Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Message is Independent from the Medium

One of the dilemmas facing educators is what role spelling, grammar, writing style, and so forth should play when assessing student assignments. If a student's writing is absolutely atrocious, yet they somehow manage to regurgitate a few basic facts, should the student receive full credit?

The consensus among educators seems to be that unless the subject area is English or Language Arts, then content (unreadable though it may be) is King. This laissez-faire approach, however, fails to serve students' best interests.

While a hypothetical history assignment's grade shouldn't hinge entirely on grammar/spelling/etc, we need to make students understand that following proper writing conventions will be a component of all their grades in all subjects.

Knowledge trapped in a student's mind because they lack the ability to communicate it effectively to other people isn't terribly useful. We're doing students a disservice if we tell them gibberish is acceptable because somewhere in there we found a few facts regurgitated.

Mastery of language is the cornerstone of communication. How can we expect students to get to the point of using higher-order thinking skills, and to engage in meaningful discourse, if we set them up to be constantly wasting their time stumbling over language hurdles?

The ability to clearly elucidate an argument allows one to focus on the intellectual question at hand, rather than spending time deciphering what someone meant in a poorly written missive.

A variation of this issue arises when the writing medium changes from paper and pencil to keyboard and screen. Do we allow a lesser standard in online communications? Do we define writing in a different medium to be less formal?

I say that as long as the medium (text) remains the same, then the means of inputting and transporting that text (Pony Express, Canada Post, electronic mail, instant messaging, blog posts, etc.) should not change the basic tenets of clear and effective communication when using a textual medium. When the medium changes to include sound, video, or visual arts, then the definition of effective communication changes to match.

A typist does not reach the same heights of speed when composing a thoughtful message as they do when simply copy typing. As educators we need to impress upon students that just because a faster communications method emerges, thoughtful composition must still remain if communication is to be meaningful. In this respect, the message is entirely independent from the medium.

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