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Joshua Fahey Lawrence, Melissa Niiya and March Warschauer


Digital writing has enabled students to write for a variety of authentic audiences, both in and out of the classroom. As they consider audience, students shoulder a cognitive burden that they must juggle in addition to the task of composition. At the same time, writing provides students with opportunities to craft and express their identities. The ways that identity formation and cognitive load intersect may be particularly complex in digital, online writing environments, as students gain the ability to share and receive feedback from global and local audiences. In this counterbalanced experimental study, 86 seventh- and eighth-grade students responded to two narrative prompts. One prompt was written for the teacher and the other was written for the teacher and peers in an online forum. We examined student writing fluency, mechanical errors, academic word use, and setting. Students were found to be more likely to set narratives in private settings when writing for an audience that included peers. We discuss this finding from cognitive and sociocultural perspectives and how it might inform networked communication research.