Despite the seeming difficulty of writing in school, large numbers of students are writing online. Research by the Pew Internet & American Life Project indicates that 73 percent of teens between 12 and 17 years of age use the Internet and, of those, 92 percent use email, 74 percent use instant messaging, and 55 percent use social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook.
Every one of these social "utilities" includes informal writing as a crucial component of successful participation. As a result, many students are doing more writing than ever before, but they are writing in forms that are not used, recognized, or accepted by K–12 schools. In fact, many members of the school community actively block the use of these informal, and often irreverent, avenues of written expression.
The key point, however, is that the "social networking" generation is writing, and this writing is important to them. Schools must find a way to merge these informal writing activities with the writing activities found in classrooms. It’s possible that the use of some of these social networking technologies with classroom writing programs could make writing in school interesting enough to motivate students to tackle the more formal writing needed for college, business, and other activities in adult life.
This article will take a look at some of the software and Webware possibilities inspired by social computing as well as some of the newer computer- and Internet-based writing tools.
Blogs and Wikis
Blogs and wikis are fast and immediate Internet or intranet publishing tools. A blog is an online post-ing of a personal journal with reflections, comments, and (often) hyperlinks provided by the writer. A wiki provides an "open editing" platform that allows any user to add to or to edit a Web site’s content. Wikis can support hyperlinks and cross-links among internal pages.
Blogs and wikis can provide easy and effective ways for classes to manage or collaborate on projects. They can be helpful to informally share news or instructional materials with an entire class, school, or community. The really powerful reason to use these platforms, however, especially with middle school and older students, is that many students are blogging or using wikis on their own. The classroom-related use of these forums can bring student enthusiasm to writing in a more formal context. The following are a few of the many possibilities in this area.
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