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Technology in the Writing Classroom

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Technology affects both the process and product of composition. Students often complete multimodal writing assignments that combine traditional textual elements with pictures, data visualizations, video, sound, animation, etc. Similarly, students' use of many technologies while composing an assignment can impact the final product. This is true even for technologies that aren't directly involved in the writing process in the way that, for instance, word processors are. Mind mapping technologies can help students relate ideas to one another. Graphic design programs can help students organize their ideas visually or let students write for specific audiences and contexts. Audio recording technologies can give students expressive freedom beyond the constraints of written work. Countless more examples abound.

These technologies, however, should not be introduced to the classroom without forethought. One danger inherent to any technology is that an assignment that uses that technology can inadvertently become more about learning to use the technology than about the intended learning outcomes. Thus, making sure students understand what they are being evaluated on (i.e., their work, and not necessarily their skill with the technology), have access tohelp materials, and have time to get familiar with the technology can all mitigate this danger. These strategies tend to hold true no matter the age of the students. While it's typical to assume that younger students have greater facility with technology because they are "digital natives," research suggests that that's usually not the case. Young students still need to learn to use a new technology just like they would learn any other new skill.

When handled with care, technology can be a boon to the writing classroom. Generally, the benefits of technology in gaining new literacies, learning independent problem solving skills, and showing students the wide range of applications of composition in their lives outweigh the risks. In this resource, we suggest some ways that teachers can take advantage of widely available technologies to teach writing outcomes and help students develop multiple digital literacies. 


There are a number of free options for mindmapping and similar exercises online, including MindMup,, and Lucidchart, but common office programs like PowerPoint can also do the job.

Stages of the writing process:

  • Invention/pre-writing
  • Drafting
  • Peer review
  • Revision


  • Visually organizing an essay or argument
  • Synthesis (spatially relating different concepts)
  • Reverse-outlining an existing draft to understand how the pieces fit together


  • Mindmapping digitally allows for easier movement, erasing, and re-doing than with pen and paper
  • No constraints of paper size — maps can go wherever students take them
  • Can use images, links, etc. from research in the maps
  • Can spatially show (and compare/contrast) the relative importance of points, check for balance in developing arguments


  • Have a peer reviewer reverse-engineer an outline of their peer's paper and let the writer compare their own outline with the reviewer's. The writer and reviewer can discuss differences between the two outlines, evaluate the reviewer's response to what the writer intends to show in the paper, and make a revision plan.
  • Have students synthesize multiple sources together using a mind map; first, make a mind map for each source summarizing its points, then connect the nodes to understand how the sources relate to one another, agree, and disagree.
  • Have students create an outline of their paper with a mind map. Compare outlines on the board/projector to understand how different arguments can be organized through visual shapes (narrow at the top and broad at the bottom, like a triangle; narrow at beginning and end and wide in the middle, like a diamond; etc), and what each of these shapes can do.


Especially when teaching remotely, collaboration on writing projects is a common part of writing instruction. Leveraging technology effectively to help facilitate collaboration can help students focus on building collaboration skills rather than focusing on getting in touch with each other, and can help teachers more effectively monitor and help with collaboration in the moment. Tools for collaboration can vary depending on what's available, but Google Docs, Slack, and various kinds of video conferencing software (e.g., Zoom) are common tools.


  • All stages, but especially:
  • peer review/revision
  • brainstorming


  • Sharing work among students, especially when remote teaching or in case of absences, not finishing work in class, etc.
  • Responding to feedback in a way that leaves a written record
  • Co-writing documents for a group project
  • Brainstorming, taking collaborative notes, or creating a wiki in class


  • Rather than discussing peer review or feedback verbally in class, students can write feedback down in comments in Google docs or similar word processing software for later review
  • Students can assign action items by tagging their classmates ("@Purdue Pete, could you look at this paragraph when you get a chance and let us know what you think?"); teachers and students can see division of labor in who is participating the most on the document 
  • Students can still participate remotely in the case of illness or other absence
  • In class, students can all contribute to a class document at the same time to create a crowdsourced wiki about a topic, share notes, etc.


  • Have students doing group projects write a team charter memo collaboratively, laying out expectations for how their team will work together, solve conflict, and help each other get their work done.
  • Have students use separate pages in a Google doc to answer discussion questions or take notes during a think-pair-share activity, so all the notes are available to all students afterwards.
  • When introducing a new technology, have students create a list of tools or functions in the technology in a collaborative document, and then assign one tool or function to each student to research and create a guide on how to use it. Assemble the guides into a wiki that students can refer to when using this technology on another assignment.

Audio Production

Writing is not a purely textual endeavor: much of the journalism we encounter is in podcast form. This is not the only audio genre whose production is intertwined with the writing process, however. For instance, pop music can teach poetry in a way that engages young students. Similarly, audio dramas that tell stories with sound design are experiencing a resurgence from the days of radio. Assigning an audio composition can be a great way to help students learn multimodal literacies while still teaching organization, structure, and argument. Additionally, because the various genres of audio composition are more commonplace or "real" for students than something explicitly tied to school, like a traditional essay, these genres can give students opportunities to engage with audience and context in new ways. Though many programs can allow students to edit audio, one free, especially easy-to-use platform is Audacity.


  • Drafting
  • Remediation
  • Reflection after writing


  • Specific audience and genre characteristics help students learn to analyze a rhetorical situation and adapt appropriately
  • Finding and incorporating fair use music, sounds, and effects teach students about fair use, copyright, and attribution practices in public settings outside school
  • Working with speech, sound effects, music, timing, and delivery encourages students to develop multimodal literacies that interact with and build on traditional written literacies.


  • Have students produce a 3-5 minute podcast remediating a previous project, like a research paper or a literary analysis. Students can write a script, record the script, and include effects, music, and edit their own speech to fit the time constraints and needs of the piece. Students can then write a short reflection detailing how they rethought their original project with a new audience and context to create the podcast, and what design choices they made to achieve those goals.
  • Have students record a voiceover for a PowerPoint or other presentation deck to make a presentation remotely; students can write a short reflection describing how they made conscious rhetorical decisions in accompanying their slide deck.
  • Have students record an interview with a classmate, family member, teacher, etc., and edit the interview to tell a cohesive story in 5-10 min. Students can write a short reflection describing how they came up with interview questions, how they decided which material to keep and which to trim or delete, and how they set up the story for an interested audience with music and effects.

Visual Production

Much of the writing we encounter in our daily lives is accompanied by or part of a visually designed composition; blog posts include pictures and GIFs, websites focus on usable design, marketing materials grab our attention with photos and data visualizations, and infographics condense pages of text into quickly digestible bites of information. Many free online tools such as Canva and Piktochart give users templates to start with and the power to customize most features. Commonly available office software also has robust visual design capabilities, and students with access to professional-grade products like Adobe Photoshop can develop facility with industry-standard technology. 


  • All, but especially:
  • Drafting
  • Remediation


  • Working multimodally encourages students to adapt to changing rhetorical contexts and audiences
  • Genre conventions for visual compositions help students gain genre awareness while building visual literacy


  • Generally, visual production assignments allow students to play with arrangement and meshing textual and visual elements, similar to audio production
  • Since some tools have premade templates students can use as starting places, there can be less anxiety about having to start from nothing; by the same token, students learn how to make customization decisions in accordance with their audience and context
  • Like audio production, using a mix of elements means students have the opportunity to learn about citation and fair use outside of a school setting


  • Have students remediate an essay or other project into an infographic for public consumption (or poster, to hang in classroom for future students, etc). Students can write a short reflection describing how they decided to rework their original project into something new for a new rhetorical situation.
  • Have students create a photo essay with captions; students can write a reflection discussing their choices and intentions.
  • Have students redesign a book cover, poster, course syllabus, assignment sheet, or other document to be both more visually appealing and more useable; students can write a reflection describing their rhetorical choices.