Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Swearing or mobile devices?

When I started teaching, an argument raged over whether to allow students to use their "natural" language in class. This paralleled discussions on the use ebonics, local dialects, slang and profanity. The consensus was that students learn and use their "natural" language anyway and they do so outside the classroom. They needed us, teachers, schools and curriculum, to learn more formal styles, a wider vocabulary and a more complex grammar.

I was reminded of this recently when I attended a one-day conference. The presenters uniformly argued we as teachers must throw out much of what we do in the classroom and embrace with open arms the widespread and complete use of mobile devices (smartphones for the older reader). Some of the presenters argued for tablets, and interestingly some pressed for any Apple product whether a mobile device or a tablet.

The justification was that our students are already spending so much of their time, and already do so much of what they do, on these devices that we must go with. One presenter described this as evolve (or perish I suppose). If we do not do what they do, we are not meeting them on  their terms and we are not preparing them for their world.

I was taken back to the arguments that we must allow students to swear in class, use slang, use incomplete sentences, sexist or racist language and so on because that is how they speak, their natural language. Their language reflects their world for which we should be preparing them rather than ours or the world of the political or business leaders who were old and would soon die out. We must move to where the students are if we want to educate them.

That was of course nonsense. Students need to be able to speak formally, intelligibly, to different audiences and so on which is often not their natural language. More than anything, they need to be able to write and  again, the way we write is not in their natural language. In order to succeed or to advance in pretty much anything, they need to be able to speak and write well and for that they need to be taught.

I feel the current orthodoxy on devices misses the same point as the earlier language arguments. Students are learning how to use these on their own, naturally. However, reports on "digital natives" arriving at university and being unable to function digitally spring to mind. Our students need to be taught other and complementary skills and this is where the debate should be - not throwing out what we do and moving completely to what they do.

1 comment :

Granny Smith said...

Update - just read this fascinating article:


Which led me to this: