[CUA Office of Public Affairs]

Computers Help and Hinder School Skills, Writing Expert Says

Computers have changed the way students write, with both good and bad results, says Rosemary Winslow, associate professor of English at The Catholic University of America.

Word processing programs that correct spelling and grammar are positive innovations because they free students to concentrate on more important goals of writing: creating meaning and making a point, says Winslow.

On the other hand, the widespread use of computers for e-mail means students are writing in an informal and familiar style too often. They experience difficulty shifting to an academic style in school.

Computers may make students more fluid in their writing, but can also make students reluctant to edit their writing. Winslow has also noticed students have weaker vocabularies, perhaps the result of too much time spent playing computer games or surfing the Web instead of reading.

When it comes to research papers, computers can make it far too convenient for students to plagiarize, Winslow says. "With such easy access to the Internet, students can download information and copy it right into a paper," she says. Or, students simply download a whole paper and submit the work as their own.

Winslow has taught writing to junior high school and college students for more than 30 years, participated in the National Writing Project and helped draft national standards for effective writing.

Despite the proliferation of computers in the classroom, certain types of writing should still be pursued manually, she says. "Writing things out in longhand accesses a different part of the brain, encourages flexibility and spontaneity and can help students with creative writing assignments, such as writing poetry," she says.

Frequent writing in many different disciplines and many different styles helps students learn to write. And the best writers, Winslow adds, are still those students who read frequently.

"It's difficult to learn writing. You can't just follow a set of instructions," she said. "It's a skill you build on a little at a time, with frequent practice and encouragement."


For interviews, contact Rosemary Winslow, 202-319-5488.



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