HIG, R U n2 CP? : The Technology Is the Easy Part

People who work with me know that "The technology is the easy part" is perhaps my favorite saying. And I believe that is true. (When you can afford the technology, that is.) What's tough is changing people's behavior, especially your own, or that of your staff. For-profit businesses talk about "customer service" and "giving the customer what they want," and an awful lot of that is modifying back-end processes. Higher education has been slow to come around, but we're getting there, although maybe doing a better job in student services than in teaching and learning.

Our guest opinion piece this week is by biology professor David Starrett of Southeast Missouri State University. He's also director of that institution's Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning and, thus, focused on the instructional technology appropriate for enhancing students' learning. He sees his students taking the technology for granted and is questioning how much we can expect them to change, and how much we have to accept them, and change what we do to meet their expectations.

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HIG, R U n2 CP? Me either. In case that's Greek to you, it translates into "How's it going, are you into chat-posting?" I pride myself on staying "hip," a tact taken out of necessity with a 10- and 12-year-old in the house. I know that "groovy" and "hip" became "awesome" and "rad" and are now "tight" and "sweet." My 12-year-old e-mailed me at work the other day. I think he sent it out through a vowel filter, there were none left when it got to me. I thought I was on top of how our kids are speaking these days. This of course is important for us in higher education, where our job duty is basically communicating with 18- to 22-year-olds.

A female student e-mailed me and signed the note LOL. I panicked knowing that translated to Lots of Love … or was it Lots of Luck? My son translated for me—it is now Laughing out Loud. I can't keep up. No one told me they changed the rules. My son took me to some online chat dictionaries. Wow! (I am sure that's an acronym for something). There is a whole new language out there in cyberspace. I now know that if I am doing some serious LOL, I am LOLROTFTRDMC (laughing out loud rolling on the floor tears running down my cheek).

It isn't just the net lingo that takes getting used to. All of us who have become accustomed to e-mail know that there are rules of netiquette. Words written in CAPITALS are shouting. Sentences no longer need to be complete, or as grammatically correct. Humor takes more effort. Emotions take emoticons. Who would have thought one could convey emotions with grammatical symbols. Oh, I know, Yosemite Sam could let out a stream of %$!*@&!^. But emoticons really can convey emotions, and they have become accepted enough to have standard meanings; there are numerous online emoticon dictionaries (how do they alphabetize those?).

What do net lingo, emoticons, and netiquette mean to us in higher education? Do we accept being old fogies and refuse to try to understand? Do we hold our ground and try to teach the younger generation how to write correctly? Do we try to learn the language and be hip in communicating with our students? Are we communicating effectively with our students?

While many of us are a generation or two removed from computers being second-nature, we have adapted to the new technology. Still, students in college now have never known a life without computers. These kids have grown up with computers. They have used the Internet for a big portion of their lifetimes. Software is absorbed. Programming is another language they acquire. Communicating electronically is as natural as talking on the telephone.

What do students coming into college now expect of academia? Aside from a desire to have the technology there to support our teaching, and their learning, they take for granted electronic communication. Do we satisfy their expectations?

My 12-year-old d'es not do a lot of net surfing. Still, he knows the common emoticons, knows chat language, and knows how to e-mail with his eyes closed. Students in my online general studies biology course must be LOL at me for being a NEWBIE. My real concern is whether this generation e-gap affects my ability to convey concepts and facilitate learning, particularly in heavily Web-supported or completely online courses. I know in my Web-based biology course students seem sometimes to be poor at reading simple directions. I am exasperated to the point of yelling at the computer terminal because another student has made another bonehead mistake. I am wondering what the emoticon for frustrated teacher is.

I am also wondering whether the problems my students have is not that they don't know how to read, but that I am writing in old-fashioned paper text and they are on the Internet expecting electronic text. My guess is that this plays some part in the problem. While I have become much more adept at writing, editing, and reading on a computer, sometimes nothing beats a good hardcopy. Certainly, writing a manuscript is different on a computer. Copy & paste. Drag & drop. Thesaurus, spell-check, and grammar check (aka green and red squiggly lines). We know our students rely on these as well—sometimes too much—as is evidenced by spell-checked, but not proofed, papers and e-mails.

How will I create and deliver online content effectively to my students if we are on different e-wavelengths? Though I am tempted to make acronyms out of my lessons, I think that at least an awareness and compassion for the ever-changing nature of language, be it in stone, on paper, or on the Internet should give me some capability of communicating with my students, even if they are speaking EEE (Electronically Enhanced English—the great thing about chat language is, near as I can tell, you can make it up yourself!). OBTW, JMO (oh by the way, just my opinion).

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David's got it right. We have to understand our customers and give them what they want—at least in terms of learning styles and communication. If our students don't understand the way we write simple instructions, then we have to find new ways to give instructions. If they don't want to go to the library, instead of DTL (decrying their laziness), we need to GTLOFT (get that library online for them).

And, given that they TUFG (take us for granted), we'd better make the technology work seamlessly, or they'll CTM&D (complain to Mom & Dad).

David Starrett, Ph.D. (starrett@cstl.semo.edu), is director of the Center for Scholarship in Teaching and Learning at Southeast Missouri State University.
http://biology.semo.edu/starrett/starrhpg.html
http://cstl.semo.edu/cstl/

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