6(3), August 1989, pages 105-122

Computer Networks for Real-Time Written Interaction in the Writing Classroom:
An Annotated Bibliography

Joy Kreeft Peyton

Although interactive writing, in dialog journals (Staton, Shuy, Peyton, & Reed, 1988), letters (Heath & Branscombe, 1984), computer conferencing (Black, Levin, Mehan, & Quinn, 1983), and electronic mail (Levin, Riel, Rowe, & Boruta, 1984; Riel, 1983; Sayers, 1989; and cf. Hiltz, 1988, for an extensive annotated bibliography) has been implemented effectively in educational settings since the early 1980s, the use of computer networks for real-time written interaction in the classroom is a new development. The first major effort is the ENFI (English Networks for Interaction) Project, developed at Gallaudet University in 1985 to provide a naturalistic, communicative environment for deaf students to acquire the functions and forms of written English. Since then, the idea has spread to many other colleges and universities, across the United States and abroad, with deaf and hearing students. At this point, three networking systems are in use, primarily in English classes: REALTIME WRITER, developed for Gallaudet University; DAEDALUS INTERCHANGE, developed at The University of Texas at Austin, and CECE TALK, used on the Andrew system at Carnegie Mellon University.

Network activities and the nature of network interaction vary somewhat depending on the hardware and software used, but the basic idea is the same with all types of technology and in all educational settings. Students, with or without their teacher, become immersed in a world of reading and writing. Writing becomes not only the creation of a completed text or a performance for evaluation, but also as a means for thinking and expressing oneself in endless ways, in interaction with others. Those implementing and studying the use of real-time network interaction believe that this new opportunity for language use provides a rich context for thinking, reading, and writing development.

This bibliography represents the articles, research reports, resource guides, and a newsletter about real-time written interaction in classrooms published at the time of writing. These publications will give a broad and varied introduction to this practice to anyone desiring to implement or study it.

Journals, Articles, and Book Chapters

Barker, Thomas T., & Kemp, Fred O. (in press). Network theory: A post-modern pedagogy for the writing classroom. In Carolyn Handa (Ed.), Computers in society: Teaching composition in the twenty-first century. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook.

Fred Kemp, developer (with others) of the Daedalus Instructional System, which supports word processing, text sharing, electronic mail, and electronic discussion, and Thomas Barker show how networked computers may be ushering in a completely new model of classroom interaction and instruction that has not been possible in traditional classrooms. The computer-based collaborative writing classroom places the social constructivist learning theory at the very center of pedagogy. Knowledge and ability is created and assimilated in interaction among groups of students. Writing becomes a tool for genuine communication, not simply a product for an evaluator. The student's text rather than the teacher's evaluation of it is emphasized. Reading and writing are intimately tied.

The basic tenet of the computer-based collaborative approach to writing is that students must be good readers of other students' texts in order to be good writers of their own texts. A networked classroom provides multiple opportunities to read and write a variety of "texts," from relatively spontaneous discussion to formal compositions. By the sharing of formal texts through file transfer, students begin to see their own writing in the context of that of the larger community. Electronic mail allows the review of written texts by a multiplicity of readers, and an ongoing written dialogue between writers and readers. Electronic discussion allows for the rapid exchange of ideas, which then becomes a valuable source document for further discussion or formal composing.

Batson, Trent. (1988). The ENFI Project: A networked classroom approach to writing instruction. Academic Computing, 2(5), 55-56.

Trent Batson is Director of the ENFI Project at Gallaudet University and established the ENFI Demonstration Project, a consortium of five universities and colleges using local area computer networks (LANs) to teach writing with different student populations. Here, he argues that local area networks can promote the best aspects of current approaches to effective writing. Writing becomes

The very nature of the writing classroom is changed because the teacher becomes more of a coach or collaborator than an authority figure, and the ongoing written communication creates a discourse community of writers. The article also contains helpful practical information about various types of LANs and networking software available and the cost of setting up a LAN.

Ehrmann, Stephen C. (1988). Assessing the open end of learning: Roles for new technologies. Liberal Education, 74(3), 5-11.

Steve Ehrmann is program officer for interactive technologies at the Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting and works closely with the ENFI Project. He discusses the challenges of evaluating computer networking projects in which classroom approaches are varied and learning is "open-ended." Different students learn different things, and their learning cannot be tested on discrete skill tests and quantified. He argues that technology can assist the evaluation of open-ended learning in three ways:

  1. It can help gather data. On the network, a verbatim transcript of all classroom discussion is produced. This transcript provides a permanent picture of each student's thought process and language production each day of the course and can be studied later.
  2. Electronic mail allows researchers using networks at distant sites to talk with each other regularly about their work.
  3. Combining electronic mail with hypertext allows discussion to be backed up with the sharing of actual data.

This article is especially helpful to those interested in the research and evaluation of technological innovations in education.

Faigley, Lester. (in press). Subverting the electronic workbook: Teaching writing using networked computers. In Don Daiker and Max Morenberg (Eds.), The writing teacher as researcher: Essays in the theory of class-based research. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Lester Faigley, a professor at The University of Texas at Austin, used a network for written interaction about articles and books the students were reading in preparation for major writing projects. Faigley and his students observed that network communication altered classroom interaction, behavior, and attitudes in the following positive ways:

A long transcript of one of the discussions is included, which illustrates the changes discussed and gives a good idea of what network interaction is like.

Kremers, Marshall. (1988). Adams Sherman Hill meets ENFI: An inquiry and a retrospective. Computers and Composition, 5(3), 69-77.

Marshall Kremers, a professor of composition at New York Institute of Technology, describes his odyssey as a new network user with basic writing students. While he values the power that the network gives his students and the motivation to express themselves openly and freely, he experiences a conflict between these new dynamics and his traditional philosophy and practice of tightly controlling students' activities and language production in order to impart knowledge to them.

His initial reaction to what he perceived as a class out of control was to simply take away the students' power by turning off the network. He gradually worked through this reaction and began to develop new approaches to teaching--approaches that allowed the students to use their newly discovered power constructively and responsibly.

Langston, Diane, & Batson, Trent. (in press). The social shifts invited by working collaboratively on computer networks: The ENFI project. In Carol Handa (Ed.), Computers and society: Teaching composition in the twenty-first century. Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook.

Diane Langston, who is a consultant to the ENFI Project, and Batson outline the way a networked class might work to promote collaboration in learning and writing, and they argue that network interaction can bring about major social shifts in the writing classroom--from presentational to environmental teaching modes (using Hillocks' terms, l 986); from teacher as evaluator to teacher as participant/leader and collaborator; from writing as rote performance to greater engagement with and collaboration in writing; and from an individualistic to a more social view of composing.

This last idea is probably the most compelling presented. The world of pen-and-paper writing gives the sense of the lone individual from whom ideas emerge, are expressed, and are passed on. In contrast, an electronic, conversational writing environment allows the development of a community of shared written ideas, in which it is difficult to attribute any one idea or its expression to any one person. "Composition in the inter-connected world of electronic media may be less an act of expression (out of the mind onto paper) than of compression or magnetism, drawing ideas together in unique constellations."

The authors close by describing how current technological advances that combine written interaction with other media such as film, graphics, spreadsheets, and digitized pictures will create entirely new ways of learning and knowing.

Peyton, Joy Kreeft. (1988). Cross-age tutoring on a local area computer network: Moving from informal interaction to formal academic writing. The Writing Instructor, 8(2), 53-60.

Joy Kreeft Peyton, Director of Evaluation of the ENFI Project, describes an innovative use of the network at Gallaudet University. A university class of basic writing students was paired with a class of elementary students for weekly conversations on the network. The project was designed to develop the students' abilities to write from an academic perspective, based on experiences they were personally involved in. They took field notes during their conversations, and from their field notes and printed transcripts of the conversations wrote reports about their work with their child and their child's progress.

The project had several positive results: In the freer context of network writing, some of the students began to express themselves in more complex and creative ways than they did in other writing contexts. Even though they had considerable problems with writing themselves, the college students began to take their own writing seriously as they became role and language models for the children. Some of the college students showed considerable development in their abilities to do academic writing.

Peyton, Joy Kreeft, & Batson, Trent. (1986). Computer networking: Making connections between speech and writing. ERIC/CLL News Bulletin, 10(1), 1-7.

This article gives an overview of language acquisition, writing, and learning theory behind the use of local area computer networks with both deaf and hearing students, and various uses and benefits of networking. Network interaction allows students to be immersed in written language, just as they might be immersed in spoken language in oral conversation. Writing can be used for a wide variety of purposes, from informal joking and playing with language, to discussing reading texts or students' compositions, to composing extended texts together on-line. For students at the beginning stages of learning written English (beginning literates or students learning English as a second language), the teacher's writing can serve as immediate feedback and a model of correct English usage. For students working at more advanced levels, the network interactions provide opportunities to think and write collaboratively with each other and the teacher, as model or coach.

The article gives many examples of different types of writing produced on the network.

Peyton, Joy Kreeft & Mackinson, JoAnn. (1989). Writing and talking about writing: Computer networks with elementary students. In Duane Roen & Donna M. Johnson (Eds.), Richness in writing: Empowering minority students (pp. 100-119). New York: Longman.

JoAnn Mackinson is an elementary school teacher. Joy Kreeft Peyton works with Mackinson in studying the use of a local area network in her classroom. Elementary students (7-9 years old) developing early literacy skills were paired for weekly conversations on the network; older, more proficient writers were paired with younger, less proficient writers. In these discussions, the children learned to negotiate meaning and develop topics in writing, and they gradually moved toward more literate behaviors--playing language games and writing stories collaboratively. Transcripts of the interactions were printed and discussed later in class, thus developing the students' abilities to talk about language, as well as their abilities to use written language.

A theoretical basis for interactive writing with young children is given, as well as descriptions of various activities on the network and examples of children's network writing.

Sirc, Geoffrey M. (1988). Learning to write on a LAN. T.H.E. Journal, 15(8), 100-104.

Geoff Sirc teaches remedial writers in first-year composition classes at the University of Minnesota. In this article, he describes his use of a local area network for peer review of students' compositions.

Sirc found some positive changes over a 2-week period in his students' attitudes toward their writing and in their ability to talk about their own and their fellow students' writing. In the beginning, they were reluctant to have their papers discussed and referred to the student whose paper was being discussed as the "victim." Their comments tended to be short, tentative, and superficial, often unrelated to the topic of the paper itself, and focused primarily on grammar and mechanics. Critiques were often interpreted as insults and led to personal attacks among students.

As the discussions continued over time and the students became saturated in writing and thinking about writing, they began to look forward to the discussions as an essential step in their creation of a paper. Their comments and suggestions were more pointed, lengthy, and substantive--comments that the writer could use. Therefore, it appears that the network provided a valuable environment for students to learn to collaborate as writers.

Teaching English to Deaf and Second-Language Students, 6(2), Fall 1988. Special Issue.

This special issue of TEDSL, which is published three times a year by the Gallaudet University English Department in Washington, DC, focuses entirely on the use of real-time written interaction with deaf students. It includes an overview of the ENFI Demonstration Project (a consortium of five universities and colleges implementing and studying network interaction) by Trent Batson, the Project Director; an article about various ways networks can be used to promote collaboration among students; an article about the benefits and limits of networking as identified by teachers of the deaf; and several brief articles outlining the implementation of networking in various types of classes. This issue is essential reading for anyone interested in using real-time writing with deaf students, and nearly all of the ideas presented are applicable to hearing students as well.

Thompson, Diane P. (1987). Teaching writing on a local area network. T.H.E. Journal, 15(2), 92-97.

Diane Thompson, who teaches basic writers at Northern Virginia Community College, describes a variety of ways a network can be adapted to accomplish different goals, with students at different levels of writing proficiency. Techniques described include the following:

Descriptions of these approaches are detailed and easy to follow, for anyone wishing to try them.

Thompson, Diane P. (1988). Conversational networking: Why the teacher gets most of the lines. Collegiate Microcomputer, 6(3), 193-201.

Real-time computer conferencing is similar to oral conversation in some ways and different in others. Thompson outlines the similarities and differences, and discusses the conversational adjustments she and her students made to compensate for the differences when interacting on the network. She then examines in depth the interaction patterns on the network in a Basic Writing class.

Because the teacher is seated at a computer, like the students, and the teacher's contributions appear as a line of text on the screen, like those of the students, Diane expected that discourse on the network would have the qualities of a group discussion; the teacher would not direct or dominate the talk, but it would be equitably distributed, with teacher and student sharing the amount of talk and students talking to each other as well as the teacher. (In fact, the possibility for less teacher-controlled discussions has been considered one of the strong advantages of real-time computer conferencing in education.)

However, Thompson found that the interaction in her classes looked much like that in traditional, orally conducted classes. She did most of the talking and carried on a series of dyadic conversations with individual students, who directed their comments entirely to her.

It appears that, although the network may allow for less teacher-centered classroom discourse, this teacher's superior typing skill and pre-established class agenda resulted in discussion that was in fact highly teacher-centered. Thompson argues that this is not all bad, because the teacher's writing is providing a model for students. But at the same time, teachers should be aware that the network will not automatically take them out of control and lead to more equitably distributed class discussions. Teachers desiring this dynamic may have to specifically structure it.

Thompson, Diane P. (1988). Interactive networking: Creating bridges between speech, writing, and composition. Computers and Composition, 5(3), 2-27.

While the value of using real-time written interaction to develop the writing abilities of deaf students is fairly obvious (cf. Peyton & Batson, 1986, above), its usefulness with hearing students may not be so obvious. They can hear and speak the language they are writing. In this article, Diane Thompson argues that there are nonetheless good reasons to use a network with hearing writers.

This article is useful to anyone wishing to understand how interactive writing can help students move from interactive talk to more solitary composing.

Research Reports

Batson, Trent, & Peyton, Joy Kreeft. (1986, November). ENFI Project report 1985-1986. Unpublished manuscript. (Available from the ENFI Project, HMB 120, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.)

This report summarizes the results of the evaluation of the ENFI project at Gallaudet University during its first year of operation. Results reported fall into three areas: performance of ENFI students and a comparable sample of non-ENFI students on an English Department exit test; attendance and course completion rates in ENFI and non-ENFI classes; and ENFI students' evaluations of their ENFI classes and the role of the network in promoting their learning.

On the exit test (a writing sample scored by English Department faculty), ENFI students did as well as or better than non-ENFI students, passing the test with equal or greater frequency and making significantly greater score gains over one semester's and one year's time. Although withdrawal rates from ENFI classes tended to be higher than from non-ENFI classes (in some cases because students did not want to use computers in class), attendance rates tended to be better. It appears that once students decided to stay in an ENFI class, they were enthusiastic about attending.

Student evaluations of ENFI classes, elicited by questionnaire, were extremely positive, with almost all students stating that they liked the class, would choose to take it again, would recommend it to other students, and they learned to express themselves better by communicating on the network.

This report is useful for those desiring quantitative evidence of the success of a network--for making decisions about whether to set up a network at their institution, persuading administrators of its feasibility, or writing proposals for funding.

Peyton, Joy Kreeft & Michaelson, Sarah. (1987, October). The ENFI Project at Gallaudet University: Focus on teacher approaches and reactions. Unpublished manuscript. (Available from the ENFI Project, HMB 120, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.)

This report is a result of many extensive interviews with teachers at Gallaudet University who use Gallaudet's local area network in their teaching. It describes the various ways they use the network, what they believe are its benefits and drawbacks for promoting the acquisition of English and the development of writing abilities, what activities on the network are the most effective, which types of students seem to use the network most successfully, and what factors seem to influence success or lack of success with the network.

Rather than simply summarizing teachers' views, the report draws heavily on direct quotes, so the reader has access to the thinking of the teachers themselves. This report, and the two discussed below, are useful for giving teachers new to using a local area network an overview of its possibilities.

Peyton, Joy Kreeft, Michaelson, Sarah, Horowitz, Diane, & Batson, Trent. (1988, February; 1988, December). The ENFI consortium: Report of work conducted in the Fall, 1987; Spring, 1988. Unpublished manuscripts. (Available from the ENFI Project, HMB 120, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.)

The ENFI Consortium consists of five colleges and universities in the United States using local area networks in writing classes and studying their use. The institutions involved are Carnegie Mellon University, Gallaudet University, University of Minnesota, New York Institute of Technology, and Northern Virginia Community College. Student populations include deaf and hearing, basic and advanced writers.

Each semester the Consortium reports to its sponsor, Annenberg/Corporation for Public Broadcasting, on the ENFI work at each of the sites. These reports are particularly helpful to individuals and institutions interested in setting up or already using a local area network, because they show the variety of ways such networks are being used, the layout of networked classrooms, hardware and software being used for and along with the networks, the personnel required to maintain the networks, the various kinds of financial and non-financial support for the networks provided by the institutions, the research studies being conducted, and some preliminary findings about benefits and pitfalls, generally in the form of quotes by site staff.

Resource Guides

Beil, Donald H. (Ed.). (1989). Hooked On Writing: Using REALTIME WRITER software. Washington, DC: Realtime Learning Systems.

This guide was designed for teachers using a particular type of software for real-time written interaction on a computer network, REALTIME WRITER. This software creates a computer screen that has a private composing window and a public window in which contributions are displayed as they are sent, and scroll up the screen as new contributions are added. The guide begins with easy-to-follow tips and techniques for using REALTIME WRITER, followed by articles written by experienced users of the software, describing approaches used with a variety of student populations, including learning disabled students.

Although the guide is distributed by the vendors of this particular software, the information given is not limited to this software only. Almost all material presented in the guide is relevant and useful for anyone wanting to use written interaction on a computer network in a writing class, regardless of the software used.

The guide is available free of charge from Realtime Learning Systems, 2700 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008-5330. Updates are sent out regularly to those desiring them.

Neuwirth, Christine M., Gillespie, Terilyn, and Palmquist, Michael. (1988). Instructor and student guides for collaborative writing with CECE TALK: A computer network tool. Pittsburgh Carnegie Mellon University.

These guides were written for teachers and students using a particular software for written interaction, the CECE TALK program that runs on the Andrew system at Carnegie Mellon University. This software creates a computer screen with a publicly visible composing window for each student. All participants' contributions can be viewed as they are produced, and scroll up within the individual windows. As with Hooked on Writing (described above), the ideas presented are not only useful with CECE TALK, but can be used effectively with any networking hardware and software.

The teacher's guide presents CECE TALK as an effective tool for collaborative learning, collaborative writing, and peer review; suggests ways to introduce real-time written interaction to students; presents clear instructions for all stages of use of CECE TALK (starting and stopping a session, printing log files, etc.); and outlines various exercises that teachers at Carnegie Mellon have found particularly useful.

The student's guide gives detailed explanations of each type of exercise with sample transcripts of students doing the exercise, and with helpful tips for assuring that the exercise is successful.

EnfiLOG, a Newsletter

This newsletter contains reflections on the rationale for using local area networks for written interaction in the classroom, updates on the use of networks across the United States and related research, descriptions of various networked classrooms and teacher approaches, and articles written by teachers using networks. EnfiLOG is edited and produced by Trent Batson, Director of the ENFI Demonstration Project, and can be obtained free of charge from Nancy Creighton, ENFI Project, HMB 120, Gallaudet University, 800 Florida Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

Other Works Cited

Black, Steven D., Levin, James A., Mehan, Hugh, & Quinn, Clark N. (1983). Real and non-real time interaction: Unraveling multiple threads of discourse. Discourse Processes, 6, 59-75.

Heath, Shirley Brice, & Branscombe, Amanda. (1984). "Intelligent writing" in an audience community: Teacher, students, and researcher. In Sarah Warshauer Freedman (Ed.), The acquisition of written language. Revision and response (pp. 3-32). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Hillocks, George, Jr. (1986). Research on written composition: New directions for teaching. Urbana, IL: ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading and Communication Skills and National Conference on Research in English.

Hiltz, Roxanne. (1988). Annotated bibliography: Publications on computer-mediated communication and education. In Teaching in a virtual classroom: Volume 2 of final evaluation report, a virtual classroom on EIES. Newark, NJ: New Jersey Institute of Technology.

Levin, James A., Riel, Margaret M., Rowe, Robert D., & Boruta, Marcia J. (1984). Muktuk meets Jacuzzi: Computer networks and elementary school writers. In Sarah Warshauer Freedman (Ed.), The acquisition of written language: Revision and response

Riel, Margaret. (1983). Education and ecstasy: Computer chronicles of students writing together. The Quarterly Newsletter of the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition, 5(3), 59-67.

Sayers, Dennis. (1989). Bilingual sister classes in computer writing networks. In Duane Roen & Donna M. Johnson (Eds.), Richness in writing: Empowering minority students (pp. 120-133). New York: Longman.

Staton, Jana, Shuy, Roger W., Peyton, Joy Kreeft, & Reed, Leslee. (1988). Dialogue journal communication: Classroom, linguistic, social, and cognitive views. Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Joy Kreeft Peyton teaches at Gallaudet University in Washington, DC, and is associated with the Center for Applied Linguistics in Washington, DC.


An earlier version of this bibliography appeared in Hooked on writing: Using REALTIME WRITER software. (1989). D. Beil (Ed.). Washington, DC: Realtime Learning Systems.