Level Up Your Humanities Classroom with Writing Technology
With the advent of the Internet and smartphones, technology has become a constant presence in our society (including in the classroom). As instructors, we must ensure that technology enhances—rather than hinders—our students’ ability to learn, explore, and think critically.
In the humanities classroom, appropriately used technology can especially benefit the writing process, from preliminary research to drafting to feedback.
As an English major and proud bookworm, I do miss the days of roaming through hushed libraries, seeking answers in the pages of thick books. I’m especially nostalgic for the old days when my students found information on Wikipedia or cited sources filled with “alternative facts.”
Still, if we teach our students to research effectively using the Internet, it’s hard to argue with the speed, convenience, and wealth of information available. Point your students toward digital library databases like JSTOR, which provides access to books, primary sources, and over 2000 academic journals.
Students can also utilize Google Scholar. The process is essentially the same as a Google search, but results focus on scholarly research, making it more likely that students will find credible sources.
When compiling large amounts of research, my students have found the online research tool Zotero useful as well. It helps students conveniently store, organize, and cite research. For collaborative projects, Zotero also allows students to share their findings with peers.
Planning and Drafting
After compiling research, students plan and draft their essays, perhaps the most challenging step in the writing process. Fortunately, technology can help.
Introduce your students to Mindmodo, a free online mind-mapping tool that allows students to organize, connect, and brainstorm ideas. For those who struggle with writer’s block, Mindmodo can help shake loose interesting ideas and connections to provide some much-needed inspiration.
If you like to assign partner or group humanities-based projects, your students can use Google Docs to collaboratively draft a paper. Google Docs allows students to store, share, and permit others to edit documents online. Classmates can ask questions or provide feedback to group members using the comment feature.
Editing and Proofreading
While planning and drafting cause students the most difficulty, editing and proofreading is the step that students most often overlook entirely.
But why do students struggle to revise their work? Perhaps they feel they’ve already invested plenty of time and effort into writing the paper, or maybe they’re unsure what to revise. I also find that students want the agency and creativity to express themselves how they see fit, without correction or revision.
WriteLab is an online writing tool that encourages students to continue improving their work by asking questions, offering feedback, and providing suggestions for revision. Feedback focuses on grammar, clarity, concision (removing unnecessary words), and logic.
Despite offering valuable sentence-level feedback, WriteLab does not impede students’ agency in the writing process. Students are able to dismiss comments and utilize only the feedback that they feel will enhance their paper.
When do you prefer to provide feedback on your students’ writing? Some instructors require students to submit a rough draft, receive teacher feedback, and then submit a final draft as well. Others expect students to craft multiple drafts and submit a polished final product that will receive feedback.
Either way, specific feedback is the most effective way to help improve students’ writing and should not be overlooked.
Many instructors, myself included, struggle to provide timely feedback. Too often, students have forgotten about the paper and moved on before they receive our comments. When students do receive their papers, they tend to focus on the grade rather than on the comments we’ve spent hours writing.
WriteLab can help in this area as well. Students can upload papers, review feedback, and revise, ensuring that you receive a highly polished version of their work. This makes providing feedback of your own a faster and easier process.
You can also use WriteLab to supplement your own feedback. Students can receive immediate feedback from the software and later receive additional in-depth comments from you.
Additionally, students sometimes feel uncomfortable or even upset with teacher feedback. These students may be more receptive to input from software.
From start to finish, technology can help your humanities students through the writing process. The tools mentioned here are not crutches, but resources designed to help students organize, share, and enhance their writing.
How do you incorporate technology in your humanities classroom? We’d love to hear your input in the comments section.