The text processor transforms in how we think of writing. Helm (1987) contends that through electronic text, language can be edited, stored, manipulated, and rearranged in ways that make typewriters obsolete (pp. 1-2). The mechanization of the word, popularized by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century through the iconic printing press and typewriter, becomes replaced by word processors in the twentieth century. In fact, there are elements in which the two technologies remediate each other, refashioning an older medium into a new one (Bolter, 2001). Electronic writing remains to be mechanical and precise, like printing, while maintaining a visual aspect, like hieroglyphics and picture writing in papyruses. However, the fixity and permanence of typewriters has evolved to become more fluid and dynamic on computers. The foundation of writing is the basis of literacy. Although the purpose of writing remains the same, where students work towards creating, editing and sharing meaningful writing, but how educators approach this purpose has evolved through digital writing.
Rethinking Writing Pedagogy
The remediation of print to an electronic space has significant changes in how we think, read and write in our digital era. Bolter’s (2001) idea of the fluidity of electronic text changes the spatial structure in how we digest information. With a click of a button, enormous amounts of text can be copied, cut or pasted. We can manipulate text and break down the traditional mind mapping necessary in traditional writing. The physical barriers of the codex, manuscript, are broken by the endless digital writing space (Bolter, 2001). Writing is now open and public. Students can share their ideas, plan for projects by working collaboratively on GoogleDocs, editing and creating documents together at the same time. Peers and teachers can view what others are doing in the class on reflective blogs, commenting on each other’s work and how they could improve. Malley (2010) contends that composing in multiple modes, such as using cinematic techniques, to rework and create media leads to deeper learning. Students are provided with endless opportunities to focus on shooting screens, sequencing, tonality, transition through the use of storytelling tools to reinvent their traditional writing. Through this process, students can then use this writing for publication. Sharing it on Facebook, or Youtube to create more purpose for their writing and allow a larger audience to view their work. This idea is supported by Ong’s (1982) theory of secondary orality, in creating a strong group sense in our global village, it expands writing beyond the four walls of the classroom.
Practicalities of Digital Writing
The implementation of word processing can support the writing process in class, from drafting, writing, revising, proofreading to publishing. Students can write their ideas on a digital space, generating and accumulating their ideas, instead of sequentially writing down sentences. Dobson and Willinsky (2009) promote this idea, where word processing leads to greater length of composition, with slight gains in the equality of writing. In fact, electronic print make writing less tedious for low ability learners, giving them an opportunity to organize their ideas more effectively and combine their work after (Dalton & Hannafin, 1987). Furthermore, differentiation can be achieved through word processing as lower ability students can write more simple sentences, and higher ability students can compose paragraphs using higher ended vocabulary and grammatical structure in the class. Beck and Fetherston (2003) furthers this idea by implementing the use of word processor in a Year 3 Writing Program. They discovered that word processors allowed students to become more willing in taking risks in their writing, having less worry to being varying sentence structures, word choices and text organization. In this sense, writing in a digital space can increase student motivation and attitude towards literacy.
The Economies of Technology
All technologies have fixed and variable costs. Writing with paper and pencils has low fixed and variable costs, where supplies are cheap and easily replenished. In implementing Macbooks to facilitate digital writing for students, Puryear (1999) suggests that the variable costs of individual laptops for students, with the purchase and maintenance costs, and also cost of teacher training, is not necessary cost effective at the end. Large amounts of money are spent on more expensive and complex technologies, but research fails to support the idea that it produces better educational outcomes (Puryear, 1999). Although what we teach has not been radically different, how we teach has changed over the past few decades. There are many obstacles in adopting new educational technology, where the political and institutional framework needs to support the innovation for it to sustain. Dalton and Hannafin (1987) indicates learners who receive no formal typing instructions spend an excessive amount of time to search for the right key on the keyboard. The disruption in their concentration while attempting to write prevents students to let out all of their ideas. Continual teacher training on how to implement technologies successfully, and thus, to then train students to use the keyboard is critical for digital writing to be successful. Although there are benefits to using word processor to make writing more meaningful, we need to consider how much it costs and how that impacts school budgeting and funding to make it successful.
Our understanding of the word has been revolutionized since the introduction of computer. Students no longer require a desk, paper and pen, but only a keyboard and digital space to record our accumulation of ideas and thoughts on an endless page. This new order of information and appearance changes how we view writing, where we can create, edit and share our contents with the global world. As Bolter (2001) defines topographic space on the internet, this iconic space remediates how writing can be done through a digital space, becoming a part in how we organize information in modern day. Our ability to share with the world brings us closer together as a culture, celebrating diversity and our love to write. The word processor has truly been a technological invention that redefines our dependence on our literate culture and the existence of writing.
Beck, N. & Fetherston T. (2003). The Effects of Incorporation a Word Processor Into a Year Three Writing Program. Information Technology in Childhood Educational Annual, (1), 139-161.
Bolter, Jay David. (2001). Writing space: Computers, hypertext, and the remediation of print [2nd edition]. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Dalton, D. & Hannafin, M. (1987). The Effects of Word Processing on Written Composition. The Journal of Educational Research, 80(6), 338-342.
Malley, J. [NatlWritingProject]. (2010, September 29). Teaching Writing in the Digital Age. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9z71iNrlew
Ong, Walter. (1982.) Orality and literacy: The technologizing of the word. London: Methuen.
Puryear, J. M. (1999, September). The economics of educational technology. TechKnowLogia, 46-49.