High school and college term papers are “old literacy,” while blog posts are “new literacy,” writes Matt Richtel in the New York Times.
“This mechanistic writing is a real disincentive to creative but untrained writers,” says Cathy Davidson, a Duke English professor and author of Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. Instead, her students “publish 500- to 1,500-word entries on an internal class blog about the issues and readings they are studying in class, along with essays for public consumption.”
Across the country, blog writing has become a basic requirement in everything from M.B.A. to literature courses. On its face, who could disagree with the transformation? Why not replace a staid writing exercise with a medium that gives the writer the immediacy of an audience, a feeling of relevancy, instant feedback from classmates or readers, and a practical connection to contemporary communications? Pointedly, why punish with a paper when a blog is, relatively, fun?
Because, say defenders of rigorous writing, the brief, sometimes personally expressive blog post fails sorely to teach key aspects of thinking and writing. They argue that the old format was less about how Sherman got to the sea and more about how the writer organized the points, fashioned an argument, showed grasp of substance and proof of its origin.
In 2011, 82 percent of first-year college students and a majority of seniors weren’t asked to write a single paper of 20 pages or more, according to the National Survey of Student Engagement. In 2002, 80 percent of high school students weren’t asked to write a history paper of more than 15 pages, reports Will Fitzhugh of the Concord Review.
“We’re at a crux right now of where we have to figure out as teachers what part of the old literacy is worth preserving,” says Andrea A. Lunsford, a professor of English at Stanford. “We’re trying to figure out how to preserve sustained, logical, carefully articulated arguments while engaging with the most exciting and promising new literacies.”
Students love writing for an audience, she’s concluded. Instead of spending a term writing a research paper, her sophomore students turn out a 15-page paper in the first few weeks.
Once that’s done, they use the ideas in it to build blogs, Web sites, and PowerPoint and audio and oral presentations. The students often find their ideas much more crystallized after expressing them with new media, she says, and then, most startling, they plead to revise their essays.
So, it takes time to develop ideas? Who knew?
I’m an old-literacy gal who’s been blogging for 11 years now. I started in mid-January, 2001. There’s a big difference in organization, argumentation and content between a set of PowerPoint slides, a blog post, an essay and an academic paper.