Electronic Quills: A situated evaluation of using computers for writing in classrooms

Quill bookQuill was a suite of software tools designed to foster an environment for literacy in classrooms. We wrote it in Pascal for the Apple II computer. The software, teacher’s guide, and workshops were used widely, including in village schools in Alaska, which I visited three times during the project in 1983-84. Carol Barnhardt played a major role in setting up that Alaska project and in helping us understand the history and context of schooling in Alaska.

Andee Rubin and I later wrote the book, Electronic Quills, which looks in detail at the stories of early users. 1982-84. The book centers on the words and experiences of teachers and students who used QUILL—a software package developed by the authors to aid in the teaching and learning of writing. It looks in detail at the stories of these early users and considers questions relevant for other teachers, students, researchers, and developers of educational innovations.

Questions posed include:

  • What does it mean to develop an environment for literacy in an actual classroom?
  • How can a teacher create an environment in which students work together toward meaningful goals?
  • How can a teacher promote the rich communication so necessary for developing language?
  • What is the role of technology in the practice and development of literacy?

Waiting to write at the computerThe examination of the QUILL experiences provides a fuller and more revealing account of what it meant to use QUILL than would have been possible through standard evaluation techniques. At the same time, the focus on the particulars also finds analogues in analyses of similar pieces of open-ended software or educational innovations in general.

  1. Introduction
  2. Contexts for Literacy Development
  3. QUILL: A System to Support Literacy Development [summary]
  4. The Alaska Context (by Carol Barnhart)
  5. Alternate Realizations of Purposeful Writing. Adapted as

    Rubin, A., & Bruce, B. (1990).Alternate realizations of purpose in computer-supported writing. Theory into Practice, 29, 256-263.

  6. Revision
  7. The Alaska QUILL Network: Fostering a Teacher Community Through Telecommunication
  8. Situated Evaluation
  9. Conclusion

Citation: Bruce, B. C., & Rubin, A. D. (1993). Electronic Quills: A situated evaluation of using computers for writing in classrooms. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. [232 pp.; ISBN 0-805-81168-0]


  • Choice: “This excellent book describes in detail the inauguration processes and results (realizations) of varied field testing of the Electronic Quills literacy curriculum…. Scholars and students will find the references current and productive. Highly recommended for acquisition by academic libraries…especially useful for professionals and for university faculty, graduate students, and scholars with special interests in curriculum development, educational innovation, and teacher education.”
  • Technical Communication Quarterly: “…its central theses and ethnographic detail make it a worthwhile read for those interested in designing computer writing environments, especially across educational levels….well based in educational theory, but its real power resides in its anecdotes, its summaries of student and faculty exchanges, and its presentation of computer-mediated texts.”
  •  Riel, Margaret (1985). “The Computer Chronicles Newswire: A Functional Learning Environment for Acquiring Literacy Skills”. Journal of Educational Computing Research. 1 (3): 317–337.
  • Cochran-Smith, Marilyn (1991). “Word Processing and Writing in Elementary Classrooms: A Critical Review of Related Literature”. Review of Educational Research. 61 (1): 107–155.
  • Marcus, S. (1984). “Computers in the curriculum”. Electronic Learning. 4: 90–94.
  • Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), National Diffusion Network (1990). Educational Programs that Work. A Collection of Proven Exemplary Educational Programs and Practices(16th ed.). Longmont, CO: Sopris West. p. 352.
  • Tonfoni, Graziela (1984). “Il computer a scuola: Intervista con Bertram Bruce”. Informatica Oggi: 124–125.
  • “Software Reviews”. Computing Teacher. 1983 (1). 1985.
  • Levin, J. A.; Boruta, M. J.; Vasconcellos, M. T. (1983). “Microcomputer-based environments for writing: A writer’s assistant”. Classroom Computers and Cognitive Science: 219–232.

2 thoughts on “Electronic Quills: A situated evaluation of using computers for writing in classrooms

  1. Is anyone else who was involved in the Quill project reading this?
    What are you all doing now?
    Helen Frost
    (teacher in Telida, 1981-1984, now in Fort Wayne, Alaska, author of books for children and teens, including Diamond Willow, set in Alaska)


  2. Pingback: Life (and stories) in an Alaskan Eskimo village « Chip’s journey

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