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Computers, Invention, and the Power to Change Student Writing

James Strickland

English teachers had a sense that the computer would change the way we taught writing, years before the Apple II was built or IBM took notice of the market for personal computers. In 1975, Ellen Nold hoped that the computer would provide a dynamic workplace for rhetorical invention strategies. Many teachers, agreeing with Nold, began programming invention strategies for BASIC in mainframe and mini-computers. When the microcomputer arrived, the programs multiplied as quickly as the brand names.

There were, however, few experimental studies of the promises made for computers and writing. After writing several invention programs myself, I set out to study computers, invention, and their power to change student writing. Earlier studies by Burns (1979) at The University of Texas at Austin and Schwartz (1982) at Oakland University had left unanswered questions about computer-assisted instruction and rhetorical invention. The most important

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unresolved question in my mind was, "Did rhetorical invention on a computer help student writers write better?" Hugh Burns found that students had a positive attitude toward heuristics and computer-assisted instruction and that many students demonstrated a sustained use of the computer for the thirty-minute testing time. Burns reported that all three computer groups, whether they used tagmemic matrix, Burke's pentad, or Aristotle's topoi, showed statistically significant gains in the quantity of ideas produced when the control group did not, and he concluded that the computer-group increase was all the more remarkable considering that the control group did "not even double the ideas they were able to write in the fifteen minute exercise" (1980, p. 18). Since Burns' study was done, however, many in the profession have recognized the limitations of his research.

Burns' most serious limitation was that he did not consider a resulting piece of writing, and thus, there was no analysis of a final written product produced from any of these heuristic exercises.

Still, Burns' results suggested some valuable directions for my study. For example, Burns' findings indicated that the heuristics his experimental group used in the post-test are better quantitative generators of ideas than the unsystematic approach all four groups used in the pre-test, the same approach the control group used in the post-test. Therefore, I expected computer-assisted systematic heuristics to generate a greater quantity of ideas than non-computer-assisted unsystematic heuristics. More importantly, I would have predicted from Burns' study that unsystematic heuristics, such

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as idea-listing and brainstorming, by their very nature, do not generate ideas as a function of time; that is, the number of ideas produced does not necessarily increase with more time. In fact. Peter Elbow (1973) seems to find ten to fifteen minutes as a comfortable time period for his unsystematic heuristic, freewriting. As I found out, the results of my study were quite different from what I had expected.

In designing my study, I also considered the work of Helen Schwartz (1982) who compared in-class essays produced by a group of forty students using a heuristic computer program. Although the essays produced by the computer group were not statistically different in quality, Schwartz comments that the CAI never seemed to harm the students' writings, that the computer group wrote longer and more detailed essays, and that marginal students did improve. However, Schwartz did not consider why the longer and more detailed essays produced by the CAI group were not qualitatively "better" essays. Furthermore, she did not seem concerned about the reliability of her measurement of improvement of writing, the grades the essays received, scores she alone awarded. In constructing my study, I felt it was important that the heuristics be general (tagmemic, pentad, topoi, or freewriting) and the measurement valid and reliable. I would have predicted that longer and more detailed essays, supported by a systematic heuristic taught by CAI, would prove to be judged holistically superior essays. Again, the results were quite different from what I expected.

My study of computers and invention looked at the quantity and quality of ideas produced,

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measuring the proportion of ideas produced in the heuristic exercises to those used in the actual writing, echoing a concern voiced by Dawn and Ray Rodrigues (1984). Although Burns demonstrated the potential of CAI for invention, his study, as he himself admits, never addressed the important question of whether or not the use of CAI to stimulate rhetorical invention actually helps writers write. I attempted to answer Burns' question "whether or not these CAI modules stimulate invention as well as (or better than) current instruction in invention" (1980, p. 27) by comparing CAI and traditional classroom instruction in invention strategies. My study distinguished the two types of heuristics, systematic and unsystematic, which Burns used as his experimental and control groups. I further compensated for the quality of ideas by measuring the number which were actually used in writing, feeling that it was not enough to count merely the number of ideas produced, where Burns showed systematic heuristics have the advantage.

The study employed a 2 x 2 factorial design--mode of instruction (computer-assisted or traditional classroom) by type of heuristic (systematic or unsystematic). The dependent variables were

(1) the difference in quality of the writing produced, measured by pre-instruction vs. post instruction holistic assessment of the writing;

(2) the difference between the quantity of ideas generated, measured by the number

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produced on a pre-instruction versus post-instruction count of completed heuristic exercises; and

(3) the difference in the percentage of produced ideas used in the subsequent pre-instruction vs. post-instruction writing.

The subjects for this study were students enrolled in English 101: First-year Composition for the Fall 1983 semester at a private, urban, two-year college in Buffalo, New York. The two participating instructors taught four matched pairs of Composition sections created by designating the groups as computer-assisted or traditional systematic or unsystematic. The subjects were assigned to treatment groups by random assignment within blocks and a random sampling of nine subjects from each Composition section produced a cell size of eighteen and a total of seventy-two student writers for data analysis.

At the beginning of the semester, all eight sections were given two class hours of instruction concerning computer literacy and operation of a computer. During the following class, the groups received instruction in their designated heuristic (systematic or unsystematic) and were directed to use this heuristic as the beginning of each writing assignment and to turn it in with their draft. The CAI group was taught the heuristic on the computer; the traditional instruction group was taught the heuristic in class with handouts provided.

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Burns Schwartz Strickland 1. Year of study 1979 1982 1984 2. No. of students 69 80 72 3. Academic Upper- Literature Freshman level division Class Composition Composition 4. Design pre/post pre/post pre/post 5. Time one week semester semester between evaluations 6. Analysis of yes no yes heuristic 7. Analysis of no yes yes final writing 8. Significant Quantity none % of ideas difference of ideas- produced & CAI used free- writing Figure 1. A comparison of the three studies.

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HEURISTIC SYSTEMATIC UNSYSTEMATIC -------------------------------------------------------------------------  | | | CAI | holistic quality | | | | MODE | quantity of ideas | | | | TRAD | quality of ideas | | | | ------------------------------------------------------------------------- Figure 2. Design of study: independent and dependent variables.

It was necessary to write two CAI programs, QUEST and FREE, to be used in the study [both programs have been available from the author for the cost of a floppy disk and postage since 1983; details can be found in the software bibliography of Ellen McDaniel (1985)]. The systematic program, QUEST, based on Hartwell (1982), examines an item/event by asking questions. The definition questions are developed from the tagmemic system; for example, change: what was X in the past? what is X likely to become in the future? what couldn't it become? how much can it change before it becomes something else? The other questions are classical in tradition: classification, illustration, comparison and contrast, and analogy. An example of a student's exercise using QUEST and her final essay are included in Appendix A. The unsystematic program, FREE,

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based on Elbow (1973), involves writing about a subject for a short period and then reading the free-writing to find a central focus, Elbow's "center of gravity," which in turn becomes the subject for another free-writing. The traditional classroom heuristics were the same as those used for the CAI programs and were presented as handouts with the appropriate questions and directions.

None of the groups used the computer for word-processing, since my study was investigating heuristic exercises. My sense that the use of the word-processing would in and of itself prove beneficial to writers, and thus become a confounding variable, has been confirmed by the work of Craig Etchison (1985). Students in the computer groups received computer printouts of their work throughout the semester to serve as aids for their subsequent written drafts. Students in the traditional groups had their handout sheets available, containing directions for their heuristic and space for completion of the exercise. Although the instructors did not spend more class time teaching heuristics, they did check periodically to see that the heuristic exercise was completed when conferencing with the students about their writings. Thus, collecting the heuristics with the writings was in keeping with normal classroom practice. The final data of the 72 subjects included two handwritten essays (pre-instruction and post-instruction) and a heuristic exercise for each of these pieces of writing.

The topics the students wrote to (Appendix B) were constructed to be equivalent in purpose, audience, and level of abstraction, an important

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consideration if the two tasks were to be compared. Each task was persuasive in purpose; both asked the writer to defend a position in order to convince the audience of the reasonableness of the stance. Each task was addressed to a distant but known audience--a city council and a school board. Each task was concerned with topics at an equivalent level of abstraction--a neighborhood teen center and a nuclear awareness program a in school. To control for any possible unanticipated differences in the difficulty, the tasks were counterbalanced across the pre-instruction and post-instruction samples. A 2 x 2 analysis of variance (mode of instruction x type of instruction) indicated that for

(1) Holistic Quality of the Writing:

There were no significant main effects in holistic quality based on the type of heuristic used previous to the writing (F (1,68) = 2.19), or on the presentation of instruction by computer, or by traditional classroom methods (P (1,68) = 1.86). There was also no significant interaction (F (1,68) = 2.19) for mode of instruction and type of heuristic.

(2) Quantity of ideas:

There were no significant main effects based on the type of heuristic used previous to the writing (F (1,68) = .876), or on the presentation of instruction by computer, or by

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traditional classroom methods (F (1,68) = .243). There was also no significant interaction (F (1,68) = .084) for mode of instruction and type of heuristic. (3) Percentage of Ideas Produced (during the heuristic exercises and used in the writing):

There was a significant main effect for the type of heuristic used previous to the writing (F (1,68) = 9.06, p < .01). Writers employing the unsystematic heuristic (freewriting followed by synthesis) used a greater percentage of the ideas produced by that heuristic in the actual writing than those writers who employed the systematic heuristic (the set of questions to be answered). The analysis also showed there was no significant main effect for computer or traditional classroom methods (F (1,68) = 1.35) and no significant interaction (F (1,68) = .696).

Simply put, the only significant difference was found for the writers using freewriting, the unsystematic heuristic. Writers using freewriting wrote as well as those using the systematic heuristic generated ideas equally as well as the other writers, but tended to use a greater number of these ideas in their final writing.

Hugh Burns set out to investigate rhetorical invention and learned some interesting things about computers. I set out to investigate computers and learned some interesting things

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about instruction in heuristics. I found that a freewriting heuristic results in a product already in draft form, and writers seem to take advantage of this early draft by incorporating a greater percentage of ideas in their final writing. I also learned that writers have a tendency to make wholesale transferals of material from first draft to finished product. This tendency might be even more pronounced as students discover the ease with which word-processing allows them to transfer whole blocks of text from prewriting to draft files. Teachers need to be aware of this to help writers evaluate their ideas. On the other hand, writers working with a systematic heuristic produce a large quantity of ideas, though in a form quite different from a draft, and students must be willing to sort through this large quantity to find those ideas that will be useful in their writing.

Real changes in writing are difficult to detect; perhaps using computer-assisted invention for one semester is too short a time to assess what changes may have occurred, even though Burns claimed results achieved after one week and a brief exposure to CAI. Studies which find immediate differences following short-term exposure suggest that a quick growth of idea production immediately follows exposure to CAI, but this sharp burst evens out over time.

The presentation of heuristics with computer-assisted instruction contributes to better writing--both systematic and unsystematic heuristics help generate a greater number of ideas for use in writing--yet, the contribution is not unique to CAI as a mode of instruction. Our present use of CAI has been limited to

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offering proven heuristic techniques, pen and paper strategies, as electronic exercises. Although the heuristics themselves are beneficial, encouraging students to spend time with rhetorical invention, computer-assisted instruction must avail itself of its potential to offer idea-generating strategies that are impossible to simulate traditional pen-and-paper tools.

Perhaps we are testing computers unfairly. Diane Langston (1986) speculates that results such as those I found could result from an application of the old paradigm (paper-based invention heuristics) to the new technology (computers). She suggests moving "beyond computer tools ... based on paper [to] develop tools . . . uniquely electronic," developing a new theory of rhetorical invention to "exploit the powers of computer technology." Some of these new invention heuristics will involve computer network collaboration, computer simulations, and interactive video and software.

It was somewhat disappointing to find that computer-assisted instruction, when modeled on traditional classroom instruction, did not have the desired dramatic effect--improving student writing in a significantly way. Yet now that we have investigated CAI as a surrogate teacher and found that it brings no miraculous change, the focus of future research in computer-assisted instruction should be on the optimal use of the electronic potential of a computer so that it becomes a unique mode of instruction, fulfilling the promise Ellen Nold saw a decade ago.

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QUEST heuristic--Nuclear Awareness--Darlene A.

What was it in the past?

Nuclear awareness was a word never even heard of before. There weren't many atomic bombs constructed therefore people didn't feel the need to be threatened by chance of a war.

In the future?

Today I feel that children should have the right to know about the tremendous problems that could occur. We are entering if not already in an age of nuclear weapons and should know about them.

When does it become something else?

Nuclear warfare has already become something else. The world is involved in a struggle for power and one guy has-the other has I to have. Also if one bomb is dropped--another will make up for it.

What happens just before it?

Just before there's nuclear awareness there's panic. By the time people are totally informed as to what can actually happen--we are going to be caught up in a war with no one knowing what to do.

Where is it found?

If it were up to me nuclear awareness would be found in schools as in the home. In order to know what to do you have to know what you're up against.

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What causes it?

Love. If people could just care enough about one another and try to explain all of the points everybody would have an idea as to what's going on in the world. Their world.

What are its consequences?

If a nuclear war were ever to happen the consequences would be irreversible. The whole world would be so contaminated by radiation that hardly anything would survive.

How does it fit with its surroundings?

Nuclear awareness as well as nuclear war fits with its surroundings for it can be all around us. People who obviously don't care will not be informed and it's those people that will push the first fire button.

What does it resemble?

It reminds me of the child whose father died and was told that he went away for a little while. That's not saying much for the kid-let alone the parent.

Can it be considered an example of something?

I think that nuclear war is as high as you can get. Although we are building bombs for greater destruction the results are all the same.

What would you label it?

You can call nuclear awareness a good way of information. You could call a nuclear warfare a greedy man's way to play a losing chess game.

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What could you group it with?

I think that anything that has to do with the word nuclear is in a class all by itself--and that class is the most feared by everyone.

Can you give some examples of it?

An example of a nuclear war would be darkness. Nothing and no one would be left. It would be silent--almost peaceful--for this whole corrupt world would be ended. There really is no other example of it, for even I don't know what it could possibly be like.

What do most people think about it?

Most people in general are now starting to inform others on nuclear war. I really don't think anyone could really want one unless the communists decide they're better than the world again.

What do you think about it?

I think that nuclear war should never have to happen.

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Handwritten Final Draft--Nuclear Awareness--Darlene A.

** Ideas produced during the heuristic and used in the essay are highlighted.

I would like to register in favor of nuclear awareness programs being taught in schools. I feel that we are entering an age of atomic weapons (if not already), and that children have the right to know all about the tremendous impact a nuclear war could have. In the past, no one really knew about nuclear warfare--for it wasn't introduced.

Now, with all the bombs and missiles being constructed, everyone should be informed for by the time they are, the first button will be pushed with panic, destruction, and then nothing following.

I really believe that people, and the world, would not want a nuclear war because their world-wide war will be the last. If people knew all the dangers and after-effects, it may change their minds about atomic weapons. Almost all living forms would be destroyed or eventually contaminated with radiation. (You'd be better to just disintegrate than have to suffer with radiation poisoning!)

Our competing nations are building bigger and more destructive bombs . . . .yet the results are the same. I think if the world wasn't in such a struggle for power, every human being would be a lot better off. When you play with lives and nuclear weapons--you're playing a losing "chess" game!

In conclusion, if you don't want to be realistic and tell/teach your child about the horrors of nuclear warfare--then do it out of LOVE.

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Writing Task: Nuclear Awareness

A recent letter to the editor claimed that the "seemingly humanizing activity" of educating students about the horrors of nuclear war was, "unwittingly or not, part of an orchestrated national movement calling for unilateral disarmament." The letter-writer called upon parents to register their objections to the school board. Some parents however have responded with letters arguing that education in a free society includes the free discussion of all issues. Others have written who are obviously opposed to the use of schools which educate young people about the horrors of nuclear war.

You wish to register your opinion. Write a statement, carefully arguing your position, in support or opposition to the nuclear awareness programs in schools, to convince the school board to your way of thinking.

Writing Task: Teen Center

The minister of a neighborhood church has proposed to the city council the conversion of an old house into a "teen center" where young people in the neighborhood can meet. Some local residents feel that the center would ruin the neighborhood: Decreasing property values, attracting the wrong types, increasing drug and alcohol use. The minister says the video games, dancing areas, study rooms, and coffeehouse atmosphere would only encourage responsible social interaction. The city council has sche-

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duled a public hearing.

As one of the neighborhood residents, you would like the council to consider your point of view. Write a statement, carefully arguing your position, in support or opposition to the plan, to convince the council of your way of thinking.

James Strickland teaches at Slippery Rock University, Pennsylvania.

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Burns, H.L., Jr. (1979). Stimulating rhetorical invention in English composition through computer assisted instruction. University of Texas at Austin. ERIC Document Reproduction Service ED 188 245.

Burns, H.L., Jr. (October 1980). A writer's tool: Computing as a mode of invention. Paper presented at the New York College English Association Conference, Saratoga Springs. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, No. ED 193 693.

Elbow, P. (1973). Writing without teachers. New York: Oxford University Press.

Etchison, C. (1985). A comparative study of the quality and syntax of composition by first year college students using handwriting and word-processing. (Doctoral Dissertation, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 1985).

Hartwell, P. (1982). Open to language. New York: Oxford University Press.

Langston, M.D. (March 1986). New paradigms for computer aids to invention. Paper presented at the Conference of College Composition, New Orleans.

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McDaniel, E. (1985). A bibliography of text-analysis and writing instruction software. Philadelphia: Temple University Working Papers in Composition (also forthcoming Journal of Advanced Composition).

Nold, E. (1975). Fear and trembling: A humanist looks at the computer. College Composition and Communication , 26, 269-273.

Rodriguez, R.J., & Rodrigues, D.W. (1984). Computer-based invention: Its place and potential. College Composition and Communication, 35, 78-87.

Schwartz, H.J. (March 1982). A Computer Program for invention and feedback. Paper presented at the Conference of College Composition and Communication, San Francisco. ERIC Document Reproduction Service, No. ED 214 177.

Strickland, K.J. (1984). A comparative study of systematic and unsystematic heuristic strategies in computer-assisted instruction and traditional instruction. Indiana University of Pennsylvania. DAI, 45, 2749A.