Perhaps the greatest benefit is students’ engagement in their work in electronic environments. Most students enjoy using computers even to write essays, and incorporation of MOOs, bulletin boards, and email in the writing classroom generally results in more interest in participation and, therefore, the production of more text. These benefits are likely goals we have for students in any classroom environment.
When students engage in conversation through text, not only do they produce more text, but their awareness of audience increases. They are likely to think more about how to communicate a particular point to a particular reader after they have had some conference or email experiences which required them to clarify and negotiate meaning. This kind of awareness is often more difficult to develop in the traditional classroom when students are producing the conventional essay for the “general reader” whom they have had little or no experience imagining, given that their real audience has been one or more teacher-evaluators.
As students converse in these environments, we often see not just a more genuine student voice in their writing but the playful construction of multiple writerly identities. Conscious play with self-portrayal develops their awareness of matters such as the tone they can create through their word choice, syntax, etc.
Such play often results in a realignment of authority in the classroom. Any teacher who has used a synchronous computer environment has learned that the teacher’s voice is only one of many. This results in classroom discussion that may feel chaotic (see Taylor) compared to traditional face-to-face classroom interaction. However, students are usually more invested in their exchange of opinions than they are in teacher-regulated class discussion, more students get the opportunity to speak in the same period of time, and student authority may ultimately be taken more seriously by both teacher and peers. (These phenomena also emerge, in less chaotic appearance, in asynchronous conferencing and class listserv discussions.) The establishment of the student’s authority as a writer is a goal of writing instruction.
Electronic environments contribute substantially to a collaborative and intertextual writing environment. It is easy for students to work on texts together; indeed, any electronic conference is necessarily a collaboratively produced text. Referencing each other’s texts and Web documents is as easy as cutting and pasting. In such environments, students can develop threading and synthesizing skills as well as distributing meaning over short units of text.