Archive | February, 2013

Technorage and How To Avoid It In The Classroom

14 Feb

RAGEPRINTHi, my name is Brittney and I have technorage.
We’ve all experienced it. You have a presentation planned and the peripherals aren’t working. You go to update your iWhatever and it won’t sync. You try to roll down your automatic window in your car and it won’t budge.

And you feel angry towards the technology you are attempting to use, the very technology that is supposed to make your life easier, not harder. I’ve even gone so far as to anthropomorphize the machinery that is the source of my ire, speaking to the printer at work, “Why don’t you like this flavor of paper?!” or yelling at Siri when she sends me in the wrong direction — except most of the time she talks back.

In a few days I am leaving on a one week vacation for a good friend’s wedding. I am one of those plan ahead types. So I have been compiling lists of the music and ebooks I want to download to take with me. I spent two hours last night trying to update my iPhone. It wouldn’t sync any of the songs I had recently downloaded. It wouldn’t even transfer the songs I downloaded from iTunes to my iPod Nano. It kept giving me an error message that the iPhone/iPod couldn’t support the format the song was in. Everything is in MP3. So I double check the formats. Yep, MP3’s, every last one. So I head to Google. Apparently it’s a common problem. All you have to do is select the problematic songs and creats an AAC version. BUT STILL. Syncing should be easy-peasy-lemon-squeezey.

So I rant and rage and then when I find the solution I feel silly for such behaviour. In the comfort of my own home it is one thing to display such behaviour, but when you are in front of a class of impressionable students, a different course of action should be taken. So this is where the first obvious rule of technology should come in. Test the technology out first on your own before using it in front of the class. You should be making sure that you are familiar enough with the technology behind the curtain so as not to have a fit of technorage in front of your students.

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Is Social Media Killing the Essay? A Musing

1 Feb

Combing through my inbox backlog can sometimes be a bit tedious, but then I find something in one of the mailing lists or newsletters that I subscribe to that makes me question my position on certain subjects. This morning I quickly skimmed through the January 24th issue of EdSurge Instruct, an independent news and community edtech newsletter.  

 In the issue was a blurb directing me to check out the article, “Art of essay-writing damaged by Twitter and Facebook, Cambridge don warns.”

I myself am an active twitter user and found my first reaction to be a strange one. I hadn’t even READ the article yet, and I felt offended. If I had to rate myself on a scale of 1-10 with how active I am on social media on any given day, I would probably say about a 6. I use it a fair bit, but I am not reading every single tweet or post on my timelines, I subscribe to a fair amount of education-related content, so it’s not like I use the platforms to simply kill time. I’ve written quite a few essays during both of my undergraduate degrees and feel that I am a fairly competent writer and conveyer of my thoughts. However, blogging and tweeting are not the same thing as writing an essay. If I came at blogging and tweeting in the same way that I approach essay writing, I would be “doing it wrong.”

Upon further perusal of the article, this Cambridge professor is hypothesizing that because of modern social media students are arriving in post-secondary institutions without the skills to write a proper essay. After spending my teaching practicums in junior high and high school settings, I would have to agree. But to a point. In my experience, yes, the twenty-first century student is mostly unprepared for the writing of a proper academic essay – but it is not due to social media. When I set about asking a class of grade twelve students if they knew how to write thesis statements I found myself faced with thirty-four blank stares. Not a single one of them even knew what a thesis statement was. So I set about starting from scratch and put my students through a whole essay-writing workshop. Should they have known how to write an essay before this point? The simple answer is yes. The more complicated answer is murky. Depending on (and if!) these students were headed off to post-secondary institutions, did they really need to know how to write an academic essay? In Alberta, many high school students head off into our booming trades sector. Many head off into sciences and engineering. And yes, a few of us head off into the arts. I know that being able to write an essay helps me in everyday life in many ways. It helps me compose emails to my coworkers, write up work procedures, blog, tweet, and even make announcements over the PA system at the Royal Alberta Museum. But it is not the ability to write an essay that helps me with these tasks.

Social Media isn’t killing the essay. We, as teachers, need to start teaching these skills in a twenty-first century context. But that’s a whole other post.

Social media platforms do not lend themselves to the essay format and vice-versa. Which brings me to the questions that EdSurge wanted me to ponder in regards to the article.

What is effective writing? Is a lack of what’s traditionally been considered “good” prose a disadvantage in online communication? Or is the opposite true? What are the most effective ways to  connect with–and persuade–different audiences? What do you think?

What is effective writing?

To me, effective writing, is writing that is well-written and that can catch my attention. No matter how well written the piece is, if there is no personality – no charisma – to the piece, I’ll be thinking “TL;DR” (Too Long; Didn’t Read) and moving on. Effective writing also needs to have a purpose. WHY has the writer chosen to write this piece? Have the introduced me to the 5 W’s? (Forgive me, I’m an English teacher – The Who, What, Where, Why, and When). Has the piece been written with an audience in mind? In my case, my audience is my twitter followers, people who stumble upon my blog, or potential employers. I need to keep that in mind while writing else I dare stumble into unfamiliar territory for my audience. And if it is unfamiliar territory, I need to provide enough background information to entice you to read further. Has the information been organized in a logical manner? Can I follow this person’s argument?

Is a lack of what’s traditionally been considered “good” prose a disadvantage in online communication? Or is the opposite true?

Again, I return to the personality of the writing. If a writer’s style  has caught my attention, I am willing to overlook the occasional grammatical error or spelling mistake. Everyone makes them. There’s probably more than a few in this post. To paraphrase my linguistics professor, If you can say it and it makes sense, who’s to say it’s not grammatically correct? If you can parse the person’s speech or text and still derive meaning, does that mean it’s ‘wrong’? Most grammar is innate and is always evolving. This is why we end up debating the oxford comma, possessive nouns, and passive and active voice. Just because a set of rules been prescribed does not mean that that is the way that we are actually using the language (this is the essential argument behind descriptive versus prescriptive grammar).

In online communication, sometimes grammar has to be thrown out the window. Participating in my online course can sometimes be overwhelming by the sheer numbers involved. With over 30,000 people enrolled, posting from all over the world, it can take some time to sort through all the posts, especially when many posters are English Language Learners. But regardless of someone’s mother tongue and grammar, if their ideas are valid and intriguing, is that putting them at a disadvantage? I would say no. Others may disagree.

Sometimes a quick blog entry can be more effective than a long-winded one, grammatical mistakes and all.

What are the most effective ways to  connect with–and persuade–different audiences?

To me, the most effective ways to connect and persuade different audiences is to know your audience, write honestly, clearly, and with your own voice.

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