Social Media Makes for Better Student Writing, Not Worse, Teachers Say

Many teachers find that social media makes students engaged, creative writers.

ByABC News
July 16, 2013, 9:37 AM
How are cellphones and texting affecting students' educational performance?
How are cellphones and texting affecting students' educational performance?
Getty Images

July 16, 2013 — -- Occasionally, Jennifer Woollven, an English teacher at West Lake High School in Austin, Texas, finds some Twitter speak -- a FWIW or an "ur" -- in a paper. But most of the time she finds that her students are paying a lot more attention when it comes to their writing assignments, especially when they know it might be shared via Twitter itself.

"As an English teacher who is trying to improve student writing, one thing I see is that people are seeing greater ownership of their writing when they know it will be seen beyond the class and the teacher," Woollven, 40, said.

She has many of her 10th-grade students post their essays and creative-writing assignments on blogs.

Woollven's students aren't the only ones who have found motivation, thanks to digital tools and social media. A study released today by the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project and the National Writing Project has found that 78 percent of high school teachers agree that digital technologies "encourage student creativity and personal expression."

And to add to that, 96 percent agree that digital technologies "allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience."

Encouraging Collaboration, Creativity

Joel Malley, 38, has found the same thing in his ninth- and 12th-grade English classes at Cheektowaga High School in upstate New York.

"It creates a culture of creativity," he said. "They know it will be watched and viewed. It won't just sit in a closet," Malley said of his students' digital story-telling projects, which include everything from blog posts to documentary videos.

Kristen Purcell, the director of research at Pew's Internet & American Life Project, said other middle and high school teachers shared that the use of social media tools has sparked more creativity in students.

The Pen that Aims to Correct Bad Handwriting and Spelling Errors

"Some teachers view social media as another avenue for creative expression," Purcell told ABC News. "Most teachers told us they wouldn't consider texting or tweeting as formal writing, in the strict sense, but they used the term pre-writing. Students start to express their thoughts and that means students are writing more and they see that as a plus."

Malley also has his students use Google Docs to write and share their writing with him and their classmates. The collaborative word processing app, which allows users to see the editing in real-time, has allowed students to peer-edit and also speed up the writing process. And Malley isn't the only one using apps to teach writing.

Pew found that 50 percent of the teachers surveyed say the Internet and digital tools make it easier for them to teach writing; 18 percent say they make it more difficult and 31 percent see no real effect. With all that tech, though, 94 percent of the teachers encourage their students to write by hand.

Pew surveyed 2,462 Advanced Placement and National Writing Project teachers across the country for the report.

Effect on Analysis and Spelling

But it's not all positive. Both New York's Malley and Austin's Woollven, who participated in the Pew study, shared that while it isn't a pervasive problem, students do mistakenly use shorthand or texting language in papers and assignments.