Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Session Report 2015

Leverett, T. (2015). For better or worse: Grammar technology and the language learner. Internet Fair Classics, TESOL Convention, Toronto, Canada, March.

About fifteen presenters present at the same time, and people go from computer to computer watching what each person puts forward. Mine is not especially sexy; I type bad grammar into Ginger or Microsoft Word, and see what happens. Lots of people are interested in Ginger although I make it clear that I'm not a sales rep. I do believe that Ginger is among the best. But I also make it clear that I study what these things don't teach, so I'm more interested in the fails, so to speak, that teachers are left with at the end.

Apparently I got some unexpected support this year; in the past I felt like I was a voice in the wilderness. But in some major colloquium that had Bridges in the name (that’s actually not much help; most of them had Bridges in the name) – on Thursday, in which major SL writing experts were worrying about the state of the field, it came out that there is a substantial amount of technological involvement in student writing. Yes! When people happened upon my Internet Fair Classics presentation, they mentioned it. It seems that the problem has caught the attention of the experts.

As well it should. Writing is completely different from the way it used to be; what we see now in student writing is a product of choices they’ve made using the technology; a product of impressions they picked up from the technology, so, to understand their writing, we need to understand the technology and the way they relate to it. It’s that simple. But I think I’m not alone in saying this, and I'm not the first to notice a new situation.

This year, almost a dozen stopped by and watched as I put ungrammatical sentences into grammar software, and we discussed cases like “defiantly”, commas before “which”, “another hand” and “anther hand”. These are problems that I’ve been focusing on, with the exception of the second, so I tend to bring them up myself. They illustrate points related to student use of technology.

One thing I like about TESOL is that people bring up some of the other variables that are important in understanding student use of technology. Here are a few that I was reminded of. Some students are on scholarship, so actually learning the language may be less important than getting where they’re going. Some students are in a big hurry, and don’t read definitions well because they don’t understand the definitions. Some students really really don’t have access to technology, or have gotten it so recently they really don’t know what to do with it. In some cases, their level is way ahead of ours.

There is now a pen, that looks like a highlighting pen, that you can scan across a line of text, and it will translate it into any language you wish. Have you seen it?

What else is new from TESOL? People from Yemen couldn't go home; their airport was closed. People from Tunisia, or people who visited there recently, were traumatized. People had come from far and wide and were trying to use limited time wisely; this described me as well. But Canada could tell these teachers they had to bring a passport, and it didn't make much difference.