Teacher Survey: Technology Has Potential to Improve Writing Skills

Hand-wringing over the possibility that increased use of technology could lead to weaker writing skills may be unwarranted, suggests a new survey released by the Pew Research Center’s National Writing Project. Contrary to assertions that too much technology in the classroom created a generation of children who can’t express themselves through writing, the conclusions reached by the researchers showed that tech-based learning actually provided a number of advantages over the traditional approach.

More than 78% of Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers polled thought that the growing use of the internet and social media contributed to student creativity and “personal expression.” Nearly all thought that the internet allowed for wider sharing of student work and nearly 80% believed that internet and social media made it much simpler for students to work together.

More sharing meant that students received more feedback that improved the quality of their writing in the long-term.

However, teacher opinions weren’t universally positive.

At the same time, these teachers give their students modest marks when it comes to writing and highlight some areas needing attention. Asked to assess their students’ performance on nine specific writing skills, teachers tended to rate their students “good” or “fair” as opposed to “excellent” or “very good.” Students received the best ratings on their ability to “effectively organize and structure writing assignments” and their ability to “understand and consider multiple viewpoints on a particular topic or issue.” Teachers gave students the lowest ratings when it comes to “navigating issues of fair use and copyright in composition” and “reading and digesting long or complicated texts.”

More than 2,400 high school and middle school teachers responded to the survey which was conducted online between March 7th and April 23rd of this year. Instructors from all 50 states as well as District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands took part.

Rouhgly 1,750 of the respondents were Advanced Placement teachers, while around 700 were part of the National Writing Project. In addition, researchers relied on information gleaned from in-person focus groups of middle- and high-school teachers, as well as high school students, held between November of 2011 and February 2012.

This particular sample is quite diverse geographically, by subject matter taught, and by school size and community characteristics.  But it skews towards educators who teach some of the most academically successful students in the country. Thus, the findings reported here reflect the realities of their special place in American education, and are not necessarily representative of all teachers in all schools. At the same time, these findings are especially powerful given that these teachers’ observations and judgments emerge from some of the nation’s most advanced classrooms.