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.
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 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.
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.
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