Over the course of the last decade, student writing has become more entwined with digital and computational methods. Writing may have started with tablets made of clay, but now it’s synonymous with a laptop and the ubiquitous Word.
The internet has vastly expanded the number of writing jobs available, from working at an essay writing service to conducting SEO research. As such, digitalization has been largely positive for students. There are increased job prospects to go along with the more mundane writing tips and hacks.
Previously, students would find themselves limited to a selected number of examples and past papers on which they could grade their performance. With the advent of the internet and digitalization, the number and availability of exemplary pieces of scholarship has dramatically increased.
Any good student knows that, like artists, the best are good at stealing. By this we clearly do not mean plagiarism, which digitalization has helped make much harder to pull off. Instead we refer to the multitudes of discussion forums, databases, and search archives which are available at the stroke of a few keys.
These online writing tools allow students to compare and contrast their work with others, and can also help with research by combing through bibliographies and literature reviews. This greater diversity of the written word is inherently a good thing, more is better.
Digital writing encompasses all forms of communication, not just the graded bits. For students, the link between themselves and their teaching staff is vital – as the pandemic has shown – for more reasons than just studying. Help is only ever a click away, whether it’s seeking advice on a forum or directly contacting a professor for a one-on-one tutorial.
Going further into the online writing ecosystem, students can access proofreaders, editors, and supplementary researchers to aid with their work. Student writing that takes place at a doctoral or postgraduate level can especially benefit from these professional services. Many academics find themselves moonlighting in these roles as a way to make extra money, so it’s possible to get first class help at any time, and at competitive prices too.
College education is very expensive, digitalization has made the cost of reproducing materials very cheap, and has given new meaning to the word ‘piracy’. When combined, these two factors have led to the creation of MOOCs, massive online open courses, where anyone can sign up and learn something at little to no cost.
MOOCs are perfect for students, or wannabe-students, who need either an extra boost in their course or want to try something completely different. Taking coding courses is obviously a huge aspect of computer based learning, but MOOCs exist in every flavor of academia. History, art history, sociology, law; and that’s just the institutional courses.
YouTube has become a hotbed of educational resources over the last ten years. There are now thousands of channels which offer courses in unique subjects that are delivered by passionate teachers. The informal writing behind these videos is highly entertaining and makes learning fun.
When we take other humans out of the digital equation we can see the benefits on education wrought purely by technology. The advancement of machine learning and UX/UI has led to the creation of many useful and time-saving platforms.
Grammarly is especially noteworthy, you’ve probably seen the adverts. It’s a spelling and grammar checker that’s beating the rivals pretty comfortably. With the premium version, the software is able to look at your text and grade it according to tone and sound. This is in addition to highly reactive and insightful grammar checks and the power to re-write whole phrases if they sound a little off.
While the free version isn’t quite bulky, there are other marvellous digital tools for writing. OpenAI, a foundation started by Elon Musk, researches artificial intelligence and has drawn some startling conclusions about writing; namely that it can be done by a computer to a very high standard.
GPT-2 and GPT-3 are available to download from GitHub, but they have also been made into web-based applications that allow users to get a robot to do their work for them. Student writing could now become the domain of the machine.
The pandemic has levelled the playing field in some respects. Students who previously enjoyed health and a capacity to rove anywhere they please are made to experience life with limitations. As internet speeds improve and webcams become clearer, it’s possible for students to attend classes from anywhere.
As this trend becomes normalized, it will make it far easier for students with disabilities to partake in education. With the pandemic in mind, it will also make it possible for students who are sick to attend virtually – thus reducing the chances of getting their classmates and tutors sick too.
Digitalization has reached beyond virtual classes though, the speed at which technology has progressed means that cyborgs now live among us. Voice recognition software and text-to-speech facilities make it so that everyone has a voice. At least, they have a better chance of having a voice than 30 years ago.
The crux of the question is whether digitalization really makes a difference in education, or is it a product of a hype-machine? Arguably, the benefits of digitalization in education are multiple. It is the distribution of these benefits that is the greatest problem. For those who can access digital education it is a boon, something to fallback on and to use when there is a spare moment.
But for those who don’t have access, they suffer from the digital gap, which is a proxy for attainment and success in life. For digitalization to truly make education easier for students, it has to work for all of them. Leaving behind those who cannot afford technology at home will only serve to undo the good work of teachers, lecturers, and tutors.
About the author:
Amanda Dudley is a member of EssayUSA where she helps students with essays. She is also the proud holder of a PhD. Her academic work focuses on American and World History, but her passions extend to developing educational methods and techniques for students with learning difficulties.