COMPUTERS and COMPOSITION 11(1), November 1991, pages 65-82
Advocates of computer use in composition classes often argue that
using computers will reduce writing apprehension, improve attitudes
toward writing, and make the writing process easier for students.
This should also hold true for second language writers, whose
attitudes toward writing and English may include more fear and
apprehension than those of first language writers (Betancourt
& Phinney, 1988). However, there is little empirical evidence
to show that using computers to write can indeed reduce apprehension
and improve students' attitudes. This study used two measures,
Daly and Miller's (1975a) Writing Apprehension Test (WAT) and
Rose's (1984) Writing Attitude Questionnaire (WAQ), to examine
changes in writing apprehension and blocking behavior among first
and second language writers in first year composition classes
Computers have become an accepted tool in writing classes, and research on computers and various aspects of the composing process has mushroomed in the last decade. Researchers have argued that computer use helps to reduce anxiety about writing and premature editing (Daiute, 1985, 1986), changes revision strategies (Daiute, 1986; Hawisher, 1987), and improves attitudes towards writing (Dalton & Hannafin, 1987; Hawisher, 1987). However, little research has appeared on the effect of computer use on writing apprehension or on blocking; Hawisher (1989), in her thorough review of research, does not include apprehension and blocking as categories of study.
In addition, little research has appeared on the use of computers
with second language writers. Second language writers are often
assumed to have more apprehension than first language writers,
to monitor their output more (Krashen, 1982), to be more likely
to edit prematurely, and to have more negative attitudes toward
writing in their second language than first language writers.
If this is the case, then second language writers should benefit
from computer-assisted writing at least as much as first language
writers, perhaps more.
Measuring Writing Apprehension and Blocking
Research on writing apprehension and writer's block has generally used two approaches. The first correlates some measure of writing apprehension with a variety of factors, including writing performance and quality of product (Daly, 1977; Daly & Miller, 1975a), performance on standardized writing tests (Daly, 1978; Daly & Miller, 1975b), perceived intensity of the writing environment (Bennett & Rhodes, 1988), gender differences (Daly, 1979; Daly & Miller, 1975b), and willingness to write and expectations about writing (Daly & Miller, 1975b).
The second approach focuses on the cognitive components of writer's block. Boice (1985) identified seven categories of blocking behavior in his study of blocked academic writers: working apprehension or perceived difficulty in writing, procrastination, dysphoria, which included several categories of fear or anxiety, impatience with the progress of the writing, perfectionism, evaluation anxiety, and maladaptive rules. Similarly, Rose (1984) found five categories of blocking behavior in his student writers: lateness, premature editing, complexity of material, attitudes towards one's writing, and pure blocking or inability to write. Rose also discussed the effect of rigid rules that, when applied inappropriately, result in blocking.
Two measuring instruments are commonly used to examine writing apprehension and blocking behavior. The earlier and more familiar instrument is Daly and Miller's (1975a) Writing Apprehension Test (WAT). This is a twenty-six-item questionnaire, thirteen items with positive polarity and thirteen with negative polarity, scored on a 5-point Likert scale, which asks the subject to agree or disagree with statements about writing like "I look forward to writing down my ideas" or "Expressing my ideas through writing seems to be a waste of time." The questionnaire produces a single score which can be taken as an index of writing apprehension. The Daly-Miller WAT has been adapted for ESL populations (Gungle & Taylor, 1989) using a 6-point scale that eliminates the middle uncertain position.
Another instrument, developed by Rose (1984), measures different components of blocking behavior. Rose found his twenty-four-item Writing Attitude Questionnaire (WAQ) tapped five different subscales: attitude towards writing, complexity of material, premature editing, lateness in completing tasks, and writer's block. "Attitude" indicates the respondent's feelings about his or her writing ("I think my writing is good") and evaluation of that writing ("I think of my instructors reacting positively to my writing"). "Complexity" taps the writer's ability to deal with complex material ("Writing on topics that can have different focuses is difficult for me"). "Editing" reveals the tendency to edit prematurely ("When I write, I'll wait until I've found the right phrase"). "Lateness" deals with the problem of not meeting deadlines ("I have to hand in assignments late because I can't get the words on paper"). The last subscale, "Blocking," indicates behaviors associated with writer's block ("At times, my first paragraph takes me over two hours to write").
Rose's questionnaire has been shown to be valid for English and Spanish bilingual student populations (Betancourt & Phinney, 1988). In that study, bilingual writers showed different levels of apprehension for the five scales depending on their native language, but the subscales themselves were found to be valid for both populations.
Although some of the statements are similar in both questionnaires (WAT-"I like to write my ideas down", WAQ-"I enjoy writing, though writing is difficult at times"), the two instruments produce very different scores. Although the WAT statements tap various aspects of apprehension, WAT is commonly used to provide a single measure of the subject's writing apprehension. A high score indicates a high level of apprehension. The WAQ can be used to produce five scores (Betancourt & Phinney, 1988) indicating the level of apprehension on each subscale, and thus provides a more detailed picture of the subject's response to writing. Both questionnaires share the weakness of any self-response questionnaire; the researcher must trust that the subject has responded accurately.
With the exception of Gungle and Taylor's (1989) adaptation of
the Daly-Miller WAT and the bilingual study of Betancourt and
Phinney (1988), few studies on writing apprehension in second
language writers have appeared. Many second language writing instructors,
however, sense that second language writers often have considerable
apprehension about writing in their second language. In college
and university ESL classes, second language writers are often
expected to compete with first language writers eventually. However,
their previous ESL exposure may not have included the kind of
writing experience that first language writers have had. Many
second language writers feel that their competence in the second
language will never match that of first language writers and so,
no matter what they do, their writing will always be second-rate.
Often, second language writers are poor or inexperienced writers
in their first language and, thus, have little or no writing ability
to transfer to their writing in the second language.
Computers and Composing in a Second Language
Although the level of research activity in second language writing and computers does not come near the activity in first language writing, a few studies have appeared that suggest computer use does seem to have positive effects on second language writers. Phinney and Mathis (1990), interviewing several ESL students who wrote with computers for a semester, indicated that the students felt the computer improved their attitudes toward writing in English. They also seemed to spend more time writing than students who did not use a computer and produced longer papers (Phinney, 1988). Neu and Scarcella (1991) note similar results, as do other anecdotal studies (Blanton, 1987; Piper, 1987), although at least one writer notes that individual students may vary considerably in adapting their writing processes to the computer (Benesch, 1987).
Although it may be satisfying to the instructor, anecdotal evidence cannot be generalized to larger populations. With the exception of Neu and Scarcella (1991), who designed their own questionnaire, none of these studies concretely measured changes in attitudes in second language writers using computers.
A previous study (Phinney, 1991) used Rose's WAQ to assess changes
in the blocking behavior of ESL students who wrote with computers
and the behavior of those who wrote by hand. In the group using
computers, apprehension was reduced on all subscales except "premature
editing." The control group did not show reduced apprehension,
and apprehension increased on the "lateness" subscale.
The results suggested that using a computer to write did reduce
some sources of apprehension for that population of ESL students.
Two groups of subjects, first language and second language writers, were used. The thirty-five first language writers were students in the first semester composition course (ENGL 3111) at El Paso Community College (EPCC). Most of the students had previously taken ENGL 3110, a paragraph writing course, and had passed the exit exam for that course. A few students had been placed directly into ENGL 3111 based on their SAT scores.
The forty-five second language writers were students in the first semester composition course (ESOL 3111) at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Most of these students had passed previous ESOL courses before entering ESOL 3111. Approximately twenty percent had been placed directly into ESOL 3111 on the basis of their scores on the Secondary Level English Proficiency (SLEP) test and an in-house writing test.
In both institutions, ESOL 3111 or ENGL 3111 is required for all degree plans as part of the general education requirements mandated by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Although both institutions teach ESOL and ENGL composition courses, El Paso Community College did not teach ESOL 3111 with computers and the University of Texas at El Paso did not teach ENGL 3111 with computers. To compare language groups, it was thus necessary to select students from both institutions.
At both institutions, students are able to select the section
of the course at registration, and sections are designated as
computer or non-computer sections. Therefore, the control and
experimental samples are self-selected to a certain extent, which
may affect subjects" responses to the questionnaires. Students
who preferred or were willing to use computers may have different
levels of apprehension than students who preferred not to use
them. However, some students select sections because of the time
they are offered, not because of computer requirements.
The study used the Daly-Miller WAT as modified by Gungle and Taylor (1989) for ESL writers and Rose's WAQ. The items in each questionnaire were randomized and administered as a paper-and-pencil test.
At both institutions, one section in which writing was taught using computers was selected as the experimental group. Another section, taught by the same instructor with the same syllabus but without the computer, was selected as the control group. The texts used were Reading Critically, Writing Well: A Reader and Guide (Axelrod & Cooper, 1987) at EPCC and Academic Writing: Techniques and Tasks (Leki, 1989) at UTEP.
At EPCC, students were required to write six papers during the semester. In the first week, the instructor provided an orientation to the computer lab and the writing software (WRITER'S WORKBENCH). Students were then required to go through an on-line tutorial. Classes were not conducted in the lab; students prepared drafts at home, then entered them into the computer and revised them outside of class. Students received comments from the instructor and from peers; WRITER'S WORKBENCH was used to provide analyses of the draft and the final version.
At UTEP, the ESL students were also required to write six papers during the semester. In the second week of classes, the instructor provided an orientation to the computer lab and the software (WORDPERFECT 5.0 and WRITER'S HELPER STAGE II). The on-line tutorial for WORDPERFECT was available to students but was not required. In the computer section, classes were held in the lab one to two times per week. Students often prepared drafts at home, entered them into the computer, and revised them on the computer in class; they also used the computers outside of class. Students received evaluation and comments from the instructor and their peers; some students used the revision routines of WRITER'S HELPER.
All sections were given the Daly-Miller WAT as revised by Gungle
and Taylor (1989) and the Rose WAQ at the beginning of the semester
and again at the end of the semester fifteen weeks later. Only
students who completed both pre- and post-test questionnaires
were included in the study. There were nineteen subjects in the
English control group and sixteen in the English experimental
group who took the Daly-Miller WAT. Sixteen subjects in the control
group and fifteen in the experimental completed the Rose WAQ.
There were twenty-two students in both the ESL control and experimental
groups who took the WAT. Twenty subjects in the ESL control group
and twenty-five in the ESL experimental group took the WAQ.
Based on an earlier study (Phinney, 1991) it was hypothesized that students using the computer would show a greater reduction in the various subscales of the Rose WAQ and on the Daly-Miller WAT compared with the students writing by hand. It was also hypothesized that the second language writers would show greater reduction on those areas of the WAQ that are related to attitude and apprehension ("Attitude" and "Blocking"), because those areas are more likely to be affected by linguistic factors than Lateness and Complexity.
Writing Apprehension Test
The WAT scores were analyzed using a repeated-measures ANOVA with Language (English vs. ESL) and Treatment (computer vs. pen and paper) as the between-subjects factors and WAT pre- and post-test scores as the within subjects factor, Time. The results are shown in Table 1.
|Lang × Treat||589.310||1||589.310||0.976|
|Lang × Time||868.154||1||868.154||7.250||.0087|
|Treat × Time||120.501||1||120.501||1.006||.3202|
|Lang × Treat × Time||27.831||1||27.831||0.232|
One interaction was significant at the 0.01 level, Language × Time (F(1,75) = 7.25). This interaction is shown in Figure 1. The Treatment factor was also significant at the 0.01 level (F(1,75) = 8.287), but did not enter into a significant interaction.
Figure 1 shows that although the ESL students began with more apprehension as measured by the WAT (M = 93.27), their apprehension did not change significantly by the end of the semester (M = 94.36). However, the native English writers showed increased apprehension at the end (M = 91.94), even though they began with slightly less apprehension than the ESL writers (M = 81.17).
The control groups showed a higher mean WAT score (95.68) than
the experimental groups (85.19) across both time and language.
In fact, in both language groups, the experimental groups had
lower WAT scores than the control groups in both the pre- and
post-test. This may be a result of the self-selection problem
as discussed above.
Writing Attitude Questionnaire
For each subscale on the WAQ, the responses were summed and the mean calculated to produce five scores for each subject for each administration of the questionnaire. These mean scores were analyzed with repeated measures ANOVA with language (English vs. ESL) and treatment (computer vs. pen and paper) as the between-subjects factors and time (pre-/post-test) and apprehension subscale as the within-subjects factors. In that analysis, only apprehension was significant (F(4,288) = 10.024, p < 0.001). Because language was not a significant factor and did not enter into a significant interaction, the analysis was repeated for each language group.
For the native English writers, apprehension was the only significant factor (F(4,116) = 5.505, p < 0.001). Neither treatment nor time entered into a significant interaction. The ANOVA results are shown in Table 2; the results of the apprehension factor are graphed in Figure 2.
|Treat × Time||0.252||1||0.252||0.237|
|Treat × Appr.||2.568||4||.642||0.915|
|Time × Appr.||1.931||4||0.483||1.179||.3235|
|Treat × Time × Appr.||1.333||4||0.333||0.814|
When only the apprehension subscales are considered, a Tukey post-hoc test for significance showed that "lateness" (M = 2.121) was significantly lower than "Editing"(M = 2.746), Attitude (M = 2.661), and Complexity (M = 2.688) at the 0.01 level (crit. diff. = .386). The difference between Lateness and Blocking (M = 2.571) was significant at the 0.05 level (crit. diff. = 0.468). In other words, the English writers showed the least apprehension about Lateness; the other scales were not different from each other.
In the ESL group, the three-way interaction among treatment × time × apprehension was significant at the 0.01 level (F(4,172) = 3.606, and apprehension was also significant (F(4, 172) = 4.445, p < 0.01). The results of the ANOVA are shown in Table 3.
|Treat × Time||1.614||1||1.614||1.348||.2509|
|Treat × Appr.||2.604||40||.651||1.352||.2519|
|Time × Appr.||1.015||4||0.254||0.948|
|Treat × Time × Appr.||3.860||4||0.965||3.606||.0078|
The three-way interaction is graphed in Figure 3. Tukey post-hoc
tests indicate that the control group showed a significant increase
in scores on the "attitude" and "lateness"
subscales (crit. diff. = .13, p < 0.01). They also showed a
significant decrease in scores on the "complexity" and
"editing" subscales (crit. diff. = 0.13, p < 0.01).
The experimental group showed a significant decrease on "attitude"
(crit. diff. = 0.119, p < 0.05), "complexity," "lateness,"
and "blocking" (crit. diff. = 0.13, p < 0.01), but
not on editing.
The two questionnaires, although superficially similar, have been analyzed differently to provide two views on changes in student apprehension and behavior when using a computer. The first questionnaire, the Daly-Miller WAT, gives a single index of writing apprehension. The WAT scores indicated that the experimental groups tended to have less apprehension than the control groups, although the effect was not significant. The significant effect, the interaction between language × time interaction, indicated that the first language writers increased in apprehension between the beginning and end of the semester while the ESL writers showed no change. It may be that ESL writers generally are so apprehensive about their writing that they have already reached their ceiling on the WAT. If the questionnaire is a valid measure of writing apprehension for both ESL and native English writers, it appears that computer use alone does not reduce overall apprehension for either first language or second language writers.
The WAQ, rather than measuring apprehension, may be taken as a measure of different attitudes and behaviors that may lead to writer's block. Phinney (1991), using the same questionnaire, indicated that using a computer to write did reduce blocking behavior for ESL students on all the subscales except "editing." That result is replicated here, despite the smaller sample size. The control group in this study also showed decreases in "complexity" and "editing." This may indicate that the ability to deal with complex material may improve with writing experience, regardless of the tools used.
It is worth noting, however, that apprehension about "editing", an area in which computers are supposed to be beneficial, decreases in the control group but not the experimental group. This result was also found by Phinney (1991). Because editing on a computer is so easy, it may actually increase premature editing rather than decrease it.
For the first language writers, using the computer did not seem to affect blocking behavior as measured by the WAQ. Although they did show differences in the blocking subscales, which is only to be expected, their scores did not change significantly in the post-test, nor were there any significant differences due to treatment.
These results suggest that the second language writers benefitted from using computers to write more than first language writers, at least in their attitudes as measured by the WAQ. However, computer use for this population did not reduce overall apprehension as measured by the Daly-Miller WAT.
One possible source of variance in this study is the unavoidable differences between institutional population and teaching methods. Because neither institution offers both ESL and English computer-assisted composition courses, the comparison between languages could only be made by sampling from both programs. Although many students transfer between EPCC and UTEP, the composition programs and the student populations are not identical. Secondly, the lab configurations and the instructors' orientations are different. The native English writers at EPCC did not attend class in the lab; the ESL students at UTEP did. It is possible that the ESL students spent more time actually writing on the computers and, therefore, show greater changes in their behavior. The hardware and software used may also be a factor; discussions with the instructors indicated that the EPCC students used the style-checking routines of WRITER'S WORKBENCH more than the UTEP students used the corresponding routines in WRITER'S HELPER.
This study also suffers from the limitations of any self-reporting questionnaire. We are not dealing with observed behaviors. Because students are asked to recall what they did "when they wrote their last paper," the data are only as reliable as individuals' memories; students" responses may also be colored by their expectations about the questionnaire and the class itself. Secondly, language is also a factor. The ESL students were responding to questionnaires written in their second language; the English students had the first language advantage.
Finally, questionnaires like the WAT and the WAQ can give measures for groups of students, but they are less reliable for identifying individual reactions and behaviors. Students vary considerably in the way they approach the writing process and in the way they integrate their strategies with the tools they use. Continued research on the way first language and second language writers handle writing apprehension and use computers to write should focus on the individual as well as groups of writers, using multiple observation methods to confirm changes in attitude and apprehension levels.
The results of this study underscore the need for further examination
of the long-term effects of writing with a computer and the interaction
of experience, language background, and attitudes toward writing.
With computers now an indispensable tool in many first and second
language writing classrooms, research on the ways students adapt
their writing strategies to these new tools can help us in focusing
our teaching as well.
Marianne Phinney teaches at the University of
Texas at El Paso.
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Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.
Directions: Below is a series of statements about writing (in
English). Please indicate the degree to which each statement applies
to you by circling whether you (1) strongly agree, (2) agree,
(3) agree somewhat, (4) disagree somewhat, (5) disagree, (6) strongly
disagree with the statement. Some of these statements may seem
repetitious; just take your time and try to be as honest as possible.
Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.
Directions: Below are twenty-four statements about what people do or how they feel when they write. Under each is a five-point scale describing degrees of agreement or disagreement with the statements. Please circle the number that best describes your agreement or disagreement with your own writing behavior.
For example, if the statement reads "I write standing up,
like Hemingway." and you rarely or never write standing up,
you should respond in the following way (your answer would be
Obviously, you will not be graded on your answers on this questionnaire.
Therefore, you can feel free to report candidly what you do and
feel when you write. Again, don't report what you would like to
do and feel but what you actually do and feel. As you work through
the questionnaire, you might realize that an earlier response
wasn't right. If that happens, it is OK to go back and change
your answer to make your response more accurate.