For a graduate class I am taking, we need to describe our vision of the ideal future of writing. Here’s mine:
“Writing will survive, but it will survive in a debased form. It will lose its richness. We will no longer read and write words. We will merely process them, the way our computers do.” Nicholas Carr, writing in the Encyclopaedia Brittanica Blog. The culprit: technology.
As for me, while I see the potential pitfalls of technology, the changes I am seeing are all positive. In fact, I believe that advances in technology will make more people writers and will allow those writers to share their work with an ever-increasing audience. Students will enjoy writing, and will do it on their own time because it allows them to connect within and without their community. Most importantly, students will be empowered by writing.
Writing has always provided a way for us to connect to others. Technology is allowing that reach to go farther and to more people. Sometimes people say that a drawback of online communities is that people will write things they never would “in real life”. This can also be a positive. Recently I told an English teacher, Tim Gillis, about the Parent-Teacher-Student journals described in Engaging Parents Beyond the Back to School Night. He decided to add a parental component and asked students to interview their parents about whether or not they had ever read Moby Dick, the class text. Some parents talked about how they had never read it, but remembered other books they read. Some liked what they had read in high school, others didn’t. Graham’s father took over the computer and wrote a very poignant response. You can see all the responses at his blog, Moby Tweet.
For me this is an amazing experience for parent and student. Through writing they are able to connect in a way many might not on a daily basis. The parent is newly invested in the child’s work. In my writing utopia, writing is used to make these types of connections within and across communities. Students are not only engaged in the topic, but also in writing about it. The very fact that they are writing for an audience is what engages them. Moreover, in my writing future, teachers are encouraged, supported, and expected to design this kind of lesson that promotes engagement.
One of the things that bothers me about both the Common Core Standards and the Standards for the 21st Century Learner is their relentless focus on creating young adults who are ready to succeed in the workforce. When reading Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project I was struck by this line:
“Rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, what would it mean to think of it as a process guiding youths’ participation in public life more generally?” (p. 7)
We are not educating youth to be little automatons that go off into the work place to produce, produce, produce — at least that’s not why I got into this game.
The piece goes on to discuss the different communities in which youth participate. Some groups are based on the friendships and localities of the youth’s daily life, while others are interest-based. The interest-based communities are mixed age and age becomes less relevant than expertise. And our teens are experts! Maybe not in the things we are teaching, but in some realms. Writing, and participating in online communities gives these students a chance to demonstrate their knowledge.
In my vision of the future of student writing, the technology is available for all students to participate in these types of communities. Students are taught ethical online behavior. Filters and acceptable use policies do not block student access to these learning tools.
Empowerment and community engagement. Of course there are many other benefits to writing, and ways in which I would like to see our students engaged with writing. But for me, those two are the most important, and in my dream writing future, writing and technology allow teens to have both.