Pew Internet have released a study that determined specific pros and cons of using digital technology in a classroom environment. According to the survey, the majority of middle school and high school educators believe that digital tools increase student collaboration with applications such as Google Docs, and help them share their work through social media platforms.

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Pew surveyed 1,750 Advanced Placement high school teachers and 712 National Writing Project teachers, half of whom say today’s digital technologies make teaching writing easier. Approximately a third, 31%, believe it has no impact and 18 % say technology actually makes it harder.  Pew reports that 52% of classrooms use interactive whiteboards, 40% share work on blogs or websites and 36% edit or revise their own work with web-based tools. Fifty-six% of participants say these strategies make students better writers, because they can quickly and easily revise their work.

While most of the surveyed teachers agree that students can now share their work with a wider audience, increase peer collaboration and encourage creativity and expression, it isn’t all good news. When they were asked to rate students’ writing skills on a scale of “poor” to “excellent”, teachers rarely gave out “excellent” ratings. In fact, the majority of ratings ranged from “poor” to “good.” Sixty eight% of teachers said digital tools allowed students to put less effort into their work. Teachers also voiced concerns about an increase in informal writing, as well as ignorance of or disregard for, fair use and copyright laws.  The majority of these findings are in line with common sense: of course student attention span is going to decrease, as well as their experiences with formal writing. These are trends we see nationwide, not just as a result of digital tools in a classroom environment. What is useful is the numerical measurement of just how well students are writing despite these hindrances. Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at the Pew Internet Project said “These results challenge in many ways the notion that students’ writing skills are being undermined by their increasing engagement with digital tools and platforms.”  Teachers are continuing to place high value on the ability to write formally, with 92 % considering it an essential skill (shouldn’t that be 100%?). Around 94%of participants encourage students to do some writing by hand and 77% have assigned at least one research paper in the previous year. The study was conducted by the Pew Research Centre’s Internet & American Life Project in conjunction with the College Board and the National Writing Project.  View the full report here.

[Image via sahledu]