Thursday, 3 December 2009

Literacy Trust Technology and Literacy

Just read a fascinating piece of research from the National Literacy Trust about technology and literacy. ( The whole thing is well worth reading if you have interests in either technology and learning or the development of literacy in young people.

The Trust surveyed just over 3000 9-16 year olds and asked them a whole variety of questions about writing, technology and their own abilities with writing. About 20% of the youngsters were on free school meals and so the survey sample includes more of these kinds of young people than the national population. In other words the results probably don't just represent the views of a bunch of posh kids.

If the survey is accurate, technology is providing these young people with enormous opportunities to write that didn't exist when I was a child. '75% of young people said that they write regularly' (p. 4) in text messages, instant messages, in blogs and on social networking sites. After a quick survey of the staff here, (the other person in the office) it turns out that the only writing we did between the ages of 9-16 was at school or the painfully drawn out and tedious writing of thank you cards for birthday and xmas presents. It would be hard to argue, in the face of this research that technology is a force for harm in the development of literate young people.

The research states it finds 'a link between blogging and (self-reported) writing ability and enjoyment of writing' (p. 4) in the executive summary, but is careful to point out in the main body that 'it may just be the case that young people who have a blog have one because they enjoy writing' (p. 34). Indeed this is a problem for anyone trying to ascribe positive impacts for technology on attitudes or self-confidence from a survey such as this; the causal relationship could run either way.

The research shows a big gap between boys and girls in almost every dimension of the survey. The results show boys don't enjoy writing as much as girls, they ascribe more negative characteristics to writers and they rate themselves as worse at writing than girls. The fact that 'boys were more likely than girls to agree with statements that writing is boring (57% vs. 41%)' (p. 5) seems particularly important. It's hard not to think that this attitude is behind much of boys poorer performance than girls across a number of subjects. At my CLC we are exploring ways to increase engagement and enjoyment of writing using computer games. This research makes me think that this is a good thing to be doing.

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