Maureen O’Connor notes growing evidence that, instead of rotting kids’ brains, “technology is making [them] smarter by encouraging hyper-literacy”:
As writing becomes technically easier (try writing 1038 words by hand) and information more abundant, students not only get better at schoolwork — but improve writing and critical thinking skills in their free time. Further studies suggest that 40 percent of student writing occurs outside of the classroom, “everything from penning TV recaps to long e-mail conversations to arguments on discussion boards.” When schools encourage students to blog, the hobby can have a powerful effect on verbal test scores; social feedback motivates students to finesse their rhetorical skills.
When I started blogging – writing as clearly, briefly and colloquially as possible – I worried that my ability to write longer essays or books would suffer. The brain muscles associated with longer compositions, structured essays, or book-length arguments like Virtually Normal might atrophy. My writing might become what Leon Wieseltier would derisively call typing (even as I have never witnessed a faster writer than Wieseltier).
But I was wrong. What it did was help me unclog some of my longer pieces and books – I wrote The Conservative Soul while blogging round the clock – and make them clearer and more succinct. The thing about blogging is that it forces you to stop throat-clearing, its chatty, provisional nature mandates simplicity and clarity, and it punishes long-winded guff. I’ve found that the writing skills of interns improve much faster with blogging than they did with old media writing – and I’m lucky enough to have witnessed both in action as a one-time editor of The New Republic and as the pied piper of the Dish. In other words, Evgeny Morozov could do with blogging more. It would help his writing.
Clive Thompson expands on how educators are catching on to the benefits of blogging:
One reason students phone in their school assignments – and only halfheartedly copy edit and research them – is that they’re keenly aware that there’s no “authentic audience.” Only the teacher is reading it. In contrast, academic studies have found that whenever students write for other actual, live people, they throw their back into the work – producing stuff with better organization and content, and nearly 40 per cent longer than when they write for just their instructor.
Smart teachers have begun to realize they can bring this magic into the classroom. In Point England, New Zealand – a low-income area with high illiteracy rates – the educators had long struggled to get students writing more than a few sentences. So they set up blogs, had the students post there and, crucially, invited far-flung family and friends to comment. At first, the students grumbled. But once they started getting comments from Germany and New York, they snapped to attention.