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Using Technology in Class

BestPractices-Writing Instruction

Why should teachers use technology such as E-mail in their basic writing courses?

E-mail (Electronic Mail)

Email provides an excellent way for teachers to communicate with their students as they develop their writing processes. It can also allow students to submit assignments through individual e-mails and discuss questions and ideas with both the instructor and other students in the class. Below are some benefits of integrating e-mail into the classroom.

  • Email gives students and teachers freedom from time constraints

Teaching in areas of language development is often a frustrating enterprise because “the time frame for an individual instructor is frequently very short” (Sternglass 3). With the use of e-mail outside of the classrooms, teachers will be able to hold E-office hours (E-mail office hours), giving students the time they need to ask questions, get feedback, and make connections without feeling the pressed for time. “Given sufficient time and support, students who start at basic writing levels have the potential to succeed and do succeed” (Sternglass 4).

  • E-mail enhances academic writing

Some argue that e-mail will pull students’ attention away from the conventions of academic writing because their focus will shift (Goodfellow et al 25). Others, however, have explored the way that using e-mail helps increase students’ focus on academic discourse. Research has shown that students tend to be more cautious about word choice, grammatical errors, and content when they are writing on-line. Since students will write to a “real” audience, (more than just the instructor) “this sense of audience motivates them to write more carefully and to be more accountable for their writing” (Abdullah 3). Therefore, by using e-mail, teachers can make an impact on their students’ development of academic writing.

  • E-mail greatly improves communication skills

Some basic writers are afraid to share their thoughts and ideas with in the classroom setting. E-mail is much less threatening and informal. The use of e-mail creates a “safe” space for them to share thoughts that they sometimes think are not important enough to ask in front of the class. By incorporating e-mail, teachers will allow the unlimited space for dialogue to occur more frequently (seeing that the time and space is enormous). In result, students will heighten their communication abilities as well as their writing skills. The more they communicate the more proficient they will become (Greenberg 92–3).

  • E-mail motivates students to want to engage in dialogue with one another

Since e-mail eliminates the “non-threatening atmosphere in which writers feel less inhibited about expressing themselves,” students not only communicate with one another more than they would in a regular class setting, but they also tend to write more (lengthy) responses. It allows students to interact synchronously or asynchronously while promoting participation, increasing students’ interest in using e-mail (Abdullah 3).

  • Collaborative learning will increase, which will also improve students’ sense of ownership

Michele Fero discusses the pressure students feel when they believe the instructor is their only audience. She states, “Writers, in this class, will not be given choices or an audience beyond instructor…the writer is not an important part of the writing process” (11). Therefore, when students don’t write to an extended audience, the scope of writing becomes very limited (Fero 11). Not only will the use of e-mail offer direct communication between students and teachers, but it will also allow students to collaborate with one another and discuss issues they have pertaining to assignments. This process will allow basic writers to have far more freedom, choice, and authority in their writing. Yagelski echoes Ong’s thoughts in Literacy Matters, stating that the use of technology “intensifies the sense of self and fosters more conscious interaction between persons” (150). Moreover, electronic communication will lead to an increase in class-related interaction. The use of e-mail will reduce the dominance of students who are vocal in classrooms (but less so electronically), therefore becoming a confidence builder for less verbal students and lead to a more balanced participatory and thereby a more democratic environment.

  • Some students can overcome social isolation

Basic writers need to feel as though they are a part of the university and not just writing to fit into a discourse (as Bartholomae suggests in “Inventing the University”). Rodby echoes Bronfenbrenner, implying that students’ ability to learn relies on “the nature of ties between school and home.” Therefore, in order for students to excel in the writing process, teachers must include “writer, text, context, and function” in their pedagogy. (Rodby 48). Thus, the integration of e-mail would be fruitful for basic writers because it could allow them to be a part of a community (a technology community), dismissing the feeling of social isolation. Thus, students would be able to “bridge the gap between home and the university via email.” Email, then, would allow students the opportunity to engage in a learning environment, using both text and context that motivates and promotes writing development (Delaney 3).

How can teachers integrate technological strategies such as E-mail into their basic writing classes?

  • By introducing E-mail to students during the first class

If teachers want to use e-mail, they should make sure that they inform students from the beginning. Teachers can go over specific guidelines, as well as email etiquette. http://www.writerswrite.com/journal/dec99/pirillo1.htm (this site offers some simple, yet beneficial guidelines for e-mailing)

  • By making their e-mail addresses available

This is something a teacher can include on the syllabus and verbally encourage students to use whenever they feel the need.

  • By setting up a mailing list- and then sending them (students) messages

It’s important for teachers to be a part of this process as well. One way is to create a mailing list that includes all students’ email addresses. Once created, teachers can send a message, idea, or questions for discussion to the entire class.

  • By encouraging them to e-mail questions, ideas, etc. to students and the instructor

One way to encourage students is by posting a question for discussion to the mailing list. The instructor can then allow the students to form pairs where they can answer the question and communicate via e-mail. In addition, students can share their views with the instructor and even ask for feedback.

Annotated Bibliography

Abdullah, Mardziah Hayati. “The Impact of Electronic Communication on Writing.” ERIC Digest, ERIC Clearinghouse on Reading English and Communication: Bloomington IN, 2003. This article examines the effects of electronic communication has on students interactions with one another and the way they communicate their writing. The author also discusses potential disadvantages of using e-mail.

Blase, Dean Woodring. “A New Sort of Writing: E-mail in the E-nglish Classroom.” The English Journal 90.2 (Nov 2000): 47–51. This article talks about the many benefits of using e-mail in the classroom. While the focus is on high school students, the information provided is also beneficial for basic writers.

Collins, Terence and Melissa Blum. “Meanness and Failure: Sanctioning Basic Writers.” Journal of Basic Writing 19.1 (2000). The article focuses on the issue of access socially and economically challenged women face while attempting to continue their education.

Delaney, Edward J. “What Have We Learned From Our Electronic Mail Experiences in the Classroom? http://faculty.washington.edu/~krumme/projects/jghevers.html This article offers great information about effects of email communication. In addition, the author talks about the increased level of interaction and collaborative communication in his classroom due to the use of email.

Fero, Michele. “Defining the Indefinable: What Basic Writing (Is)n’t? This article focuses on the definition of basic writing and how it has evolved over the years. The author points out both the pros and cons of how teachers view basic writing and what it should consist of in the basic writing class.

Goodfellow, Robin et al. Students’ Writing In The Virtual University.” Doing Literacy Online: Teaching, Learning and Playing in an Electronic World: Hampton Press, New Jersey, 2004. This article focuses on the connection between writing assessment and online discussions. It explores two universities and the results of student’s written text done online through an academic literacy perspective.

Jordan, Cathy-Akers. “Implications for College Writing Teachers: Using E-mail in Writing Classroom.” http://spruce.flint.umich.edu/~cakers/implications.htm This on-line article talks about the integration of e-mail and give suggestions as to how students can enjoy writing while having fun in the classroom.

Rodby, Judith. “Contingent Literacy: The Social Construction of Writing for Nonnative English-Speaking College Freshman.” Generation 1 Meets College Composition: Issues in the Teaching of Writing to U.S. Educated Learners of ESL. Mahwah,

NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999.

This article talks about the effects technology has on ESL students.

Sternglass, Marilyn, S. “Students Deserve Enough Time To Prove That They Can Succeed.” Journal of Basic Writing 18.1 (1999). In her article, Sternglass emphasizes the importance of time students need to become great writers. This article highlights the outcomes of one student case study and how that student develops personally, professionally, and academically.

Yagelski, Robert. Literacy Matters. New York: Teachers College Press, 2000. This book deals with the questions and concerns of literacy. From technology issues to local literacies and sponsorship, Yagelski discusses the complexity of literacy and how educators must tackle it.

Yancy, Blake Kathleen .“The Pleasures of Digital Discussions: Lessons, Challenges, Recommendations, and Reflections.” Teaching Writing With Computers. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2003. This article advocates the use of e-mail, listservs, and e-office hours in the classroom. Yancy discusses the impact technology can have on college students. In addition, she shares the challenges she faced when she integrated the use of technology in her pedagogy.


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Page last modified on April 26, 2006, at 10:17 PM