Week 20 Catchup: Does the Digitial Classroom Enfeeble the Mind

This heading caught my attention. It is something I have wondered about for a while.

A friend posted an interesting statement on Facebook in relation to her son not knowing who IBM is.  How can someone not know who IBM is became the issue. Was it because he spent too much time on the computer? The conversation continued during our Saturday morning coffee get together.  The last comment in that post was probably the most important – “It’s the Google’s and Facebook’s that are relevant today”.  We knew about IBM in the ‘old days’ because we could see evidence of them about us.  These days, IBM doesn’t seem to have the same presence.  The early PCs which were on the market were usually advertised as IBM clones, but not any more.  Times change.  Is this good or is this bad?  The Saturday coffee conversation continued to the changes in what students use to know.  Looking back to my school days, I realise that we pretty much just parroting back what the teacher told us, what we read in the books provided, or if we were particularly keen, what we read in library books.  Not today.  Today there is a new skill set.  Students learn at a very early age about Google.  Now, we can have conversations around what has been found out, how to interpret the data, decide how to determine the information’s reliability.

‘Google the answer’ can also cause its own problems.  To be able to successfully ‘Google the answer’, students need to problem solve, to search out their answers, to think about what they are doing.  See me post  in week 16 where I discuss more on this issue.

But are we losing another skill set.  Are students more able to write clearly and accurately about what they have found out.  What are their written skills like?  How well can they communicate in today’s world where the new generation know all about computers, the ability to type, and how to text but their elders and their bosses have been brought up with formal education.  What makes me ask this?

I’ve just finished marking an assignment where 10% of the marks were for proofreading.  Now I am not that good at spelling and grammar, I am a maths person by nature and have always found spelling and grammar a mystery, but I was shocked at the level of spelling and grammar errors along with sentences which didn’t make sense which indicated a lack of basic proofreading.  This section of the assignment was the worse part of the whole assignment with the majority of the students scoring 0 marks (I marked this by giving the students 10 marks and then reducing the mark by 1/2 for every error I found).  I had electronic and a hardcopy of each assignment and one student even had the red lines under the misspelt words in their electronic copy.  I have found the level of grammar and spelling errors in emails students have sent me to be high as well – but often it is because of the use of text language and the lack of capitalisation when I would expect it.  I am beginning to think that technology is causing us to take less care of the basics in language whereas it can be a bonus for getting things right.

First, a bit about my own spelling and grammar issues.  I am poor at spelling and as for the grammar rules, they used to always be a mystery to me.  How have I coped over the years?  When I was at school, I had very untidy handwriting so that hid my spelling issues to a certain extent as teachers use to comment on my handwriting and not the spelling.  I managed to leave school without a good knowledge of verbs, adverbs and adjectives – in fact about all I really knew was what a noun was (and even then I sometimes got tripped up).  Did this stop me with my studies?  No, as I started studying in the pre-computer days when assignments were handwritten and I wrote rather than printed my answers so my untidy handwriting hid the misspellings.  As technology has improved, I’ve had to move to word processing of notes and assignments.  This has actually helped me because my lovely Word programme underlines my errors (red for spelling, green for grammar and blue for possible incorrect words).  I use the spellcheck to check my typing.  Sometimes I even have to get out my trusty dictionary to check the spelling because the spell heck doesn’t help me.  I was even given a basic grammar lesson when completing my third year degree project – a cat sat on the mat.  I was 42 years old and I was being taught sentence structure!  However, my strength was that I read what I wrote in my assignments before handing them in.  Looking at the work students handed me, I reckon most of them hadn’t read what they had written even though there was 10 marks for proof reading and I had told them what I expected.

Why am I writing all of this?  I have come to realise people don’t seem to care as much about their written work as they use to.  I was always embarrassed about my language problems but students don’t seem to be any more.  I do know that some of my students struggle because  English being their second language but over the years I have come to realise that it doesn’t have to be a big issue and I am used to seeing them have problems with word tenses and the use of ‘a’ and ‘the’.   I even reminded students about the support they could get from the student learning support with proofreading!  I think that students think that just because they have used the spellcheck that their assignments are correct.  This leads me to believe that technology has the ability to lessen the basic skills and not improve them, to make us lazier with the basics.  What should I do about the proofreading section of the assignment?  Should I remove it and reallocate the marks?  That would be the easiest solution but I think that is an incorrect solution.  If I go back to the objective of the paper, it is to “Students will understand, discuss, evaluate and apply information technology to meet business requirements.”  The ability to produce documents which are proofread is an important part of meeting business requirements so giving marks for proofreading (or losing marks for not proofreading) is an important reminder of the junction between technology and communication.

My conclusion from this is that technology has the ability to open our minds to new things, to have meaningful discussions about our findings, but I also think it has the ability to make us lazy with our basic language skills.  While we can learn new things, we shouldn’t forget some of the old ways.  It is important to communicate clearly and this requires us to carefully read over what we want to say – particularly in this age of instant communication.  Once you click ‘send’ on an email or ‘publish’ on your blog, your thoughts are out there in the cyber world along with your spelling and grammar.  Please proofread carefully and don’t forget the spellcheck!!!

PS I have put this through the spellcheck and I have proofread it, but my proofreading skills aren’t perfect!!

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2 Responses

  1. […] article was fascinating.  My immediate reaction was my posts for weeks 16 and 20 and how this complimented them.  In one of the IT courses I completed we discussed the concept of […]

  2. […] Week 20: Does the Digital Classroom Enfeeble the Mind […]

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