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.