[conclusion of Moran article and entire Jobst and Wahlstrom article at top of this page]
Pamela B. Farrell
Red Bank Regional High School
Although institutions such as Johns Hopkins University have done detailed research into the use of microcomputers in schools, little research has been done on the effect of word processing on the writing process of high school students. I know the frustration of creating a file, erasing a creation, trying to block, omit, center, super script (footnote), underline, rejustify after revision, scroll, find a file, install print commands, set margins, double strike, copy, print, format, etc. My concern as a teacher of writing to low level seniors, honors juniors, and outstanding creative writers was whether these students encountered the same frustrations at the beginning and the same joys at the end.
My research began with the students in my own writing classes whose tactless responses I sometimes appreciate. Then, l surveyed as many students as I could contact in the school who used word processors at home or in our school's Writing Center. The survey (see below) concentrated on the aspects mentioned above as well as the actual names of microcomputers, printers, and word processing software that students used.
The students in my creative writing class use the word processors throughout the school as well as at home to do their writing. Therefore, their comments reflect varied writing experiences using word processors. For instance, Michele who learned WORDSTAR within a few days says, "BANK STREET WRITER is for beginners and takes time to change modes; whereas, APPLE WRITER II is similar to WORDSTAR with commands and easy changing of modes." "The Commodore WORD PRO II with cassette is so slow but very efficient if you remember all the commands," comments Reuben, a prolific writer. Michael, a writer who needs the organization of a directory on a floppy disk, believes, "WORDSTAR is harder to boot than FORMAT II but has an automatic back so you don't lose your file." The students, who meet three periods a day, often use the Writing Center word processing software to create files of ideas for writing, start a new writing, revise, edit, or change the form of a paper. As Jim states, "Many people have a deep-rooted fear of anything computerized, yet word processing saves them both time and hassle. When my students feel ready to share with the class, they print the work, even though it may still be in progress. Obviously, the students, selected from throughout the country for the creative writing course in the Performing Arts program, are prolific writers; but have they become better writers or more concerned with the finished product? Unanimously, the responses indicate that they felt they were more productive, better writers from the beginning to the end of the writing process.
The real test, of course, is the survey. The students who responded range in grade from 9-12, the same as the creative writers. According to the 110 responses (10% of the school population), most word processing is done for English, creative writing and history classes, although several students do their writing for chemistry and biology on computers as well. The overwhelming winner in the ranking of ways the word processor helps with writing is revision (53%), followed by first draft and organization (17% each). When asked what is most difficult about using the word processor, the students agreed that learning the commands was most difficult (63%). Those who could not type before using the word processor found the lack of that skill to be another common difficulty. Editing is definitely what students found easiest (81%) about using the word processor, with revision and neatness running far behind.
Which microcomputers and software do these students use? One would not be surprised to hear that Apple II or IIe is first, but because we have an Osborne 1 in the Writing Center it has been the most frequently used microcomputer for writing. Likewise, WORDSTAR, included in the package with the Osborne, is the software most students report using, with a variety of others far behind (ACE WRITER, FORMAT II, WORD PRO 4 and 4+, MEGAWRITER, PEACH TEXT, APPLE WRITER II, ATARI WRITER). These results will change dramatically within the next six months, since the price of microcomputers is dropping and the availability of compatible software is increasing. Schools like ours will soon triple the number of computers available to students. Finally, students noted their choice of printer. The speed of a dot matrix seems to outweigh the quality of a daisy wheel. The Epson, Okidata, Commodore, and TI Omni 800 are the ones the students are using for writing research papers and reports.
What can one conclude from the research? More than anything else, I know that microcomputers are being used for more than math and science classes. The students are using the word processor to revise, to write first drafts, to organize, to prewrite and store ideas, and to create a final neat draft. They are enjoying the ease with which these feats can be accomplished once they have mastered the software commands. Who knows whether these students will be better writers, better readers, better thinkers, or more aware of possibilities for revision? My guess is that the easier it is to create and change a creation, the better that creation will be. Many writing specialists believe the more one writes, the better one writes. Therefore, I would conclude that the more one processes writing, the better one writes with a word processor!
Survey on Writing with a Word Processor
1. What microcomputer(s) do you use? Osborne 1 56% Apple IIe 19 Commodore Pet 15 Zenith Z-100 10 Franklin Ace 10 2. What word processing software do you use? WORDSTAR 56% FORMAT II 14 ACE WRITER 5 WORD PRO 4 5 MEGAWRITER 5
COMPUTERS and COMPOSITION 2(1), November 1984, page 7
PEACH TEXT 5 APPLE WRITER II 5 ATARI WRITER 5 3. What do (did) you find most difficult about using the word processor for writing? Learning commands Typing Separate files Page numbering Heads Footnotes Subscripts 4. What do (did) you find easiest about using the word processor for writing? Editing Revising Creating neat work Writing Storing 5. Rank the ways in which the word processor helps you with your writing. (Use 1 for most important.) 1 st 2nd Prewriting 13% 20% First Draft 17 13 Organization 17 27 Revision 53 20 Final Draft 13 Other (storing for later) 7 6. In what classes have you used the word processor for writing? English Chemistry Creative Writing Biology History 7. Grade level Grade 9 - 44% Grade 10 - 9% Grade 11 - 44% Grade 12 - 3% 8. What printer(s) do you use? Epson Okidata Commodore TI Omni 800 Citoh Prowriter Dynax (daisy wheel)