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E-Writers: How Do They Influence Student Writing Motivation and Self-Efficacy?

By Richard E. Ferdig, Kristine E. Pytash, Karl W. Kosko, and John Dunlosky
 | Apr 07, 2017

04072017_TILE_w220E-writers, also known as digital writing tablets, are relatively simple devices that allow users to draw and write on varying size tablets. Less expensive versions are typically small and erase without saving, and more expensive models have larger displays and features like an ability to recall written images. E-writers have been touted for their ability to reduce paper waste and for their portability; however, little is known about how e-writers might influence students who are emerging writers. 

To explore the value of e-writers for emerging writers, we worked in a local elementary school with students in preschool, kindergarten, and first grade. We conducted a six-week study to investigate how using e-writers might influence students’ self-efficacy and motivation. Using pre- and post-survey analysis, we measured students’ writing self-efficacy and motivation. Parents and teachers were also surveyed three times throughout the study to gather their perceptions.

During the study, students had access to a Boogie Board Sync e-writer at school. Teachers used the e-writer when they saw opportunities in their instruction and kept a log of how they used the Boogie Boards. After four weeks of the study, we also gave all students a second Boogie Board to take home so we could explore the ways they wrote with the e-writer at home versus at school. At the end of the study, we collected all the writing done on the Boogie Boards. 

We found evidence that e-writers can have a positive impact on students’ willingness to write and their perceptions of themselves as writers, as student data revealed significant growth in motivation and self-efficacy towards writing.

With the significant amount of technology currently available, we were curious as to why this technology, which essentially only allows students to write directly on the screen, might have this impact. What we found, according to the parents and teachers, was that having writing as the sole feature of the tool might actually be one of the main reasons for its success. Instead of using a tool that allowed them to do a variety of activities, students were using the e-writers only to engage in emerging writing activities such as writing, drawing, scribbling, and spelling.

In addition, parents and teachers noted that portability was important. Parents and teachers described various places (e.g. on the bus, during breaks, in the car, around the dinner table) where writing became part of their daily or family routine. Furthermore, parents and teachers reported that using the e-writer provided opportunities for students to collaboratively write with classmates and family.

We tend to think of technology as being a powerful motivator; while it often is, we can’t forget that students need time to write to develop as writers. We appreciate the affordances of digital tools for writing; however, technology shouldn’t distract students from writing. Rather, it should be used to engage students in rich writing practices. 

RickFerdig_w80Richard E. Ferdig is the Summit Professor of Learning Technologies and Professor of Instructional Technology at Kent State University.  


KristinePytash_w80Kristine E. Pytash is an Associate Professor of Literacy Education at Kent State University.


KarlKosko_w80Karl Kosko is an Assistant Professor of Math Education at Kent State University.


JohnDunlosky_w85John Dunlosky is Professor of Psychology and Director of the SOLE Center at Kent State University. 


This article is part of a series from the International Literacy Association’s 
Technology in Literacy Education Special Interest Group (TILE-SIG).

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