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Mahendran Maniam, Ph.D. (ESL)
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Unmasking Student Competence: Using Computers to
Renu Gupta Ph.D.
Although many of us use computers to compose texts for everyday tasks, we resist the idea of allowing our students to compose their essays on computers. This paper describes a study conducted in Singapore that compared the essays written by school students in three conditions: by hand, on the computer, and by hand after one month on the computer. The analysis shows that students have latent writing skills that are constrained by classroom requirements but these emerge when they are allowed to compose on computers.
Today, many of us use computers to compose texts; it could be for professional purposes, such as writing reports, memos and research papers, or for personal purposes, such as email and letters. It has become such a standard tool that we never consider writing anything longer than a paragraph by hand; in fact, we may now find it difficult to write a memo or letter by hand.
However, we seem to resist the idea of allowing our students to do the same when they have to produce an essay. We expect them to write essays by hand, either in class or as take-home assignments. Teachers put forward several arguments against using computers in the English class:
a) Students will plagiarize their essays from the Internet. If this is such an issue, the Internet resource can be eliminated.
b) In their final examinations, students have to write by hand; if they use computers in the classroom, they will get out of the habit of writing by hand and will be penalized in the examination. Here, we need to distinguish between the tools used for teaching and testing; for example, we use textbooks for teaching, but these are not allowed in closed-book examinations. In the same way, we could teach writing through computers, but test students in a different mode.
c) Students should display 'neat handwriting' in their essays; if they use the computer, their essays cannot be graded for neatness and further, their handwriting will deteriorate. This argument stresses only one component of writing, namely, penmanship, which is a relatively low-level skill; writing does not merely involve the mechanics of forming the letters, but also involves linguistic competence (spelling and grammar) and discourse elements (organization and cohesion).
d) Not all students own computers; issues of access and equity will penalize some (if not most) students. This is slowly becoming less of a problem as the prices of computers drop further every year and the government willing to invest in technology to upgrade educational institutions. In fact, using computers is becoming more imperative to meet the demands of the workplace and to engage this generation of students, which is already tech-savvy.
One factor behind the resistance to using computers is that we have come to associate writing with using pen and paper, and find it difficult to think of using another medium for writing. Pen-and-paper technology satisfies only one of the many functions of writing-the need for a permanent record-but it is not central to writing. Scribbles on the blackboard, slate and chalk, and marks on the sand are still forms of writing; although the product is less permanent than pen-and-paper, an impermanent medium allows us to easily erase mistakes so that errors do not show up in the final product. Here, it is useful to distinguish between the process of writing (drafting/composing) and the final product, and the tools that support each; during the process stage, an impermanent medium allows frequent changes that leave no trace, whereas for the final product a permanent medium is required.
From the students' perspective, essay writing is very difficult. During the composition class, students are expected to generate ideas and organize them, after which they have to plan each sentence and write it out neatly. This requires them to coordinate a complex set of sub-skills. They have to manage both the higher-level skills of planning and organization as well as lower-level aspects, such as spelling and punctuation (Flower and Hayes, 1981). When writing with pen and paper, which allows minimal corrections, they either have to compose the entire essay in their heads or discover what they want to say as the essay progresses. The teacher's feedback shows their concern with numerous levels of writing, from the mechanics of writing (legibility, spelling and punctuation) to word-choice, grammar, and organization. Because of the complex coordination of skills as well as the teachers' focus on errors, most students prefer to play safe and do not stretch their abilities.
This is only the beginning part of the article. PLEASE CLICK HERE TO READ THE ARTICLE IN PRINTER-FRIENDLY VERSION.
The Influence of First Language Grammar (L1) on the English Language (L2) Writing of Tamil School Students: A Case Study from Malaysia | Economic Hardship and Emotional Humiliation in Mulk Raj Anand's Untouchable | Effects of Using Urdu Dictionary as a Teaching Tool for Teaching Urdu in Urdu Language Classroom in Pakistan | Acoustic Correlates of Stress in Mizo, a Tonal Language | Racism and the American Dream in John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men | Stimulating Language Strategies through Thinking - Help for Slow Learners | Masses as the True Makers of History - Analysis of the Play The Trial of Dedan Mimathi | Personal and Labour Market Environment Factors in English for Employability: A Case Study of KSA | A Study of the Reported Language Skill Development Strategies of the Student Teachers in Pakistan | Strategies for Communication Skills Development | Schema in Learning | Achieving Professional Goals: Use of a Mixed Discourse in Interviews | The Reality in Langston Hughes' Poems | Techniques to Teach Vocabulary to Regional Medium Students | Life History of Buddha as Reflected in Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha | Technique as Voyage of Discovery: A Study of the Techniques in Dante's Paradiso | Some Gaps in the Current Studies of Reading in Second/Foreign Language Learning | Unmasking Student Competence: Using Computers to Teach Writing | Feminist Literary Criticism | Amy Tan and Chinese American Literature | An Acoustic Analysis of Glottal Fricative [h] at Word Medial and Final Positions:
A Comparison between Regular and Non-regular Urdu Speakers of Pakistan | Teaching Writing Skills | Self-esteem of Institutionalised Elderly Women in Coimbatore - A Case History | An Assessment on Women's Work Participation and Economic Equality | Economics of Crime : A Comparative Analysis of the Socio-Economic Conditions of Convicted Female and Male Criminality in Selected Prisons in Tamil Nadu | A PRINT VERSION OF ALL THE PAPERS OF APRIL 2010 ISSUE IN BOOK FORMAT | HOME PAGE of April 2010 Issue | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
Renu Gupta, Ph.D.
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