What are Word Processors?
Microsoft Word Document

Word processors are “computerized text-processing system[s]” that allow users to generate, edit, and format digital documents [1]. For decades they have been the digital heirs of typewriters, and they have been used for myriad projects from dissertations to grade-school book reports. They are digital paper. They have helped write our 21st century. Today, however, word processors are moving from software-based programs (Microsoft Word) to Internet-based ones (Google Docs).

What Learning Theories are Most Applicable to the Use of Word Processors?

Arguments can be made that both cognitivist and constructivist learning theories can be applicable to word processor activities. Cognitivism presents itself in word processing when a student is instructed to write a coherent argumentative paper. There are delineated structures that students must follow: opening paragraph with a thesis, supportive data in the body, and a conclusion. Also, factual, rote knowledge is needed to develop effective word processing skills. Students need to know how to find and use endnotes, how to set margins, indent, change fonts, insert graphs and pictures, and so on. These are cold, hard facts that are developed through practice.
However, Constructivists may also say that with only a basic introduction to the mechanics of word processing, students can independently discover the application’s potential, and thus create original material.

What are the Benefits of Using Word Processors?

Ease of use is perhaps the most important benefit of word processing. There is no ink, no paper, no jams, no limitations on type spacing and font. Indeed, digital word processing allows for unlimited editing and virtually unfettered manipulation of a document. It is easily saved, stored, transported, and disseminated. Word processing saves paper, ink, and space.
Basic Word Editing Options

What are the Challenges of Using Word Processors?

Mechanical problems do exist, however. Unlike typewriters, computer-based word processors demand electricity to function. Due to their digital format, they are susceptible to viruses, power-failure, data corruption, and digital theft. Creatively, they can be stifling. Though one can include pictures, charts, and wacky font, word processors are fundamentally text-based.

What Special Guidance Might Help Users of Word Processors?

Initial teacher guidance is necessary to understand the basic functions and capabilities of word processors. Learners should be encouraged to be creative and explore the many functions of word processing. However, teachers should warn students about the dangers of quick revisions, as errors may be more likely to occur (see next section).

What is the Current State of the Research on Word Processors?

Van Leeuwen et al suggest that word processing is good at a young age, capitalizing on children’s enthusiasm for computing. They also point out that with instantaneous editing capabilities; there are fewer draft revisions, which may lead to increased instances of error in papers [2].

In addition, Montgomery & Marks argue that, whether through speech recognition technology or spell check, software like Microsoft Word can “empower students with disabilities to become more independent in their writing” [3].

What Lesson Ideas Might Instructors Consider in Using Word Processors?

The quality of students' writing should be paramount. Teachers can easily use the review function on word processors, such as Microsoft Word. Students can edit others' papers with ease. This, in turn, allows for quick correction when the reviewer sends back the edited work.

Review Function Example

What Resources Might Instructors Consult When Using Word Processors?

Instructional video, such as the kind found at YouTube.com, can serve as helpful introductory guides to word processing.

[1] "word processor" A Dictionary of Business and Management. Ed. Jonathan Law. Oxford University Press, 2009. Oxford Reference Online.
[2] Van Leeuwen, C., & Gabriel, M. (2007). Beginning to write with word processing: Integrating writing process and technology in a primary classroom. Reading Teacher, 60(5), 420-429.
[3] Montgomery, D., & Marks, L. (2006). Using Technology to Build Independence in Writing for Students With Disabilities. Preventing School Failure, 50(3), 33.