Phipps Files

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University writing October 9, 2011

Filed under: Uncategorized — sjphipps @ 1:50 PM

I have been trying to get through all the tweets I marked and came across news report out of the University of British Columbia, Okanagan. Daniel Keyes, an associate professor of English is concerned that more and more, students at the university level do not know how to write. He says some common problems are sloppiness and lack of use of proper contractions and apostrophes. He says that university students should know that in formal writing we do not use contractions such as don’t and can’t. He blames television, facebook and all social media.

I do not agree  with Keyes on this. I have to admit that I am not the best writer. Some people are better writers than others. I did not grow up in the world of social media and I did not know some of the formalities of university style writing. I don’t think we can blame social media for this lack of knowledge or ability. I think  these problems were always present and it just depends on the person who is writing.

Keyes goes on to add that perhaps social media isn’t all that bad since it does encourage young people to read and write and be engaged in their reading and writing. He definitely believes we are entering a new era of learning. Carolyn Luban states that students are more interested in mastering different media and are really learning how to communicate to different audiences. I love this aspect of social media. It gives students an authentic environment in which to practice their different types of writing as well as think about the communication of their messages based on their audience.

I found the reporter’s comment that “no doubt technology is creeping into the classroom.” I wish it wasn’t creeping. I wish it was knocking down the doors and opening everyone’s eyes to the amazing learning opportunity that it presents to every teacher and every learner.

Keyes says that sometimes the switch for students from communicating in less than 140 characters to formal writing is leading students to the inability to communicate efficiently. Students interviewed did admit to being lazy when it came to punctuation, abbreviations and structure. My thoughts are that the difficulties in writing could be credited to laziness as opposed to the lack of knowledge.

The last comment by Keyes really surprised me. He said, students could have really great ideas, but because they can’t write, they can’t express these ideas. He goes on to imply that a knowledge of writing is more important than a knowledge of twitter because “twitter isn’t going to pay the bills.” I would wholeheartedly disagree with Keyes on this point. While I see that value of formal writing, I think more and more society will be heading to communication in the business and work-world via sites like twitter and facebook. Therefore having a good knowledge of how to use these applications is just as, if not more so, important than the formalities in writing. I would also say that Keyes has no idea how students are going to make a living and pay their bills. Recently I saw a statistic that 80% of students will be working in jobs that are not even invented yet. To me, this means that students may very will be working in the world of technology. Keyes seemed to imply that being able to communicate in order to be a well-read author is the way to go as opposed to communicating in twitter. Unfortunately, I do not agree. I tend to think that very few students will graduate and be well-known authors whereas most students will need to have knowledge of twitter and social media in whatever career they choose.

What do you think? Should there be more importance being put on teaching the formality of writing or should our views shift to teaching our students how to use and incorporate social media applications into their day-to-day and work lives?


7 Responses to “University writing”

  1. What a great post! I think this is a critical issue as it really reflects our view of the future, where we think we’re going, and how we’re going to get there. And of course, by “they”, it increasingly means our children. In terms of the “importance” of getting our apostrophes “right”, I’ll leave it to Stephen Fry …

  2. Kim Gill (@Gill_Ville) Says:

    I would also like to add a point to the twitter argument. I teach a class of 9-11 year olds who tweet from our classroom account. On occasion they tweet about technical issues that popped up on a particular day. Within minutes of their tweets about problems with Kidblog or Adobe Connect, the companies contact us on twitter to offer solutions! Technically, seeking customer support was not really the purpose of their tweets (as they share their learning and daily events through this twitter account) but solutions were offered, which again, shows the changing nature of how our society is communicating. These tweets from the companies came much faster than a call or email response to customer support ever would have. That was powerful learning for my class. One student even exclaimed at a later date that we just need to tweet out our problem and someone else will help us solve it! This certainly adds other purposes and audiences for their communication, which I would argue is a valuable skill for our students to learn!

  3. I strongly recommend watching this video by David Crystal who discusses the myths and realities of texting in relation to literacy.

  4. mickpanko Says:

    The ability for people to communicate in a succinct fashion (140 characters or less) is certainly a writing skill…I don’t think anyone would argue that there are certainly different settings where writing requirements differ but to tie poor formal writing to social media seems to be a stretch to me.

  5. kjehman Says:

    Well as a former English teacher, I of course I must comment! When I began teaching twenty four years ago the curriculum was heavy with formal writing. In fact, the majority of the language study focused on expository writing and the study of grammar and conventions. The renewed curriculum of 1995 marked a change of focus – informal writing became more prominent, a reflection of the kinds of reading and responding done in real world applications. Let’s face it, the majority of students were not going to college! This I think, was a good thing. Add to that social media and we provide our students with a variety of ways to share their voice. The problem is not that students haven’t been taught formal writing; it’s just that they have little occasion to use it. Finally, because they have responded in so many forms , they are not always certain when to use formal English and when to use informal English. This incidentally, is true of speaking as well as writing! Does this make social media the enemy?Absolutely not. Language and its conventions are dynamic. We are living and experiencing the greatest influence on language in our modern era – technology. It will change how we express ourselves – it has already!

    • alison Says:

      One issue that struck me when I was working with middle years students was that kids’ writing often mimicked vernacular speech, which indicated to me that they were not avid readers (or they were not reading sources of good writing). To me, this observation also supported the idea of making sure there was lots of opportunity for ‘free’ reading time and providing good books in the classroom for students to choose.

      As a longtime English teacher, do you agree? Are students reading less?

      Also, along the lines of recognising the contexts where one writing style might be preferable than another, I think by working through the problem solving with students they can learn to understand the conventions. In that sense it’s like learning the critical thinking necessary to identify misleading advertising.

      As a side note, I know of at least one organisation that instituted business writing courses for employees because many of the employees’ writing so informal that it was causing issues that could potentially affect the organisation’s reputation. I do think there is a place for formal writing. It’s needed in various contexts within the workplace and it saddens me that it has become viewed as unnecessary and academic by the curriculum. I think that’s a mistake, especially when our economy is supposedly becoming one of ‘knowledge workers’ and less of one that requires skilled labour (i.e. manufactoring). I worry about where the ‘hands-on’ kids will be able to fit in all of this. However, if this shift is truly going to be the norm, then we need to really work on our students’ writing skills for each context they will encounter because their written communication skills will be a critical part of their success.

  6. gail Says:

    I would agree that our writing skills have probably gotten worse, I know that my spelling skills have decreased since spell check came along. But on the bright side I think students engage more because of social media. I have a nephew who is very quiet but will post on facebook and text where he probably wouldn’t say as much in person. I agree with you that some people are better writers than others and it wouldn’t matter what social media is out there. But there are jobs that will involve social media. I was reading this article online about companies that are now hiring people to manage their social media.

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