3.1128 machined writing, cont. (65)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Fri, 2 Mar 90 22:44:21 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1128. Friday, 2 Mar 1990.

Date: Thu, 1 Mar 90 21:38 EST
From: BML@PSUARCH.Bitnet
Subject: further on computers and writing

I am forwarding comments on the Halio article from Davida Charney in the
English Department here at Penn State.
(per Bernie Levinson, Religious Studies)
= = = =

I have read the article and consider Halio's research shoddy to say the
least. Academic Computing is not a refereed journal--I seriously doubt
that her research would have passed reviewers who took empirical
research methods seriously. What she did was to analyze and compare
writing samples from freshman writing classes in which students used
Macintoshes to write papers to those from classes using IBM-PCs. She
claims that students writing with Macs had many more grammatical errors
and 'decorated' their papers, rather than taking language seriously.

The problem with the research is that the students themselves chose
which class to take and therefore which computer they would use.
Obviously, under these conditions, any number of factors might have
skewed which students enrolled in which classes. For example, students
with stronger visual than verbal facility might have chosen Macs because
their greater graphics capability is well known. Or weaker writers
might have chosen Mac classes thinking that Macs are 'easier' and
wishing to avoid learning a more difficult system while struggling to
learn to write. Halio could have tested some of these possibilities by
looking at average GPAs or Verbal SAT scores for students in the two
kinds of classes to see if the students' 'base-line' abilities were
roughly equivalent--but she did not.

In short, without having randomly assigned students to computers, she
should not have drawn the conclusions she did. The students who wrote
poorly on Macs (according to her very narrow criteria of writing, by the
way) might have written just as badly--or even worse--using IBM-PCs.

We chose Macs for our writing classes because we believed that they
would be easier for students to learn and would allow us to raise
sophisticated issues of graphics and page design. Our assumptions about
the advantages of Macs have been borne out by our experience training
both teachers and students and using the Macs in the
classroom--currently we offer over 100 sections of writing each term,
involving nearly 50 teachers and 2000 students. As an experienced user
of both IBMs and Macs, I have never seen any evidence that using Macs
deteriorates one's syntax or leads to more frivolous thinking.
Certainly, I know of no teachers of English 202 who have complained of a
decline in grammar or other writing skills since the introduction of

Davida Charney
English Department,
Penn State University
University Park, PA 16802
(814) 865-9703