Technology to Enhance Research Writing

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.


6 thoughts on “Technology to Enhance Research Writing

  1. Excellent blog post, Dana!

    I enjoyed reading how your students use technology to enhance their research paper writing. Your post clearly communicates how using technology prepares students for the future and equips them with the skills they will need to succeed, such as how to filter through a massive amount of resources and how to analyze their work instead of being hung up on the technicalities of formatting. This is exactly why technology integration should almost always be a learning objective in a lesson plan.

    I am also wondering how accurate is NoodleTools when it comes to citations. I have noticed that some tools, such as Zotero or EasyBib, don’t always catch certain citation formatting rules. Because of this, I have found that it is always good to doublecheck your technology tool’s “work” before the assignment is submitted.

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    1. Ben, Noodletools has two paths to creating citations. The first is through importing or copy/pasting, which is only as correct as the original source. The second option is for students to input the citation themselves with prompting by Noodle tools for the necessary information.

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  2. I can sympathize with your students on the struggle of narrowing down sources. It can be overwhelming to filter through results. You mention that while technology has some beneficial tool uses, such as spell check and grammar filters, it has not been revolutionary for research writing. Is there a facet of the process that you feel could be enhanced further with technology? I am hard pressed to think of something myself. Writing is such a personal process and unique to the individual, I can’t imagine that technology can intervene much more than it does.

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    1. I think the revolutionary component of digital essay writing is the editing tools available to students. I had a group of students working on editing a group writing activity in my history class, and one of the students was home with strep throat. Because of sharing capabilities in Google, that student fully participated in editing the assignment even though she was contagious and at home. Also, a number of students can simultaneously edit, which didn’t happen in world of paper essays.

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  3. Hi Dana,
    I enjoyed reading your post and agree with much of what you wrote! I teach social studies, but we research and write so often that it frequently mimics language arts. Technology has taken us on a new road of literacy!

    I’m curious about how your LMS evaluates student writing. Grading writing and giving timely feedback is so difficult because it is a time intensive process (at least for me). Does it search for key thoughts?

    Thanks for your sharing your experiences!

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  4. Our LMS does not evaluate student writing. We do use Turnitin as an external tool to our LMS which edits and marks grammar and mechanics, but it does not evaluate student writing. Some of the tools we use simplify and speed up the grading of essays, but it is still a massive time suck in the life of a teacher.

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