Is Twitter Making Kids Smarter?

(Photo: Jemimus)

(Photo: Jemimus)

In the Globe and Mail, Clive Thomas argues that all the time kids spend on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs may be making them better writers and thinkers.  Thomas cites the work of Andrea Lunsford, an English professor at Stanford, who recently compared freshman composition papers from 1917, 1930, 1986, and 2006 and found that, while the average rate of errors hasn’t changed much since 1917, students today write longer, more intellectually complex papers:

In 1917, a freshman paper was on average only 162 words long and the majority were simple “personal narratives.” By 1986, the length of papers more than doubled, averaging 422 words. By 2006, they were more than six times longer, clocking in at 1,038 words – and they were substantially more complex, with the majority consisting of a “researched argument or report,” with the student taking a point of view and marshalling evidence to support it.

“Student writers today are tackling the kinds of issues that require inquiry and investigation as well as reflection,” Prof. Lunsford concluded.

Lunsford believes the shift is partially driven by all the “life writing” (long emails, posts on TV discussion boards, blog posts, etc.) students now do outside the classroom.  “They’re writing more than any generation before,” she says.

Of course it is also possible that there is no causal relationship whatsoever between all that “life writing” and those freshman comp essays, as approximately 1 billion other factors (including, as Thomas points out, higher educational standards and better information availability) may also have contributed …

(HT: The Daily Dish)

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  1. Jared says:

    No way does this have anything to do with social media

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  2. AJ says:

    2006 appears to be too early for FB and Twitter. Google and blogging on the other hand probably come into play.

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  3. Kevin Pellatiro says:

    Is data from 2006 the best determination of Twitter’s mainstream influence? Has the length and complexity exploded since 2006 in correlation with the expanding reach of social media sites?

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  4. Enter your name... says:

    It ought to be easy to test: compare the 2006 kids to 1996 kids, and split the 2006 kids according to their actual use of social media.

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  5. Jason Altabet says:

    If they had compared students who tended to use a lot of social media to those who did not, or even tracked how over the last several years where social media really exploded freshman did compared to when they had access to the internet, but less social media, something could be said. However, none of that was done, so this seems to really show absolutely nothing.

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  6. Rajat says:

    It seems to me that standards have gone up. More students are applying for colleges, meaning schools can be more selective on who they can choose. Students are forced to improve their writing if they want to compete while the universities can choose the cream of the crop.

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  7. Shane L says:

    Neil Postman’s 1985 book “Amusing Ourselves to Death” warned that the spread of television, a visual and emotive media, at the cost of the printed word, was damaging society in a number of ways. I’d love to know what Postman would have thought of the internet, rich with imagery and sound, but where text has also restored its dominance in surprising ways.

    In this case, though, I can imagine that academia has become more compartmentalised in the last century, and general articles unsupported by evidence and references probably just became less desirable as time went on. The students might have been forced to conform to these different standards.

    As for length of papers, many an observer has pointed out that brevity is the soul of wit.

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  8. slip mahoney says:

    I would not ignore the use of word processing programs. I know I was often too lazy to retype a paper in college, even though I knew it could be easily improved. Now rewrites/edits are a piece of cake.

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    • James says:

      It’s also much easier to do research online (even if it’s only pulling up a Wikipedia article), than to travel to a library and hunt through the stacks.

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