Instant Messaging: Friend Or Foe Of Student Writing?

2079 words - 8 pages

Instant Messaging: Friend or Foe of Student Writing?

Introduction

With the commercial advent of the Internet and cell phones in the late 1990’s, technologies such as instant messaging (IM) and text messaging (TM) have achieved increasing prevalence in our society. These types of messaging technologies are widely used among adolescents today. To cite just one personal example of this widespread usage, my friend’s daughter, who is now 11 and lives in Ireland, got a cell phone last year, and, according to my friend, “was the last person in her class to get one.” This is quite an amazing change, given that ten years ago, instant messaging and text messaging were in their infancy, and cell phones were only readily available as tools for roadside assistance.

Given the newness of these types of technologies, it is only in the last few years that educators have started to notice them and explore their effects on student behavior and performance. While there is supporting evidence to suggest that these technologies have a large influence on the social development of adolescents, an even more pertinent issue for classroom teachers is what effects these technologies have on the academic development of young people. In this article, I examine how students’ use of text messaging technology, specifically IM, affects their writing skills. How does IM use affect students’ interest in traditional writing (as learned in school)? In what ways does IM usage affect students’ writing ability? How does “IM-speak” change students’ views of what is considered “proper” language? How can classroom teachers build on student use of this increasingly popular technology? In this paper I provide a discussion of the current issues and current teacher practices surrounding instant messaging as it relates to student writing.

What is Instant Messaging?

Instant messaging is a form of computer “chat” that allows one to have a real time, typed “conversation” with one or more “buddies” while connected to the Internet (Figure 1). It is an extremely fast-growing communications medium, especially among adolescents. According to a Pew report from 2001, “74% of online teens use instant messaging” (Lenhart, Rainie, & Lewis, 2001, p.3), and “69% of teen instant message users use IM at least several times a week” (p.3). Given this high rate of use, which has only been increasing since the Pew report was published, IM is clearly an extremely influential element in many young people’s lives.

Academic Effects of Instant Messaging

While everyone recognizes that IM is widely used by adolescents and teens in the United States, there seem to be two distinct opinions of its effect on student academics. There are those who see the use of so-called “Internet English” as a breakdown of the English language – according to a recent newspaper article, “Some teachers see the creeping abbreviations as part of a continuing assault of technology on formal written English” (Lee, 2002)....

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