Most of the technology used in high school English classes is not revolutionary. Instead it is simply a transfer of format. The pen and paper tests my students used to take are now loaded into a digital format on our learning management system. While it saves me a lot of time grading and provides me with instant usable data, the experience of assessment changed very little for my students. Most of the test questions moved from paper to the cloud. The same is true for essays. Students used to write their essays on paper. Now they type them. True, they have more access to technological help, like spellcheck and grammar filters, than in the days of paper essays, but the process is mostly the same. Citing a Edutopia summary, Ryblyer (2016) noted, “Simply adding any technology to any learning environments does not necessarily improve learning” (pp. 22). I would argue, it also does not necessarily change learning either.
However, technology has changed the way students craft research papers. There are some elements that are similar: physical note cards become digital note cards and looking up information in Readers’ Guides has changed to looking up information on databases. On the other hand when I wrote research papers, I struggled to find sources. My students have a different problem; they have too many sources and need to evaluate those sources for validity and usefulness. Technology has led them to need different skills when researching than I had to have when I was their age. Ultimately, these changes have created new literacies students need, beyond simply being able to locate and read a source (Roblyer, 2016).
My students are using Noodletools as the digital framework to create their research papers. This website allows them to import sources in MLA format directly from databases. They no longer have to ask themselves which publisher or date or editor they need to include in a citation. Similar to how the calculator changed the every day work of math students, a website like Noodletools takes care of the every day work of writing a research paper. Whether to put a comma or a period after a title is not something students need to spend time considering with technology’s help. That frees the students up to focus on more analytical concerns like the quality of their research. One feature of Noodletools allows students to create an outline and then drag their note cards to specific sections or sub-sections of that outline, merging their research with their organization. As a result, my students clearly see the connection between the information they need and the information they have in a way they did not before. Yesterday we built our outlines in class, and I enjoyed hearing the comments around the room. “Man, I thought I was ready to write this paper, but I have no research about local controversies about my book.” “How am I going to argue the book should not be banned when most of my research is about why the book is controversial?” “Mrs. Decker, can I go talk to the librarian? I need help finding out about the educational value of my novel.”
New technology in research writing is leading my students to developing new literacies like filtering down a list of 12,000 sources and deciding which information can be depended on for reliability. It is also leading them to asking their own questions about their research, instead of waiting for me to ask those questions.