Wednesday, October 17, 2007

accidental data

I have an interesting problem that bloggers and blogging teachers might enjoy hearing about. I'm very interested in how people acquire languages, especially people who are trying to do it, purposely and deliberately, over a period of time. Now I know that there are formal ways of studying this, but I get a lot more information just watching the steady flow of people in front of my eyes, over a period of, say, a year of six terms, sometimes 50-70 students per term, massive amounts of English.

Now, when I get them to publish stuff, it's always for a pedagogical reason- and, I tell them, up front, and over and over again, that, unlike paper products, which will go home and rot in a notebook, or be recycled if the planet is lucky, what goes online stays there forever, or at least until someone deletes it. And I really do believe that, because we are showing the world, we should make it look as good as possible, keep working on it until it's presentable. Well, it turns out that often they don't finish editing; very rarely do they delete it, and even then, it's usually by accident (although that alone accounts for some doozies). What I'm saying here is that, although I warn them, and work with them to make sure that what goes up there is edited and proofread, etc., what happens in spite of everything is that a lot of developmental English is published and remains up there. They get in too much of a hurry to fix it; they wait until the last minute; they post in a hurry. Of course, I grade accordingly, but I'm secretly glad that I have living evidence (that may stay forever) that shows how they are putting together sentences, what their interlanguage looks like.

They published it. They put it there. They knew the rules (I assume). It's data- like apples, sitting there, waiting to be picked. Now, is it ok for me to use it?

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