Kay Sellers

Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Fatih Ari


The purpose of this action research study was to describe students’ experiences using digital writing tools to support the different stages of the writing process in Honors-level English classes at a large suburban public high school in the southeastern United States. Reports from the writing section of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT) reveal that writing scores for college-bound seniors declined by 15 points between 2005 and 2016. Even though students use social media tools for daily communication, some studies suggest students fail to make the connection between digital tools they use every day and the potential use of digital tools for writing. This convergent parallel mixed methods study examined three areas: 1) students’ attitudes toward using digital writing tools during different stages of the writing process, 2) how students utilized digital writing tools to support different stages of the writing process, and 3) factors that influenced students’ utilization of digital writing tools.

During the first phase, 58 students completed a survey assessing their writing and technology skills, describing frequency of digital tool use, identifying types of digital writing tools used, and revealing their attitudes about using digital writing tools. This survey yielded quantitative data as well as demographic information. During the next phase, initial survey information identified potential interview candidates with differing levels of writing and technology skills. During the third phase, a purposive sample of eight participants was interviewed, and information from these interviews helped focus the creation of questions for the student essay reflection questions used during the fourth vi phase. During the fourth phase, students completed reflections about their use of digital writing tools after major writing assignments. Qualitative data stemmed from an open-ended survey question, interview information, and student essay reflections. Qualitative data were analyzed using the inductive analysis process to reveal themes across data sources. At the end of the coding process, five persistent themes evolved: 1) purpose for using digital writing tools, 2) influences on the writing process, 3) benefits of using digital writing tools, 4) challenges of using digital writing tools, and 5) discovery of digital writing tools.

Findings indicated types of digital writing tools used are influenced by the student’s purpose for digital tool use, students used different tools during each stage of the writing process or to meet the requirements of the assignment, students utilized digital writing tools because the tools helped improve their writing while aiding efficiency, students did not use digital writing tools if the tool lacked consistency, or they did not know how to use the tool, and students searched for a digital tool to use on their own, but more often, students were influenced to use a digital tool.

Implications from this study suggested potential recommendations for incorporating instruction about digital writing tools used in the writing process in teacher preparation programs as well as providing more differentiated professional development opportunities about digital writing tools for current teachers. Another implication suggested opportunities for future research by teachers or researchers interested in the utilization of digital writing tools during the writing process.


© 2020, Kay Sellers