Writing Week Update 1

On Day 5 of the Writing Week in the Faculty of Health at the University of Canberra I was fascinated to find a blog post entitled UK Study Links Technology and Writing Skills. The post notes the publication and findings of a report written by Christina Clark and George Dugdale (November, 2009) entitled Young people’s writing: Attitudes, behaviour and the role of technology.

The authors  note some of their key findings:

  • 75% of young people said that they write regularly. Technology-based formats were most frequently written. For example, 82% of young people wrote text messages at least once a month, 73% wrote instant messages (such as messages on AIM or MSN), and 63% wrote on a social networking site. Of non-technology based writing, 77% wrote notes or answers in class or for homework at least once a month followed by 52% writing notes to other people.
  • 56% of young people said they had a profile on a social networking site, such as Bebo or Facebook. 24% said that they have their own blog. While frequently vilified in the media as ‘dumbing down’ young people’s literacy, this research shows that technology offers different writing opportunities for young people, which is seen in a link between blogging and (self-reported) writing ability and enjoyment of writing.
  • Owning a mobile phone does not appear to alter young people’s enjoyment of writing, their writing behaviour or their attitudes towards writing.
  • Most young people said they used computers regularly and believed that computers are beneficial to their writing, agreeing that a computer makes it easier for them to correct mistakes (89%) and allows them to present ideas clearly (76%). Overall, nearly 60% of young people also believe that computers allow them to be more creative, concentrate more and encourage them to write more often.
  • Young people are ambivalent about their enjoyment of writing. 45% of young people surveyed said that they enjoy writing. However, enjoyment of writing is related to the type of writing being done. Young people enjoyed writing for family/friends more than they enjoyed writing for school, with over two-thirds of young people enjoying writing for family/friends and only half enjoying writing for schoolwork. Most young people agree that they enjoy writing more when they can choose the topic (79%).
  • Just under 9 in 10 young people see writing as an important skill to succeed in life, but this means that a sizeable minority (12%) do
    not consider it an important life skill.
  • When asked how good they think they are at writing, we found that there was an almost equal split between those who said that they are either very good or good (52%) and those who felt that they could be better or were not very good (45%). Young people who didn’t believe that they were good writers were more likely to emphasise the transcriptional aspects of writing. For example, the most common reason why young people think that they are not good writers is that they are not very good at writing neatly (23%), followed by them not enjoying writing very much (22%), not being very good at spelling (21%) or at checking their work (20%).
  • There were consistent gender differences throughout this survey. Boys lagged behind girls in more than just their writing skills. Boys did not enjoy writing as much as girls (38% vs. 52%), either for family/friends or for schoolwork. Boys were also more likely to rate themselves as ’not very good writers‘ than girls (48% vs. 42%) and to emphasise the lack of technical skills when explaining their self-perceived ability.
  • There were also consistent age differences in this survey, with a dip in enjoyment of writing, writing behaviour and attitudes towards writing at ages 11-14 .

Christine and George conclude that:

We believe it is paramount that the school curriculum reflects and utilises writing forms that young people enjoy and engage with, in order to demonstrate that writing is more than a compulsory task: it is an essential life skill.

Just after reading their  conclusion I received an email from two colleagues in Nursing Studies who have collaborated on a paper entitled Cultural tensions in the workplace: revealing implicit value assumptions about learning and teaching of undergraduate nursing students. The writer of the email observed that:

I have found writing week to be very frustrating at times, but then very rewarding when the words that you have just written ‘leap of the page with excitement’. The process of writing seems to be very cyclic going through the emotional whirlwind of yah and oh my god. However, in saying that I have learned an enormous amount and I am also very appreciative of my mentor.

I really like the idea of words leaping of the page with excitement and think that our experiences of writing this week should enable us to be sensitive to the biographical experiences that Christina Clark and George Dugdale have shared so clearly. I hope that the week has fostered a joy in writing that resonates with innovative approaches to writing exemplified in Everybody Writes initiatives.
One colleague, Leigh Blackall, has raised some fundamental issues about the ownership of writing.

  1. I propose that the University reviews its Intellectual Property policy so that Creative Commons Attribution be its default copyright for staff to consider using when publishing.
  2. This would provide staff with a consistent starting point with which to negotiate copyrights with publishers, and hopefully use it to retain their IP for other uses such as open access publishing.
  3. Should a publisher find this policy unacceptable, staff are able to enter into negotiations with the publisher toward restriction, with all rights reserved being the undesirable end point.
  4. I propose that the University become the first university in Australia to adopt this policy.

Leigh has written a blog post to explore these ideas.
On reading his thoughts I was reminded of Thucydides‘ observation that “the secret of happiness is freedom and the secret of freedom is courage”.

Photo Credits
In the Classroom
Letter Writing
Daddy’s Hands


  1. Keith,
    This is a wonderful post.
    I have felt for a couple of years that students (people in general) are writing more and improving their skills in a host of ways. Many colleagues feel that students literacy skills are in decline but this is demonstrably not true. They are certainly multiliterate in a growing number of ways.
    Once, writing was for ‘the few’ but a great renaissance is happening as growing numbers write for pleasure and to communicate online.
    I love your support of Creative Commons licenses for the staff of the university and hope the establisment accept the recommendations. How exciting! How groundbreaking!
    If @downes’ position, an intellectual and academic publishing freely online, can become the norm, your university will be a leader!
    Well done!
    Are you on twitter?


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