Undergrad's preliminary study shows students' writing skills may be improving
Monday, May 13, 2013
MANHATTAN -- The prevalence of texting and micro blogging has many debating whether students are losing writing and reading skills, but preliminary research by a freshman in business administration at Kansas State University shows that students' writing skills may have improved.
Denise Durham, a freshman in business administration, Manhattan, did the research project, called "Dysfunction Junction," through the university's Developing Scholar's Program. The program provides underrepresented students opportunities to research projects with a faculty mentor. Students receive academic, social and financial support while participating in the discovery and creation of new knowledge at Kansas State University.
Durham's project has earned her the James R. Coffman Award of Excellence for a First-Year Student from the Developing Scholars Program.
In her project, Durham tried to discover if writing levels are declining, and if so, is it related to technology, specifically new digital media use. She was mentored by Roger McHaney, professor of management information systems in the College of Business Administration.
The research began by examining university message boards for a specific online class. Durham retrieved messages ranging from the fall 2005 semester to the fall 2012 semester. Thousands of lines of discussion were analyzed using the Readability Calculator -- a tool that examines the level of education needed for a person to easily read the passages. In messages from the more recent years, Durham and McHaney found writing that was significantly more complex.
For their work, Durham and McHaney are paying specific attention to the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level, SMOG index and Flesch Reading Ease measures. These measures, when taken together, indicate how much student writing has changed over time.
"I had expected the writing levels to stay the same, but at least for this specific class, they had increased," Durham said.
The research is preliminary, McHaney cautions, and cannot be generalized. But the research team will continue with the project and consider more factors.
"It gives us hope that digging deeper will provide more interesting insight," McHaney said.
Durham and McHaney hope to publish their findings in the near future.
Durham, a 2012 graduate of Manhattan High School, has participated in the university's Undergraduate Research Forum and is a recipient of the Kansas State University Memorial Scholarship.
McHaney holds the Daniel D. Burke chair of exceptional faculty in the university's College of Business Administration and is a university distinguished teaching scholar. He has written two books about new media, "The New Digital Shoreline" and "Web 2.0 and Social Media for Business."