The impact of e-mail use on fourth graders' writing skills
The growing interest in computer use at home and in the workplace has led to the incorporation of computer skills into school curricula. Numerous claims assert the benefit of computers, but questions remain concerning the nature of that benefit. The increasingly widespread use of telecommunications raises further questions regarding the effect of computer-mediated communication on language development. Unfortunately, few rigorous studies have been conducted to provide evidence of the actual effect of e-mail on children's writing skills.
The data for this study are handwritten compositions, e-mail messages, and surveys/interviews collected from two schools, matched for demographic and academic variables. The experimental school used e-mail as a part of their curriculum, while the control school did not. The data were collected from fourth grade students and their teachers during 1998. All of the handwritten and some of the e-mail texts were responses to persuasive writing prompts, based on Texas Assessment of Academic Skills criteria. Discourse analysis methods were used to analyze these texts for language-focused features in the areas of amount of text, grammatical complexity, control of the mechanics of language, organization, argumentation, audience awareness, oral and informal features, and a composite score for the text. Statistical tests were then conducted to identify areas of significant difference between the schools.
Two comparisons form the basis of the study. In one, an e-mail composition. from the experimental school was compared to a handwritten composition from the control school. Results reveal that the experimental group performed better in the areas of audience awareness and argumentation. In the second comparison, handwritten essays from both schools were compared following three months of e-mail use at the experimental school. Results show that the experimental group demonstrated better writing overall and in the areas of audience awareness, organization, and text length.
These results indicate that e-mail use has a positive impact on the writing skills of fourth grade students. The benefits produced by e-mail use are attributed to the influence of interaction with an authentic audience and the educational and technological contexts for composition.
0710: Educational software
0524: Elementary education