The Internet Is Making Writing Worse

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Bad news for teens and tweens! A new Pew Research survey of teachers around the country found that today's digital technologies like the internet, texting and social networks make middle school and high school students likely to perform a number of academic atrocities, including using informal language in formal papers and plagiarizing. Students also have trouble reading long texts and forming complex arguments. So basically, everything everyone suspected is turning out to be true.

But it's not all bad news. Live tweeting Teen Wolf  and texting during third period isn't going to teach anyone to think critically about texts, but the new digital outlets are, according to the survey, "facilitating teens’ personal expression and creativity, broadening the audience for their written material, and encouraging teens to write more often." And that's good. Your unlimited texting plan is still kind of an investment in your future. The survey found that:

  • 96% agree (including 52% who strongly agree) that digital technologies “allow students to share their work with a wider and more varied audience”
  • 79% agree (23% strongly agree) that these tools “encourage greater collaboration among students”
  • 78% agree (26% strongly agree) that digital technologies “encourage student creativity and personal expression”

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But "collaboration" and "personal expression" aren't everything. In fact, "collaboration" might mean copying and pasting paragraphs from Wikipedia and (since you probably didn't finish reading the book, anyway) CliffsNotes. Eighty-eight percent of teachers said they spent class time “discussing with students the concepts of citation and plagiarism" and 75 percent said they had to teach their kids about copyright infringement. Teachers said students did not cite their sources well, and kindly blamed it on "how easy it is for students today to copy and paste others’ work into their own and how difficult it often is to determine the actual source of much of the content they find online." Nearly 50 percent of teachers rated their students' ability to "construct a strong argument" as fair or poor and 31 percent of teachers rated their students' ability to digest long or complicated text as poor, which means there probably are a lot of mediocre essays on the symbolism of the green light in The Great Gatsby. Not that there weren't before, but now it's easier to plagiarize, too.

Grammar was the one thing teachers just couldn't seem to agree on, specifically how well our students are using it. Forty percent of teachers said new technologies made students more likely to use poor spelling and grammar, while 38 percent said they made students less likely to. That's hard to explain, but it might just be that spell check can only do so much.

Despite chat-speak turning the brains of our nation's youth into silly putty, 50 percent of teachers said the Internet and digital tools made it easier for them to teach writing. That doesn't gel with all the complaining they're doing, especially since the vast majority of teachers surveyed, 94 percent, think students should write more by hand, but w/e. According to the report, "teachers say they feel students do more active thinking, synthesizing, and editing when writing by hand, and writing by hand discourages any temptation to copy and paste others’ work." So if anyone under the age of 18 still owns a lead pencil, now would be a good time to use it.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.