Tuesday, November 18, 2008

this is your brain on technology

ok ok so this site is getting sleepy...no posts since April. That's terrible. I have no excuse, absolutely none. I have reasons, but no excuse.

Reasons: One: too busy. Two: I wrote proposals about blogs for the TESOL ("When everyone publishes everything" was my favorite) but they were rejected for the first time; the chat one, however, was accepted. My thoughts about chat are here. But there's more to it than that.

Blogs have become somewhat humdrum; they have a little dip in popularity; they're a little too static and permanent for people. On Facebook, however, it's a happening thing, things you write disappear after a while. No pressure on you to make it a work of art, or make it permanent. So the world to some degree has left the blog media to its politics, its mommy blogs, and the static world of what we used to call "media." Using them to teach? How pedestrian.

Now in my own teaching world they are still lively; students have good ones; the classes have good ones; things happen. I still stand by them. I just take them for granted. Of course we put all our papers on blogs...why else would we write them? Of course we separate the abstract from the paper, and link it...why else would we write one? Yet, when it came time to write proposals, I was tapped out on the subject, and still am. Don't know if I want to do another showcase on the same topic...

I was drawn back to this blog for other reasons.

Spell-check: Good or Bad?

The new direction of my research is this: I am convinced that these programs, spell-check and grammar-check, influence the way we learn. I am not sure whether it is good or bad but I suspect that some elements of it are bad. Of course, one argument goes: why should we learn to spell if a machine will do it for us? It is possible that with a good enough grammar-check, we won't need to learn grammar either...then of course I might be out of a job. But I don't think this is going to happen right away.

This post contains a very simple but basic principle. This teacher is very self-aware and noticed the change in his own behavior from when he switched from a program with a comprehensive spell-check to one with a more klunky, awkward one: he learned faster with the second. The harder the work, the more you gain by learning; the more you gain, the faster you learn. Thus spell-check, by making correct spellings easily available, make people learn more slowly, or not at all.

It is well-known, I think, that spell-check has made the world into poorer spellers. We no longer see non-words on paper, but we also see a lot more wrong words, since spell-check does not tell you which one is right. And people don't look it up. Today I read about the permits in Egypt (they are famous; mummies are buried in them) and was fortunately, by context, able to figure out what the topic was. So you have people doing their best and still ending up way off base. But a more pertinent question is: does their learning catch up to them? Do they learn spelling more slowly, not at all, or what?

This is your brain: this is your brain on technology.

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