3.1006 Mac/IBM and quality in writing (80)

Willard McCarty (MCCARTY@vm.epas.utoronto.ca)
Mon, 5 Feb 90 20:55:39 EST

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 3, No. 1006. Monday, 5 Feb 1990.

(1) Date: Sat, 3 Feb 90 01:57:00 EST (10 lines)
Subject: Re: 3.999 the quality of writing: IBM vs Mac (46)

(2) Date: Sat, 3 Feb 90 10:00:00 EST (49 lines)
Subject: 3.999 the quality of writing: IB

(1) --------------------------------------------------------------------
Date: Sat, 3 Feb 90 01:57:00 EST
Subject: Re: 3.999 the quality of writing: IBM vs Mac (46)

But it was common knowledge from the earliest ads that the "Mac was made
for the rest of us (dummies), including Ph.D's...I couldnt understand
an IBM menu if I tried, though I dont use the icons of the mac either,
but its alphabetical directories. As for the students...gee what a
damning result. But somehow it does nt sound too objective a test. I
think you get what you train people on. No? Kessler at UCLA
(2) --------------------------------------------------------------58----
Date: Sat, 3 Feb 90 10:00:00 EST
Subject: 3.999 the quality of writing: IB

I agree that the Halio article in *Academic Computing* is troubling.
What troubles me, however, is not simply that there seems to be a
qualitative difference between the writing done by students who use Macs
and the writing done by students who use MS-DOS machines: what troubles
me is the easy assumption that there is a *causal* relationship between
the use of the Mac and poor or sloppy writing on the one hand, and use
of the PC and competent (or at least better) writing on the other. That
I just don't buy; sorry; at least not without a whole lot more evidence
and much more rigorous argumentation; it would help, too, if the article
itself were better written (and better edited by the folks at *Academic
Computing*). It seems to me it's at least conceivable that students who
weren't particularly comfortable with writing in the first place, and
who thought of a required writing course is something to be survived
rather than as an opportunity to manifest their talents, might well have
been inclined to choose the Mac when given the choice between a machine
consistently billed as having a "friendly" and "intuitive" interface and
a more forbidding, character-based PC with its command-line interface,
etc. I've been teaching writing in a computer-based classroom for four
years now (an IBM-based classroom), and I've seen both obsessively neat,
spell- and grammar-checked essays, and unbelievably sloppy, error-ridden
essays. I've also gotten lots of essays produced on both Macs and IBMs
by students in other classes, and I honestly can't say that the ones
done on the Mac have been either better or worse than those done on the
PC. I've gotten some wonderfully inventive work, particularly in the
use of graphics, from students working on the Mac; but those
graphically-innovative essays were also, with few exceptions, carefully
executed and conceptually rich as well. I've seen terrible work, sure--
from people using Macs, from people using IBMs, from people using
typewriters, from people using legal pads... And then there are
long-winded, unedited outbursts from people like me who can't forbear
composing on-line.

Halio raises important points about what happens to writing when it's
done in a graphic-based environment, and about the usefulness/
reliability of computer-assisted measurements. I believe quite firmly
that the design of the interface has an important impact on the way the
user/writer conceives of the writing project (for that matter,
WordPerfect differs from MS Word in that respect), and I'm prepared to
believe that there's a correlation between holistic evaluation of
student work and the kind of score produced by, e.g., Writer's Workbench
or less cumbersome tools like Grammatik (which also generates
readability indices). But the logic of the essay is seriously flawed.
John Slatin
Department of English
University of Texas at Austin