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Study: Teachers Say Technology Sparks Creativity, But They're Wary Of Writing Shortcuts


A new study by the Pew Research Center finds that technology is helping middle and high school students be more creative and  collaborate with others. But the same survey of teachers also finds that kids are more likely to take shortcuts and have a hard time understanding complicated and longer material.

Jennifer Barbknecht likes what the digital world has done for teaching.

“Students now because of technology have the ability to feel a lot more flexible about what they write, to take more creative risks with what they write and to make more attempts,” said Barbknecht, an English language arts teacher at Berkner High School in Richardson.

Barbknecht has been teaching 23 years and seen technology and students' writing evolve.

“In the past, students were reluctant to put anything down on paper because they felt like once it was down, it was supposed to be perfect so they self-edited in their head which cultivated kind of an atmosphere of continual writer’s block,” she said.

That doesn't mean, however, that Barbknecht isn't concerned about the pitfalls of technology, such as the tendency for students to use poor grammar. She warns them about the tone of what they write and the dangers of plagiarism.

Barbknecht's opinions pretty match the findings in the study released today by the Pew Research Center.

Pew surveyed nearly 2,500 middle and high school teachers. Some 78 percent said that technology helps students express themselves and be more creative.

Kristen Purcell, the report’s author, points out another thing teachers agree on: that collaborating online helps eliminate the fear of writing.

“So they feel like they’re sort of all in in together," Purcell said. "It’s not a mystery. They can see the writing process as it’s occurring among their peers.”

On the other hand, two-thirds of teachers said students are more likely to take Twitter-style shortcuts. And almost half said these tools make students more careless.

“One of the things that teachers really have to focus on is teaching students that writing is a process, that it takes time and it takes patience," Purcell said. "And that they will very often have to revise something many times.”

In the world of texting and Tumblr, Purcell said the key for teachers is to get kids to just slow down.

Other findings from the study:

  • 52 percent said they or their students use interactive whiteboards in their classes.
  • 40 percent have students share their work on wikis, websites or blogs.
  • 36 percent have students edit or revise their own work and 29 percent have students edit others' work using collaborative web-based tools such as Google Docs.

As for the downside side of technology:

  • 68 percent of teachers said digital tools make  students more likely to take shortcuts and not put effort into their writing.
  • 46 percent said these tools make students more likely to write "too fast and be careless."
  • 8 percent described their students as "excellent" or "very good" when it comes to navigation issues of fair use and copyright in composition -- 30 percent give their students the lowest rating of "poor."
  • 15 percent rate students as "excellent" or "very good" when it comes to appropriately citing content, with the majority rating students "fair" (37 percent) or "poor" (20 percent) in this area.

The survey included teachers in all subjects -- English/language arts, math/science and history/social studies. The complete report can be viewed on the Pew Research Center's website.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.