Tuesday, December 23, 2008

1 of 3

Logic owes to distance its existence.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Stats for Dummies (e.g., me)

It's been a while (obviously) since I last blogged, but I think it's time to do as I will soon instruct my students: write everyday, even if only for the sake of writing....

I am a teacher of English.

I desire to state it clearly and succinctly because the subject of this blog represents an attack on my ordinarily singular pedagogical sensibilities.

You see, as part of my Master's work through the University of Florida, I am taking EDG 6931: Research for Educational Technologists. One would tend to think such a class might have to do with, oh, doing some research. Perhaps research for Educational Technologists.


Simply put, it's a math class (statistics, to be specific). Now, I can appreciate the subtle nuances of language, can spin yarns detailing basically any writer's methodology and its effects on his work, can even write fairly fluid prose myself (read: I am capable of being a B.S. artist when the situation presents itself). But whoever concocted such an obvious bait-and-switch with this one should be given her due. Research for Educational Technologists = Statistics? Only a veritable compendium of rhetorical knowledge would be able to produce such a fallacious title. Or maybe they are just like me (when the situation presents itself): B.S. artists.

Nevertheless, I am compelled to take it. This is probably the class I have been least looking forward to (heavy litotes here), but alas we educators are working in an increasingly data-driven world, so it behooves me to know how to collect data and if ever I suspect someone of -- as one butcherer of the English language said -- propagating "fuzzy numbers," then I should be able to prove such a case.

Still, I haven't had a math class in nine years. The students I have now were in elementary school then. Playing with Power Rangers.

We'll see how this one goes. I hope by writing thoughts on here as I go, I will better learn as I hoist myself up the mountain of statistical knowledge. I figure if I have my students reflect on their learnings, then I had better be a decent model for them to do so.

This teacher of English is about to become a learner of math.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Continuing the Discussion

I actually posted the entry below as a comment to comments made by my peers (and one worthwhile comment made by one of my Advanced Placement students: You think she's ready for college or what?). I was glad to obtain the perspective of one sitting in the same seat I myself sat ten years ago. I decided to make it a blog, as I would like to continue this discussion and I know not everyone reads the comments made on previous blogs.

Thanks for your comments, all.

I maintain that speech and writing have inherent differences. The asides mentioned by Brittany that occur in spoken language are not "this generation"-specific: My friends and I had similar digressions and lost the focus of conversations which began without one.

The thing which makes each situation unique is that, when a person is speaking to another person in a one-on-one setting (as is most often the case when IMing), one person has an obligation to conform to societal norms and allow the other to speak. Even if he who is not speaking is thinking about something entirely different or wants to change the subject, more than likely he will wait to voice his opinion until the other person has finished talking. IMs remove -- or at least lessen -- the need to conform to societal norms prevalent in speaking situations. Though many IM systems now alert users when another user is typing, there is still nothing preventing the person on the other end from typing at the same time. As soon as a thought comes to mind, it goes down in the IM text box.

In addition, reading is a different cognitive task than listening; students' varying abilities to attend to listening tasks versus reading tasks is evidence of such. This must be taken into account when discussing where IMing falls on the Writing-Speaking spectrum.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

It's Evolution, Baby

Ok, so to follow up on my outage-induced last entry, I searched for information regarding the effects of text-messaging and instant-messaging on other cultures. I came across an article in a UK educational website. The article, written in 2004, backs up the research I have found regarding the effects of text-messaging and instant-messaging on America’s school-aged children.

The article did mention an aspect of the findings that I had not previously come across. There were two groups of students sampled, one which used text-messaging frequently and one which did not use it at all. Both groups performed nearly the same on a series of written tests, with each group making grammatical and spelling errors. The one significant difference researchers found was that, when asked to describe a picture or event, the group of “texters” wrote much less than the group of non-“texters.”

Of course this begs the question, what do we make of this?

First, based on other research I have found, I think it is reasonable to suspect that the group of texters studied use that form of media to communicate far more than they do any other media. While they may be forced to write a greater number of words in formal settings, the number of writing occasions is, I’m sure, skewed far more toward the informal text-message writing side of the equation. The number of times a person prepares himself mentally to write in a certain style will, I think, have a far more significant impact on his “default” style of writing in any given situation in which he is given no specific guidelines.

Consider the section from the book How People Learn entitled “Examples of Effects of Instruction on Brain Development.” It is clear that instruction has an effect on how the brain is organized. If, then, we view each time a person has an occasion for writing as an instructional opportunity, increased interactions with text-messaging and instant-messaging by students can reorganize the language portions of the brain in a way that induces people to write in the abbreviated form of those media. When a person sits down (or stands up) and sends a text-message or instant message, there are clear guidelines. If there are too many characters, the space runs out. If more text messages are sent, the sender will have to spend more money. If too many words are written in a given IM, it detracts from the “instant” nature for which people, especially younger people, yearn. Like any good rubric or instructional activity, there are specific guidelines and outcomes – both good and bad – for the “students.” This is learning.

Is there a solution to this “problem”? Can it be as simple as giving students shorter, more formal occasions for writing more? Perhaps. If nothing else, however, it is time for linguists and the crusading defenders of the language to lay down their grammatical swords and shields and embrace increased communication capabilities as a way to grow the language rather than shun these technologies for fear that they can somehow irreparably damage what has taken shape over thousands of years of evolution.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Ahh the drawbacks of technology

Not that I think anyone will be reading this at this relatively late hour, but if you are then I want to let you know that I will be discussing this article. It's short, much like the last that I reviewed, but it is leading me to my next search: the effects of IM and text-messaging on English in Europe as well as its effect on other languages.

Now I just have to hope that the cable doesn't go out again. I can't believe I'm saying this, but where's dial-up when you need it?

Friday, April 20, 2007

Wriking? Speating?

I unearthed some fairly interesting research on the language used in IMs. It’s a quick read – certainly one of the shorter pieces I’ve found and commented on.

The main point, and that which is presenting new possibilities of research to me, is that instant messaging is more like speech than it is writing. I never even thought of it, but the simplicity of that assertion makes studying the effects on IM and text-messaging on more formal writing a far different task than the one I embarked upon six weeks ago. I think to more accurately study IM and text-messaging, one would have to approach the emergent literacy as a combination of speech and writing, a method of communication that might present far more intricacies than either speech or writing separately.

Social norms must be taken into account, as the audience is a specific, ever-changing one. This is more of a concern for speech than for writing. Most writing occurs with a specific, static audience in mind. How does IM and text-messaging marry these two seemingly opposite purposes together? In this instance, my initial guess is that, if we were to think of writing and speaking as if on a spectrum (with IM sliding somewhere in the middle), this new literacy would lean more toward speaking than writing. Furthermore, the exchange between two individuals is far closer to speaking than it is writing. Even in cases when one is writing a letter (or email) to another person, the receiver can only respond once she is made to read the entirety of the message.

However, it would be negligent on the part of the researcher to disregard facts that sway IM more toward writing than speaking, or those elements that seem to blow IM off the proposed spectrum altogether.

Consider what commonly occurs during IM “conversations.” While one IMer is making a point about one topic, the other IMer may very well, at the same instance, be typing about something entirely different. Once the conversation-starting (-changing) comments are made by one, the other must choose to either respond immediately to that point or continue on with his point. One point may be lost, or returned to only after the other point has been exhausted. No social norms are being followed in this case: each IMer has her own agenda, and is perfectly willing to carry out that agenda at the same moment her “conversation” partner is carrying out his own agenda. Such exchanges would be awkward and, indeed, impossible with speech if two people hoped to take any meaning away from what the other is saying. Clearly this is far closer to writing than speaking.

Sigh. I can’t imagine how my wife was able to set her goals so seemingly effortlessly when it came time to choose her dissertation topic. The more I read the more questions I have. What’s different in my life now than, say, two years ago, is that I want to be the one to answer those questions.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

You Can't Spell Assembly-Line Without...

So I finally got around to reading an article I had bookmarked to read a long time ago. In Whither Educational Technology? Dr. Andrew Feenberg of San Diego State University talks about the choices educators and, more specifically, educational leaders have to make regarding the future of educational technology and, by implication, the future of the teaching profession.

I have to be truthful and say this article wasn’t especially enlightening, not because it was poorly written (it wasn’t), or because Feenberg draws illogical conclusions (he doesn’t), or even because he offers no foresight (written in 1999, some of the things Feenberg suggests might come to pass actually have). Rather, I ended the article thinking to myself “Duh.”

And then I realized the importance of my immediate reaction. See I’m only in the second semester of my Master’s program, yet I feel I have learned enough about educational technology to draw many of the same conclusions that Feenberg did eight years ago. So what, then? Am I done learning? Hardly. Am I an expert in the field? Ha! Sometimes I spend nights pondering what it means to be an expert in anything.

So what are the implications? Without coming off as a brown-nosing dweeb (it doesn’t become me, anyway…I tried it once and didn’t like it, like many things in college) I would not have been able to traverse the e-jungle of literature on educational technology without the guidance of my professors. Sure, my e-machete Google has helped me and my group members find wonderful, helpful articles and journal entries which we have shared with each other and discussed and built ideas from together. Nevertheless, it wasn’t the technology that helped us learn about technology, it was all of us together in the process. Thus, though his article is flat and at times comes off as self-congratulatory, Feenberg makes a valid assertion: no matter the desire of many to make education an automated process, it does not and should not become one if we are to maximize the potential of people and technology alike.

As this is a blog devoted to writing and the effect of technology on it, I feel obliged to draw some connection here. Well, actually I just want to. The connection is clear, I think.

In recent entries, I have begun to refine my attitude toward, and opinion of, the language and literacy of IM and text-message communication. When I began this blog, I sought to find literature discussing instances of poor writing on the internet, in forums such as blogs, MySpace, LiveJournal, and others. I have searched for weeks and found nothing. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong places; maybe I just have to do the research and write the literature myself, something I’m not averse to doing. I have found numerous examples of people butchering the English language, and I could kick myself for not having written them down. In terms of writing, language, and the broad umbrella that is communication, it seems even more imperative that educators work in conjunction with technology rather than having technology take the reins by itself. People want, need, often endlessly search until they find guidance. Some comfortably choose technology as their guide, but for many things, such as writing and communication, this can be a dangerous choice.