Friday, July 6, 2012

Teaching Student Writing in a Digital Age

Guest post by Neven Jurkovic.

Consistent access to technology can enhance virtually any classroom, no matter the subject or grade level. One subject that can be especially impacted by the presence of technology is writing. This is because writing done for online spaces and audiences is in many ways fundamentally different than writing that has traditionally been done in the classroom, on paper, for a small, captive audience. With the help of technology, here are four key things teachers should do to help students learn how to write for an online audience.

Hook the reader, then keep it concise: Unlike captive classroom audiences, digital audiences have virtually infinite options of what to read. As a result, students must be taught to hook the reader with a catchy headline, title, or opening sentence. Once they’ve hooked the reader, the remainder of the piece should be concise – even more so than when writing on paper. Posting on Twitter, with its 140-character limit, is a great way for secondary students to get good at making a point quickly.

Mix written text with links, audio, and video: Whereas paper and pencil writing is limited to text alone, digital writing can include hyperlinks to websites, links to an audio podcast, videos, images, and more. Students must be taught to take advantage of these options, when applicable, to make their writing even more effective for an online audience.

Edit and collaborate more effectively: One of the best parts of writing on the computer is the ease in which students can edit their work – a few clicks can replace the previously painstaking use of erasers, editing marks, and proofreading marks. Students can also collaborate on writing more effectively: instead of being limited to an in-class peer editing session, virtually any number of students can work together to create and edit their writing in real time using Google Docs accounts.

Expect an audience: As mentioned above, students in the past expected their written work to be read or heard by their teacher and perhaps some classmates. Writing that is posted online, however, can reach a potentially global audience – but that audience must be earned. Students must be taught not only how to hook that potential audience but also to be thoughtful about what they choose to post online in light of that audience. Teaching students to be digital citizens who carefully consider the digital footprint they are creating is essential.

Digital writing is truly a separate skill that must be taught to students, distinct from offline writing. Students must be given frequent access to technology as well as specific digital writing instruction to ensure that they become proficient in writing for online audiences.

About the Author: Neven Jurkovic
Neven Jurkovic’s interest in teaching mathematics with technology developed while pursuing a Master of Science degree at Southwest Texas State University. Apart from publishing a number of papers on the application of artificial intelligence in elementary mathematics problem solving, Neven is the creator of Algebrator, a widely used math tutoring software. Currently, he lives in San Antonio, TX and is the CEO of Softmath: