Apps for the Writing Process

When I thought about what apps might be useful in class, I started by thinking about what tools I use when I am in the process of writing papers and if those would translate to the class and be helpful to my students.

This habit is not entirely related to paper writing, but I do read a lot of online blogs and articles. A lot of the things I read are unrelated to class/academic issues (like what Katy Perry’s most recent outfit was), but I do happen across many interesting articles and essays on world issues, technology, education, and other issues that can relate to what my students read and discuss in class. Aside from printing out articles to give to them or posting the link on Blackboard, I think using a bookmark sharing service that all of the students could access or add things to could be beneficial in showing them the broad amount of quality writing on the Internet. We use Delicious for this seminar, but I use Springpad for my personal use. I prefer Springpad because it is a cleaner interface and you can organize and bookmark things pretty easily into different folders, and those folders are shareable. Springpad is also available as an app, and since it is a website too, you can access it from any computer.

This is what my Springpad homepage looks like.

I also found this recent article about writing apps from The five apps they list are designed to make writing projects easier. The apps seem to focus on long writing projects and creative writing projects, and these apps are really programs for your computer instead of your smartphone, but for writers who tend to get very distracted during the writing process (i.e. me), these apps might be useful in that they put the focus on the writing process. The app that looks the best is Scrivener. What this app does is offer an easy-to-use interface that streamlines and organizes the writing process. It looks like users can organize writing into folders that could be chapters of a book or an entire project. The app also offers outlining features and a way to organize research. For my students relatively short papers, an app like this would be overkill, but it does give me ideas of how to help my students make the research process simpler (and how to eliminate distractions during my own writing process!).

The Downside of Augmenting Human Intellect

To be honest, a lot of the technical information in this chapter went over my head, but Engelbart’s ideas did make me reflect on how we process information and how that might impact our students’ writing process. Last week we discussed some about whether or not technology and the Internet affect our decision making, and some of that conversation can carry over to Engelbart’s ideas.

Englebart discusses how he organizes and compiles information on these little cards, and that is what the Internet does for us now. Key words and search terms dominate much of how we find what we want on the Internet, whether it is cute photos of pugs or a news article, and I find myself categorizing information in my brain by key words or groups sometimes.

Englebart points out that categorizing and compiling is a much more efficient way to keep and look back at information, but he was not working with the amount of information we can get from the Internet today. Depending on how you use the Internet, you could become stuck in an overwhelming “technology loop” as seen in the Portlandia sketch linked above, and I wonder how this affects our students in how they write papers and research information. I believe part of the effect is detrimental. Many students are used to quickly searching through a few links to find what they need, which is research is so boring and a “waste of time” to them.








The New Industrial Revolution 2.0

“The new industrial revolution which is taking place now consists primarily in replacing human judgment and discrimination at low levels by the discrimination of the machine.The machine appears now, not as a source or power, but as a source of control and a course of communication. We communication with the machine and the machine communicates with us. Machines communicate with one another.”

I just finished grading a set of essays from my 1304 students, and many wrote a response to different essays about technology, including Carr’s “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Most of them responded that the greater efficiency that the Internet provides us more than makes up for any negative intellectual influence that our Google habit causes (these students’ grades provide evidence to the contrary, however). I agree with them that efficiency is a great benefit of the Internet, and after reading Wiener’s above idea about “The New Industrial Revolution,” I tend to believe that he was correct in this prophecy about how our habits would change. Much more than a communication device, the Internet is also a decision maker.

This decision making power of the Internet is an advertising selling point for the Bing seach engine:

Bing Commercial–Decision Engine

Bing commercials highlight both the overwhelming abundance of information on the Internet and the ability that this search engine has to help the user make a good decision quickly. However, instead of the user making the decision, the search engine actually makes the decision based on what information it decides to give the user, so what seems empowering is actually further evidence of our reliance on the Internet.

Teen Blogging–Good for Anxiety?

I recently attended a session for graduate students about managing stress and keeping perspective during graduate school. During this session with Dr. Jim Marsh, he mentioned that, at Baylor, they are seeing a higher number of students with depression and anxiety then they ever before. Over 40% of the students coming in for counseling cite struggles with either depression or anxiety.

This week, I came across this post from Slate about teen blogging and how it could possibly benefit students as a way to alleviate anxiety, so I wondered how that would apply to our students. The author, Caitlyn MacNeal, says that recent studies have shown that public journaling may be better for teenagers then private journaling, specifically because public journaling allows for commenting, which was shown to improve the blogger’s “negative emotions” and help them handle difficult situations in their life better. Blogging is a way to facilitate learning in the class and building writing skills, but I hadn’t really considered it to be a form of classroom therapy.


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