The integration of technology into our educational system is a touchy subject; it is a positive integration in some subject areas, but seems to have a negative side when it comes to certain subject areas. Educators are calling the 21st century as the STEM education era in where we are to teach our youth the most important job skills in the subject areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. But they fail to mention the subjects of Literature, Reading Comprehension, and History. Many discussions have arisen, among the community of educators, from this ongoing issue. Today’s youth spend 18 hours of their day on social media sites. Yet, because of this educators have seen it have a negative impact on language and methods of communication. Educators see “text language”—or what is mostly known as “IM-speak”—as slipping into the academic sphere and, as some state it, “ruining standard English.”
There are some educators that realize that technology is a part of most, if not all, of the students’ lifestyle, and there is no way of avoiding it. These educators are those that have embraced technological integration in the classroom, but only in the STEM areas. One high school math teacher states that,
“Instead of lecturing in class, I lecture to them when they’re at home, and we work on problems together [in the classroom]. I liken it to an English classroom where the kids go home and do the reading and then they come into class and have this lively, engaging discussion” (Lytle “Emerging Technology”, 2011, emphasis mine).
This is great and works amazingly for the STEM areas, but this type of “virtual curriculum” cannot necessarily be applied to those subject areas that do not fall under STEM. Instead there are some educators that strongly dislike the fact that technology has became a way of living for the majority of the students and, as Lee states, social media has negatively affected their ability “to separate formal and informal English” (Lee, 2002).
Elementary and high school teachers, alike, are saying that there is a “‘dramatic decline’ in the writing abilities of [their] students due to ‘Tweeting, Facebook, and texting’” (Lytle, “How Slang Affects,” 2011). Amanda O’Connor calls it the “bastardization” of language, and she is not alone. There are many educators that feel very strongly about technological integration, not only in the classroom, but in life in general. O’Connor writes about several articles that indicate how students misappropriate language because of the strong influence that social media has upon them (O’Connor). Others share the same experiences stating that they have seen students not “capitaliz[ing] words or use punctuation anymore. Even in E-mails to teachers or [on] writing assignments, any word longer than one syllable is now abbreviated to one” (Lytle, “How Slang Affects,” 2011).. However, while some advocates state that this is just an “‘evolution of language,’ Chad Dion Lassiter, professor of race relations at the University of Pennsylvania, considers it ‘a dumbing down of culture’” (Lytle, “How Slang Affects,” 2011). It can be otherwise described as a “breakdown of the English language,” but the English language wasn’t always the way we now know it to be.
Language is a part of our culture and our society, and it is logical that our language change along with our society and its customs. According to a news paper article written by R.S. Helderman,
“Instant messaging and e-mail are creating a new generation of teenage writers, accustomed to translating their every thought and feeling into words. They write more than any generation has since the days when telephone calls were rare and the mailman rounded more than once a day” (qtd. in O’Connor, emphasis mine).
It is evident that technology can have a positive impact on our society, as we see above, especially on our students. Our society has evolved to be more participant in every small detail of our lives rather than passive, like most of our grandparents were in the 20th century sitting in front of a television screen. This new generation is constantly in communication, constantly interacting with one another via, nonetheless, writing. As James Paul Gee states, literacy “is not ever general or self-contained” (Gee, 2000); equally, as stated in an article by the Associated Press, educators should regard this change “as a type of literacy in and of itself, which can be capitalized on to engage students in more traditional learning” (qtd. in O’Connor). Because our language is constantly changing, many educators have taken it upon themselves to use this opportunity to teach students about the evolution of language. “Erika Karres, a teacher educator, ‘shows students how English has evolved since Shakespeare’s time’” (Lee, 2002), while using “text language” to demonstrate how our language has evolved from Old English to Modern (or standard) English, to “text language.”
Technology and social media have created a platform in where our communication and writing is truncated, or condensed. It is as if our way of speaking—“where a gesture or facial expression [replaced] words in speech” (Wayne, 2014)—has become our new written language. Our society is always in such a hurry, always running from place to place, and attempting to make the best out of the time that we have available to us. Our speech is contingent upon this and therefore we now “talk to each other in fragments because of how short on time we are” (Wayne, 2014). But, the fact that “text language” has become a way of life for the majority of us, isn’t all of social media’s fault, but it is also due, in part, to the fact that most of our phones in the 1990s had such small keyboards to text that one had to press a certain key three times in order to get the desired letter. Even now, “people are inclined to abbreviate or truncate words and sentences,” and even “omit punctuation,” because it requires a “switching of keyboard screens” (Wayne, 2014).
Social Media plays its part by creating rules for updating statuses online, like Twitter, for example, in where you must limit yourself to only 140 characters. Therefore, people “must be brief when expressing feelings” (Wayne, 2014). Nevertheless, one must also be extremely careful in how one words different emotions and feelings for everything is subject to interpretation. Helderman states that, it is because of the necessity to use precise language online, that,
“…teenagers read over messages before sending them, editing to clear up mistakes or imprecision…Liz [a 13-year old seventh grader] and her classmates said they will sometimes sit in front of a computer screen for up to 10 minutes, planning a sensitive message—wording and rewording” (qtd. in O’Connor).
On occasion using images or videos can reinforce our text and give it a different meaning that words alone sometimes can’t. Wayne calls this the “powerlessness of text in a visual environment” because “so much of the Internet is image-driven” (Wayne, 2014). It is like the saying actions speak louder than words, however, in our day in age, an image can convey much more than just words can alone. This is why most of our generation uses “memes” and “gifs” to reinforce the message that they are trying to get across.
Nevertheless, the process that teenagers go through in wording and rewording sentences and phrases to get the right message across is similar to writer’s process of drafting to get the final draft, and essentially get the right message across. O’Connor argues that “one of the most interesting things about IM and other popular technologies (text messaging, video games, etc.) is that they are potentially learning tools” (O’Connor). These learning tools can be acquired and used by educators, as Lee points out, to “encourage students to use messaging shorthand to spark their thinking processes” (Lee, 2002). It is important that educators see the potential that technology can have on a student’s education and how they can improve their lessons and teaching to best fit the student’s needs. Lee talks about a six grade teacher Trisha Fogarty, who embraces technology and has found ways to make it work for her and her students in an English classroom. She states,
“When my children are writing first drafts, I don’t care how they spell anything, as long as they are writing…If this lingo gets their thoughts and ideas onto paper quicker, the more power to them. [However,] during editing and revising, she expects her students to switch to standard English” (Lee, 2002, emphasis mine).
It is educators like Fogarty that we need to learn from and develop new and better ways to help student’s do what they know best and use it to their advantage. The fact that Ms. Fogarty allows her students to use “text language” to write their rough drafts but still demands that they hand in a clean and well written final draft demonstrates to the students that there is a time and a place for everything. This isn’t a difficult task to master, for there are many college students who have learned and mastered “standard English” first before acquiring the knowledge of “text language” and handle both “codes,”—as I would like to refer to them—quite well. O’Connor also writes that,
“Students can be taught both to understand what constitutes correct language, and also to know when different types of language are appropriate to use. Educators sometimes believe that this level of judgment is something adolescents already have, but as Helderman points out, ‘I think we expect kids to get it instinctively, and they don’t. It’s something that has to be explicitly conveyed to children’” (O’Connor, emphasis mine).
It is the job of the educator to provide service to the students and teach them what should be done and what shouldn’t be done. A teacher cannot expect their students to know what it is that they are asking of them if it is not explicitly stated to them.
Students should be taught to write and express themselves according to their audience—the way they speak to their friends, wouldn’t be the way they speak in a job interview; this is called “code-switching,” something we exercise subliminally. As aforementioned, everything has its time and its place:
“As Leila Christenberry, … asserts, ‘It’s not that there’s never a place for this sort of thing, but it’s the difference between how you would dress to go out on a Saturday night versus how you dress when you do yard work” (qtd. in O’Connor, emphasis mine)
James Paul Gee also provides an example of “code-switching,” similar to Leila Christenberry, he reiterates that there is a place and a time for everything. They way you express yourself to your parents might not be the same way you would express yourself to your friends, or even your significant other. This subliminal action that we partake in is not difficult to explain or to teach to students. We all use different language structures when communicating with different people and in different settings. If this were to be explicitly explained to students and shown to them that there is a difference, many will comprehend that difference, because we all do it. It is just a matter of learning how to do it in writing. Many have experienced explaining a very hard and complex topic to a 16-year old and to a 5-year old, gearing your writing towards your audience is something of high importance and it could change the way you word a specific sentence. As O’Connor states,
“Students need to understand the importance of using the appropriate language in the appropriate setting…[for] if students [understood] where and when it is appropriate to use certain types of language, then allowing them to use “IM-speak” can be beneficial in building student-teacher relationships, in enhancing student’s comfort level in school settings, and in improving academic performance” (O’Connor, emphasis mine).
As individuals, we may speak differently to different types of people, regardless of age, gender, race, or education. It is in our daily lives that we exercise the use of “code-switching,” without even realizing it. Therefore, if an educator were to embrace this new era of technology and allow their students to use what they are already familiar with to assist in learning new concepts, it will be beneficial, not only to the students but to the teachers/professors as well.
An educator must find the best ways to meet their student’s needs. You cannot expect to stand firm in old and traditional ways of learning when society is always changing and technology constantly advancing. By not embracing the world that the students are constantly surrounded by they begin to feel a “disconnect” in the classroom, which can potentially lead to academic downfall. It is an educators’ job to “teach them the skills to optimize these tools” of technology (Lytle, “Emerging Technology,” 2011), and to help students “switch off their informal habits when they leave the chat room” (qtd. in O’Connor). Many educators have done a successful job at integrating technology, not only in the STEM area but also in those areas in where the problem seems to exist. If they have been able to do this, there is no doubt that others can be successful in implementing this pedagogy as well. In our day in age, the focus should be shifted from the problem to finding ways to solve it. The funny thing is that our solution already exists, and is right underneath our noses (technology), however some educators are too firm in their old and traditional ways that they fail to see the positive aspects that outweighs “the problem” at hand.
Gee, James Paul. “Teenagers In New Times: A New Literacy Studies Perspective.” Journal Of Adolescent & Adult Literacy 43.5 (2000): 412. Academic Search Premier. Web. 28 Apr. 2014.
Lee, Jennifer. “I Think, Therefore IM.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Sept. 2002. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2002/09/19/technology/i-think-therefore-im.html>.
Lytle, Ryan. “How Slang Affects Students in the Classroom.” US News. U.S. News & World Report, 13 June 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. <http://www.usnews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2011/06/13/how-slang-affects-students-in-the-classroom>.
Lytle, Ryan. “Study: Emerging Technology Has Positive Impact in Classroom.” US News. U.S. News & World Report, 14 July 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. <http://www.usnews.com/education/high-schools/articles/2011/07/14/study-emerging-technology-has-positive-impact-in-classroom?page=2>.
O’Connor, Amanda. “Instant Messaging: Friend or Foe of Student Writing?” Johns Hopkins University, School of Education. Johns Hopkins University, 2012. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. <http://education.jhu.edu/PD/newhorizons/strategies/topics/literacy/articles/instant-messaging/>.
Wayne, Teddy. “On Internet Slang, IMHO.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Mar. 2014. Web. 28 Apr. 2014. <http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/fashion/on-internet-slang-imho.html?_r=1>.