Brain-bound vs. extended: Contrasting approaches to second-language research writing in digital environments

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This article responds to calls to better understand the digital literacy practices of second and foreign-language writers. Researchers followed two Arab undergraduates as they completed a research writing task in a first-year writing course, tracing how these students used common digital resources, particularly digital 1) research tools, 2) writing tools and 3) course materials. Via screen-capture and regular interview sessions the participants’ research and writing activity was observed over a period of five weeks. To understand the resulting data, Vygotskian notions of mediation were combined with writing as extended mind, a recently introduced theoretical program that emphasizes the distributed nature of cognition. Study participants were found to deploy a wide range of digital resources, often in complex and creative ways. We identify two distinct mediation profiles that we argue mark two distinct approaches to research writing: a relatively brain-bound approach, which uses external resources primarily to structure internal cognitive function, and a more extended approach, which offloads a higher degree of cognitive function to the writer's environment. These findings offer unique insight into the digital literacy practices of an understudied student population. They also raise important questions about how best to teach writing in a digital age.

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Journal of Second Language Writing



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