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Writing with the Computer: A Malaysian ESL experience

by Sabariah Md. Rashid Universiti Putra Malaysia & Melor Md. Yunus Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia

Abstract
Computer technology has played a vital role in the current era and is widely endorsed in our society. Its introduction to the ESL classrooms coincides with developments in pedagogical theory and in our understanding o writing which shi ted its ocus rom product!oriented" teacher!controlled approaches to a learner!centred in the classrooms. #he use o computer programmes such as the word processor is an e$ample o the shi ting paradigm in writing classrooms. Many ESL instructors have" in general" agreed that the word processor is a motivating orce in writing. It encourages and motivates students to go through their writing process% rom generating ideas" te$t revising" pausing" re lecting" editing" and collaborating. &s students go through their writing process with the computer" they may adopt various strategies to acilitate them in completing a writing tas'. #his paper reports on a survey o a group o undergraduate ESL students( e$perience writing with the word processor in a computer!based writing course. #he indings are discussed in light o implications or teaching ESL writing.

Introduction The problem in the ESL writing classroom More o ten than not" most ESL students would cringe when assigned to a tas' o writing. &lthough students may go through the process o several steps" starting with generating ideas )via various sources and methods*" revising" getting eedbac' rom various readers" and re!writing" many ESL students still ind writing a daunting tas'. In general" it is o ten the elaboration o ideas that would normally stop them on their trac'. &lthough there may be ideas or acts derived rom a brainstorming session or a mind!map that can be incorporated into their writing" o ten" the ideas e$pressed would lac' depth. #he struggle to produce the complete te$t becomes more comple$ i the writing tas' re+uires students to argue some topic or even drive a point home. Such a problem is compounded by the students( incompetence in English. #oday" than's to the availability o the computer which provides acilities such as the word processing programme" as this tedious tas' can be tac'led head!on. In Malaysia" the use o computer programmes such as the word processor has become increasingly popular in higher institutions. Many students have mastered the word processing s'ills and bene ited rom using the word processor" or instance" in completing ______________________________________________________________
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their academic assignments. #he possibility o using the word processor in writing has given new challenges to ESL instructors" in particular" writing instructors. &s we are preparing and producing 'nowledgeable and s'illed wor' orce or the new millennium" it is timely that students be encouraged to use the word processor in tac'ling the tedious ESL writing tas' Literature !e"iew Why use word processor in ESL writing# ,riting" an essential s'ill in learning" is a laborious s'ill to master. #o produce e ective writing re+uires the students to go through a comple$ process% to e$press" restructure" and organise ideas clearly" economically" and e ectively" whereby o ten" the tas' itsel can be a solitary -ourney. .or ESL learners" this tas' is made more di icult" as they have to write in a language that is not their mother tongue. Many ESL writing instructors have" in general" agreed that computer programmes such as the word processor seems to acilitate individuals in completing their writing tas'. #he word processor is seen as an ideal tool to increase the ESL learner(s motivation and help them during the various phases o the writing process. Some good points highlighted on the word processor are that it% acilitates editing with the touch o a 'ey and via its power ul editing capabilities )/udley!Marling" 01234 5liver" 0116* eases the physical re+uirements o writing and revising )7.S. 5 ice o #echnology &ssessment" 0122*4 enables certain errors to be corrected without recopying every word )8eeisert & .utrell" 0113*4 allows young writers to develop their writing and language s'ills more readily )9rownell" 011:*4 and permits learners to increase the amount o time spent on being actively involved in the learning process );oc'ell & Schwart<" 0122*.

5ther orms o support rom the word processor include overcoming illegible handwriting" con erencing about assignments" e$tending the length o assigned writing" and overcoming ear o errors. !esearch on the use o$ Word %rocessing in Writing #he possibility o integrating the use o the word processor into writing has spurred many researchers to unravel its bene its and e ectiveness in writing. #his is evident in the accumulation o research conducted on this area in the last two decades. &mongst the ocus o the research are on =+uality o writing" length o compositions" number and 'ind o revisions" and students( attitudes toward writing> )9angert!/rowns" 011?4 Roblyer et al." 01224 Silver and Repa" 011?*. #his paper" however" will limit itsel to a review o studies on student attitudes toward writing with the word processor and how it a ects revision in writing.

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Studies on e ects o the word processor have reported positive changes in student attitudes toward writing )Rodrigues" 01234 @urth 012A4 Collis" 01224 Montague & .oncesca" 01164 Boole" 0113*. Rodrigues )0123*" or instance" pointed out that there was a decrease in apprehension about writing amongst her basic writers. #he students were also reported to be increasingly independent and con ident in writing. #his was envisaged as an important implication or students( uture education. @urth )012A* also reported a signi icant improvement in student attitudes toward writing when using the word processor. In a review o various studies" Collis )0122* ound that a ma-ority o the students illustrate positive attitudes toward writing with the word processor. In general" it appears that word processing has had a positive impact on student attitudes toward writing. Beterson )011?* summarised that generally" studies on student attitudes toward writing has come to the same conclusion" i.e. the use o computer has made writing more en-oyable or people o di erent ages and disciplines. Boole )0113*" or instance" made the ollowing conclusions about his review o the research on word processing and revising% motivation to revise was increased" more time was spent on revising" compositions were reread and revised more re+uently and more readily" and inal dra ts were longer. In act" it has been pointed out repetitively that one o the greatest advantages o a word processor is that it =ta'es the drudgery out o writing> )Roblyer et al." 0122*. /espite the bul' o research in this area reported in the literature" a study on the use o word processor in ESL writing among students in Malaysia is still lac'ing. & study o the role o the word processor in ESL writing in the local conte$t is thus timely" as the indings will assist the development o training programmes or the teaching o ESL writing in Malaysia. %urpose o$ the Study #his study ocused on e$amining ESL students( perception o writing with the word processor. #he research +uestions addressed in the study are% 0. :. ?. ,hat are the advantages o writing with a word processorC Dow does the use o word processor help them in their writing processC /oes the use o word processor help them improve their writing s'illsC

Methodology Sub&ects #he sub-ects comprised seventy!seven inal year 9& English students registered in the Computer!9ased writing course at 7niversiti Butra Malaysia. #hey were o intermediate to advanced pro iciency level" representing the three ma-or ethnic groups in Malaysia" Malays" Chinese" and Indians. #heir age ranged rom 01 E :3 years old.

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Instrument & two!page +uestionnaire was used to elicit data on students( perception o using the word processor in writing. #he +uestionnaire comprises ive +uestions" which re+uired Yes/No responses and si$ open!ended +uestions. The Writing Course #he course" Computer-Based Writing" was o ered to the undergraduates ma-oring in English as a 6 credit hour elective in the Fovember :GG0 Semester. #he contents o the course include teaching the students the various word processing s'ills" some o the more advanced techni+ues that can help them in their writing and ta'ing them through their writing process using the word processor. Speci ically" in this course" students had hands!on e$perience during class hours and they were re+uired to complete two assignments )a short essay and a short story" which re+uires collaborative wor'* using the word processor. #hey had to undergo various stages o the writing process be ore the submission o their inal products with the help o the course instructor. In addition" another short evaluation on writing was also given in the orm o an in!class word processing tas'. #hroughout the duration o the course" students were reminded not to worry about various issues pertaining to their writing process such as minor presentational errors and sloppiness that relates to ideas. Dowever" they were encouraged to ma'e the most e ective use o the word processor such as wor'ing with multiple windows and the split screen acility" using the glossaryHauto te$t as they proceeded with the chec'ing o errors but using the spelling and grammar chec'er at a later stage" and printing the document out rom time to time so that they could view it as a whole. 9esides this" students were also given consultation time or providing eedbac' on their contents" organisation o ideas" and language accuracy in their writing. 'ata Collection %rocedure #he +uestionnaire was administered at the end o the semester during class hours. &t this point" the students had already completed the course. #he researcher was present to clari y any +uestions pertaining to the completion o the +uestionnaire.

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!esults and 'iscussion

#able 0 shows the percentage o students( perception o writing with the word processor.
#able 0% Students( perception o writing using the word processor
Statements 0 : ? 6 3 #he word processor helps them in their writing process. ,riting on computer is better than writing on paper. #he word processor helps in improving students( writing s'ill. #he word processor motivates students to write. #he word processor helps students become better writers %ercentage YES F5 1I.0J )A6* 16.2J )A?* 1?.3J )A:* 20.2J )I?* 36.3J )6:* ?.1J )?* 3.:J )6* I.3J )3* 02.:J )06* 63.6J )?3*

&s seen in #able 0" in general" ma-ority o the students have positive perception o the use o word processor in writing. #his is illustrated in the high percentage o responses to almost all the statements in the above table )1I.0J" 16.2J" 1?.3J" 20.2J*. Speci ically" it is encouraging to note that the students ound that the word processor helped them in their writing process and in improving their writing s'ills. In addition" they also indicated that writing on the computer was better than writing on paper" and the word processor also motivated them to write. Reasons given by the students include the ollowing categories% 0. :. ?. 6. 3. editing purpose using tools such as spelling chec'er" thesaurus ease o ormatting convenience o composing economical value E less time spent and less tiring en-oyable and motivating

& scrutiny o the reasons given or supporting their responses in act illustrates that ma-ority o the students elt that writing on the computer helped them edit their wor'. Some o the comments made by them are as ollows%
=9ecause by using computer" I(m able to identi y my grammarHspelling immediately and there are some suggestions to improve those mista'es...>. =It helps me to present my wor' )essay* neatly>.H>I can write con$idently because I can depend on the computer to correct my mista'es>. =It actually sa"es a lot o$ time and headache" instead o retyping" one can always cut and paste>.

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=I could easily copy and paste my wor'. I could easily change the vocabulary. I could easily import clipart. Could get help rom Delp menu and could understand more about the eatures>. =Editing would be much easier and we may 'now how many words has been typed by using the word count>. =Editing is much more easier and it can be done very +uic'ly" as the grammar or spelling mista'es are highlighted>. =I can re er other page at the same time using split window>.

In contrast to the overwhelming responses to statements 0!6" the percentage o responses to statement 3 illustrates an almost e+ually distributed percentage o students. ,hile 36.3J o students agreed that the word processor helped them become better writers" another 63.3J responded otherwise. &mongst reasons given by the students include the ollowing%
=#he ,B only help me with the editing o my wor' but not in becoming better writers.> =#he ,B doesn(t really teach me to write well.> =I(m not sure whether I can be a good writer using the word processor.>

#he above reasons seem to suggest that the ,B is" to a certain e$tent" a valuable = acilitator> to the students but not necessarily a Kguru( in writing. In other words" the word processor has certain obvious limitations in its power as a writing aid. #able : shows the students( responses to the +uestion about the bene its o writing with the word processor.
#able :% 9ene its o writing with the word processor
(eatures %ercentage

Ease in Editing Convenient" easy to compose Economical" less time" less tiring Feat" tidy" layout .un" interesting" motivating ;ocabulary enhancement

3G.IJ )?1* ?A.AJ ):1* :I.GJ ):G* 1.0J )A* I.3J )3* :.IJ ):*

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&s displayed in #able :" the ma-ority o the students )3G.IJ* ound that editing was the main bene it gained in writing with the word processor. Luite a high percentage o students )?A.AJ* said that they ound it convenient and easy to compose a te$t using the word processor. .rom the total students" :I.GJ o them ound that using the word processor was more economical4 less time spent on composing and less tiring. In contrast" only :.IJ o the students ound the vocabulary enhancement eature an advantageous tool in their writing. #his is alarming , as although the #hesaurus is an important tool in vocabulary enhancement" yet a ma-ority o them ound no signi icance in its usage. #his perhaps can be attributed to the nature o recommended words made by the built!in #hesaurus" i.e." words recommended are sometimes not the one intended to be used in writing. Moreover" sometimes the #hesaurus does not recognise the words ound in students( writing. #able ? illustrates the ran'ing o their writing process. eatures o the word processor that helped students in

#able ?% #he ran' o the eatures o word processor that helped in the writing process
(eatures !an)ing

Spelling and grammar chec'er .ormatting ,ord count #hesaurus

0 : ? 6

&s shown in #able ?" the spelling and grammar he !er was ran'ed irst" ollowed by "ormatting" #ord ount" and $hesaurus. #his is not surprising" as ma-ority o the students have pointed out that the ease in editing was the main advantage o using the word processor in writing" ollowed by the word processor providing =neat and tidy layout>" =convenience> or composing> and is =economical>. #wo o the students stated that%
=It(s easy. #he computer is e+uipped with an eraser )delete*" scissors )cut*" gum )paste*" dictionary )spelling & grammar* and lots more which is very convenient E KAll in one(. =9ecause I can chec' my writing easily" easy or me to save it and... I can use all the eatures in the computer>.

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#able 6 presents the percentage o eatures o the word processor which students ound most use ul in their writing process.
#able 6% .eatures o the word processor which students ound most use ul in the writing process
(eatures %ercentage

Spelling and grammar chec'er .ormatting and editing #hesaurus

IA.3J )3:* ?0.:J ):6* 03.IJ )0:*

&s illustrated above" when as'ed about the eatures o the word processor which students ound most use ul in their writing process" a large percentage o students )IA.3J* agreed that grammar and spelling chec'ers were the most use ul" ollowed by ormatting and editing )?0.:J*. #he #hesaurus was again listed as the least use ul )03.IJ*. #he act that the spelling and grammar chec'er seems to be very popular amongst the students" re lect their ease in using the eature to help them in their writing" as pointed out by a ew o the students% =... be ause i" #e do any mista!es, #e an hange it on the spot>. Berhaps" the students also ound it less intimidating to consult the built!in spelling and grammar tool than their course instructors or peers. #his tends to boost their con idence in writing as there is this =non!condescending> mentor assisting them in completing their writing tas's. #his is in line with what has been pointed out by 8lynn et al. )0121% 6*" =...word processing programs o today support =bottom!up> processes or the mechanics o writing" such as spelling and word choice. #his support ta'es the orm o spell!chec'er" dictionary" and thesaurus sub!programs...> . In addition to the above responses" students were also as'ed to indicate how the use o In ormation Communication #echnology has helped them in their writing process. #he students( responses are encouraging. Some o the comments made by the students regarding this technology include%
=I can get in ormation" communicate with riends with -ust a clic' o a mouse. I do not have to leave the BC at all>. =#here(s lot o in ormation on the Internet" I -ust need to search or them E I don(t have to spend more time going to the library.> =It does help me in my writing process" as it helps me ma'e my writings more impressive>. =Ma'e me interested to write and use technology such as computer to create or inish wor' report" etc...>

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#his shows that students are 'eeping abreast with the changes in the era o globalisation" which in turn" is in line with the government(s e ort to produce +uality" 'nowledgeable" and a s'illed wor' orce. Implications $or Teaching ESL Writing #here are a hundred and one ways o using a word processor creatively. 9ut" e+ually" it has been a struggle to wean students away rom using a word processor as a glori ied typewriter ! i.e. you do all the writing by hand and then only use a word processor to type up a air copy. #his seems to be a waste o the power o technology. Ideally" it is encouraged that irst dra t be written on the computer and saved so that editing can be carried out easily. ,ithout a word processor" redra ting and revising are" or most students" tedious and di icult. Fonetheless" it needs mentioning here that some o the students did ind that the initial -otting o ideas were best done on paper ! and perhaps best done lying in bed" under a tree" or at the ca e" but the word processor was still regarded by ma-ority o the students as =use ul and convenient>. 5ur e$perience in the Computer!9ased ,riting class indicates that despite the di iculties and tedious nature o writing" yet students were motivated to complete the writing tas'" and they ound the tas' less strenuous and en-oyable. Fonetheless" there are also disadvantages in writing with the word processor. Some o the di iculties that students had when writing using the word processor include di iculty in identi ying mista'es on the screen" lac'ing typing s'ill" and or better students!!the reliability o the spellHgrammar chec'er. In addition" the signi icant advantages o word processing are not only available e$clusively to those who are pro icient in the use o the so tware" but are also accessible to those who are novice user o the word processor. In must be borne in mind" however" that a stand!alone computer s'ill course )taught by the Computer Centre* may not be the best means to teach substantial 'nowledge o word processing. #his is because e$amples and practices will inevitably be simulated and arti icial" and there will be little motivation to ully understand the applications taught. Since the word processor is a tool that helps students in their writing process" perhaps it should be used" practised" and mastered in ESL writing courses. Commands to delete" insert" copy" save" and retrieve in ormation can naturally be taught as parts o instructions on editing and revision and considered as parts o the writing process. Revision" o ten ignored by students as too mechanical and pain ul" is now possible by pressing a ew 'eys. #hus" i writing and revision can be made easier through an e ective writing instruction and word processing" then" hope ully" students will begin to write because they en-oy it rather than because they are orced to do so.

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Conclusion #he introduction o computer technology into the writing classroom is aimed at 'eeping the students abreast with its development and letting them have a more positive outloo' on overcoming the di iculties in writing" as well as enabling them to have a more global outloo' to the procurement o 'nowledge. 8etting students to write through the traditional way o classroom tutorials can be boring and demotivating" as the wea'er students need to constantly rely on the writing instructor or eedbac' on their writing. #hus" computer technology such as the word processor is seen as a bene icial tool that can overcome this aspect o writing. Moreover" it can inspire both students and instructors by ma'ing ESL writing interesting and relevant. &lthough there has been no conclusive evidence to suggest that computer technology can enhance writing per ormance" word processing is no doubt a viable computer tool in ma'ing writing a less daunting and more un tas'. #he dynamics o ESL writing can be altered with the use o the computer in that the environment o a class can be changed rom active to interactive. #he word processor" combined with e$cellent teaching method and other in ormation communication technologies such as e!mail and the Internet" will be a power ul and bene icial tool in writing and =can result in improved teaching and learning s'ills o writing> )Maddu$" et al." 011A*. #he ESL writing instructors should" there ore" not regard the computer as a primarily technological innovation but also as a pedagogical innovation. #his will help them realise that they need not be computer e$perts in order to use a computer programme such as the word processor creatively" which in turn will ma'e ESL writing a more ruit ul and rewarding tas'. !e$erences 9angert! /rowns" R.L. )011?*. #he word processor as an instructional tool% & meta! analysis o word processing in writing instruction. %evie# o" &du ational %esear h" '( )0*" I1!1?. 9rownell 8. )011:*. Computers and tea hing ):nd ed.*. St. Baul" MF4 ,est. Collis" 9. )0122*. Computers, urri ulum, and #hole- lass instru tion) *ssues and ideas . 9elmont" C&% ,adsworth. /udley!Marling" C. C. )0123" Manuary*. Microcomputers" reading" and writing% &lternatives to drill and practice. %eading $ea her, ?22!?10. 8eisert" B.8." & .utrell" M.@. )0113*. $ea hers, omputers, and urri ulum. 9oston% &llyn & 9acon. 8lynn" S. M." 5a's" /. R." Mattoc's" L. .." & 9ritton" 9. @. )0121*. Computer Environments or Managing ,riter(s #hin'ing Brocesses. In 9. @. 9ritton & S. M. 8lynn" )Eds.* Computer Writing &nvironments) $heory, %esear h, + ,esign . Dillside" FM% Lawrence Erlbaum. ______________________________________________________________ 1"
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@urth" R. )012A*. 7sing word processing to enhance revision strategies during student writing activities. &du ational $e hnology" -. )0*" 0?!01. Maddu$" C. /." Mohnson" /.L. & ,illis" M. ,. )011A*. &du ational Computing) /earning #ith tomorro#0s te hnologies. 9oston% &llyn & 9acon. Montague" M." & .ronseca" .. )0116*. 7sing computers to improve story writing. In M.M. Dirschbuhl )Ed.*" Computers in edu ation )Ith ed.*" pp. 2G!2?. 8uil ord" C#% /ush'in Bublishing 8roup. 5liver" R. )0116*. Broo !reading on paper and screens% #he in luence o practice and e$perience on per ormance. 1ournal o" Computer-Based *nstru tion" -2 )6*" 002! 0:6. Beterson" S.E. )011?*. & comparison o student revisions when composing with pen and paper versus word!processing. Computers in the 3 hools" 1 )?*" 33!I1. Biper" &. )012A*. Delping learners to write% a role or the word processor. &/$ 1ournal 45 ):*" 001!0:3. Boole" 9.M. )0113*. &du ation "or an in"ormation age. Madison" ,I% ,C9 9rown & 9enchmar'. Roblyer" M./." Castine" ,.D." & @ing" ..M. )0122*. &ssessing the impact o computer! based instruction% & review o recent research. Few Yor'% Daworth. Rodrigues" /. )0123*. Computers and basic writers. College Composition and Communi ation. (' )?*" ??1!??1. Silver" F. ,. & Repa" #. M. )011?*. #he e ect o word processing on the +uality o writing and sel esteem o secondary school English!as!a!second!language students% writing without censure. 1ournal o" &du ational Computing %esear h" 6 ):*" :I3!:2?. 7.S. 5 ice o #echnology &ssessment )0122*. Po#er on7 Ne# tools "or tea hing and learning )Bublication Fo. G3:!GG?!G00:3!3*. ,ashington" /C% 7.S. 8overnment Brinting 5 ice. ;oc'ell" E." & Schwart<" E. )0122*. $he omputer in the lassroom. Santa Cru<" C&% Mitchell Bublishing.

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