Throughout human history, speech has been used for interaction and writing for its permanence, used for interpretation and reflection (Harnad, 1991).Writing, unlike speech, can be accessed and analyzed again and again by a limitless number of people at different times. It is for this reason that the development of writing and later print is viewed as having fostered revolutions in the production of knowledge and cognition. What is of critical importance in education is the intersection between interaction (speech) and reflection (writing) and this is the Internet that paved the way for this intersection.
For the first time in history, human interaction takes place in a text-based form, and there is no longer any divide between speech and writing, writing equals speaking, meaning that, while you are writing in fact, you are speaking, of course with two important differences with the normal conversation.
First of all, the written, computer-mediated mode of the discourse facilitates a special relationship between interaction and reflection, because you can freeze any frame you want and focus on it. This creates an excellent environment for a group of people to construct knowledge together by expressing themselves in print and then assessing, evaluating, and reflecting on their own views and those of others.
A second difference is that the social dynamics of computer-mediated discussion have proven to be different from face-to-face discussion in relation to issues such as turn-taking, interruption, balance, equality, consensus, and decision-making (Warschauer,1999). That is why, Harnad (1991) described the Internet as bringing about “the fourth revolution in the means of production of knowledge”, on a par with the “three prior revolutions in the evolution of human communication and cognition: language, writing, and printing”.
Paper and pencil writing is a slow and clumsy way of exchanging ideas but on the net, the synchronous communication allows students to take part in discussion groups and online chats to express themselves. Therefore, if writing is the equivalent of speaking on the net; therefore, students are needed to be familiar with lots of skills to communicate effectively and quickly.
Moreover, the Internet is a good place for the projection of identities. Writing for the Web has emerged more recently. Studies by Lam (2000) and Warschauer (1999) have shown the central role of identity in Web-based writing; due to its highly public and multimodal nature, the Web is an ideal writing medium for students to explore and develop their evolving relationship to their community, culture, and world. This can contribute to a sense of agency, as learners take public action through their writing ( Kramsch, & Lam, 2000; Warschauer, 2000). Authenticity of purpose is critical, with students’ souring on Web-based writing that has no real-world objective.
As summarized by Warschauer (2000), high student engagement in writing for the Web depends on students’ understanding well the purpose of the activity, viewing the purpose as socially and/or culturally relevant, finding the electronic medium advantageous for fulfilling the purpose, and being encouraged and enabled to use medium appropriate rhetorical features to fulfill the purpose.
A Chinese student from Malaysia uses the modal ‘‘can able to’’ – a structure that connotes for her ‘‘ability from the perspective of the external circumstances’’(Lu, 1994). Though the student is aware of the modal can, she finds that this is loaded with a volitionist connotation that is more typical of a western sense of unlimited agency. The student wants to express the need to achieve independence despite community constraints (as it is true of her personal experience of coming to study in the United States despite the family’s view that the place of a woman is inside the house). Her neologism is an attempt to convey a more qualified agency that takes account of community restrictions. Finding that even grammar can be ideological, Lu asks whether we shouldn’t go to the extent of accommodating creative uses of language in our practice of multiculturalism in education.
Closely related to the issue of identity is that of voice. A study by Matsuda (2001) indicated the complex nature of voice in online writing, showing how a Japanese Web-based diarist drew from a wide range of discourse practices – used by video game players, animation fans, and others – in shaping and expressing her online voice. This complexity could present a particular challenge for language learners, whose range of available discursive repertoires in their second language is often limited.
Therefore, the concept of authorship is hanging in new media, with students empowered not only to author texts but also to help rewrite the very rules by which texts are created. They can impose all of their levels of authorship on the outside world through online publishing (Murray, 1997).
These new possibilities thus shift the emphasis from authenticity (following native speaker norms, to a later emphasis on authorship (creating texts within structural environments), to new opportunities for agency (Warschauer, 2000). In fact the ability to author texts, together with the authenticity of audience in online communication, creates new possibilities of agency, that is the power to take meaningful action and see the results of one’s own decisions and choices.
In sum, the Internet is rapidly shifting the terrain of writing. Before the Information revolution, writing was viewed as a mechanical correctness and grammaticality, and sometimes a little emphasis put on argumentation, persuasion, and justification skills in English classes.
Writing was treated as an orphan child and escaped teachers’ notices. To project your identities, to introduce your own culture, to make friends, to write and publish articles, to develop web sites, to land a suitable job, to join a discussion group, and to publicize your products, you need to know more than basic and mechanistic level of writing. New situations require that students know how to argue, justify, persuade, and communicate effectively. So grammaticality plays second fiddle to the critical writing.