A Review of Bad Ideas About Writing, Edited by Cheryl E. Ball and Drew M. Loewe

Table of Contents About Us References

Chapter 7: Bad Ideas About Writing and Digital Technology. Review by Renee Ann Drouin

Relatively brief compared to most other chapters, “Bad Ideas About Writing and Digital Technology” nevertheless offered meaningful challenges towards our understanding of the relationships between writing, digital technologies, and authors. The five included essays featured diverse arguments, such as that computer and phone texting deteriorates students’ literacy and grammar skills. Others argued against the presumed harmlessness of including technology and gaming in the composition classroom. Further included is a nuanced analysis of the oft mentioned terms, “digital natives” and “digital immigrants.” Considering the scope of writing and digital technologies, it is hardly surprising to note the diversity of included myths and the difficulties in finding shared themes and audiences, as I will discuss further.

“Texting Ruins Students' Grammar Skills” by Scott Warnock and “Texting Ruins Literacy Skills” by Christopher Justice were markedly similar in content, evidence, and audience. This observation is not necessarily a condemnation but proof of how easily the public, especially older demographics, attribute apparent skill loss to technology, necessitating confrontations of the myth within Bad Ideas About Writing. The intended audience of these pieces was the general public and those unfamiliar with how technology impacts our classrooms. Because of the audiences’ lack of familiarity, Warnock and Justice dedicated time to thoughtful historical overviews of how we use grammar, perceptions that grammar and literacy get worse with each generation, and an exploration of how technology consistently alters our writing styles. Justice’s writing especially extended the audience to the subjects to modern students by considering the traditional (rhetorical) and technological skills developed through texting. Arguably the two sections with the most similar topics, their grouping together in the chapter allowed the evidence of one to strengthen the argument of the other and succeed in delivering compelling arguments that transcended the initial audience of the public and include students and teachers.

The later sections of the text, “Gamification Makes Writing Fun” by Joshua Daniel-Wariya and “The More Digital Technology, the Better” by Genesea Carter and Aurora Matzke, pivoted from the non-academic audience to a teaching audience, shaping the sections around educators with precious few suggestions of use for others. Daniel-Wariya’s prior writing on the concept of play gave a unique lens to the piece, as it shaped successful gamification as the integration of play rather than of fun. Harmful gamification prevents students from recognizing difficulty because of their hyperfocus on fun. Despite Daniel-Wariya’s research in the concept of play, gamification, as a term and as a usage, remained broad and ill-defined in his piece. Further, instead of integrating more conversation about gamification in his chapter, he used the future reading to address scholarship about finding ways to incorporate gamification in the writing classroom. Differentiating between play and fun, and how few essays are offered on the topic of technology, creates an obvious gap in other meaningful integrations of gaming in the composition classrooms, ones not rooted in combating myths that gamification equals fun equals ease but how games foster specific, diverse skills in students. Similarly, the writing by Carter and Matzke was for instructors, covering the dilemmas of including so much technology in the classroom, particularly in light of scholarship warning how harmful and distracting it can be to students. Their solution to the myth advocating for more technology was instead first figuring out what they require their students to learn and then seeing if technology can help. With the vast majority of their section devoted to raising awareness of the harm in using technology, the lack of time devoted to furthering beneficial ways of including it is obvious.

Each section confronts an important myth on the connection between technology and writing.

Alexander’s “Digital Natives and Digital Immigrants” presented a diverse, transformative analysis of the rhetoric behind the eponymous terms, also used in prior sections. Arguably, Phill Michael Alexander’s efforts not only encapsulated the purpose of Bad Ideas About Writing (confront harmful myths to a broad audience) best, but also challenged misconceptions outside of writing through looking at the terminology we attribute to it. As he explained, the words “native” and “immigrant” have complex connotations (native as in made for them, immigrant as foreign) but, as he demonstrated in the naivete of many digital natives and fluency of digital immigrants, “We have always written, and we will always write. To assert that whole generations either own or are alienated from the technologies used for writing is a needless limiter that attributes false mastery and fosters a sense of futility” (p. 327). Alexander, continuing his writing to all audiences, outlined means of confronting these connotations and our behaviors in trying to term people native to digital writing. Though different from prior sections, Alexander was a fitting conclusion to the chapter, reminding us that for all the myths we have in technology’s relationship with writing, technology shares the ability to shape us, and we share the ability to track how it does.

As described, each section confronts an important myth on the connection between technology and writing. That said, due to the omnipresence of technology in our writing classrooms and public perception about writing, the lack of space devoted to technology could potentially lessen the overall longevity and impact of the chapter. I recognize Bad Ideas About Writing encompasses numerous myths with limited space, and that my own observations of apparent gaps are subjective to my own priorities. Yet, in reflecting upon alternative topics not included, I am increasingly aware of what has been prioritized in the chapter and what has been neglected. Multimodal writing, collaborative writing fostered by digital technologies, benefits and constraints of social media usage within classrooms aside from texting, among other concepts, are barely acknowledged, if at all considered. Collaboration was included throughout discussions of myths about bad ideas. Due to the emphasis within digital writing on how collaboration is hindered and furthered by such technology, a brief inclusion addressing potential myths could have benefited any section. Admittedly, online courses, seemingly a requirement in noting technological writing myths, were discussed in chapter 8, Bad Ideas About Writing Teachers,” as were Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), but their placement prioritizes harmful ideas about the teaching of online writing, not necessarily the technological ramifications. These concerns do not mitigate the strength of the arguments themselves but instead point to potential futures or ways we can also address technology and writing.

“Bad Ideas About Writing and Digital Technology” should be judged on how it addresses the themes of Bad Ideas About Writing and which problematic ideas it attempts to confront. While many, such as Alexander, strongly advocated for us to understand a problem and transform our ideas, others prioritized argument and personal belief in how it should be addressed rather than a broader review of scholarship. Regardless of the topic, however, each included section achieved the goal of Bad Ideas About Writing by finding a harmful myth and explaining how we can do better, an improvement often offered by technology.