Monday, September 22, 2008

Writing On-Line

I found an interesting old book at the library a few days ago while looking for a different book. The one I wanted is missing, even after requesting that a librarian search for it. The book I found instead, published in 1985, is titled Writing On-Line: Using Computers in the Teaching of Writing. To clarify, when they talk about writing online, they mean writing with a word processor.

It is interesting in light of the topic this week in one of my classes, discussing the effects of Web 2.0 technologies on writing. The editors note that the purpose of the book is to caution against getting caught up in the hype surrounding computers, but rather proceed with implementing the use of computers in the classroom based on careful research.

A few paragraphs really caught my eye:

It's invitingly simple to log random flittings of thought, to etch them blithely in phosphor and with the blip of a key to store them on a disk. Somehow, I figure, they'll eventually prove useful, like the broken stepladder I dragged home last garbage night. If you write regularly, you already know that your best stuff is lodged somewhere in a vast cerebral ragbag-that a writer's ultimate, irreplaceable resource is the chaos that lives just beneath the outer dress of reason.

A word processor can make it slightly easier to tap, that's all. Easier because it can bring tantalizingly close to print what psychologist Lev Vygotsky termed "inner speech", the fluid medium somewhere between pure thought and its externalized linguistic formulation. I can sit here on a good night and, without contriving to, simply let things come, catch perhaps a thousandth part of what swarms to mind. This machine has brought home to me how taxing is the physical act of writing, how lopsided the contest between mind and hand. For better or worse, less of me will remain unsaid because of the speed and ease and even intimacy of computer-assisted writing. (Stillman, 1985)

Does that sound like any bloggers you know?

There's something for the wiki advocates among us as well:

Researchers soon moved on from a stage model of the writing process, where writers prewrote, wrote and revised (ideal writers, anyway, allegedly wrote this way; student writers seemed to write because we told them they had to, and just wanted to get it out of the way). This model didn't begin to describe accurately the ways actual writers compose; it was too neat, too simplistic and just plain wrong no matter which writers were studied. Now strong evidence leads to a view of the writing process as recursive and idiosyncratic. Flower and Hayes (1981), two leading researchers whose work is drawn in part from problem-solving research in cognitive psychology, are among those who see the writing process as a more complex series of processes than the three-stage model (Sommers, 1985).

These same discussions are happening today, with some professors banning the use of Wikipedia in class papers at the same time that others help their students write a wiki-based textbook.

Flower, L. & Hayes, J.R. (1981). A cognitive process theory of writing. College Composition and Communication, 32.

Sommers, E.A. (1985). Integrating composing and computing. In J.L. Collins & E.A. Sommers (Eds.), Writing on-line: Using computers in the teaching of writing. Upper Montclair, New Jersey: Boynton/Cook Publishers.

Stillman, P.R. (1985). A writer (and teacher of writing) confronts word processing. In J.L. Collins & E.A. Sommers (Eds.), Writing on-line: Using computers in the teaching of writing. Upper Montclair, New Jersey: Boynton/Cook Publishers.

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