Checking the Checkers

As teachers and writers, we know that spell checkers, grammar checkers, and style checkers have limitations. Students, on the other hand, sometimes succumb to the promise of accuracy and accept whatever these tools suggest. So how can we convince them to question the advice that they receive?

With my students, I introduce the topic with a discussion of an article that demonstrates the complications that checkers can introduce and a complementary article that discusses the value of accuracy. Here’s the prompt I use, which you are welcome to copy and customize for your classes:

Screenshot of autocorrect on a phone, with the image of a police officer riding a unicornWe all rely on grammar and style checkers to help us find the small errors in our writing. Anyone who has had autocorrect go wrong, however, knows that grammar and spell checkers are not necessarily accurate. Sometimes (as in the case of the unicorn-riding police officer in the meme image on the right) these tools can change our messages to say things we never intended.

In the same way that you must double-check the changes that autocorrect suggests, you have to pay attention to the grammar and style tools that are available in your word processors. Read the Slate.com article Microsoft Word’s Grammar and Style Tools Will Make Your Writing Worse for examples of how Word can suggest changes that will confuse your readers.

Compare the Slate.com piece to the BBC’s article on The true importance of good spelling, which discusses why correctness and accuracy matter by considering how readers react to errors in texts.

Be prepared to discuss the following questions in class:

  • Have you been in situations when you judged someone by their spelling or grammar OR when you were judged on your spelling or grammar? If you are comfortable with sharing, tell us what happened.
  • Have you been a victim of autocorrect gone wrong or an incorrect correction from a spelling or grammar checker? What happened? How did readers react to the autocorrected text?
  • How do your experiences and those that have been shared in class compare to the attitudes toward correctness and accuracy discussed in the BBC article?
  • In what situations are grammar or spell checkers likely to give incorrect advice? Why do these situations lead to mistakes?
  • What suggestions do you have to help people avoid taking bad advice from spell and grammar checkers? What can people do if they are unsure of the advice they are given?

To build on the discussion, follow up with “Mistakes Are a Fact of Life”: A National Comparative Study by Andrea A. Lunsford and Karen J. Lunsford, which is mentioned in the BBC article. Either ask students to read the 2008 CCC article itself or to read some excerpts from the article that demonstrate ways that spell and grammar checkers lead writers to make errors. After reading, have students consider how the categories in the CCC article compare to the different situations they identified in which grammar or spell checkers are likely to give incorrect advice. Encourage students to consider how the categories from the article can help them identify inaccurate advice from spell and grammar checkers.

As students work on drafts for the course, I ask them to note times when they receive poor advice from their word processors. I invite them to share incorrect corrections in a discussion forum. They provide a screenshot of the correction and then explain why the advice is wrong. Ideally, they use the categories from the CCC article to indicate the kind of error that the advice would result in. The resulting examples help the whole class understand the importance of double-checking the advice that spell and grammar checkers provide.

How do you discuss spelling and grammar in class? What activities do you use to help students understand how to use spell and grammar check advice effectively? Please leave a comment below with the details. I’d love to hear from you.

 

Credits: Police Issue Unicorn from Autocorrect Fail. The Lunsford and Lunsford article is from CCC 59:4/June 2008, pp. 781–806.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Digital Literacy Metaphors

a bit of godiva happiness by Janine, used under a CC-BY 2.0 licenseBefore Winter Break, I began a series of activities on digital literacy, inspired by Virginia Tech Libraries’ digital literacy initiative. I first asked students to create definitions of digital native and digital literacy and to explore the relationship between digital literacy and online identity. With these basics taken care of, I challenged students to research a public figure’s online identity and then to map their own online identities. This week, I begin sharing writing assignments and activities that ask students to explore their personal connection to and perspectives on these ideas.

I particularly love writing activities that ask students to explore and share their backgrounds as writers because they allow me to learn so much about what students need to succeed in the class. Similar activities that ask students to tell us about their backgrounds with digital literacy can teach us volumes as well.

When we think about how students adopt and interact with technology, we can easily be tricked by stereotypes and general beliefs rather than exploring the diversity of strategies and practices that students employ. In this week’s activity, I ask students to share their beliefs and experiences with digital literacy creatively by choosing metaphors that represent their use of digital literacy tools and then explaining themselves in an extended digital literacy narrative that focuses on that metaphor.

Discussing Extended Metaphors

I know composition students are familiar with metaphors from their previous English courses, but they will do better with this assignment if we spend some time exploring how the symbolism works with these figures of speech. An easy introduction is the famous Forrest Gump bus stop scene, where Forrest explains that “Life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” A short clip of the scene is included below:

The clip should quickly activate students’ prior knowledge of metaphors and how they work. The Purdue OWL’s Using Metaphors in Creative Writing provides a summary of how metaphors work with examples from literature. You can continue the conversation about metaphor, if you like, with a classic literary example, such as these poems:

Choosing Digital Literacy Metaphors

Once students are confident about how extended metaphors work, they can begin thinking about their own metaphors. Here are the steps I use:

  1. Begin in one of the following ways. If students are not comfortable writing about their own experiences, ask them to write about their general impressions or about the identity or experiences of someone they know or have heard about.
     
    1. If students mapped their own online identities, you can begin with their maps, asking students to identify information on their maps that could be represented by metaphors. They can think about the way that they work in or interact with others in one or more of the places they have mapped.
    2. Ask students to brainstorm about places they go online and the ways that they (or others) work or interact in these places. Once they have some ideas in mind, ask them to think about how they might represent the work, interaction, or places with a metaphor.
    3. Have students brainstorm about specific interactions or experiences they have had in digital spaces. Once they have some ideas in mind, ask them to think about metaphors they might use to represent these experiences.
  2. Consider the ways that metaphors are typically used to discuss our use of digital technology. The following articles provide useful observations for your discussion with students:
     
  3. To inspire students, share these categories of metaphorical comparisons, emphasizing that any metaphor will work as long as students support the comparison with specific details:
     
    1. an animal (such as a cheetah, a chameleon, a panda, or a shark)
    2. a pet (such as a bulldog, a kitten, or a betta)
    3. a vehicle (such as a tractor trailer, a backhoe, a hybrid car, or a bicycle)
    4. a sports-related object (such as a snowboard, a bowling ball, a softball bat, or a
    5. a sports event (such as a basketball game, an Olympic competition, a NASCAR race, or a triathlon)
    6. an everyday action (such as cooking a meal, cleaning out a closet, playing a game, or weeding a garden)
  4. After you share some of the basic comparisons above, invite students to brainstorm additional categories and comparisons of their own. Once they finish gathering ideas, students should have plenty of options to choose among for their project. Naturally, encourage students to feel free to make their own choices as well. Emphasize that they are not limited to class list.

Writing about Digital Literacy with Metaphors

Once students have explored how metaphors work and collected a list of possible metaphors, ask students to create a project that explains or presents their metaphor to readers. Students might pursue any of these options:

  • an academic paper that explains the metaphor
  • a poem that presents the metaphor
  • a collection of quotations from news outlets, pop culture resources, and other media that invoke the metaphor
  • a fable that tells of an event, interaction, or experience, using the metaphor
  • a child’s picture book that explores the metaphor
  • an infographic that presents the metaphor
  • a mythic creation tale that describes how the writer learned about a digital literacy practice
  • a series of Instagram posts that explores the metaphor
  • an online museum display that demonstrates the metaphor
  • a movie trailer that teases viewers about a feature presentation of the metaphor

The class can brainstorm additional options if desired. Alternately, you might narrow the options available to focus the assignment more tightly. Whatever option you choose, encourage students to explore their own understanding of digital literacy and their experiences in digital spaces.

Any Ideas to Add?

I would love to hear how you would try this activity with students. Please tell me! Just leave a comment below with the details, and come back next week for another writing activity that explores digital literacy.

 

Photo credit: a bit of godiva happiness by Janine, used under a CC-BY 2.0 license

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

Mapping Online Identity

Unknown UserThis post is part of a series that ask students to examine how digital technology shapes literacy and the ways that people interact with others, inspired by Virginia Tech Libraries’ digital literacy initiative. Previous posts have covered definitions of digital native and digital literacy, the relationship between digital literacy and online identity, and researching a public figure’s online identity.


I used a digital identity mapping activity several years ago with mixed results. I think it was a relatively good idea, but the Digital Identity Mapping grid, from Fred Cavazza (blog linked is in French), which I used used for the activity, did not work well for students. The image was not designed for accessibility, which limited its usefulness. Even if the image had been accessible, however, there were other issues that would have still caused issues for students.

While students eventually worked through the mapping activity, they got stuck on basic comprehension and never got to the deeper analysis that I set as the activity objective. In particular, they didn’t understand that they could have more than one online identity even though they were quite adept with code switching in their face-to-face worlds. As the activity was originally set up, there was no way to reconcile the different ways that they identified in online communities and spaces.

The redesigned version of the activity that I am sharing here focuses more on connections to prior knowledge about identity and also reconfigures the mapping grid to better fit their experiences. Students will complete this activity to gather information on their online identities before working several composing projects related to online identity.

The Activity

  1. Review the terms digital native, digital literacy, and online identity, which the class has discussed during previous sessions. You might begin by asking students to consider how the terms relate to college students in general and then how they relate to students at their college in particular. Students may also share how the terms relate to themselves individually; however, asking students to reveal these details to the whole class is not the goal.
  2. Ask students to think about the personas they have developed online (either consciously or unconsciously).
    1. To help students understand the relationships among online and face-to-face experiences, talk about your own different identities (e.g., teacher, family member, friend, sports fan).
    2. Discuss how we have different identities online as well. Some are identical or very similar to our face-to-face identities, and some are different. For instance, you can talk about your identity face-to-face and online as a teacher. Obviously, do not reveal anything about your identities that you do not want students to know.
    3. Ask students to brainstorm lists of face-to-face identities that students at their college may have, listing the information on the board or typing it into a projected, shared document. If students need examples to get started, you can suggest their identities on Facebook with friends, on LinkedIn with potential colleagues and employers, and on gaming sites with other gamers.
    4. Emphasize that students need not have the identities that they suggest. You are building a list for the class to draw on. You may also ask students to name only identities that are appropriate for the classroom community.
    5. Once students begin running out of suggestions, review the list and make any additions or changes.
    6. Have students brainstorm online identities that are not already represented in the class list. As an example, you can mention identities that exist only online, like Facebook friends or gaming friends, identities that may only be known to others in a particular online community or subcommunity.
    7. Add a star or asterisk to items on the first list that come up as students think about online-only identities. Students can consider whether these similar identities differ.
    8. As discussion dies down, review the two lists and again make any additions or changes.
  3. Share the Digital Identity Worksheet with the class, asking students to follow the instructions to obtain a copy that they can work with. Alternately, you can provide photocopies of the worksheet.
  4. Demonstrate for the class how to use the worksheet by filling in a row, using your online identity as a teacher (or whatever personal identity you used earlier in the session).
  5. Working as a whole class, fill in another line on the worksheet, using an identity that all students can relate to, such as a student in the course you are teaching or more generally, a member of the class community (to include students and teacher in the identity). Take advantage of the opportunity to discuss how identities on the brainstormed lists can be broken into more specific categories if desired (for instance, students can be broken out into different majors, class levels, courses, and so forth).
  6. Once students understand how to fill in the worksheet, ask them to complete the form for homework:
    1. Explain that they will use the information on the worksheet in future writing activities, which they will begin during the next class session.
    2. Reinforce the instruction that students should not reveal any online identity or any component of an online identity that they are not comfortable talking about in class.

Closing Thoughts

This redesigned version of the activity is less visual. All the icons and the grid from Cavazza’s original version are gone. This change clarifies the analysis and self-reflection that students need to do. Further, it puts more emphasis on writing by serving as a heuristic for projects students will explore in future sessions. They will return to their worksheets several times as they work.

This activity could easily be adapted as an extension or addition to the previous activity on researching a public figure’s online identity. Students could use their research to fill in the worksheet for the figures they considered to organize their ideas before working on their class presentations.

Come back next week, when I will share a writing assignment that focuses on online identity and digital literacy, connecting this recent series to the first activity students completed. In the meantime, if you have any questions or have a great activity or assignment to share, let me know by leaving a comment below. I look forward to hearing from you.

 

Image credit: Unknown user by Traci Gardner, used under a CC-BY-SA 4.0 license.

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

From Digital Literacy to Online Identity

Social Media Remote by Animated Heaven on Flickr, used under Public DomainLast week, I shared a critical thinking activity that asked students to explore the definitions of digital native and digital literacy. With my activity this week, I ask students to consider the idea of online identity. I cover several aspects of online identity, so I will share several posts on the topic. Today’s post focuses on an activity that shifts from digital literacy to the online identity that someone builds with those literacy skills. This activity should take only one class session.

The Activity

  1. Have students review the characteristics of the terms digital native and digital literacy, which the class established during previous sessions. Make any updates or changes that students want to the characteristics.
  2. With the characteristics fresh in students’ minds, explain that the class will apply the ideas by discussing the digital literacy skills that a public figure needs today.
    NOTE: Focus the discussion on particular public figures to ensure that you can complete the discussion during one class session. Consider the public figures in the instructions below as examples. Choose other public figures if they will work better for your class.
  3. Ask students about the digital literacy skills that a state politician or the school’s president needs and why those skills are needed. Ask them to consider the role rhetorical factors play—how do the audience, purpose, and context matter in terms of the necessary digital literacy skills? Record their responses on one side of the board or similar display.
  4. Once students have the basic characteristics determined, explain that you want them to think about how the digital literacy skills they expect would change (or not) if the public figure were a digital native, recording their answers on the other side of the display. Provide a concrete example such as the student government president or a class president. Encourage students to address the same ideas that they considered for the first public figure they analyzed. If new ideas come up for the digital native public figure, have students consider whether it applies to the older public figure (and if not, why not).
  5. With details recorded for both public figures, connect the conversation to online identity. Explain generally that online identity is the personality someone builds as they use their digital literacy skills. Provide only a brief definition. Students will have a working idea of what the term online identity means. The goal here is to ask students to record their preliminary ideas about the concept in preparation of deeper analysis.
  6. Arrange students into four small groups, asking two groups to consider the state politician or school president and the other two to consider the student government president or a class president. In their small groups, ask students to brainstorm a list of artifacts that they would expect to find if they investigated their public figure’s online identity.
  7. To get them started, you can offer the guiding questions below, but indicate these are just some opening questions. Groups can add many more questions of their own to these starting points:
    • What kind of social media accounts would you expect the figure to have?
    • What sites would you expect the figure to have logins on?
    • Where would you expect the figure to post comments?
    • Where would you find photos that figure posted online?
  8. Depending upon the amount of time left in the class, students can either present their brainstormed lists, combining the ideas to create one list for the state politician or school president and the other two to consider the student government president or a class president. If you have run out of time, ask groups to turn in their lists and combine the lists before the next session.
  9. End the session by explaining that you will use these lists as a starting point for a research project on online identity that you will begin during the next class session. Ask students to continue thinking about online identity, and to jot down any additional ideas they think of to add to their lists at the beginning of the next session.

Follow-Up Activities

Depending upon your course textbook, you might ask students to read an essay about establishing identity, whether online or not. The Bedford/St. Martin’s title Acting Out Culture (4th ed, 2018) includes a chapter on “How We Identify” that offers a variety of relevant essays. If you want students to read specifically about online identity, Daniel Ruefman’s “Taking Control: Managing Your Online Identity for the Job Search” from Writing Commons frames the topic in terms that students can relate to personally.

Any Ideas to Add?

Let me hear your suggestions for talking about online identity and digital literacy in the composition classroom. Whether you have an assignment, a great reading, or another resource to share, I would love to see what you have to say. I might even feature your idea in an upcoming post!

 

[Photo: Social Media Remote by Animated Heaven on Flickr, used under Public Domain]

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.

What Is Digital Literacy: A Critical Thinking Activity

Digital Natives: An Infographic Series about Emerging Adults, from Oxford University PressVirginia Tech Libraries are embarking on a digital literacy initiative, which focuses on “support[ing] all learners in exploring, evaluating, creating, and sharing a variety of digital content, including data, information, and media.” This work matches much of the work I have been doing all along in the writing classroom when I talk about digital resources and digital composing.

 

For the next few weeks, I will share some relevant classroom activities and assignments that align with the digital literacy work on my campus. I’m starting my series with an activity that focuses on defining what it means to be a digital native and, by extension, what we mean when we talk about digital literacy. Establishing an understanding of these two terms provides the support for all the future activities in this series. Depending upon the length of your class sessions, you may break up the activity into more than one session.

 

The Activity

  1. Establish what students already know and think about the terms digital native and digital literacy. Ask students to write what they know about the terms, using whatever strategy they find most comfortable (e.g., freewriting, listing, clustering/mindmaps).
  2. Have students share their notes on the two terms in small groups, working together to identify similarities among the responses and the strongest ideas they have recorded.
  3. Ask each group to present the similarities and strongest ideas they have identified, writing notes on the board or presenting from a shared slideshow.
  4. With class input, group related ideas that have been shared, rephrasing and reducing as necessary to narrow down the list of characteristics. Identify this synthesized list as the first draft of characteristics of the terms for the class.
  5. Explain that the class will next compare the first draft to ideas that are presented in infographics about digital natives and digital literacy.
  6. Share my Digital Literacy board on Pinterest, or share your own collection of infographics. Preview each of the infographics briefly with the class. If desired, you may limit this activity to a single infographic or a small number of infographics.
  7. Assign each group a specific infographic to analyze. Alternately, allow groups to choose an infographic, first-come, first-served style.
  8. Ask students to return to their small groups and examine the infographic closely, using the following questions to guide their conversation:
    • What facts about digital literacy and/or digital natives are included in the infographic?
    • What support is given for the facts?
    • What is the source of the facts? Are the sources reputable?
    • Do you agree with the facts in the infographic? How well do they match your experience?
    • How do the facts in the infographic compare to those in the first draft that the class created?
  9. After students have discussed their infographics thoroughly, ask them to consider whether to change or add to the first draft of characteristics. Have groups identify their points generally, explaining that the whole class will decide on the specific details of changes or additions.
  10. Once small groups have finished their work, ask each group to share their infographic along with the basic points of their analysis of the infographic, relying on their answers to the questions in Step 8 to structure their presentation. Ask each group to end their presentation by explaining any changes or additions they recommend as a result of their analysis.
  11. Once the group presentations are complete, sort the changes and additions that have been suggested. Ask each small group to reconcile the relevant changes with an existing characteristic and/or to draft additional characteristics.
  12. Have groups submit their revisions and additions to you. Before the next class session, combine all the characteristics into a new draft. Make copies to distribute or create a slideshow of the revised characteristics.
  13. During the next session, pass out copies or share the slideshow with the class. Ask students to review the new draft, and as a class make any additional changes to the characteristics. Explain that this revised, new draft will be used in future activities.

Follow-Up Activities

Next week, I will share a follow-up activity that asks students to think about how their characteristics relate to the idea of online identity. If desired, however, you can use these alternative activities:

 

  • Ask students, working individually or in small groups, to create their own infographics that present one or more of the characteristics that the class has established.
  • Treat the class list of characteristics as a collection of hypotheses about digital natives and digital literacy. Have students, again individually or in small groups, research a characteristic, looking for supporting data. Ask students to prepare a formal oral presentation of their findings as well as any recommendations to change the characteristic they have investigated.
  • Have students write narrative essays that describe a specific incident from their own lives or that they have observed that relates to one of the characteristics. Students’ stories should support or refute the characteristic they focus on.

Any Ideas to Add?

I would love to hear some new ideas on discussing digital natives and digital literacy with students. Do you have ideas to share or infographics that I can add to my collection? Please leave me a comment below with the details, and come back next week for my follow-up activity that focuses on online identity.

 

 

Infographic Credit: Digital Natives: An Infographic Series about Emerging Adults, from Oxford University Press

This post originally published on the Bedford Bits blog.