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Arts & Letters Daily


Writing: Designing Ideas

Designing Ideas

Designing Ideas


The purpose of designing ideas is to make an essay or report interesting and readable. It applies to sentences, paragraphs and essays or reports as a whole. Readers should not have to search for the ideas. The ideas should flow one from another so that they draw readers through an entire text beginning with the main idea/thesis and finishing with a conclusion that revisits the main idea/thesis.

Consider the following questions in designing a text:

  • Is it easy to recognize the ideas and follow the text?
  • Will the reader understand the meaning of the ideas?
  • Are the ideas in each paragraph and the text as a whole clearly focused?
  • Are the arguments likely to convince readers?

Read the following report. Do you recognize how the ideas are designed?


Teaching and Learning: Where to from Here?

“The struggle to use computers wisely and well is one of the most important challenges we and our children face, and schools are a crucial area in which this challenge must be confronted.”

Alison Armstrong and Charles Casement, the child and the machine (1998).

This quote summarizes the fundamental concern raised by Armstrong and Casement about the use of computers in education. Driven by a commitment to quality education, Armstrong visited many classrooms in North America to observe how computers are used and Casement reviewed the research literature on the use of computers in schools. The book is devoted to a thorough documentation of the large scale failure of the use of computers in schools. In this paper, I will summarize and acknowledge failures in the use of computers identified by Armstrong and Casement and advocate some alternatives.

Armstrong and Casement describe numerous computer applications in schools that have failed. For example, they quote Bettelheim and Zelan, “for most children, learning to read is not an entertainment but hard work, a difficult task requiring serious application.”

From this they conclude that, “the multimedia attractions of electronic books and CD-Rom encyclopaedias might well lead children to equate reading with visual entertainment so that they keep looking around for meaning instead of creating it inside their own heads”. Another example cited in the book refers to computer-based learning programs which require no teacher input. The third example refers to writing. Armstrong and Casement acknowledge that using a word processor makes writing easier for children – the text can be changed instantly, children are more likely to take risks and discuss and revise their texts with peers because the text is visually displayed. On the other hand Armstrong and Casement found that a lack of efficient keyboarding skills and knowledge of software commands made writing on computers more difficult.

Some educators have latched on to this comprehensive critique to denounce the use of computers in education.  Derwin Davies, a retired librarian, assailed advocates of the use of computers in schools in a review of the child and the machine. He concluded that these advocates see the computer as the only tool or as “the hammer that is going to reshape our schools.” (1999). Critics like these fail to acknowledge the merits of the research which identifies successful applications of computers in schools.

What these critics fail to see in this book is a challenge thrown out to educators to explore how computers could or should be used to drive education as part of a wide range of educational opportunities. To single out the use of computers as the only element that contributes to learning is as short sighted as it is to single out any other element be that play, memorization, physical education, or music. To deny the value of each element is equally short sighted.

At the same time, I challenge educators to consider seriously some computer applications in education that drive effective teaching and learning. I do so because I believe that is the real challenge we face as we provide appropriate educational opportunities for people of all ages in today’s society. First, Judah Schwartz, co-director of Harvard’s Educational Technology Center, demonstrated his belief in the effective use of computers for teaching and learning when he developed the Geometric Supposer in the mid eighties.

A second example of a successful application of computers, River East School Division Literacy Initiative, shows how they can be used for learning to write information text. This Literacy Initiative illustrates an attempt to use computer technology to create conditions in which students can improve their writing. A researcher was contracted to collect pre and post data from control and pilot classes to monitor any change in students’ writing. Adopting a broad definition of literacy that included the ability to think critically, reason logically, and be technologically capable, the initiative addressed four basic requirements. First, students need specific thinking and writing strategies to think through and refine their ideas. Second, they need a writing environment that enables them to move easily among the organizing, composing, revising and publishing processes of writing. Third, students need to share and exchange their texts with peers, teachers and other adults. Finally and most important, students need teachers to demonstrate how to apply the writing and thinking strategies and the technical skills related to the use of computers. Armstrong and Casement acknowledged the success of this initiative.

The challenge of using computers for teaching and learning is acknowledged by Armstrong and Casement when they conclude their book with the following statement, “Children’s educational needs are best met by giving them a range of appropriate tools. We cannot rely on a single technology to do the job of educating our children.” Since advocates and critics alike want schools to provide quality education to which students are entitled, they should heed the authors’ advice.

Designing ideas:

  • Is it easy to recognize the ideas and follow the arguments? Yes
  • Will the reader understand the meaning of the ideas and arguments? Yes
  • Are the ideas in each paragraph and the essay clearly focused? Yes
  • Are the arguments likely to convince readers? The arguments are convincing.


Write an essay or report and use the following template for checking how well you have designed your ideas.

Designing ideas:

  • Is it easy to recognize the ideas and follow the arguments?
  • Will the reader understand the meaning of the ideas and arguments?
  • Are the ideas in each paragraph and the essay clearly focused?
  • Are the arguments likely to convince readers?