WASHINGTON -- Computers have changed the way students learn to write, observed Rosemary Winslow, associate professor of English at the Catholic University of America. And she thinks the results are mixed.
Word processing programs that correct spelling and grammar free students to concentrate on writing goals such as creating meaning and making a point, said Winslow, who participated in the National Writing Project and helped draft national standards for effective writing.
On the other hand, students who use computers for e-mail get in the habit of using an informal and familiar style too often, she said. They have difficulty shifting to an academic style in school.
Computers make students more fluid in writing, but at they same time make them reluctant to edit their writing, Winslow said. She's also noticed that these students have weaker vocabularies perhaps a result of too much time spent playing computer games and surfing the Web instead of reading.
And computers make it so easy to plagiarize. "With such easy access to the Internet, students can download information and copy it right into a paper." Sometimes they download a whole paper and submit the work as their own.
"Students need to understand how easy it is to be caught plagiarizing," she said.
Winslow, who has taught writing to junior high school and college students for over 30 years, said certain types of writing should still be pursued manually.
"Writing things out in longhand accesses a different part of the brain, encourages flexibility and spontaneity, and can help students with creative writing assignments, such as writing poetry."
Even in a high-tech world, basic approaches still work well, she said. Writing often in many different disciplines and different styles helps students learn to write. And the best writers, she added, are those who read frequently.
"It's difficult to learn writing. You can't just follow a set of instructions. It's a skill you build on a little at a time, with frequent practice and encouragement."
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