Sunday, April 10, 2016

TESOL Session report

Leverett, T. (2016, Apr.). For better or worse: Grammar technology and the ESL writer. Internet Fair Classics, TESOL International, Baltimore, MD, USA.

Frankly, I had trouble dealing with this PC they gave me, and I was a little nervous. It shouldn't be that hard to find this weblog, and find the Ginger teaser, and find the Grammarly teaser, but I found only one out of three, the second one, and had to wing it from there. I write it up to nerves, and to the fact that when I got there I found I was BYOD (bring your own device) and hadn't remembered being told that; I'd left my device at home. Perhaps it was true that they had told me I was BYOD, and I didn't even know what that meant. But the result was that, as I sat down to the computer, I was shaking a little, and having trouble finding what I wanted.

I typed things into the Ginger window and noticed, even as I was there, that it gave different responses sometimes, even to the same sentences. Grammarly wouldn't even offer me a free window, perhaps because they sensed I was in the TESOL EV. The surprising thing about this session was that a number of people had come specifically to hear me, and/or grab my handout, and so I had much more of a crowd than the people I'm ordinarily able to just draw in. And I had these bright purple handouts, so there was no question about who was hanging around listening to me, or trying to read the handouts. I have to admit, the purple nature of them made them hard to read (I had requested pink, and they were, in fact, a kind of pink)...but, this year, I left this weblog's url off of the handout (an imperfect situation), so I'm linking to it from a number of other places, and I hope that this weblog can remain as the center of my research and writing.

One thing that is happening is that Google docs is forcing me off of the site; or rather, SIU is forcing me off of it. Perhaps people have been abusing the siu domain, I don't know, but for whatever reason, I need new sites for my google docs. That will be this month's project, a general reorganization. All my writing in this area is somewhat haphazard, I admit, and needs to be roped in and organized.

There is a general growing consensus in the world of writing that technology plays an increasing role in the production of student writing and the development of their learning. I found nobody who would dispute that it's increasingly important; that it influences both their writing and their learning; that it's difficult to find out what technology they've been using and how, exactly, they relate and respond to it; and that we owe it to our students to figure out where it has set them back so that we can respond accordingly. I found some people who pressed me until I admitted that in fact, there was no question that it was good in many ways, and that it taught them real stuff and saved us a lot of trouble. When they pressed me more, to find out if it was more trouble than it was worth, for example, I wouldn't commit. Who knows how many errors it has already corrected, so that we get the impression our students are fluent? Who knows what it has taught them successfully, so that they get it right every time, now? As I've pointed out, we are left looking at students who in many cases have had ongoing relationships with technology for years - so, if they have no confidence now, or are unable to place commas successfully, we might blame technology, sure. But is it so bad? People are still becoming fluent; they're just taking a different path.

I feel like I know more about Grammarly and Ginger now; I also know more about Word grammar-check. We investigate these and comment on them as forces of nature, that bend student writing one way or the other. It's a complicated world, and the grammar engines are putting their mark on the language. Feel free to comment.

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