Contradictions in research into the experiences of learners online
I was intrigued to see that in Canada they are reporting that the use of social networking and other web tools such as Twitter and Facebook is damaging the quality of students’ English skills. Apparently academics at Waterloo University, Ontario and Simon Fraser University, British Columbia are finding that many students (a third and a tenth, respectively) are failing at English, i.e. not up to the standard required for academic writing. And they are blaming young people’s use of these social networking tools for this problem.
“Emoticons, happy faces, sad faces, cuz, are just some of the writing horrors being handed in, say professors and administrators at Simon Fraser.”
At Coventry University in the UK, however, researchers have found the exact opposite, as reported by the BBC a few days ago. In their study of 8-12 year olds they found that children who regularly use the abbreviated language of text messages are actually improving their ability to spell correctly.
So why the contradiction? Is it that the Coventry researchers were studying a younger generation, who have grown up with these technologies? Or that by studying a different age group the definitions of what is good writing are different? As someone who has studied writing with both English and American professors, I’m very aware also that the concept of “writing” is different on each side of the Atlantic, It has seemed to me that there are quite strict rubrics and frameworks for writing in America whereas in the UK children and students are taught good principles but still allowed creativity.
The studies are too different to come to any conclusions, so I suspect on this one, time will tell…
Learner experience research often throws up these kinds of contradictions. ELESIG, the community of practice for those interested in studying the experiences of learners using technology is holding its next symposium on this very subject.
The ninth ELESIG Symposium led by Dr Chris Jones of the Open University will examine contrasts and contradictions in learner experience research. It’s to be held on April 29, 2010 from 9:45am to 4pm at the SAID Business School in Oxford. The symposiukm is open to ELESIG members only, but ELESIG is open to anyone with an interest in this area.
In this symposium attendees will share experiences where some commonly held belief or view has been contradicted by the research and vice versa – it’s about dispelling some of the myths! There will also be a launch of the ELESIG Resources Collection.
I can think of several other examples of contradictory results (in use of Facebook and podcasting, for a start) to discuss at the symposium, and I’m looking forward to it immensely.
Meanwhile, back to the issue of whether social networking harms writing. As someone who has always championed grammar and spelling (hating especially those stray apostrophes!) I am nevertheless aware that language has always and will always develop as people use it in different ways. As in many other aspects, the era of print has held back this development by putting the printed word into the guardianship of editors like myself. As it did in the era of handwritten manuscripts, spelling and grammar in the digital age are breaking free from editorial control… Even as I frown at the use of “brought” for “bought” and the word “lol” entering spoken conversation, I can’t deny the evolution of language. Bring it on, I say, reluctantly!
Originally published at reachfurther.com