#H809 What Are Effects of ICT on Writing? Wrong Question!

Only a few papers per module truly change the way you look at a topic, through the clarity and profoundness they build their thesis.  The second reading in week 8, from Crook and Dymott (2005) is such a paper.  It looks at the effect of ICT on writing in an undergraduate course.  By teasing out the question and showing that writing as an activity comprises much more than entering letters on a screen, it explores a wide range of effects.

Consider the text you are currently reading. Composing the preceding paragraph certainly involved keyboard tapping and screen staring: activities that perhaps could be photographed as ‘me writing’. However, much more was involved than those simple behaviours. There was the business of distributing attention. This applies to the screen, the keyboard, and a set of paper notes. But also – because of a social interruption – it applies to the screen and other forms of event on the periphery. Writing is organized (it is located and scheduled) to be in a useful harmony with this periphery: sometimes exploiting it, sometimes needing to be insulated from it. (Crook and Dymott, p.96-97)

The paper explores the difference between a traditional psychological approach and one inspired by socio-cultural theory.  Crook and Dymott discuss some limitations (in their view) of traditional psychology.

In traditional psychology, with the individual as unit of analysis, the question would relate to:

  • isolation of design features (‘isolating the skill from its users’)
  • set up experimental design:  ‘approaching ICT as a convenient cluster of independent variables’
  • focus on outcomes (‘narrow behavioural repertoire‘)
  • little concern for processes
  • separation of literacy skills (writing, reading, searching and selecting…)

In socio-cultural psychology,  writing is considered as a cultural practice with ICT and writing mutually constitutive.

  • writing is considered as a rich, complex system of activities, incl. reading, searching, note-taking, discussing, reflecting…
  • writing is individual acting with mediational means (echoing Vygotsky)
  • writing inherently connected with technology (pens ,paper, computer…)
  • focus on revealing structures underlying practice
  • focus of inquiry is on the processes of learning and on meaning making in social settings.
  • research in authentic processes rather than designs:  ‘Most seem to concern themselves with the control of so many variables that the resulting experimental task bears little resemblance to the activities most of us routinely perform as ‘reading’. (p.100)
  • methods: observation and analysis (diaries, interviews, activity logs), complemented by controlled forms of study
  • simple generalisations about singular effects are inappropriate, individually determined

Crook and Dymott compare the introduction of ICT with the introduction of guns.  Guns don’t ‘strengthen’ or ‘amplify’ the killing of animals, rather they change the process and relations in the community.

Case study: writing by undergraduate students

Five aspects of the writing process are discussed and how ICT affects them.

1/ text on screen

  • Numerous differences between paper and screen
  • Does a computer screen facilitate or inhibit writing (issues of legibility, global structure text, skim reading)?
  • Depends on individual factors (prior experiences…)
  • Affordances: derive not fromtechnology per se, but from its relation with person (Different from original meaning of affordances, coined by Gibson)

2/ text on network

  • interactive dimension of writing (management of document access; attentional commitments to sources)
  • writing more in 1 location: disturbance of socially-distributed nature of writing.  (differences between writings by students with and without network access)
  • multi-tasking: ICT creates additional layer of alternative possibilities

3/ text as electronic traffic

  • text more easily sent and received
  • sharing of notes and work (individual differences)

4/ text and the website

  • changes in notions of audience: sense of genuinely writing for others is important to cultivate
  • make learner activity within classroom visible
  • vicarious learning from access to work of peers

5/ dialogue around text

  • proceduralisation of feedback (e.g. use of standard forms)
  • create a sense that a social exchange has been reified
  • mechanisation of communication
  • marginal scribbles and summary comment: convey a sense of authentic dialogue with the reader


Crook, C. and Dymott, R. (2005) ‘ICT and the literacy practices of student writing’, In Monteith, M. (ed.), Teaching Secondary School Literacies with ICT, Maidenhead, Open University Press., pp. 97–113.



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