A number of academics believe that writing on the Internet, in all its varied forms, can improve student prose. Mark Bauerlein is not one of them. The professor of English at Emory University noted in his Brainstorm blog post on Saturday that “we don’t see any gains in reading comprehension for 17-year-olds on NAEP exams, the SAT, or the ACT,” referring to the battery of standardized tests taken by teenagers. If Twittering, texting, and the like really improved writing, Mr. Bauerlein argues, surely the tests would show some evidence.
He has made this point before, in a June 11, 2009, Chronicle article by Josh Keller about studies of writing on the Internet. He called claims of Internet-derived writing prowess “either grandiose or flatulent.”
That same article, however, described the Stanford Study of Writing, a five-year study of nearly 14,000 pieces of student writing, done for class and beyond it. Though final data analysis has not been done, early results indicated that in their Internet writings, students took pains to cultivate tone and voice, and to address a particular audience. “The out-of-class writing actually made them more conscious of the things writing teachers want them to think about,” said Paul M. Rogers, an assistant professor of English at George Mason University who is involved in the study.
As non-anecdotal evidence on writing skills creeps in, it could change the curriculum, perhaps banishing Internet-driven composition from the classroom, or perhaps encouraging it.