Technology (for those of us educated in the pre-digital era) cannot be an excuse for poor spelling! So why are people concerned about student literacy in the digital era?
Mobile phones have replaced the pen as the ‘tool’ du jour and SMS is the new digital shorthand. Most of us with a mobile have used SMS (even if it takes 10 minutes to compose a msg) because it’s a short, inexpensive and instant way to connect with people. Telstra says it carried more than 1.1 billion mobile text messages in the first half of its 2004-05 financial year! Businesses have been quick to embrace SMS as a communication tool but what about schools?
There was a lot of fuss when a number of Victorian high schools decided to introduce txt msging into the English curriculum. I thought Professor John Frow’s comments on the ABC’s World Today program made a lot of sense :
English has literary languages of different kinds, it’s got technical languages, it’s got professional jargon, it’s got sub-cultural languages, it’s got dialects, the kind of language that’s used in chatrooms.
Kids are exposed to a much bigger range of languages than we were in the pre-digital era.
Thinking about SMS is actually a way of thinking about English, standard English and about the way it works, the way it’s different from these other languages that students are very familiar with.
Professor Frow is spot on – we need to look at the merits as well as the challenges of schooling in the 21st century. Communication and learning are not linear. The theorist Marshall McLuhan was on to something when he said back in 1964:
The point is, we need to take note of the wisdom of the past. For educators the challenge is designing appropriate curricula and assessments for learning. Afterall, the medium has changed but has our thinking??