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.
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.
You are right about giving too much personal information. I like the Google+ approach better tha Facebook, but it can be a problem either way. I have two sons. The oldest just started university and is studying Aerospace Engineering. The younger one is a sophmore in high school and is tending toward computer science. The older one is very into social media. In fact we found out he had a girl friend when my wife noticed on Facebook that he ws "in a relationship". The youngre one, who likes to build his own computers and uses his for lots of things, completely shuns social media. Go figure. We got rid of cable so that they would stop watching it so much. Instead they are on-line all the time. This has not however lessened their interest in STEM. In fact, their friends all seem to be going that way.
So, i don't think social media is a detriment to STEM education. It may be that their constant exposure to technological products wil encourage them to take up STEM. I do agree that they need to be more careful than they probably are if only becuase of issues with reputation and future opportunities. On the other hand, when everyone is doing it will it be such an issue? I don't know.
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.
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.
@ Dave.In addition to my daytime job in industry, I teach high school English at a small private school. I agree with your generalization about perpetual hand wringing, but I have to add a caveate. When I was a kid we all did stupid things to impress somebody who we thought was cool and that still exists today. But what has really changed is the willingness to be the butt of a joke just so you can get on Facebook or any of the myriad of web sites that show us videos 24/7 of people, usually young, doing idiotic dangerous things in front of a video camera so it can be sent viral and the whole world can be witness to somr truly brainless exercises.
I am sure we all grew up with people who were always "On Camera" and performing for some unseen audience. Maybe it was just talking overly loud or some other obnoxious, but essentially harmless behavior. Today I find this behavior to be much more prevalent. So many kids are so focused on their personal stardom that they never really realize what jerks they are being. I often run into this in the classroom where some students think it is okay to blurt stuff out whenever they take a notion because after all, aren't we all there to serve them?
As far as your point about education, everyone reading this should go back to school and take a class with today's undergraduates. I am not talking about a peer group seminar, but PSYCH 101 or something similar. When I returned to college to get teacher certification, I had been out 27 years and it was culture shock in the first degree. If someone wrote or read aloud a paper that was organized and coherent, I lay 10-1 they were nonstandard students who had recieved their HS education no later than the Reagan administration. I felt particul;arly brilliant because I actually knew how to punctuate.
@Tool_maker: I agree with you about student behavior being an issue. My daughters (15 and 17) grew up in El Salvador, and moved to the U.S. last year. We have talked a lot about their perceptions of the difference in high school education between the two countries.
One of the first things they noticed was how much disruptive behavior goes on in U.S. classrooms. As you mention, it is common at most schools in the U.S. for students to talk back to teachers. This is much less common in El Salvador - and if it happened, would be cause for disciplinary action.
I'm not sure to what extent this behavior can be attributed to social media, since, for the most part, kids in El Salvador have access to the same social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube, and use them just as much. I think it has more to do with cultural norms and parental attitudes. It seems to me that, in the U.S., there is generally less discipline in the home. There also seems to less respect for teachers in the U.S.
Of course, in El Salvador, there are fewer career opportunities available for college graduates, so many talented people go into teaching who might, in the U.S., go into other professions. There are also fewer college graduates overall, so being an educated person commands more respect.
Here in the U.S., we seem to be locked into a downward spiral with regard to education. The quality of our undergraduates is declining because the quality of our teachers is declining, and the quality of our teachers is declining because the quality of our college graduates is declining. There are many social and cultural factors which feed into this.
I certainly don't want to hold El Salvador up as a model. For one thing, the rates of poverty and crime are much higher than in the U.S. - the murder rate per capita is 14 times higher - and the overall levels of education and literacy are lower, so how much good is their education system really doing? On the other hand, we should be asking ourselves what we can learn from other countries.
Perhaps we only need to look at our own past to see what excellence in education looks like. Cultural changes in the United States have affected our education quality. As just a tiny point, when I had a conflict with the teacher as a kid, my parents took the teacher's side without even thinking. Now, it seems parents automatically take their child's side.
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.
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?
My perception is that engineers often do not have the skills that are required, so others are often brought in. I expect that the situation that jmiller refers to, non-engineers doing engineering work, is mostly in the software area. This is a critical skill in almost any engineering project. I recently helped judge projects for EET and CET undergrads as an IEEE member. It was an interesting experience. All of the proejcts had sofware in them, but the students had the most trouble with that. The suggestion has been made to the institution to beef up that type of training.
As for the status of engineering, I do not think it as dire as jmiller makes out. It is important to note that while doctors and lawyers perform a useful service, they do not create wealth in a society. It is the engineers and scientists that do. In most other countries I have noticed that engineers run many enterprises. Here we have MBA's. This is not a good trend. You don't see many new businesses started by MBA's. They are usually brought in to manage the decline.
If engineers are thinking that they are becoming "blue collar" then I think it is a perception of the engineer. I have met many that are in jobs that are being oursourced. In many of those cases, the results are not good, but the trend continues. When the engineer stops seeing his field as a creative enterprise, then his perception will be one of loosing control and status. It may be the particualr environment the individual is in, but that is not an indication of the profession as a whole.
I can also tell you, from personal acquantices, that many doctors feel the same way. Medicine has changed and most feel it is not for the best.
I think Alex's point is well taken regarding the loss of so many blue-collar level technical trade jobs. My nephew could have been a brilliant mechanical engineer under the right conditions, but those conditions didn't exist in his family, including the lack of opportunity to go to college. He may turn out to be a really good auto mechanic instead, but these days that profession is pretty well flooded with applicants and wages aren't what they used to be.
Lazy habits are the source of damage, rather than a particular media. This includes sloppy grammar and poor spelling, of course. The main cause of the damage seems to be s general lack of respect for the more technical aspects of intelect. Or perhaps the more intellectual aspects of technology. When athletes get paid so very much money for mediocre performance, kids ask why study and work to be an engineer whan a fair baseball player makes more in one season than an engineer may earn in a lifetime. Even I wonder about that sometimes, as I watch a baseball player not much better than me drop the ball, and know that he will be paid more for that game than I will earn this year. There is something very wrong going on, indeed. I don't think that the social media is to blame, I think that it is part of a symptom, not the source.
The failure comes from the fact that lazy slackers get paid for what they do. The media is just an easy way to think shallow thoughts and waste time. If tweets and texting were not available there would be some other means toward the same end that would be utilized.
It is important that we avoid mistaking a symptom for a cause.
Interesting though comparing baseball and engineering. If a baseball player is right one third of the time he is in the hall of fame. If an engineer makes a mistake it can be dangerous.
However, I did the math one time with football and the average football player works an entire year to be judged by only 48 hours of work. Think about it. 16 games times 3 hours a game. Their entire yearly performance is just 48 short hours. Half of which they might not be playing for. However, they are epected to work the entire rest of the year to produce what will be judged.
I do think lazy habits are the root cause. And these lazy habits start a way before media is even involved. But i think the question may be does media help the situation at all. Does media let people get away with being lazy as opposed to encouraging the development of positive skill improvements.
Twenty years ago, engineers wrote memos. Their spelling and grammar was no better back then. As I recall, many of the older engineers complained that the younger engineers didn't know how to write a simple memo.
@Charles: Good point. Engineers still have to write memos today, they're just called "e-mails." I have seen people (especially engineering managers) who, if they want something to be particularly paid attention to, will write a separate document, title it a "memo," and attach it to an e-mail. My experience is that this does not necessarily result in any more attention being paid to the content.
Spelling and grammar can be important in unexpected ways. A couple of years ago, I had the task of cleaning up the material callouts for a number of molded foam parts. All of these parts served the same function and logically should have been made from the same material, but there was a plethora of different, mutually contradictory, callouts.
One of the callouts was "OPEN-CELL FOAM WITH BARRIUM." I assumed "barrium" was probably a misspelling for "barium." However, I wasn't sure what was being referred to. Some type of flame retardant compound containing barium, perhaps? I spent a lot of time on the phone with foam suppliers trying to find out about additives with barium in them.
Eventually, after talking to the original designer, I found out that "barrium" was actually a misspelling for "barrier" - meaning an integral skin foam! Who would have guessed?
Grammar is also important. I once had a supplier claim that, due to the lack of a comma, "STAINLESS STEEL, UNS S30400, CONDITION A PER ASTM A276" onlymeant that they needed to provide material which met the mechanical requirements of Condition A per ASTM A276 - but that they weren't responsible for meeting any of the other requirements of the ASTM standard!
I had to admit that, while they were logically wrong, they kind of had a point, at least gramatically. I am much more careful about the use of commas in material callouts now! In fact, I would like to propose a corrollary to Murphy's Law: anything on a drawing that can be misinterpreted by a supplier, will.
Dave's point about ASTM specs reminds me of the language in MIL SPECS. They were written in a kind of technical version of legalese. Indeed, the whole defense contracting process consists of a whole lot of parsing of the language of contracts and specs, so that vague or broad or otherwise unclear technical requirements are funneled into a narrow range that both sides (supplier and buyer) agree upon. Then whatever the engineers design has to meet that spec. The word "shall" plays an inordinately large role. Ex defense engineers will know what I'm talking about.
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