Pew: Teachers Believe Digital Tools Encourage Sharing and Collaboration In Classrooms

Pew Internet released a study today that determined specific pros and cons of using digital technology in classrooms. According to its survey, the majority of middle and high school teachers believe digital tools increase student collaboration with apps like GoogleDocs, and help them share their work through social media.

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. Thirty-one percent believe it has no impact, and 18 percent say technology actually makes it harder.¬†Pew reports that 52 percent of classrooms use interactive whiteboards, 40 percent share work on wikis, websites or blogs, and 36 percent edit or revise their own work with web-based tools. Fifty-six percent of participants say these strategies make students better writers, because they can quickly and easily revise their work.

While most of 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 asked to rate students’ writing skills on a scale of “excellent” to “poor,” teachers rarely gave out “excellent” ratings. In fact, the majority of ratings ranged from “good” to “poor.” Sixty-eight percent of teachers said digital tools allowed students to put less effort into their work.¬†Educators also voiced concerns about an increase in informal writing, as well as ignorance of or disregard for fair use and copyright laws.

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The majority of these findings comply 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 classrooms. What is useful is the numerical measurement of just how well students are writing despite these hinderances.

“These results challenge in many ways the notion that students’ writing skills are being undermined by their increasing engagement with digital tools and platforms,” says Kristen Purcell, associate director for research at the Pew Internet Project.

Teachers are continuing to place high value on the ability to write formally, with 92 percent considering it an essential skill. About 94 percent of participants encourage students to do some writing by hand, and 77 percent have assigned at least one research paper in the previous year. Co-author Judy Buchanan says most educators use digital tools to enhance writing skills in new, creative ways.

“Teachers, writing teachers especially, do not view good writing and the use of digital tools as being at war with each other,” Buchanan says. “They gave countless examples of the creative ways they use emerging digital tools to impart writing skills to today’s students.”

The study was conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project in conjunction with the College Board and the National Writing Project. You can read the full report here.