By Lamb, Annette; Johnson, Larry
Teacher Librarian , Vol. 39, No. 3
The 21st-century learner needs communication skills that transcend writing essays and technical skills that go beyond setting up margins for printing.
Young people must learn to write using a variety of technological tools, from iPad apps to multimedia generators. In addition, they need to be able to write cooperatively and collaboratively across subject areas.
If you're still teaching the basics of Microsoft Word and helping students with paper-based reports, it's time to think beyond 8.5 x 11 with 1-inch margins. Today's teacher-librarians must collaborate with classroom teachers to transform mundane writing assignments into engaging opportunities for 21st-century communication.
How can traditional writing assignments change through the use of new tools and technologies?
THE NEW WORLD OF WRITING
Let's start by going back in time to join the Lewis and Clark Expedition. They shared their adventure across America through journals filled with words, drawings, and maps. Although the original journals are safety stored away, anyone can access them online in the form of web pages or downloadable e-book documents. The Library of Congress has even created a website called Fill Up the Canvas: Lewis and Clark, where learners can explore the journals through an interactive timeline. Students using the U.S. Westward Expansion iPad app can journey on the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Today's young people have an ever-expanding set of tools for sharing their understandings and explorations of the world. An iPad app like Momento or Maxjournal brings journal writing alive for today's high-tech student by allowing writers to incorporate images and easily share their work online.
The History of Digital Writing
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Let's explore the history and current state of digital writing through five technology tools:
Word-Processing Tools. Word-processing software was one of the first popular software applications for the microcomputer. It allowed writers to easily enter, edit, and revise text. Word-processing software evolved to include images, audio, and even multimedia elements. However, the software is still primarily used to create pages that can be printed or shared electronically. Microsoft Word remains the most popular tool. However, such software as Pages for the iPad incorporates some of the unique features of the new technology, including online sharing.
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As you work with teachers to develop word-processing assignments, consider the features of word-processing tools. Does the assignment need to he printed, or could students submit a PDF file for grading? Could the page set-up be adjusted to generate trading cards, posters, or other interesting sizes of output? How could the sticky and audio notes features he used as part of writing, editing, or assessment?
Although some of the tools for tablets lack features, an app like MyWriting Spot contains the full range of writing tools, including a dictionary and thesaurus, spellchecker, and sharing. The app SmartNote provides a wide range of tools for writing, along with highlighting, sticky notes, audio notes, and other elements.
Visual Layout Tools. With the introduction of Mac and Windows operating systems in the 1980s, the computer became a more visual tool. Software such as page-layout tools, presentation tools, and hypermedia tools allowed writers to infuse visual elements into their work. Designs included complex print materials like folding brochures. By the 1990s, multimedia tools like PowerPoint and HyperStudio were created for the computer screen without the need for printing.
Think about the visual aspects of your assignments. Could the iPad camera be used to record still and motion images of a science experiment or a puppet show? These graphic elements could spice up a lab assignment or script-writing project. …