Archive for the ‘texting’ Category

Goggle eyed or google brained?

October 5, 2009

I’ve just heard another journalist riding Mark Prensky’s bandwagon about how electronic technology is changing our brains.  Nicholas Carr has been speaking on Kim Hill’s Saturday radio programme on Radio New Zealand.

His ideas are perhaps most accessible in a recent article in The Atlantic Monthly, where he asks “Is Google making us stupid?”.  He begins with stories about the difficulty he has in concentrating on what he has been reading and then citing other people who have the same experience.  Well, add me to that list but unlike Carr, I do not blame Google and the Internet for my own infirmities.  When the book is interesting enough like The Da Vinci Code, I have no difficulty concentrating.

Perhaps more telling is his next remark:

Anecdotes alone don’t prove much.  And we still await the long term neurological and psychological experiments that will provide a definitive picture of how Internet use affects cognition.

I couldn’t agree more with his first remark, but has he considered that there will not be any experiments or that the experiments will be inconclusive?

His anecdote about Nietsche in the last years of his life, learning to touch type so he could continue to write even though his eyesight was failing, is an interesting one.  Nietsche’s friends noticed that his writing style had changed as a result of this new way of writing, leading Nietsche to comment “our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts”.   Similar anecdotes can be told about the Roman writer Quintillian when he employed a scribe to write at his dictation and about Henry James when he employed a secretary to type at his dictation.  Unlike Nietsche, they found their writing became more verbose.  I don’t think that these anecdotes prove anything at all.  McLuhan said it all, the medium is the message.  The medium is not rewiring our brains.


We don’t ‘low no natives round here

August 21, 2008

I have just attended the DEANZ conference in Wellington, New Zealand and been struck by how criticism of Mark Prensky’s digital natives metaphor has now become mainstream thinking. While it is high time his views were subject to scrutiny and judged for their worth, I would be concerned that some of his less well promoted ideas might be lumped in with the digital natives idea and rejected without being examined.

In particular I refer to his ideas about the merits of cell phones as teaching tools.  While Prensky’s ideas of how cell phones could be used are not developed, he is aware of the huge potential.  I’ve covered this in earlier posts to this blog and in other media, but the reports of how cell phones are being used proliferate in the media.  The New Zealand Education Gazette 11 August 2008 reports how Nathan Kerr of Onehunga High School sends teaching notes to his students’ cell phones.

However, the merits of this initiative are reduced by Kerr’s Prenskian analysis of his project.   Kerr is quoted as saying “The most important thing to remember about the mobile teaching project is that it is student driven, they know a lot more about the type of technology than I do.”  Well, excuse me, but when did we last hear about a student compressing teaching materials and sending it to cell phones?   Surely what Kerr has done shows just the opposite, that he knows more about the technology than they do?  Prensky has a lot to answer for.

The second question about why other teachers aren’t using mobile technology is not answered in the media reports.   The answer to that question does swing the debate back in Prensky’s direction.  Many teachers and school administrators see cell phones as threats, not as opportunities.  Accordingly, money is not budgeted for these new approaches and teachers are discouraged.   When a teacher provides the resources themselves, they are met with obstacles, prohibitions and downright hostility.  As I have said in other posts, there are systemic obstacles to adopting new technologies, not so much the digital immigrants imposing their ways of life on the natives, but a Praetorian guard working to preserve the power of the elite, who talk the need for change while working behind the scenes to prevent any change threatening their way of life.

The sound of one tree falling

May 27, 2007

Move over e-learning, mobile education is here to stay

May 2, 2007

O Brave New World: or texting and the Teacher of Language Arts

February 28, 2007

We’ve all seen them: students crouching in their seats, eyes intent on the small screen on the object held in their hands. We’ve read it too; writing in a strange new dialect of abbreviations and acronyms. The reaction of older teachers seems to be one of dismay; yet another threat to literacy, spelling and life as we know it. How should we react?

Is texting just another fad? If we ignore it, will it go away? How should we deal with texting when these cryptic messages start appearing in students’ formal writing? I want to suggest to you that texting is not going to go away. It is popular with the biggest growing market in the world; the youth market and it is extremely profitable for the telephone companies and the manufacturers of cell phones.

Some figures show the direction of things to come. One in six people have access to a cell phone, as against one in 12 having access to a computer. Industry analysts calculated that worldwide, two billion text messages ere sent in 2003. Radio New Zealand in Digital World has already documented how texting is becoming integral to the youth culture by reporting the story that students co ordinated the June 2002 student strikes by texting friends in other classes and at other schools. After some high profile cases of bullying by text message with two students committing suicide, schools in New Zealand try to prohibit the practice. I have also heard claims that drag racing is organized through groups of young drivers texting each other as they search out suitable sites for their races.

Nor has the commercial world been slow to turn texting to its advantage. Numerous competitions, directed at the youth market, ask contestants to text a message to be eligible for a prize draw. Radio stations offer an instant request line by text and, on some television channels, callers can participate in polls to choose which film will be screened on any particular evening. Perhaps more usefully, the airlines and Tranz Rail now offer a service for intending travelers, where they can be send a text message if the service, which they were booked to use, is delayed or cancelled.

The m-learning revolution

Several years ago several of my colleagues visited Finland to see how cellular networks are being used to deliver distance education programmes. They reported that people in
Finland with an interest in education are suggesting that e-learning may yet be overtaken by m-learning or education using mobile devices which have evolved from the cell phone.

While the uses of mobile phones in distance education are becoming evident, are there applications of interest to teachers of English? I think there are. English in Aotearoa has already published at least one example of how texting can be used in an English classroom (Number 46, June 2002 P 50). However, this uses texting in a familiar print medium. M-learning as a new instructional medium should involve the use of the cellular network.

Applications of texting

I found the first application in English on line. Here a commercial organization, Tiny, offers to text haiku to your cell phone. Haiku are short and so ideally suited to being presented as text messages. (Tolstoy would have more trouble with War and peace.)

This started me thinking about what else could be published as a text message. Something short, like an aphorism or a palindrome. After all this is the age of instant short communications. Just as political oratory has been replaced by the ten second “sound bite”, there are lots of short forms of writing out there. Stuff, the INL news website, offers its controversial Naked man caption writing competition by text message. This risqué weekly competition, which previously ran in The Evening Post is ideally suited to the texting format, as a caption is yet another form of short message. While schools would be unlikely to want to emulate this competition, the idea could readily be adapted to more educational purposes.

Vodafone offers its subscribers “Text life”, a soap box opera played out on the screens of a million cell phones. Here, if your friends do not have exciting or salacious news to share with you, then your telephone company will step into the breech and offer you its own line of confidential text messages. I must confess I have not subscribed to Text life but I am told it concerns the life and times of a nineteen year old student, Sam, whose boss is riding high for a charge of sexual harassment . When I searched the World Wide Web for “epigrams”, I found a service, which will email you randomly selected epigrams by Emily Dickinson. This is not mobile phone technology, but it could easily be adapted to text messaging as Dickinson’s epigrams are shorter than her more familiar poetry.

Similar services seem to abound for de La Rochefoucauld’s maxims. Try Joke Monster, another web based email subscription service. I haven’t distinguished maxims from aphorisms, apothegms and axioms since the terms seem interchangeable, but palindromes offer yet another application. The web has plenty of sites devoted to collecting and writing new palindromes and a link to The Palindromist Magazine for students who want to read more. There seem to be enough ideas here for English classrooms to experiment with texting as another form of publishing. Just as we can now publish students’ art work, music compositions and writing on the school website, texting offers a simple way to publish writing – always provided the writing is short.

How much does it cost?

Vodafone is using proprietory software developed in Auckland and must be using something similar. This software allows the user to email messages from a computer to a “call group” of cell phones, which had previously been set up. It differs from Vodafone’s “web2text” service in that a web2text message can be sent only to one cellphone at a time. At the moment access to this software comes at a cost but competition and the desire to build revenues mean that this service like other cell phone services will become more affordable over time. For example, the web2text service I mentioned, is free to Vodafone subscribers and Telecom regularly discounted their 027 service to offer either unlimited or 500 text messages for ten dollars a month. Even now both telcos may be prepared to fund pilot schemes for educational and promotional purposes.


Bain, Helen. (2002) “MSG received” The Dominion Post August 3.

Binning,Elizabeth. (2002) “Text-message bullies force cellphone ban at school” New Zealand Herald November 27.

Miller, Helen. (2002) “txt msg Shsp: the final horror?” English in Aotearoa Number 46, June.

(2003) “Tchers morn deth of litrcy in txt generation” New Zealand Herald March 4

Aphorisms Galore

Digital life originally broadcast on 20 July 2002)

The Emily DickinsonRandom Epigram Machine

Jim Kalbs’ Palindrome Connection

Joke Monster