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Integrating Technology to Assist English 101 Students

With Their Essays

School and Population

The requirements for the Integrative Capstone Project will take place at a community
college located in Maryland. Involved in this project will be one teacher and 18 students taking
English 101. The students and teacher meet weekly in a face-to-face setting on Thursdays,
5:00pm – 7:35pm. The prerequisites for taking English 101 include: EN 50A and EN 52 or ESL
95 and ESL 99. Upon successful completion of English 101, students can earn three credit hours.
In English 101, students are presented the basic techniques of exposition through the composing
of essays and the study of prose models.

Teaching/Learning Problem

Many English 101 students struggle with the development of their writing skills. English
Composition is an essential college course because it provides a foundation for providing skills
(communication, writing, critical thinking, problem-solving, and time-management) that many
employers require of potential employees. After the completion of English 101, college students
are expected to demonstrate college-level communication skills by

• using appropriate stylistic options for a specific subject, audience, and purpose.
• organizing ideas effectively by selecting and limiting a topic.
• developing and supporting a thesis with relevant material.
• employing a logical plan of development.
• writing essays that are substantially free of errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics.

Target Group

Students involved in the Integrative Capstone Project all have plans to earn associates
degrees. The fields of study chosen by the students comprise general studies, nursing, criminal
justice, engineering, and nursing. Taking and passing English 101 is a requirement for each
degree plan. For those students majoring in nursing, they must earn a grade of B or higher in
order to be accepted into the nursing program.

As is the policy at community college, all new incoming students are required to take
comprehensive basic skills assessments in the areas of reading, writing, mathematics, and study
skills before they can be enrolled in credit-level course. The scores from the assessments are
considered when determining what class levels will meet the individual student’s needs. Prior to
registering for English 101, 16 of the 18 English 101 students took study skills assessments,
which gauged the following areas: concentration, reading/textbook use, time management,
memory, listening/note taking, motivation, and test taking strategies. In each category, students
could earn possible ratings of good, average, or poor. A breakdown of the scores is revealed by
the chart below.
Study Skills Results (2011)
Student Concentration Reading/ Time Memory Listening/ Motivation Test Total
Textbook Managemen Note Taking
Use t Taking Strategies
1 Average Poor Good Average Good Good Average Average
2 Average Poor Good Average Good Good Good Good
3 Average Poor Good Good Good Good Good Good
4 Average Poor Good Good Good Good Good Good
5 Average Poor Good Good Good Good Good Good
6 Average Poor Poor Average Good Good Poor Average
7 Average Poor Average Poor Poor Average Average Average
8 Average Poor Good Average Good Good Average Average
9 Average Poor Good Average Good Good Average Average
10 Average Average Good Good Average Good Good Good
11 Average Poor Poor Good Average Good Average Average
12 Poor Poor Average Poor Poor Good Poor Poor
13 Poor Average Average Average Good Average Average Average
14 Good Good Good Good Good Good Good Good
15 Good Good Good Good Good Good Good Good
16 Good Poor Good Average Average Good Average Good


In the first class meeting, the writing process and how to develop a five paragraph essay
were discussed. There was open discussion about what is defined as a well-written college essay.
Several students shared that they had not written essays in years and argued that the requirements
for college writing frightened them. Others discussed their feelings of anxiousness when they
took the writing portion of the college placement exams. Overall, the students unanimously
agreed that they dread having to write essays because they do not know how to choose topics,
locate relevant support materials, and steer clear of grammatical errors.

In preparation for the second class meeting, students were asked to study their notes
(writing process and how to develop a five paragraph essay) and to be prepared to write a
diagnostic essay in the second class meeting. Moreover, students were encouraged to seek
tutoring (Writing Center) or instructor assistance (face-to-face, Skype, or email) prior to meeting
for the second class.

At the second class meeting, the writing process and how to develop a five paragraph
essay were reviewed. There were 16 students present for class. Students were given 90 minutes
to write a diagnostic five paragraph essay about a topic of choice. The results of the task varied.
One student wrote a seven-paragraph essay, eight students penned five-paragraph essays, three
students created two-paragraph essays, and four students did not start the essay due to writer’s
block. After the submission of the diagnostic essays, students were asked to address five
reflection questions:

a. What went well?

b. What did not go well?
c. What did you learn?
d. How do you know you learned it?
e. What assistance will you utilize to help you with your English 101 assignments?

It was the consensus of the students who were unable to complete the assigned task that
some form of tutoring or instruct assistance would have better prepared them for the diagnostic
essay. With further discussion, the students revealed that time and geographical locations
prevented them from seeking support from the Writing Center. Students were also shared freely
some their reasons for not seeking instructor assistance, ie afraid of technology, forgot to contact
the instructor, too much trouble, etc.


Writing is an essential skill that promotes communication, critical thinking, and problem-
solving. Students are not only expected to master the key objectives of English 101, they are
expected to communicate what they know, both in class and in their present and/or future
professions. When students fail to gain mastery of the objectives, they are left without the skills
that many employers require of potential employees.

Relative Advantage of Technology-based Solutions

The students involved in this study are unable to take advantage of the services offered
by the Writing Center due to their work schedules. Skype, a free Web-based technology, has
several advantages. First, students will benefit greatly from Skype because it will help students
overcome the physical and geographical constraints associated with visiting the Writing Center.
Second, the students can conference with the instructor during virtual office hours. Third, during
the peer review phase, students can use Skype to read aloud their essays to the instructors and/or
peers. Last, when compared to sending an email, a Skype conference allows for a greater
dissemination of information.

A second technology-based solution is the free, Web-based tool known as Google Docs.
During the writing phase, students would benefit from continuous collaboration, peer editing,
and revision of work. Unlike regular email and any confusion associated with it, the utilization of
Google Docs allows students to upload their essays and receive ongoing peer and instructor
feedback. With Google Docs, students can work on any document at the same time.
Background Research

Klages, M. A., & Clark, J. (2009). New Worlds of Errors and Expectations: Basic Writers and

Digital Assumptions. Journal of Basic Writing, 28(1), 32-49. Retrieved from


Klages and Clark talk about the digital divide. They remind readers that the divide was
once based on unjust economic and educational computer access. However, the term now
addresses the supposition that all students will come to the class proficient in new technologies.
Since the digital world encourages grammatically incorrect writing, the authors argue that while
digital natives may be tech-savvy, they still must learn writing and critical thinking skills.
Additionally, digital natives must learn to switch between formal and informal writing. A third
point made by Klages and Clark is that students are quick to compose and publish. Taking into
consideration the writing needs of digital natives, Klages and Clark had their students develop
digital portfolios. The use of the portfolios helped students to value the writing process, to offer
and receive feedback, and to reflect upon their writing abilities.

Sweeny, S. M. (2010). Writing for the Instant Messaging and Text Messaging Generation: Using

New Literacies to Support Writing Instruction. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy,

54(2), 121-130.

Sweeney discusses cloud computing as an option to facilitate collaborative online

writing. Cloud computing are applications managed by the provider(s); the user needs
only a computer and Internet access. An example of a cloud computing application is Google
Docs. Users of Google Docs can create documents collaboratively and store them on Google’s
server. The documents can be accessed by multiple users. Students use a variety of technologies
that many schools do not use. The complex digital information associated with the technologies
differs vastly from the traditional pencil/pen and paper world. Since Google Docs has a
collaborative process that may encourage students to write, students anticipate and expect to use
the Internet. Therefore, teachers have to take steps to add new literacies to writing instruction.