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There is a stock phrase for the slow progress of any change: Taking three steps forward, two steps back. But wonder what it would be like if we did not take steps back.

The Edutopia article above does a disservice to education by signposting how to maintain the status quo or even reverse progress of edtech integration. To justify this, the author cited the harm of screen time and the benefits of taking notes by hand. 

I am not saying that excessive use of a device late into the night is good, nor am I saying we should only take notes with more recent technologies. I would point out that the pen vs device question gets answers that fall on either side depending on the task. 

If you need to take a quick note, draw a diagram, or mindmap, then a pen (actual or electronic) might be both more efficient and effective. But if you needed to submit a legible essay, record an interview, or document phenomena, then a keyboard, microphone, and camera are better options for these forms of writing.

We should also point out the elephant in the debate room. The ultimate form of assessment — paper-based tests — favours handwriting over other forms of writing. In such a room, students cannot cooperate with one another, fact-check their work online, or express themselves beyond basic text and drawing.

Ultimately, the strategy of note-taking also matters more than the tool of note-taking (see video and sources here). In reviewing the video, I summarised:

It does not matter if you prefer to take notes by handwriting or by typing. It is how you attempt to quickly process what you see and hear before you record it. It is about your ability to analyse and summarise.

Rising above, I find articles that try to justify handwriting tiresome and passé. They live in the past in order to divide and conquer. They encourage the large camp of teachers who are wary of technology and thus maintain the status quo. They discourage the other group of teachers that leverages on technology by making them feel like they are doing something wrong.

What is wrong is wearing rose-tinted lenses of nostalgia and taking the short term view. If we are preparing our learners for the present and future, they need to use the tools of today and tomorrow. These tools include pencils and devices. 

We need a better debate. We cannot keep arguing that students should hand-write because exams are on paper. This might help students with a grade, but it avoids the responsibility of preparing them beyond the walls of the classroom. The use of all writing tools should not just be strategic and contextual, they should also be shaped by more progressive and authentic forms of assessment. What such assessment looks like and how to implement it are far more interesting and valuable topics of discussion.

If I mention “writing copy”, you might think of one or more people creating persuasive content for marketing or advertising. However, this form of writing is important for anyone who uses social media.

On Twitter, in particular, the copy must grab eyeballs and encourage click-throughs. Bloggers, newspapers, and anyone promoting anything in 140 characters needs the message to be juicy and concise.

Googling “writing good copy” will return almost countless writing tips. Good examples are important; bad examples even more so. Here is a screenshot of a bad tweet by TODAYonline.

The tweet means that IKEA caused some children to fall down stairs and then recalled a product. It meant to say that IKEA recalled faulty product for a lapse in safety. So why did it not just say that?

There does not seem to be anything grammatically wrong with the tweet. Some might not even see the problem with the tweet. So why make a mountain out of a molehill?

That is the wrong question and perspective. Why ignore the mountain and play it down as a molehill?

Cast a more critical eye on most public notices and you will see what I mean. The gaffes are a dime a dozen. For example:

Examine the next email you receive from an administrator, preferably one from the public sector, and you will might get “revert back”, “gentle reminder”, “kindly reply”, and other unquestioned but questionable use of the language.

When some people talk about communication being a 21st century skill, what they might mean is that the learner and worker of today needs to leverage on technology not just to exchange information, but also to do it well. This could mean reducing noise, making compelling arguments, and rallying people around a cause.

Are we teaching the learner of today and showing the worker of tomorrow how to do this?

If a local use-of-English book promotes “revert” in place of “reply”, I cannot blame the users and learners of the language. They were not taught or mentored any other way.

So why are we not teaching our children to write good copy?

By this I do not mean learning only the rules of grammar and syntax, filling in blanks, writing out of context, or answering questions based on experiences that you cannot relate to.

Instead, I am referring to writing for Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, or Twitter. I am talking about scripting for YouTube, Vine, or Periscope. I am even referring to the now “old school” forms of digital writing like email and blogging.

I do not mean using old rules and strategies like writing email on paper. I do not mean replacing writing with keyboarding (although that has its merits).

I mean first being immersed in the writing that happens today, embracing its use, identifying its problems, and offering solutions. By learning language this way, I also mean going beyond the rules of communicating and factoring in social, ethical, and other values.

I can already hear the objections of teachers who depend on centralised curricula and localised planning. It takes too long. It is too difficult. The contexts are too varied.

The same could be said for values-based education, but we now have CCE, Character and Citizenship Education [PDF].

Learning to write copy and for current contexts should not take more effort than reading one’s social media feed and sharing some thoughts. Imagine a teacher starting every language class with a few examples fresh from her Twitter stream. Better still, imagine students curating these resources. Now imagine designing and writing around these lesson seeds.

If we do not teach our kids how to write meaningfully, we risk more than unintentionally funny tweets. We risk becoming bad communicators. Do we take that risk or do we shoulder that responsibility?

what am i reading? by jamelah, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License  by  jamelah 

I liked reading How We Will Read, an interview with Clay Shirky. There are lots of takeaways, but my favourite quote was: Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution. Anyone who is an agent for change will  relate to that statement.

If a newspaper publisher wants to keep selling papers, it will not encourage citizen journalism or cannibalize its sales with iPad versions of its paper. If a university wants to promote only its on-campus experience, it will not venture into the online realm.

But back to changes to the way we read and write…

Shirky made a good point that publishing had already changed (you can do it at the click of a button). My thinking out loud here is evidence of that for crying out loud! And that is just one way writing has changed: It can be more public.

Reading has changed to include the processing of images, sounds, and videos. I think Shirky hinted at that. But he made a more obvious statement about reading being more social. Not social as in book club, but as in shared bookmarks, highlights, annotations, and comments. I had similar thoughts when I wrote about the levels or evolution of e-books.

So the reader is not just a consumer but a participant, a critic, a consultant, and a producer. What’s not to love about reading in the early 21st century? But again I have to ask: Are we teaching kids to read this way?

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