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Over the course of two days, I documented my everyday writing and reading activities in the style of the 2011 study performed by Cohen et. al. Results of the study are separated into comparisons focusing on the purpose, medium, school status, time, and type of writing performed in each documented activity. The study finds that while nearly equal time is spent on writing on paper and on a computer, writing performed on a computer tends toward a higher quality than writing done on paper.
Finally, the implications for possible changes in the average classroom this presents are discussed.
While many students don’t often notice or acknowledge it, writing is a near-omnipresent part of student life. In 2011, a study was conducted in which people were asked to keep an diary of the kinds of reading and writing people did in their everyday lives. In this study, their purpose was in studing everyday writing, which they defined as “any writing that is carried out in the daily lives of an individual” (Cohen et al.
, 2011). However, this study seemingly did not include any students. In order to gather some additional data regarding everyday writing specifically regarding college students, I completed a diary of my own over the course of two days on the same subject, in an attempt to see what useful information may be gleaned from it.
In general, I feel I spend significantly more time writing and reading on the computer than using other mediums, as it it is my preferred medium.
I additionally expect to find that I spend much more time reading and writing for recreational purposes than for other reasons.
Over the course of two days, I recorded a diary of all reading or writing I did. For each writing, reading, or hybrid activity I recorded the activity I was involved in, the amount of time I spent involved in that activity, the kind of material (if any) that I wrote, the thoroughness of any reading I did, the physical media I used to read or write, whether I performed any calculations, whether the activity was for school, and whether the activity was for work. I did not include writing or reading the diary itself in the diary. Additionally, the diary entries were written all at once after the fact instead of as they happened, so the recorded times are estimates, and some activities may have been forgotten and omitted. It should be noted that the diary, consisting of only two days, is not a representative sample of my reading and writing activities- where I think it conflicts with or especially agrees with my normal schedule I will note throughout this paper.
The twelve recorded activities roughly fit into four categories: Note-taking activities done in class, schoolwork done out of class, recreational activities, and non-recreational social activities. Disregarding the time spent on each activity, there were four note-taking activities performed, one for each class I had during the two-day period, as would be expected, and one schoolwork activity. Four Recreational activities were performed, and three social non-recreational activities. This seems fairly representative of the kinds of activities I am typically involved in, in my experience outside the diary.
Of the twelve activities, only four involved actively writing with pencil and paper. Eight of the twelve activities involved the use of a digital writing medium (two using a phone, six using a computer)- one activity involved the use of both a computer and paper as mediums. One oddity is an activity I am hesitant to strictly classify strictly as writing, which was a game where pre-printed cards were used to complete ideas or sentences on other pre-printed cards to humorous effect. In general, this again seems to mesh well with my prior knowledge of my writing and reading habits, as I prefer to use a computer where possible and default to pencil and paper only in classroom situations where a computer would be a distraction.
As I do not currently have a job, all activities were either personal or schoolwork-focused. The majority (seven of twelve) activities were not schoolwork-focused, the remaining five being focused on schooling. Relatedly, all four activities that involved the use of paper as a medium were in this group of five school-related activities.
Over the course of the two days, I spent an estimated 17 hours, 6 minutes on writing and reading activities, for an estimated average of 8 hours, 33 minutes per day. This time can be broken down by several categories. 5.5 hours (Average 2.25 per day) were spent in in-class note-taking, 3 hours (average 1.5 per day) on out of class schoolwork, 6.5 hours (average 3.25 per day) on recreational activities, and just a little over 2 hours (average 1 per day) on social non-recreational activities. 5.5 hours (2.25 per day) were spent on activities that involved writing on paper at some point, 11 hours (average 5.5 per day) on activities involving the use of a computer, only on activities involving a phone, and 2 hours on an outlier activity involving none of the above.
The kinds of material I wrote strongly depended on the kind of activity being performed. Notetaking activities, despite their long duration, involved only writing short sentence fragments as reminders to myself. However, out-of-class schoolwork with similar durations involved the writing of long, thought out paragraphs for nearly the entire duration of the activity. Activities involving a phone were usually simple information gathering questions or sentences responding to such from another person. Most recreational reading/writing activities involved writing for a bit less than half of the duration of the activity in thought out sentences of an argumentative or dialogical nature. In general, writing done of the computer was more well-developed in general, with the exception of the Google searches I did in an attempt to research how to get a friend’s computer working.
There are some general conclusions to be drawn from the above data. In general, one can roughly divide the kinds of reading/writing activities I do into three categories: schoolwork (activities done in or for class), recreational activities done for fun), and organizational (primarily social activities done to organize my life or otherwise mandated activities). While the number of activities I performed in each category number about the same, the reading/writing time of recreational and schoolwork activities were both comparable with one another and significantly higher than the amount of time spent on organizational activities. Additionally, while schoolwork and recreational activities had nearly the same time spent on them, in general recreational activities involved better thought-out writing, with the exception of the essay-writing schoolwork activity.
From the results, there is a clear disparity between the general quality of writing done on paper and that done on the computer. This can be partially explained by the fact that the writing done on paper was primarily writings notes- since no one other than the writer is meant to read the notes, it’s fairly expected they will be somewhat lower in quality, of course. However, there are other factors that likely also contribute to the lower writing quality. For one, students who prefer to use a computer may simply be more familiar with the mechanical and visual processes involved in doing so than with physical writing, or find the process of writing with a keyboard more intuitive- in these cases, situations where they are forced to write in another mode may be taking them out of their element and causing needless distraction. Alternately, students highly proficient in typing may have a much higher transcription rate on a computer, leading them to annotate notes they would rather have in a clearer, longer form when writing with pencil and paper. In the worst case, these sort of factors could lead to such students simply not taking notes on some aspects of a class that they would have noted otherwise.
Of course, this is not to say that discouraging student laptop use in the classroom is completely harmful- it’s an unfortunate fact that the personal computer leads to ample opportunities for distraction (which is why the use of it is usually discouraged, if not outright disallowed, in classrooms). This combined with the layout of the typical classroom, where the professor cannot actually see what any student on a laptop is actually viewing, is problematic. However, this does not mean that a solution is impossible- indeed the very class that I am writing this paper for has already solved this problem. Each student has a desk with a university computer with the addition of ample space that can be used for paper notes, giving the student choice for the preferred method of note taking in class. The placement of monitors allows them to be viewed easily by the professor, to ensure students are still on-task, while the rotating computer chairs mean the desk placement doesn’t hinder student participation in class discussions. This isn’t to say the solution is perfect, as it lacks an easy way for students to access notes made on the computer without third party websites or a USB thumbstick, but it points towards possible directions the classroom of the future could and should evolve in.
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