kind of reading and writing on their own, we take the chance that they will become those ridiculous people who make the internet feel like the crazy, wild, wild, west.

Without these kinds of opportunities to write for real people who care what students have to say and give and receive comments and criticism for others, students will be missing out on instruction in something that WILL [eventually] be part of their online lives, no matter where they live.

1 comment:

Devon Adams said...

What drives me crazy is how language is being stripped from our worlds. For example, I can go anywhere in the world, walk into McDonald's, point at a picture and grunt; I will get what I want. No written/oral language. Bugs the heck outta me.