I don't think the sloppy grammar and texting shorthand is necessarily detrimental to a proper STEM education, per say, although I am horrified at the ease in which students and professionals, myself included, get comfortable slinging the shorthand as opposed to trying to write real sentences. I think the bigger danger in all this social media isn't so much the educational aspects, but rather the communications skills and social mores that are becoming acceptable.
Sure, it's great that students can easily find resources on the Internet, get homework advice from peers on Facebook, and do online social networking to find great jobs (and apartments). But they also share way, way too much personal stuff in an open forum--a move that can come back to haunt them when they're applying for jobs or STEM grants or just trying to spread their wings as a professional. Social media definitely has it's place, but it can't become the wholesale replacement for personal communication.
I think social media is great for students. Although it can be used as a personal tool, it also allows students to connect and collaborate on projects and share ideas. Sure, slang is used when students talk to each other, but as long as they know the importance of when they should use full sentences/proper spelling I do not think that it is harmful. As Viti said, most students can distinguish between the way they should communicate with their peers and in the classroom.
Yes, as the parent of a 15-year-old girl who sends scores of text messages every day, the written word and text messages are two different languages used in separate settings. I think texting is relatively harmless -- in regards to its affect on formal communication. It's much like shorthand. Back in the day of shorthand, it didn't have a negative impact on formal English.
However, the time consumed in texting may be a concern regarding students. At my daughter's high school, students are allowed to text in class during downtime (study periods or the before-class minutes.
I agree, Lauren. There really is no problem if students have one set of communication styles for their peers and another for the classroom and professional dealings. The only "gotcha" that is out there is when they miss the generational differences once they get into the workplace. For example, they might continue to use the informal style when communicating with their peers (in age / experience) in the next cube, but that might turn into the famous "career limiting move" when they CC the boss.
At least since the time of Plato, there has been hand-wringing about how the youth is going to the dogs. And at least for the past five or six decades, one prominent feature of this hand-wringing has been the idea that new media and technologies are facilitating the rapid decline of youth. (Comic books! Drive-in movies! Television! Video games! MTV! Cell phones!)
Given the fact that we seem to have made it through the past several millenia okay - in spite of each generation's prediction that the next generation will be totally unequipped to handle the challenges of the era - I think we'll probably be alright in this regard.
But when it comes to STEM education, I think there are bigger issues than social media. Making sure that teachers have an adequate level of understanding of the subject material is one. This is especially true at the elementary level, and in bilingual education programs, which serve a significant and growing fraction of U.S. youth. If teachers don't understand the material very well, there is little hope that students will - unless they have a lot of help at home. But if the parents don't have a solid educational background, as much as they may want to help their kids, there is only so much they can do.
Beyond this, there are also issues of teaching methods and curriculum, not to mention the overall learning environment in many schools, especially those serving lower-income students. If students can't feel safe in school, it's not realistic to expect them to learn very much.
All of these issues relate to deeper issues in society, and none of them are going to be solved overnight. (And in my opinion, little if any of the "school reform" which has been promoted in the past few years will do anything at all). But engineering professionals can help by volunteering as tutors and mentors. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to benefit from an engineering education owe it to ourselves to make sure that every student has a chance to develop their talents to the best of their abilities.
All very compelling points, Dave. I agree that there are far bigger hurdles in the way of a sound STEM education other than social media. From what I can see, and I have elementary and middle school kids, one of the areas that has had an admirable impact on fostering interest their in STEM topics and possible careers is the influx of STEM-related programming on TV along with student contests held at all levels. My kids have learned a ton of stuff they wouldn't necessarily cover in school by watching shows like Mythbusters. Moreover, the hands-on curriculum (labs, field trips, science fairs, contests) is really what gets them going. It is that kind of learning that is more apt to fuel the interest and curiousity of our youth rather than a rote textbook curriculum.
I think lamentations about the lost art of spelling and grammar should be decoupled from talk about social media. Similarly, I don't think social media per se is negatively impacting STEM. To be blunt about it, in each generation, there's only relatively small cohort cut out for engineering and science. In early times, there was related blue-collar trades (electrician, welder, etc.) which provided good-paying career paths for tech minded kids who may not have had the opportunity to go to college. Now the latter are gone. As for the former, industry complains about the lack of engineers, yet engineers still aren't treated very well. So why the surprise that so few kids want to go into the field? To be fair, I think industry IS starting to treat engineers better. What's needed is policy, in the form of tax credits for hiring domestic engineers, and also educational aid to underprivileged young people who want to study engineering.
One thing that hasn't been mentioned here is the fact that at least some Universities are complaining that their undergraduate candidates have been less prepared for college each year for the past three decades. This is a trend that doesn't fall under hand-wringing about youth, it is an objective problem. It is also not attributable to social media, as that is a phenomenon of the last decade.
The problem with Social Media is not what it is, any more than movies or television. The problem is ABUSE of social media. The problem is the expectation that people will share every thought and respond to every post within minutes. Those expectations are contrary to getting anything done. What is needed with the social media thing is a revised expectation. If the expectation is that a text will be answered when it it convenient (say within two hours) unless there is an existing conversation or a previous arrangement, it no longer need interrupt what the recipient is doing. If the expectation is that a person will spend a half hour a day at a convenient time on Linked-In or Facebook, it ceases to crowd out exercise, housework, productive hobbies, etc. And remember, F2F is always better.
As to the education thing, there are two keys here. One, we have to measure our children's progress against the other children in the world that they will be competing with. In short, we must have a list of skills that children throughout the world acquire, and when they acquire them. Wherever our children fall short, we must find a way to fix that. Whether that means training teachers, providing resources or getting involved personally. But it starts with measuring the problem. You can't fix it if you can't measure it.
The other key is motivating the kids. Learning is hard work. They won't do the work unless they want the result. In a world in which they have everything they want without it, they won't do it. Forget grades, they are only a scorecard. They only matter if you need a good grade to get what you want. The problem is we are so NOW focused that we don't see the future. Our kids don't have anything to work toward, nor do they have any role models to follow. Our society has given up on heros, and we are paying the price. An established adult doesn't need heros to keep them going, but children will not imitate unhappy or boring adults, They will imitate the funny or exciting ones. Unfortunately the exciting ones nowadays are all violence, and the funny ones are all stupid.
I was engaged in a similar discussion years ago on emails. Should email grammer and spelling be something that is required or does it really not matter. I don't think that discussion ever was resolved but now I can say that I wonder what type of credibility would a person be given if they went into court showing an email or notes with poor spelling and or grammer. Would a person be looked down upon and their opinion be viewed more or less reliable due to their spelling and grammer?
Something to think about the next time someone is in a hurry and spells something a little incorrrectly.
To go along with this is the apparent dumbing down of the profession. More and more engineering jobs are being held by people without an engineering degree. How often are young engineers encouraged to get the P.E.s license? Not because it is required but just because it is good for the profession.
At one time I thought engineering was in the top three from a perception point of view. Doctors, lawyer, engineer. But I believe that perception has changed. Often it appears that business is the way to go as opposed to engineering.
Almost like engineering has become more of a blue collar job, compared to those in sales and marketing. Is it just me or does anyone else see this perception?
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