National Writing Project

Writing Project Examines Technology in the Classroom

By: Elyse Eidman-Aadahl
Publication: The Voice, Vol. 11, No. 2
Date: 2006

Summary: NWP's Technology Initiative and the federal government's E-Rate program allow teachers to reimagine their teaching in a digital environment and to help young people develop as writers on the read-write Web.


First came the computers and the simple word-processing tools that could make composing a little easier. Writing teachers took note. Hard-to-read handwriting became legible, and text formatable. Editing tools made the mechanics of revision easier. Grammar- and spell-checkers aided proofreading, and desktop publishing opened up new opportunity for graphic design and publication. Any author could become her own designer, printer, and distributor of real-world texts for actual audiences.

As all those stand-alone options started to connect, some teachers began to see the future. Now, a decade after the introduction of the E-Rate, 93 percent of schools have access to the Internet. That doesn't mean a set of computers in every classroom or consistent broadband access, but it does mean that an increasing number of teachers have the opportunity to reimagine their teaching in a digital environment. Web-based tools such as email, blogs, and wikis make for very different kinds of writing experiences than those offered by word processors or PowerPoint. Ready access to real audiences beyond the classroom, to a sea of information and research options, and to collaborative authoring tools that support writers' work across time and distance has made writing a different proposition. New digital composing tools that integrate text, image, and sound open up possibilities for new text types and genres.

Teachers and parents, however, are not without worries. Ease of composing does not always produce more thoughtful or effective or original products. More information is not necessarily better information, and open access to audiences brings vulnerabilities as well as rewards. But many of our students, the digital natives that Mark Prensky (2001) describes, are already at home in the digital world outside of school. Schools are way behind and playing catch-up.

With more options at their fingertips, NWP teacher-consultants are often leading the way in helping young people develop as writers and thinkers on the new read-write Web. And through the NWP Technology Initiative, writing project sites are receiving support to study the issues related to technology and the teaching of writing and to design professional development opportunities based on what they are learning. Whether they are using a tool as ubiquitous as email or as au courant as podcasting, teachers and students are experimenting with curricula and developing new Web-related practices.

In the following stories, you'll find reports on ways that NWP sites and teachers are advancing literacy by making use of new technologies.

Prensky, M. (2001a, September/October). "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants." On the Horizon 9 (5): 1–6.

Prensky, M. (2001b, November/December). "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants, Part 2: Do They Really Think Differently?" On the Horizon 9 (6): 1–6.

About the Author Elyse Eidman-Aadahl is NWP's director of national programs and site development. She oversees the writing project's Technology Initiative.

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