Microcomputers and literacy, 1983-1989

Apple II computer

Building on experiences with computers in the classroom, especially Quill, this project investigated the social systems that shape, enhance, thwart, or otherwise interact with those technologies. I worked with Sarah Michaels, Courtney Cazden, and Karen Watson-Gegeo on this research.

Forty years ago, these tools were already changing the way children were taught to read and write. Yet we still don’t understand fully whether computer technology will fulfill its promise, or how to make informed decisions in allocating educational resources.

Educators and researchers need to take a critical look at computers––their potential uses, benefits, and limitations in literacy instruction, and their general impact on life in classrooms. Recent advances have significantly increased the power and decreased the cost of computers per se, but we have much to learn about the human side.

We explored relationships among classroom contexts, computer-based innovations, writing practices, and actual written texts–based on participant observation in urban classrooms, over a two-year period.

One outcome of the project was the idea of a classroom writing system. This was a lens for integrating ethnographic analysis of classroom interaction with linguistic analysis of written texts and teacher/student conversational exchanges.


Bruce, Bertram C.; Michaels, Sarah; & Watson-Gegeo, Karen (1985). How computers can change the writing process. Language Arts, 62(2), 143-49. Earlier version: (1984, August). Reviewing the Black History Show: How computers can change the writing process (Technical Report No. 320). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, Center for the Study of Reading.

Bruce, Bertram C. (1985). Taking control of educational technology. Science for the People, 17, 37-40. Reprinted as Document 7.4 in Sigrid Schmalzer, Daniel S. Chard, & Alyssa Botelho (eds.) (2018), Science for the People: Documents from America’s Movement of radical scientists (pp. 167-171). Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press.

Michaels, Sarah; Cazden, Courtney; and Bruce, Bertram C. (1985). Whose computer is it anyway? Schools embrace computers without knowing why. Science for the People, 17, 36, 43-44.

Michaels, Sarah, & Bruce, Bertram C. (1989, April). Discourses on the seasons. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association. San Francisco, CA.

Michaels, Sarah, & Bertram C. Bruce. (1989). Classroom contexts and literacy development: How writing systems shape the teaching and learning of composition (Technical Report No. 476). Urbana, IL: University of Illinois, Center for the Study of Reading. (Technical Report No. 476; Center for the Study of Reading).

Michaels, Sarah, Cazden, Courtney, Watson-Gegeo, Karen, & Bruce, Bertram C. (1983). Microcomputers and literacy: The impact of interactive technology on classroom organization, teacher-student Interaction, and student writing (pp. 1–92) [Proposal].