Choosing the “Write” Tools to Match the Learning Goals

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 *SEE NEWER VERSION OF THIS ESSAYHere’s a DRAFT essay concept to start the balling rolling on better ideas for this book (-JD). As faculty members, we frequently assign our students to “write a paper” without giving much thought to the tools that they’ll use to do the job. It’s the writing that matters, we tell ourselves, not the technology. But sometime around 2009-10 I began to discover freely-accessible digital tools that enabled my students, colleagues, and me to share our writing more easily and openly, so that we could collaborate on a text or comment on each others’ drafts while developing them. For writers who crave thoughtful feedback, or for teachers who value the writing process, this meant that tools do matter if they help us to improve our prose.

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 When scholars gather up our ideas or scribblings to share with others, most of us reflexively reach for our word-processor software. The ubiquitous tool on most college campuses today is Microsoft Word, which prevailed over competitors such as WordStar, WordPerfect, and MacWrite during the 1980s and 1990s. 1 Word can be a wonderful tool, and I rely on it when drafting my single-author scholarship, and sometimes request that students submit work to me in Word format for one-time commenting. But it was not designed as a tool for collaborative authorship in the cloud, nor for circulating developmental drafts on the open web. For most of my teaching career, my writing assignments have been framed by what Word could do. But now, a handful of innovative (and freely-accessible) digital tools are helping me to reconsider what’s possible.

3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 0 If you consider yourself a teacher of writing (either officially or unofficially, like me) and feel overwhelmed by the rapidly shifting digital era (as do many of us), then my advice is to focus your attention primarily on the learning goals, and secondly, on tools for achieving those aims. Ask yourself, Why are we teaching our students to write? For what purpose?, then work backwards to figure out, How is the best way to learn this? What types of tools, training, and interactions make sense for this goal? Consider the following examples and how-to tutorials.

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 Notes:

  1. 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0
  2.  “Word Processor,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, November 23, 2012, http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Word_processor&oldid=524567947. See also a forthcoming literary history of the word processor by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum, “On Tradecraft and Track Changes (An Update),” August 15, 2012, http://mkirschenbaum.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/on-tradecraft-and-track-changes/.
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