8(3), August 1991, pages 63-81

Questions and Issues in Basic Writing & Computing

Pamela Gay

The emphasis of most studies of basic writers and computing in the 1980s was on the power of the computer to effect change--the computer was considered a neutral writing tool with a power of its own. While basic writers who typically have negative attitudes toward writing may have the most to gain from using a word-processing package, results of those studies showed the computer alone did not empower developing writers and suggested the learning context for that group is especially important.

Although there have been several reviews of the effects of word processing on various groups of writers, there has been no systematic review of research on college-level writers. Using Hawisher's (1988, 1989c) research framework as a model, I reviewed 18 studies (1984-1990) that report some effects of word processing on college basic writers. (See Table 1.) I begin my critical review by presenting the findings with regard to two effects: attitude and the quality of writing performance. Then I go on to discuss pedagogy and the problem (and importance) of defining basic writers, and I end by suggesting research directions that can help move us toward a new pedagogy, thus expanding our knowledge, our knowing, and as Ann Berthoff (1981) would say, our teaching and learning.


Table 1: Survey of Research on College Basic Writers & Word Processing (1984-1990)
Study Arkin & Gallagher (1984) Beserra (1986) Cross (1990) Cullen (1988) Deming (1987) Deutsch (1988)
Research Design:
  Duration Several  10 wks 3 qtrs 10 wks  
  Sample # courses 6 36 24 1 course
  Method Explor. C. study C. study C. study Exper. Exper.
  Software Wordstar  Bank Street Writer (1982) HBJ Writer (WANDAH) Bank Street Writer  
  Hardware   Apple IIe IBM PC Apple IIe  
Research Participants Background   2nd level BW, Ohio State, ACT=16 or less + placement exam Lowest group underprep. writers - UCLA, affirm act., bi-ling. or ad. ESL Urban university  
Writing Task  2 modes: 1 personal & 1 transactional Essays 3-5 page expository essays & shorter wr. 4 in-class expo. essays "papers"
Assessment Informal Pre- & post-tests, holistic, videotapes & stimulated recall Interviews and observations in and out of class Videotapes & stimulated recall Pre- & post-test, holistic, revision scheme, anxiety survey Pre-test, post-test, holistic
  Word Processing   2 hands-on sessions by instructor, limited access Brief training, generous access   
  Writing Process & collab. 1, peer review Out of class for study Process, mult. drafts, wr. workshop Process; cross-curricular college reading & wr. revision Process, emph. revision Process
  Improved Attitude X XX X  X
  Increased Fluency X X     
  Improved Product X Some but not dramatic No XNo Slightly

Table 1 (continued): Survey of Research on College Basic Writers & Word Processing (1984-1990)
Study Etchison (1989) Goldsmith & Robertson (1988) Hawisher & Fortune (1988) Hult (1986) Hunter (1984) King ,Birnbaum, & Wageman (1984)
Research Design:
  Duration 1 Semester several semesters 1 Semester 1 course 1 course 1 semester
  Sample # approx. 11 4-500/smstr. 40  16 10
  Method Exper. Survey Exper. Explor. Explor. Exper.
  Software PC-WRITE  Wordstar Select PIE Bank Street Writer (Old)
  Hardware IBM PC Varied Zenith Micro DE Rainbow Heathkit 89 Apple IIe
Research Participants Background 30% minority, large cities; 70% from central W. Va., econ. depressed, ACT=15 or less  Black & Hispanic, 2 large Midwest Universities, ACT=16.9 mean (exp.) & 17.4 (control)  Diverse: from private, suburban, & small town schools All happened to be female
Writing Task Transactional; 1 explanatory, 1 persuasive  Transactional essays based on readings  Paragraphs Position Paper
Assessment Pre-test, Post-test, holistic Informal Pre-test, Post-test, holistic Informal Informal, analytical Pre- & post-tests (handwr.), analytical, journals
  Word Processing 3-page intro. & training session, 1 eve. 3 1-hour sessions     
  Writing Conf. centered, wr. workshop, multiple drafts Process Process, university work based on reading Process Process, emph. revision Process
  Improved Attitude X X   X X
  Increased Fluency X      X
  Improved Product No Believed improvment No  More subst. revision than control group Higher scores in content, org., sent. completeness, variety

Table 1 (continued): Survey of Research on College Basic Writers & Word Processing (1984-1990)
Study Kirkpatrick (1987) McAllister & Louth (1988) Nash & Schwartz (1987) Nichols (1986) Posey (1986) Rodrigues (1985)
Research Design:
  Duration 1 course 2 semesters 1 semester 2 weeks 1 course 1 semester
  Sample #  102 24 513 12
  Method Explor. Exper. Explor. C. study


Exper. Explor.
  Software Bank Street Writer Apple Writer  Bank Street Writer (Old)   
  Hardware IBM PC       
Research Participants Background "Error-prone writer," failed CUNY Wr. Assess. York College, EOP, Queens ACT scores 14 or less, open admissions, univ. in south     
Writing Task  Paragraphs, various modes, inc. personal Short essays, similar topics Personal desc., narrative paragraphs   
Assessment Informal Pre- & post-test, holistic Pre- & post-tests, analytical (# sent., paragraphs, etc.) Interviews, revision, protocols, retro. self reports Pre- & post-test (handwr.), holistic, survey, journals, interv. Informal, journals
 Word Processing Intro. w/some follow-up inst. in class 2 hour orient.  Very brief intro.   
 Writing Process Process, para. wr. & revising Process, esp. revision No wr. inst. during study Process Process
  Improved Attitude X X  Yes/No X X
  Increased Fluency X  X   X
  Improved Product X XX X NoNo subst. changes

My emphasis in this review is on learning from these studies and building on prior research: What do we know from these studies? What don't we know? Where are we now? Where do we go from here? The valuable contributions of researchers can help us look ahead and learn to use technology to greater advantage with basic writers.

Word Processing & Attitude Toward Writing

Most researchers agree that attitude toward writing (especially revision) noticeably improves when basic writers write with word-processing packages. Some basic writers report enjoying writing for perhaps the first time in their lives (Arkin and Gallagher, 1984; Rodrigues, 1985). Writing with a word-processing package makes the writing process "more interesting and less time-consuming," according to the basic writers Goldsmith and Robertson (1988) surveyed. In a study by Etchison (1989), basic writers described writing with a word-processing package as "easier and more satisfying." Word processing, observed Etchison, seemed "to encourage most students to spend more time producing text as well as working with text in ways not usually seen when basic writers use paper and pen" (p. 36). Rodrigues (1989) and Kirkpatrick (1987) noted increased concentration, confidence, independence, and willingness to collaborate. The students that Arkin and Gallagher observed (1984) similarly felt "an initial sense of achievement and expertise" when writing with computers.

Hunter (1984) also noticed that her students had a more positive attitude toward being placed in a basic writing course; rather than seeing themselves misplaced or displaced, they placed themselves in "the vanguard of technology." Furthermore, some basic writers reported using word-processing packages for writing in other courses as well as for personal writing (Beserra, 1986; Hunter, 1984).

However, while word processing has the potential to help basic writers increase their awareness of cognitive processes (Arkin and Gallagher, 1984), studies show that when left alone, these writers are not likely to take full advantage of computer technology (Cross, 1990; Cullen, 1988; Hunter, 1984; Nichols, 1986). Such findings suggest that teachers must continue to play a powerful role in student learning (Gay, 1983, 1984).

Word Processing and the Quality of Writing Performance

There seems to be an underlying assumption, especially in earlier studies of basic writers and word processing, that improvement in attitude would lead to improvement in the quality of writing. Some basic writers believed writing with a word-processing package improved the quality of their writing (Cross, 1990; Goldsmith and Robertson, 1988), and although Rodrigues (1985) did not observe substantive changes in the quality of written products, she did believe writers in her study improved.

Results of the effects of the use of word processing on the quality of written products, however, are contradictory. Basic writers show some improvement in some studies (Arkin and Gallagher, 1984; Hunter, 1984; Beserra, 1986; Cullen, 1988; Deutsch, 1988; King, Bimbaum, and Wageman, 1984; Kirkpatrick, 1987; Nash and Schwartz, 1987; Rodrigues, 1985). In particular, they write more (and length is often enough to cause a rater to score an essay higher). Once they have learned the fundamentals of word processing, most basic writers find writing easier and consequently, spend more time writing and become relatively fluent. Like Nash and Schwartz (1987), Etchison (1989) found that basic writers who used word-processing packages wrote considerably more than did those students who used pen and paper.

Other studies show mixed results, suggesting that word processing is beneficial for improving particular features of student texts. King, Bimbaum, and Wageman (1984), for example, found that the experimental group had significantly higher scores in organization, sentence completeness, and variety than the control group; but (as Deutsch, 1988, also found) they did not make as great a gain as the control group in English grammar and usage improvement.

Still other studies support both positions. Two studies (Nash and Schwartz, 1987; McAllister and Louth, 1988) show significant improvement in the quality of writing when basic writers used word processing as a writing tool while no significant improvement was reported in three other studies (Deming, 1987; Etchison, 1989; Hawisher and Fortune, 1989; Posey, 1986).

Pedagogy as a Variable

Because word processing itself was the focus in most of these studies, researchers attempted to control or reduce pedagogy as a variable. Nichols (1986), for example, conducted his study outside the context of the classroom. Furthermore, students received no writing instruction during the study. Experimental researchers (Deutsch, 1986; Etchison, 1989; McAllister and Louth, 1988) attempted to control for potential teacher bias by asking teachers to use the same syllabus, workbook, or reader. But we know that even if the same teacher uses the same syllabus in two classes, the classes (that is, the teaching and learning) are not likely to be the same because the classroom interactions will be different. However, Deming (1987) claimed that classroom content and procedures were the same for both experimental and control groups taught by the same teacher. Moreover, because writing displayed on a monitor is more public and creates a new social context and, therefore, a different classroom environment, it is unlikely that instruction could be the same. Also, as Nancy Kaplan (1987) points out, instruction tailored to print technology may not be as effective when applied to electronic technology.

Both Nichols (1986) and Hult (1988) warned that computer use could extend the ineffective composing habits of basic writers and that word processing could increase their tendency to focus on surface features rather than on overall meaning. However, Nichols's response was based on a brief study of basic writers' initial exposure to word processing, divorced from classroom and writing instruction, while Hult's response was based on her observations of basic writers in a course in-which word processing and writing instruction were not integrated. Deming (1987) and Cross (1990) did find that basic writers revised only at the microstructure level; both studies were conducted in 10 weeks, and during that period participants in Deming's study wrote three drafts of four in-class essays while participants in Cross's study used word processing entirely on their own after two classes of hands-on instruction.

On the other hand, Cullen (1988), Hunter (1984), and Kirkpatrick (1987) found that basic writers who used computers for writing in basic writing courses that emphasized revision made complex and extensive revisions, suggesting again the critical role of the teacher. Students, Kirkpatrick points out, "can perform only changes [that] they are conscious are needed--the ability to revise doesn't arise spontaneously" (p. 39) or because a machine which eases revision is present. Similarly, Sommers and Collins (1984) claim that studies show that computers are helpful in classrooms "when they are used integratively, with sound teaching methods, and that they are destructive when used out of context, without respect for the ways students learn to use language" (p. 14).

Although all teachers in these studies emphasized writing as a process of revision, conceptions of writing as a process, as Lester Faigley (1986) has observed, vary: Everyone does not teach the same process. Although McAllister and Louth (1988), for example, attribute significant writing improvement to the use of word processing, Hawisher and Fortune (1989) found no significant difference in the quality of writing by basic writers who wrote with word-processing packages as compared with those who wrote with conventional tools. Such dramatically different results call into question the role of instruction (and theories of instruction) in the development of writing abilities.

Indeed, teachers in both studies had different ideas about the kind of work appropriate for basic writers and different conceptions of the writing process. In keeping with the pedagogical movement in basic writing encouraged by Bartholomae and Petrosky (1986), Bizzell (1986), and Rose (1983), teachers in Hawisher and Fortune's study required their students to write college-level essays based on reading. Students in McAllister and Louth's study, on the other hand, used computer-assisted instructional drill and practice exercises and wrote paragraphs in a variety of modes throughout the course. For the post-test, they were assigned to write a response to the personal writing prompt "Nobody understands me." In comparing such studies, information about pedagogical approaches becomes essential for a critical reading of the reported results.

Moreover, because a number of studies show that the using word processing often increases fluency, length, and development (Hawisher, 1989a), it is not surprising that the quality of writing is likely to increase with the use of word processing. Increased length and development possibly even caused raters to judge more as better. It also should not be surprising to find that, given the time limitation in one-course studies of 10 to 16 weeks, the quality of what is regarded as more academic writing (a more complex cognitive task) may not increase as a result of word processing.

Basic Writers: A Need for Definition

"[D]iscussing the computer's impact without reference to usage, as if there could be a uniform impact, is nonsensical," says Olson in an article entitled "Who Computes?" (1987, p. 185). Defining basic writers, however, is problematic (Jensen, 1986; Lunsford and Sullivan, 1990; Shaughnessy, 1976, 1977; Troyka, 1987). Shaughnessy, one of the first to attempt to characterize basic writers, pointed out that one school's basic writer "may be another 's regular or advanced freshman" (1976, p . 137). In any institution, there are always going to be some students who do not write as well as other students and who could be placed in a basic writing course. And even within a basic writing program, Jensen (1986) adds, "students will differ from class to class" (p. 63). Troyka (1987) cautions us not to build generalizations about basic writers on "local evidence" and to recognize the social and linguistic diversity of this group. Cullen (1988) cautions us not to "regiment our classes, but rather recognize and respect the incalculable diversity of cognitive and behavioral habits which [basic writers] bring to the complex task of writing" (p. 212). I would add that we need to recognize and respect the cultural diversity they bring to their writing as well.

When Shaughnessy (1976,1977) wrote about basic writers, she was careful to define what she meant. In a "Call for Articles" for the Journal of Basic Writing, Lynn Troyka (1984) asked authors to describe clearly for readers the student population to which they were referring when they used the term basic writers (1984, 4:1, facing 1). Lunsford and Sullivan (1990) also call for basic writers to be defined in context. In the studies I reviewed, however, little information was given about the backgrounds of research participants generalized as basic writers.

Hunter (1984) mentioned that her students were from diverse educational backgrounds, attending private, suburban, and small-town schools. Basic writers in King, Birnbaum, and Wageman's (1984) study happened to be female. Basic writers Kirkpatrick (1987) studied were mostly minorities (Black, Hispanic, Haitian, Greek, Korean, and Chinese) who were admitted to York College (a small four-year school in the CUNY system) through an educational opportunity program. We know that basic writers in McAllister and Louth's (1988) study achieved an ACT score of 14 or below and that they attended an open admissions university in the South. Following a breakdown of his research population, Etchison (1989), is careful to warn: "To make sweeping generalizations about all basic writer populations based on this study alone would be unfair and unwise" (p. 39).

Hawisher and Fortune (1989) specifically identify basic writers as minority (Black and Hispanic) students from large midwestern universities. Because gender was also a variable in that study, they included an equal number of male and female students. While Hawisher and Fortune did not find significant differences in writing improvement based on gender, Hull (1988) claims that we can find evidence that "access to and use of the new information technologies will be differential, depending on one's sex and race and socio-economic status" (p. 16). We need more studies of basic writers and computers that include these variables, especially in the 1990s, a time when more multicultural students are likely to be enrolled in basic writing classes. Who are we talking about when we talk about basic writers? Who are the basic writers who are using word processing systems?

In a recently published bibliographic sourcebook of research in basic writing, Bernhardt and Wojahn (1990) wrote about "Computers and Writing Instruction" without focusing on basic writers "since much of what has been written," they argue, "can be applied equally well to both general and basic writing classes" (p. 166). Studies of basic writers do need to be considered in the context of studies of other writers, but we also need to build on prior research with this (diverse) group of students placed in basic writing classes if we want to advance our learning and improve the teaching of basic writing. More attention needs to be paid to defining basic writing students, not to arrive at a monolithic description but rather to explore the diversity and complexity of this group. How can we use computers with students who are placed (for whatever reasons) in our basic writing classes variously designed to help them develop their writing abilities? How can we use computers to help basic writers take more advantage of their placement in basic writing and perhaps move further along the recursive developmental continuum?

Toward a New Pedagogy

Although most studies now conclude that writing instruction plays an important role in shaping the influence of the computer, "few studies have examined how computers affect and interact with the cultural context or learning environment in which they are used--either for writing or for instruction (Hawisher, 1988a, p. 5). "We need," says Hull (1988), "to use research to learn how we can help basic writers develop technology in such a way that it benefits underprepared students" (p. 22).

It is not enough to talk, as we did in the 1980s, about whether basic writers are writing in the "pen and paper condition" or the "computer condition"--we need to know the environmental condition. We need rich, qualitative, longitudinal studies (what anthropologist Clifford Geertz, 1973, calls "thick description") of basic writers computing in a variety of learning contexts, studies like the one Herrmann (1987) conducted with motivated high school students and Hull and Rose (Hull, 1988) are conducting now with community college basic writing students.

We need to learn from basic writers, as DiMatteo (1990), Kremers (1990), and Sirc and Reynolds (1990) have begun to do in a networked classroom, so that we can develop a pedagogy that will empower them in the academy and beyond . "We need," says Hull ( 1988), "to find ways to give [basic writers] much practice with reading and writing, with consuming and producing texts of value to [them], with having readers who are engaged{their] own classmates . . . but also readers from afar" (p. 21). Rather than focusing our attention on written products, especially textual features, or on the writing process itself (whatever the writing tool), Hull calls for an examination of the production and use of texts by basic writers in the classroom context. How do basic writers read, write, and use computers? What pedagogical changes do we need to make to enhance their learning? What would an ideal writing environment look like for developing writers?

Basic Writers, Computing, & Collaborative Learning

Basic writers typically do not see themselves as writers or as belonging to a community of writers. They are more likely to see themselves as apart from others (who can write) and to isolate themselves for what they perceive as failure. Some studies (Kirkpatrick, 1987; Rodrigues, 1985; Selfe and Wahlstrom, 1986) suggest that computers can foster collaboration among writers; however, computers alone do not encourage collaborative learning. Basic writers, in some contexts, are isolated at workstations and as a result may feel even less a part of the classroom community than they would in traditional classrooms.

Research shows that, when left on their own, basic writers are not likely to take full advantage of word processing to ease composing and revising. They typically do not print and read drafts and rewrite using the block move; rather, they are likely to use the word processor as a glorified typewriter (Cross, 1990; Cullen, 1988; Hunter, 1984; Nichols, 1986; Rodrigues, 1985). The quality of their writing could even be reduced if they use the word-processing packages on a computer like a calculator, adding and subtracting words without rereading when distracted in a public computer facility by students coming and going, often interrupting their work (Gay, 1988). Basic writers need more than access to computers and more than an introduction to the block move.

How do we get basic writers into the habit of using keyboard functions to ease revision? How do we get them to make a block move? The block move, though more difficult to make with basic writers who actively resist revision, would seem relatively easy--we can integrate word processing and writing instruction, as researchers now suggest. This pedagogical move, however, is not easy.

We need to continue exploring how to integrate instruction. "Such integration," Hull (1988) explains,

requires a great deal more than simply putting hardware and software in front of students. It requires working with faculty to determine how technology can benefit their curriculum, and it requires working with students to determine how to introduce technology so that it aids the writing process instead of providing one more cognitive hurdle.... The truth is, we don't know a great deal about how to introduce students to the new information technologies, particularly when these students are underprepared" (pp. 21-22).

Even if we succeed, writing with a word processor, as Faigley (1990) points out, emphasizes writing as an individual rather than social activity.

While I advocate the integration of word processing and writing instruction for basic writers, as they typically have not established good composing habits, and applaud the innovative uses of individual computers (for commentary, for example). The new technology offers more possibilities, which may be particularly helpful for basic writers. We need to do more than integrate instruction: We need to change instruction--that is, if we want to take full advantage of this new technology to maximize the development of writing abilities.

Basic writers typically do not go through the full struggle of articulation required to produce an effective piece of writing. They write once through and often do not reread their writing or talk about their ideas with anyone. They get the writing done (and done more quickly with a word processor). If they are required to write drafts, studies show that they tend to revise at a microstructure level (Cross, 1990; Deming, 1987). Experienced writers, on the other hand, reread and rethink their writing, and rewrite. They engage in dialogue with themselves during the act of writing. Many engage in dialogue with others about what they are writing or thinking about; they may share their writing with others or talk over an idea. How can we use computers to help developing writers understand the dialogic nature of writing?

Computers can be used to enhance dialogue, that is, to provide what Colette Daiute (1985, p. 12) calls a "conversational context," thus "de-emphasizing the computer as a private workspace and highlighting its potential communicative functions" (Eldred, 1989, p. 12). Participating in small-group dialogue through an electronic network, which tends to heighten interaction (Bump, 1990; Faigley, 1990), can help basic writers go through, or at least begin, the struggle of articulation. Unlike the turn-taking in oral discussion, Computer-Assisted Class Discussion (CACD) allows everyone to talk at the same time, creating a hybrid between oral and written discourse. Students can also review the emerging transcript of this out-of-line discussion and leave class with a printed copy as well. More important, this experience demonstrates that "meaning is not fixed but socially reconstituted each time language is used" (Faigley, 1990, p. 310), a lesson which may be especially valuable for basic writers.

In a classroom of networked computers, basic writers can write to each other and to their teachers and other writers in other classes, thus breaking the boundaries of classroom walls and helping basic writers become part of a wider network of writers. Through electronic dialogue, basic writers can have an opportunity to exchange ideas and information with people from different home and academic cultures. As they write, respond, and continue with genuine dialogue, they are more likely to become increasingly engaged in their own learning and, in acting like writers, actually become writers.

"Writing," as Shaughnessy (1976) pointed out, "is a slow developing skill" (p .146). "In a few short weeks or months, " explained Bridwell-Bowles (1989), "we cannot 'teach students to write' and test writing growth, no matter how sophisticated our technology becomes, but we can demonstrate that students are actively learning and that good writing is being produced in our classrooms" (p. 84). In studies conducted in the 1980s, writing improvement was judged by an examination of written products. We need now to review our understanding of writing improvement, particularly with regard to basic writers. Sirc and Reynolds, (1990) in an exploratory study of basic writers in a computer networked environment, realized that the kind of behavior they wanted from their students "centered around a traditional concept of growth in writing" and that they had defined improvement "too narrowly" (p. 18).

Perhaps we need to think of improvement as a kind of recursive developmental continuum, what cognitive psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) refers to as the "zone of proximal development," that period in between what students can do today with help and tomorrow independently. How can instructors, who play a critical role in the development of writing abilities, help students through this zone toward increasing independence as writers and learners? Can computers help basic writers become independent more quickly?

Cummins (1986), in an article entitled "Empowering Minority Students," calls for a "pattern of classroom interaction which promotes independent learning," teaching that liberates students from instruction by encouraging them to become "active generators of their own knowledge" (p. 27). He advocates what he calls a "reciprocal interaction" model of teaching which empowers students, [1] encouraging them to assume greater control over their own learning through collaborative activities (p. 28). Central to this approach is the belief that "talking and writing are a means to learning" (Bullock Report, 1975, p. 50). Authentic student-student and student-teacher dialogue in a collaborative learning context can encourage the development of higher level cognitive skills. However, this new liberatory power, as DiMatteo (1990) and Kremers (1990) have pointed out, can also be used for what we might consider low-level (low-life?) activity. How can we make use of computers to help basic writers advance through the academy?

We need studies of basic writers who are learning to use language with the computer as a communication tool and, more important, to change our stance by asking different questions: How can we "shape technologies to the ends we desire" (Hull, 1988, p. 17)? How can we realize what Ohman (1985) calls the "liberatory potential" of computers? How can we use computers to empower developing writers? How can we use technology to help prepare basic writers for university work? We can use computers to create various learning contexts for developing writers and study the process and results over time.

Studies of basic writers using computers for writing and learning in the 1990s should continue for more than one semester long; should include a thick description of the particular group of basic writers in the study; should reflect a process rather than a product view of writing improvement; and pedagogy should be the key variable. How can we teachers introduce developing writers to computing technology so that it aids their writing processes? How can we integrate word processing and writing instruction? How can we use computers to help developing writers understand the dialogic nature of writing? How can we change instruction so that developing writers can take advantage of the liberatory potential of computers to maximize the development of their writing abilities and learning?

Basic writers need more than a magic machine that eases text changes--they need to read and write and talk about their reading and writing. They need a reason to read and write. They need to know that what they write is being listened to and valued (rather than monitored). A reason to read and write is much more important than the writing tool, argues Richard Ohman (1985). "Fancy tools--printers and laser fonts and videos and modems and screens with multiple windows and small storage devices with big memories--won't matter a jot," writes Glynda Hull, "if students don't have good reasons for writing and I reading in the first place" (p. 21). Perhaps during this decade we can explore ways to use computers to engage basic writers more fully in I reading and writing. Perhaps, too, as DiMatteo (1990) suggests, we need to "reexplore" our understanding of writing, especially writing as a polylogic act, and think anew about language and learning as well.

Whatever research directions we take, if we are going to advance |basic writers, we cannot ignore the use (and misuse) of advanced technology in the struggle for articulation. Building on prior research through engaging basic writers as subjects rather than objects of study can help us together learn how to shape environmental contexts which can empower basic writers to write their way into the future. The use of the computer as a tool in an interactive learning environment could help basic writers speed up the learning process and move them to the point of liberation where they can take over their own learning and reverse their pattern of failure.

Pamela Gay teaches English at SUNY-Binghamton in Binghamton, New York.


  1. When I talk about empowerment, I'm talking about a collaborative learning context in which teachers help developing writers take increasing responsibility for the development of their writing abilities and, more broadly, their learning.


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