Thursday, February 22, 2007

using weblogs, cont'd

I gave my presentation today, to a limited but receptive group of CESL teachers & friends.

Leverett, T. (2007, Feb. 22). Using weblogs in CESL classes. CESL Matters presentation. LMC Video Room, Faner Hall, SIUC.

I give it this formal title because I made a handout, went to all the trouble to make stuff to show, etc. But more importantly I introduced a couple of ideas that I'm working on for my mid-March TESOL presentation on the same subject. Those are:

First, we old-timers are used to a general paradigm, a relationship between the spoken word and written word, whereby oral comes first; oral is more informal and changes more quickly; written is more stable and more common through cultures, common to all speakers of a language. People meet each other with oral English, and expect variation in oral styles that they wouldn't expect with the written versions. Linguists stress that the written is secondary and based on the oral; that it's still a language if it doesn't have a written form, and that all written forms of a word are symbolic representations of sounds that already exist as part of the spoken word.

All these assumptions are coming into question because of the new technology. Our students will live in a world in which they will meet each other through the written word first; the written word will be more informal and will change more quickly, and will also be more likely to show dialectical variation that the oral language, standardized by Hollywood and common media, will have lost. It's a new world. What linguists identified as a relationship between spoken and written versions of a language may not stay in the form we are most comfortable with.

Second, systematically teaching students how to type, use punctuation, use double-space, use blogger, link, post and edit is no small undertaking, and one that lower-level teachers, with limited time, are reluctant to take on. My attitude is that technology has placed demands on the teacher's time similar to those of the communicative movement practitioners, who used to say to students- ok, you've learned grammar rules, and memorized words, but all of that is no good if you can't make a successful face-to-face interaction, responding appropriately to such questions as, "How are you today?"

In the same sense we are now in a world in which grammar, words, reading skill, AND certain minimal typing abilties will be useless, without some measure of technological fluency that will be required to copy/paste onto a weblog, chat forum, or bulletin board- the ability to edit post, go around and use another browser, email documents to oneself. Translating quotation marks that don't move well from PC to mac is nothing, compared to some of the problems we've faced in crossing the gaps of communication posed by New Blogger and other challenges- and- if a little bit of that is enough to make you give up, you must not want success very badly.

Technological hurdles are like a good Minnesota snowstorm, I told them- they build good character, make people help each other, make all of us better people, more upright and virtuous. It was a pep talk I needed to hear more than they did, I think (see below)...and I vowed an era of greater browser-fluency on my own part (learning at least basic Firefox, Opera, maybe Mozilla), with maybe more awareness of what low-level teachers face when undertaking such a huge task. We are all short of time, some of us more painfully than others. But most of all, our students feel this, that time is limited, and they know that the sooner they get on the computer and get started, the better. I've never had one who said, I don't need this. Or, if they said it, I didn't hear it.

When dealing with the hunt-and-peck typist (of which we apparently have many), I say, show them the typing program, stand over their shoulder and show them double-space, then stop spending good class time waiting for them to find an r. They'll learn soon enough- enough of them have (I have), and, when they see how necessary it is (I am not making this up??) - they'll figure it out.



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