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Colette Daiute
City University of New York
Writing andCommunication Technologies
sing computers for writing development is complicated. Computerscan be tools for enhancing written language, yet using the computer re-quires literacy. Also, computer use is embedded in communication—inclassrooms, on the Internet, and in other contexts—which can enhancemotivation for learning to write. Nevertheless, children communicatingvia computers face social and ethical challenges, requiring that they un-derstand and control the contexts, purposes, and processes of writtenlanguage. For these reasons, children using complex computer systems areinvolved in critical literacy as they continue to master the mechanics of writing. The following statements by high school students express a rangeof such possibilities and issues related to using communication technolo-gies, which play an increasingly important role in writing development.
Technology helps me in school when it comes to down to doing reports, re-search projects, and...just doing things like that make life easier, makeschool a lot easier. (Ryman, age 17)That’s when I really know computers could do a lot of stuff—we was [sic]talking to kids overseas. We had kin—like a penpal thing—and met dif-ferent kids from different boroughs and made us like family. It, was, it wasgood. (Marcel, age 17)
From Indrisano, R., & Squire, J.R. (Eds.),
Perspectives on Writing: Research, Theory, and Practice
.Copyright 2000 by the International Reading Association.
Basically being, you know, computer literate, that’s the most helpful thingfor me ’cause, you know, computers in basically the year 2000 is going totake over this world. (Tina, age 17)It’s going to be hard for low-income students to go against somebody who’s,well, more financially stable. (Marcel, age 17)
These quotes are from interviews with New York City high school se-niors who participated in a project that supplied computers, tutoring, andother kinds of support to more than 100 students from the time they were inthe sixth grade. As part of the project, these students from schools servinglow-income neighborhoods had access to a range of computer tools at homeas well as in school for 7 formative years of their education (Daiute, Ausch& Chen, 1997). When asked about how the computer enhances writtenlanguage, Ryman, Tina, Marcel, and others echoed views that have beendebated by scholars and educators for many years in relation to the role of computer technology in writing. These students identify computers as toolsthat can be helpful in a variety of ways, especially in the writing process.At the same time, these comments imply a range of social issues concerningtechnology. This chapter addresses these issues by reviewing theoretical per-spectives that help make sense of how computers relate to writing instruc-tion. Based on this analysis, I suggest that critical literacy must become anaspect of writing instruction by the upper elementary years.In
Writing and Computers
(1985), I argued that the computer—likeany writing instrument—is one of many tools used in the composingprocess and in the process of developing expertise as a writer. Consistentwith this argument, other scholars also have explained that writing withcomputers is different—not better or worse in any absolute sense—fromwriting with instruments like pencil or pen on paper. Computer writingpractices also must be considered in the social contexts where they occur—like classrooms and cyberspace.Thus, it is important to understand
computers function among the many tools of written communication.
Communication Technologies
Scholars and educators have conceptualized writing in relation to theincreasingly widespread use of “communication technologies”—a range
of electronic technologies that provide tools for creating written texts(Selfe & Selfe, 1994). Communication technologies include networkingcapacities on the Internet, such as chatrooms, electronic mail, electronicbulletin boards, online information database searches, multi-user simula-tions, and game environments; these technologies are typically referred toas “cyberspace.” Software such as word processing programs, spellingcheckers, grammar checkers, outlining programs, and multimedia com-posing tools are also communication technologies. The use of these tech-nologies has been discussed in the midst of persistent debates that haveshaped theory and practice with computers.Debates about correspondences between face-to-face communicationand virtual communication in contexts like e-mail and chatrooms havebeen intense, in particular as these contexts support and complicate thedevelopment of identity and knowledge, which occur in cyberspace almostexclusively in writing. Debates about issues of cognitive and social con-trol have framed theory, research, and practice of computer-based writing.Some scholars have argued, for example, that technology controls humancognition and social interaction (Kerr, 1999; Selfe, & Selfe, 1994), whileothers view technology as a means to enhance cognition (Jones, 1994;Pea & Kurland, 1984). Debates about control have addressed the issue of whether technologically mediated communication limits expression andcreativity as it requires the transformation of ideas and language into nu-merical patterns (Selfe, & Selfe, 1994). Issues of social control occur be-cause expensive communication technologies are not readily available toall children and because the hidden workings of such complex systems re-produce many social problems like discrimination (Kerr, 1999; Selfe &Selfe, 1994).There have also been debates about computer cognition—whethercomputers can think and how they might be tools for thinking. When ap-plied to writing processes, this ambiguous notion of computer cognition re-flects, on the one hand, the idea that computer programs can carry outfunctions of writing when they are programmed with processes that imitatehuman writers’ problem solving, and on the other hand, that computerscan be programmed to support writers’ activities. For instance, wordprocessors that automatically check spelling and grammar as a writer com-poses are designed to mimic human cognition. In contrast, writers who
Writing and Communication Technologies

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