Effects of Integrating Technology in Writing Instruction
A Literature Review by Stephanie Dib
Throughout the last decade, technology has advanced faster than ever. New developments in technology have changed the way people interact with the world, and how they access and share information. Devices such as cell phones, tablets, and laptops permeate every aspect of life. This also holds true in 21st century schools. Now, more than ever, students are regularly accessing computers as part of their education in elementary schools and onward. How educators choose to utilize computers as a learning instrument varies in each district, school, and even classroom.
This literature review will address the relationship between computers and writing instruction, a foundational skill taught in all grade levels. This review begins with an analysis of current writing trends. It details student identity and motivation toward writing as well as discusses the effects of non-technology based writing interventions. Then, this review explores various types of technology integration as it relates to writing instruction. Specifically, there is a focus on the use of word processors, blogs, and Google Docs. After exploring the relationship between such technology and quality of writing, this literature review concludes with an examination of both teacher and student perceptions of technology as it pertains to writing in education.
Current Trends in Writing Instruction
Student Identity as Writers
Very early on in their educational careers, students form a self-concept of themselves as learners, constructing ideas of their own strengths and weaknesses. Researchers Seban and Tavsanli (2015) conducted a qualitative study to explore second-graders’ sense of self as writers as they engaged in a writer’s workshop, an increasingly popular model of instruction. They used twenty-seven students from an urban elementary school as their sample population. All students participated in units on various genres throughout the year, including small moment stories, procedural writing, informational texts, and poetry (Seban & Tavsanli, 2015, p. 220). Students answered interview questions centered on their ideas about learning reading and writing, the purpose of writing, the process of writing, and their competence in writing. A combination of teacher input, scores in Language Arts, and student perception were used to group students into high achieving, average, and low achieving groups.
Data analysis of the interviews revealed a number of correlations. Average and low achievers talked the most about the importance of personal abilities (creativity and imagination) that make a good writer. In contrast, 60% of high achievers cited knowing how to learn as an important quality for writers while only 42% of average and 0% of low achievers mentioned this. In terms of motivation and attitude toward writing, 100% of high achievers said writing has some sort of personal benefit, such as satisfaction or supporting their development. They were also more aware of a potential audience for their writing, and referred to audience as a motive to make improvements in their writing. On the other hand, only 43% and 40% of average and low achievers thought writing had any personal benefit (Seban & Tavsanli, 2015, p. 224 – 226). The results of the interviews reveal a correlation between student identity as writers and subsequent performance on writing tasks. High achievers displayed a growth mindset and saw a purpose in writing. Meanwhile, average and low achievers believed that existing personal aptitudes must be present in order to be a good writer (Seban & Tavsanli, 2015, p. 222-232). Further research must be conducted to explore whether it is possible to develop a growth mindset in low and average achievers. If so, would this change their opinions of themselves as writers and increase their writing quality? Additionally, more research is needed to examine the development of students’ self-concept as writers when receiving other strategies of instruction in comparison to the writer’s workshop model.
Writing Interventions without Technology
Writing instruction is an integral part of education, even from the earliest years of schooling. To ensure all students experience success in this content area, educators have developed a number of strategies to meet the needs of all learners. Researchers Nasir, Naqvi, and Bhamani (2013) compared pre- and post-test results after students participated in various writing interventions over the course of a month. Their objective was to improve the writing skills of students in a private school by utilizing several strategies and analyzing the impact on student writing. In this action research study, thirty-nine students from four fifth-grade classes served as the sample population. The intervention involved creative writing exercises, providing students with a vocabulary list and flash cards for reinforcing vocabulary, creating a class library, using a relevant class word bank, keeping a vocabulary journal, and encouraging students to use thesauruses and dictionaries (Nasir et al., 2013, p. 29).
Following these intervention methods, post-tests revealed twenty-nine students showed improvements. Grammar and structures were significantly higher quality. Organization and coherence of writing increased 26% while grammar increased 24% from the initial assessments. The most improvement was evident in the students’ vocabulary, with a difference of 38% between the pre- and post-tests (Nasir et al., 2013, p. 29). Overall, the interventions in this study resulted in substantial improvements in most students’ writing. That is, there currently exists a number of strategies to enhance quality of writing that do not require any technology.
Another teaching method that does not involve technology is the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) model. The effects of SRSD were examined by researchers Lienemann, Graham, Leader-Janssen, and Reid in 2006. The SRSD model is an instructional approach that explicitly teaches students strategies used by skilled writers. It includes teacher modeling of each strategy, direct instruction, and guided learning experiences. Initially, the teacher provides many scaffolds, which are gradually taken away as students learn to self-monitor, apply learned skills, and evaluate their own writing (Lienemann, et al., 2006, p. 67). This quantitative study used ten second-graders from an elementary school in a rural Midwestern state as their sample. The students were identified by their teachers as children who were at risk for writing failure, as well as struggling readers. Ninety-six percent of the participants were European American, while the remaining students were African American, Hispanic, and Asian. Only 8% of the students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch (Lienemann et al., 2006).
The participants were randomly assigned to one of two instructors that had received training in the SRSD model. All students received SRSD instruction. To gather writing samples, students were presented with a black-and-white line-drawn picture, then asked to write a story about it. Each time, they were prompted to “plan their story, include all the elements of a good story, and write as much as they could” (Lienemann, et al., 2006, p. 70). Pre- and post-treatment writing samples were rated on writing quality, number of story elements included (main characters, setting, time, what the characters wanted to do, what they did, how they felt, and an ending), and length. Quality of writing was interpreted using an existing rating system developed by Saddler et al. in 2004.
Lienemann et al. (2006) concluded that all students made improvements in story length, writing quality, or number of story elements included in writing. Most students improved drastically in all areas. For example, one student, Sklyar, “included all 7 story elements in each of her independent performance stories, nearly doubled the average length of her stories, and made 168% improvements in her mean quality scores” (p. 73). Most notably, the quality of writing increased by at least 113% for each student. Although SRSD had a strong impact immediately following instruction, some participants’ writing performance declined or regressed back to baseline four weeks after the intervention ended (Lienemann et al., 2006). This observation, in combination with the small sample size and lack of control group, raises questions as to the generalizability and longevity of these results.
A similar study conducted by Tracy, Reid, and Graham in 2009 also focused on the effects of SRSD instruction using an experimental model. They used 127 third-graders from a rural elementary school from the Midwestern United States; half served as a control group while the other received SRSD as a treatment. The treatment group was taught strategies specifically for story writing. Pre- and post-tests were analyzed for structure, number of words, and writing quality. Overall, the SRSD treatment group wrote stories that were qualitatively better during the posttest. They included more story parts and wrote longer stories compared to the control group. Furthermore, the SRSD instruction transferred to another writing genre that was not explicitly taught: personal narratives (Tracy et al., 2009). This study builds on the findings of Lienemann et al. (2006) by using similar measures, but including a larger sample size and implementing an experimental design to determine cause and effect. These studies show that existing teaching methods that do not involve the use of technology can increase the quality of student writing.
Types of Technology Integration
Next steps in education and research now focus on how to best utilize the new technology available to students. The use of word processors in the classrooms has shown promising effects on the amount of writing, quality of writing, and amount of revisions made in student writing (Daiute, Kurth & Stromberg, as cited in Moore & Turner, 1988). In an exploratory study using a mixed-methods design, Moore and Turner (1988) observed 204 fourth- and fifth-graders in twelve classes to see how word processors affected students’ writing skills. Questionnaires, bi-monthly classroom observations, and pre- and post-study writing samples were administered to the control and treatment groups. Teachers and students in the treatment groups were trained to use word processors and provided with support throughout the program (Moore & Turner, 1988, p. 75). In order to study the amount and types of revisions in students’ texts, the researchers used existing recommendations of Faigley and Witte (1981) that qualify revisions as either “surface changes” or “meaning changes” (Moore & Turner, 1988, p. 76). Students in the control group not only had fewer revisions, but the majority of revisions made were surface changes that solely focused on spelling or punctuation. In contrast, the treatment group made revisions that qualified as meaning changes, such as expanding their sentences and reorganizing sentences and ideas. The researchers concluded that, as a result of using word processors, students in the treatment groups made more revisions, showed more complex revisions, and displayed higher quality writing overall (Moore & Turner, 1988, p. 78).
Another study, conducted by Owston and Wideman (1997) focused on 110 third grade students in a middle-class suburban neighborhood in Canada. In this quasi-experimental three-year study, two classes had high access to and plenty of experience with computers while the other two classes had low access to and little experience with computers. The “high-access site” (HAS) had one computer for every three students. The “low-access site” (LAS), while in the same district, only had one computer for every fifteen students. Owston and Wideman (1997) observed that while the HAS students used word processors for most of their writing and throughout the writing process, the LAS students rarely used such technology. At most, word processors were used to input and print final drafts in the LAS group (Owston & Wideman, 1997).
The main results indicated a greater improvement in writing quality for the students with high access to computers during writing instruction. By fourth grade, the HAS students composed writing pieces that were almost three times longer than the LAS students. Furthermore, that difference continued through fifth grade. Similar to the study by Moore and Turner (1988), the writing in the LAS group revealed little to no editing. Any revisions made were characterized by punctuation changes, spelling corrections, and minor sentences changes. The overall content quality for HAS students was significantly superior. Although the use of word processors was a main factor separating the HAS and LAS groups, there is a possibility of confounding factors such as teacher characteristics, student characteristics, classroom practices and routines that vary between the four classes that participated in this study (Owston & Wideman, 1997, p. N/A).
Researchers McGrail and Davis (2011) explored how blogging in elementary classrooms influenced the development of student writing in fifth grade. To do this, they conducted a qualitative case study of a single classroom in a Title I elementary school in a southern state of the US. The participants included nine girls and seven boys. Of these participants, there were six Hispanic, nine White, and one Black student. The population also included two gifted students and one special education student. While only one student was currently receiving English language instruction, almost half of the students previously received ELL services (McGrail & Davis, 2011, p. 418).
The class met in the computer lab once a week for four weeks to conduct blogging sessions. Each session was videotaped. A training specialist and university professor acted as teacher mentors to facilitate the blogging process. They assisted the classroom teacher and provided feedback to both the teacher and students. As part of the program, students communicated to a number of audience members, including retired teachers (both who had participated in other blogging projects with the training specialist), a class of middle school bloggers, a class of high school students, and graduate students from the university professor’s courses (McGrail & Davis, 2011, p. 419-420).
Pre-interviews, post-interviews and writing samples were coded using an existing framework that focused on domains such as attitude, content, voice, connections and relationships, thinking, and craft (Merriam, as cited in McGrail & Davis, 2011, p. 422). Analysis revealed that student bloggers initially displayed a weak sense of audience when writing. After students developed a relationship with the commenters, the idea of audience became more concrete. The students’ writing shifted from self-centered entries to entries that directly addressed their audience as real people and friends (McGrail & Davis, 2011, p. 426). In addition to increasing students’ understanding of audience, the post-writing samples revealed that blogging had a positive influence on many of the other writing domains, including content, voice, critical thinking, and organization (McGrail & Davis, 2011, p. 422-425). It appears that regular blogging in the classroom resulted in a number of qualitative changes, although the sample size of this study is small and therefore may not be reliably generalized to all populations.
Technology integration is applicable at the K-12 as well as higher education levels. For example, Google Documents (Google Docs) is a web-based tool that can be used for individual and collaborative writing tasks. Researchers Suwantarathip and Wichadee (2014) suggested that Google Docs increased the writing performance of student groups in collaborative writing. This quasi-experimental study used two sections of students enrolled in a private university in Thailand as the sample population. All eighty students were enrolled in EN 012, a course for increasing skills in reading and writing responses to texts (Suwantarathip & Wichadee, 2014, p. 150). One section collaborated face-to-face in groups of four, while the other utilized Google Docs to collaborate online in groups of four. Over the course of fourteen weeks, the groups had to complete four writing pieces which were scored on a rubric with ten points possible: four points for clarity of main idea, three points for structure and organization, and three points for correct grammar and spelling. The researchers administered a pre-test and post-test to assess writing abilities. They also used questionnaires to assess how collaboratively students worked in both conditions (Suwantarathip & Wichadee, 2014, p. 150-152).
After the fourteen-week study, Suwantarathip and Wichadee (2014) concluded that the writing abilities of the students using Google Docs were improved by the use of this form of online collaboration, and the result was statistically significant (p. 153). Moreover, according to the surveys, students reported positive attitudes toward collaboration via Google Docs and positive attitudes in regards to the role Google Docs played in promoting a collaborative learning environment. They conveyed very positive attitudes in response to sharing ideas with other students (Suwantarathip & Wichadee, 2014, p. 153). Not only were students’ responses favorable for collaboration, they also reported that using Google Docs out of class was “easy” or “very easy” (Suwantarathip & Wichadee, 2014, p. 153). These findings show that the use of such technology can be easily implemented, positively received, and have a positive impact on quality of student writing.
Perception of Technology Integration
For educators, keeping up with best practices can be challenging, especially when it involves technology. Every individual varies in their familiarity with computers and in their willingness to embed them into their pedagogy. In the aforementioned study by Moore and Turner (1988), teachers in the treatment group held positive attitudes toward the use of technology upon completion of the exploratory study. It is vital to note that these teachers received two days of training in how to properly use the word processors. In addition to those two days, three additional days were spent assisting teachers in modifying their existing practices to integrate program for the treatment. Throughout the program, the teachers were given constant support in order to best maintain the use of word processors. After they became accustomed to using the word processing program in their schools, their answers on the questionnaire suggested they were interested in what changes could be made to keep increasing student performance. Furthermore, they wanted to find additional lab time to continue the program (Moore & Turner, 1988). That is, they held positive beliefs about the effectiveness of using the computers for writing instruction and were open to sustaining these practices even after the study.
Multiple studies reported overwhelmingly positive attitudes when using technology to compose written pieces. For example, researchers Allaire, Theriault, Gagnon, and Lalancette (2013) documented elementary students’ affective variables in response to participation in blogging. In this case study, they specifically focused on students’ self-concept and motivation in relation to writing, and how this developed during their participation in blogging with a network. The sample included fifty-four students (twenty-seven girls and twenty-seven boys) from two sixth-grade classrooms in the Province of Quebec, Canada. For one class, blogging was mandatory, while the other class got to choose between blogging or keeping a personal journal. Of the twenty-eight students in the latter group, nineteen of them chose to utilize the blog. Students had free choice of writing topic, although teachers had to approve each post before it was published. Pre- and post-test questionnaires were administered to analyze participants’ attitudes throughout the school year (Allaire et al., 2013).
Overall, extrinsic motivation to use the blog remained stable throughout the course of the study. The students who opted to use the blog instead of the personal journal showed an increase in intrinsic motivation from the pre-test to the post-test (Allaire et al., 2013, p. 6). Importantly, Allaire et al. (2013) found “positive links between comments received and the affective aspect of writing” (p. 12). They posit that writing or receiving comments in the blog network can positively affect students’ self-concept and motivation (Allaire et al., 2013, p. 13).
In another study in 2007, researchers Van Leeuwen and Gabriel also noted students’ enthusiasm toward word processors as one of their findings. In their case study, thirteen first-graders from the east coast of Canada were observed in their classroom every three weeks for the entire academic year while they used both word processors and pencils and paper to write. Interviews revealed three out of four students preferred using a word processor for a first draft. Many cited that it was hard to form letters or their hands got tired when writing. Additionally, finding letters on the keyboard was enjoyable for most (Van Leeuwen & Gabriel, 2007, p. 423). Although there was consistently more talking observed when students used word processors, the informal interactions between students were relevant. Students served as peer coaches to each other by teaching a classmate a new word processor function or assisting in spelling (Van Leeuwen & Gabriel, 2007). It is possible that this increase in collaboration contributed to students’ positive experience with using word processors, though this was not directly explored by Van Leeuwen and Gabriel.
Likewise, Owston and Wideman (1997) observed an increase in informal interactions between the third-graders in their study. While using word processors for composing written pieces, students in the group with high access to technology frequently collaborated on their typed pieces by checking each other’s screens, giving suggestions, or asking for help while writing. The computers seemed to give way to natural collaboration, leading to lowered inhibitions for sharing their writing. In contrast, the low access group were “far less likely to read others’ work during the composing process, and there was less informal interaction about writing issues” (Owston & Wideman, 1997, p. N/A). Owston and Wideman (1997) observed that overall, students viewed the computer processors with positive attitudes and were more motivated than when having to write by hand.
Again, positive student attitudes toward technology was observed in McGrail and Davis’ qualitative case study in 2011. After participating in blogging, fifth-grade students reported feeling more independent and confident. They were motivated by the authentic writing experience which included an audience other than the teacher. These findings hold true in higher levels of education as well. When university students collaborated in written assignments on Google Docs, Suwantarathip and Wichadee (2014) found that, not only did Google Docs enhance learning, but students had positive attitudes toward using it as a learning tool for group work. The highest scores on the questionnaires suggest that students believe Google Docs helped them share ideas with others, increased their interaction with other students, and promoted a collaborative learning environment (Suwantarathip & Wichadee, 2014, p. 153). Due to a number of studies reaching similar conclusions about student attitudes, it is clear that students view technology integration in a positive light when it comes to written compositions.
This literature review examined current trends in writing instruction, various ways to integrate computers to enhance student writing, and student and teacher perspectives on the use of technology in the classroom. Currently, non-technology based interventions, such as the SRSD instructional model have shown positive effects on students’ ability to successfully apply learned strategies to become more skilled writers. This outcome was observed in studies by Lienemann et al. (2006) as well as Tracy et al. (2009). Other interventions, such as using classroom word banks, vocabulary journals, and flash cards can also lead to improvements in writing (Nasir et al., 2013).
As technology continues to develop, computers are becoming more prevalent in classrooms. Many studies suggest that utilizing computers for writing instruction is correlated with high student engagement, longer compositions, more meaningful revisions, and higher quality writing. Researchers Moore and Turner (1988), Owston and Wideman (1997), as well as Van Leeuwen and Gabriel (2007) cited these positive outcomes when students used word processors for written compositions. Likewise, McGrail and Davis (2011) came to similar conclusions when students participated in blogging. The aforementioned studies focused on elementary classrooms, but Suwantarathip and Wichadee (2014) found similar results, demonstrating that incorporating technology remains an effective form of pedagogy in higher education as well.
Perhaps most important is how teachers and students view the use of technology in the classroom. When given proper training and support, teachers held positive attitudes toward incorporating the use of word processors into their writing instruction (Moore & Turner, 1988). Likewise, students reported that they enjoyed keyboarding and felt more motivated (Van Leeuwen & Gabriel, 2007). Using word processors, blogs, or Google Docs certainly impacted individual student enthusiasm; it also enhanced within-class relationships. The level of collaboration increased significantly when students engaged in writing tasks using the computer compared to when students used traditional pencil and paper to write (Allaire et al., 2013; McGrail & Davis, 2011; Owston & Wideman, 1997; Suwantarathip & Wichadee, 2014; Van Leeuwen & Gabriel, 2007).
As technology continues to become the norm in classrooms, educators are now faced with an overwhelming amount of choices. Not only must they select which type of device best suits their needs, they also need to determine how it will be used to best support students’ learning. This literature review presented viable ways in which teachers have used technology to enhance their pedagogy. Specifically, using computers for word processing, blogging, and Google Doc collaboration led to positive growth in students’ overall writing and increased collaboration among classmates. Further studies are needed to explore the effectiveness of these strategies as it relates to special needs populations and low socio-economic status populations. Finally, more research is needed to examine the longevity of the results.
Allaire, S., Theriault, P., Gagnon, V., & Lalancette, E. (2013). Elementary students’ affective
variables in a networked learning environment supported by a blog: A case study. Canadian
Journal of Learning and Technology, 39(3).
Lienemann, T.O., Graham, S., Leader-Janssen, B., & Reid, R. (2006). Improving the writing
performance of struggling writers in second grade. Journal of Special Education, 40(2), 66
McGrail, E., & Davis, A. (2011). The influence of classroom blogging on elementary student
writing. Journal of Research in Childhood Education, 24(4), 415-437. doi:
Moore, M.A., & Turner, S.D. (1988). Evaluating the use of word processors in teaching writing
composition. Florida Journal of Educational Research, 30(1), 73-82.
Nasir, L., Naqvi, S.M., & Bhamani, S. (2013). Enhancing students’ creative writing skills: An
action research project. Acta didactica Napocensia, 6(2), 27-32.
Owston, R.D., & Wideman, H.H. (1997). Word processors and children’s writing in a high
computer-access setting. Journal of Research on Computing In Education, 30(2), 202-20.
Seban, D., & Tavsanli, O.F. (2015). Children’s sense of being a writer: Identity construction in
second grade writers workshop. International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education,
Suwantarathip, O., & Wichadee, S. (2014). The effects of collaborative writing activity using
Google Docs on students’ writing abilities. Turkish Online Journal of Educational
Technology, 13(2), 148-156.
Tracy, B., Reid, R., & Graham, S. (2009). Teaching young students strategies for planning and
drafting stories: The impact of self-regulated strategy development. Journal of Educational
Research, 102(5), 323-331.
Van Leeuwen, C.A., & Gabriel, M.A. (2007). Beginning to write with word processing:
Integrating writing process and technology in a primary classroom. Reading Teacher, 60(5),
420-429. doi: 10.1598/RT.60.5.2.