Author Archives: ChrisFinSoir

My Take on the Simplified Text vs. Authentic Text Debate

Have you heard of the new movie, The Cabin in the Woods? The Telegraph, the internet version of the popular, British journal, recently reviewed the new film for their site:

Memento, The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense and all had final-reel secrets that weren’t just worth discovering – they were worth keeping secret afterwards, too. Like all of the best thriller traditions, this can be traced back to Hitchcock: adverts for Psycho implored prospective viewers: “Please do not give away the ending – it’s the only one we have.” Pulp auteurs Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s uproarious detonation of the horror genre, The Cabin in the Woods, fits squarely into this category.

As a piece of writing, native English speakers might enjoy it for its interesting punctuation, unique word choice, varied syntax. Ironically, the very elements that make this a fun piece of writing for native speakers make this text seem impossible for most second language (L2) learners of English.

As an ESL teacher, I have come up against this problem time and time again. In fact, one of my more recent and utterly demoralizing mistakes was thinking my students could read the Hemingway story, “Soldier’s Home”. Despite my best efforts at planning a thoughtful lesson that would generate a lot of reflection and discussion, the result was that my students felt demotivated, frustrated, and disinclined to ever pick up another story in English. In order to right the wrong I had done, I decided to begin simplifying authentic texts so as to make them more accessible to my students.

Since entering the M.A. TESOL program at SFSU, I have learned of the debate surrounding the use of simplified and authentic texts. Because this issue is germane to the field of reading in TESOL as well as my career as an ESL/EFL teacher, I wanted to explore this for my culminating inquiry. What follows is a brief introduction to the issues at stake followed by how I have used what I have learned to inform my own practices.


Young points out a number of ways text can be simplified. Jargon and low-frequency words can be swapped for easier ones (instead of saying “The don used the vernacular of the institution”, you could say “The professor used the language of the institution”). Idioms can be changed or deleted all together (instead of saying “The Giants are ahead in the count”, you could say “The Giants are winning” or “The Giants are beating the Phillies”). Sentences can be shortened or divided so as to make the cognitive load less. And of course, texts can be shortened as well. On the flip side of this, some texts are made simpler by making them longer. For example, subordination and pronouns with complex antecedents can be rewritten in multiple sentences to provide greater redundancy and less complex syntax. Text glossing—an in-text definition usually in the form of a footnote—is another example of lengthening text in order to simplify. As you can tell, simplification has many modes.

Over the years, a number of apologists have championed the use of simplified text (ST). O’Donnell makes the case that L2 learners can have trouble understanding texts due to insufficient linguistic and cultural knowledge; ST removes this problem. Simensen (cited in Crossley, Louwerse, McCarthy, & McNamara) agrees: ST modifies an original text’s lexical choices, or propositional input, or both, to make the text easier to understand. Another reason for simplifying text is to highlight certain grammatical and/or syntactical features so that students are more likely to notice them. And this is just the tip of the iceberg. Crossley et al. cite the following researchers and their arguments in favor of ST:

  • Twiessi held that ST mirrors the L2 acquisition process and so provides the learner with a structured model for language learning.
  • Allen & Widdowson pointed out that ST removes idiosyncratic language that has the potential to confuse and distract learners.
  • Kuo stated that ST provides cohesion in the redundancy and explanation that help learners notice grammatical features, language, and syntactical patterns.
  • Davies & Widdowson, as well as Krashen, saw ST as a means for giving students reasonable challenges without overwhelming them. This concept of input that is slightly above a learner’s current level is known as comprehensible input, or i+1.

In my opinion, motivation is another key argument in favor of ST. When students are bombarded with new words, low frequency grammatical features, and unique syntactical patterns, the effect can be overwhelming and, eventually, demotivating. Teachers want to create opportunities for student success, and motivation is essential in this process.

Not only is English demotivating, we have to wear these stupid scout uniforms too.


Oxford defines authentic text (AT) as being“unedited, unabridged text that is written for native…speakers” (as cited in Day & Bamford). Swaffar takes a slightly broader view. The matter of the receiver being a native speaker is irrelevant; if the text serves a communicative objective, it is AT. In my opinion, I tend to agree with Swaffar, although I would add that authentic text is a real message that is created for the purpose of actual communication from a real writer to a real audience.

This debate of ST or AT really gets interesting when we compare the two camps side by side. (You’ll see why in a minute.)

First, AT has a higher degree of cohesion because it makes use of natural syntactical patterns and redundancy which have been disrupted in ST. Second, researchers cite AT as being motivating. Petersen & Ostendorf believe that AT has a positive effect on student motivation because students are interacting with real language. This is supported from a pedagogical standpoint as well: In the recent trend of communicative language teaching, authenticity is touted for the reason that students will have improved learning if they have access to real language in natural contexts. Moreover, Gilmore cites research done by Peacock and Crookes & Schmidt that shows that there is a connection between authenticity and higher student motivation. Finally, Swaffar makes the case that AT is easier to read because it is rich in linguistic and cultural clues that help learners to guess meaning through the context.

Obviously we’ve got both camps using the same arguments but for different purposes! So who’s right? Well it has been difficult to tell because, as Crossley et al. point out, previous research only looked at ST and AT in terms of their effect “on student recall and comprehension, not with the linguistic properties of the texts.” This conclusion led Crossley et al. to reexamine simplified and authentic texts using Coh-Metrix, a piece of software that measures a text’s cohesion and difficulty.

The upshot of this research is that it may behoove beginning L2 students to have ST because ST has a lot of repetition as well as high-frequency words, and these elements make comprehension easier for the already taxed cognitive processes of an L2 learner. That being said, AT is the big winner in all other respects: AT provides a greater degree of cause-and-effect comprehension, and low-frequency words and syntactically complex structures expose students to language that is more natural. Crossley et al. make it clear that they prefer AT to ST with almost all learners with the exception of beginning L2 learners.


In the end, I believe that the debate of authenticity versus simplification must be a second priority to a more important issue – the learning goals of the class. These goals vary from level to level and institution to institution, but to give you some examples of SWBATs (ESL speak for Students Will Be Able To…): write a cover letter; compare and contrast cultural values; weigh the pros and cons of modern society; and the list goes on.

Today’s lesson: Learning how to work it on the picket line.

Curricula designers and teachers must decide their purpose and then decide the most appropriate texts. I feel that too often in this debate researchers argue that authentic texts be used for authenticity’s sake because current trends dictate that authenticity should take primacy.This does not sit well with me, nor does the idea that anything is so black and white in the realm of education. To use another example: Every day I make decisions for my students regarding what is and isn’t important to discuss so that I am able to achieve my goals. Simplifying text in terms of removing unusual, low-frequency lexical choices is just another method to do the same thing. The final decision of what to include and exclude will have to be determined according to objectives, students’ proficiency, context, and general importance of the word or feature.

However, this sounds like I am too much in favor of simplified texts. It has been my experience (and the experience of most of the researchers that I have read) that even when students are faced with a text that is challenging in terms of syntax or grammar, students are still able to make sense of the thrust of the text. Exposure to forms that are new for the learner poses the best possible means for student uptake.

If this position is extended, students can also gain a lot from exposure to what Wray refers to as formulaic sequences, such as idioms and collocations. In my opinion, this is where I diverge from the AT camp. In terms of teaching idioms and collocations, I believe that teachers have a serious duty to their students as gatekeepers and should use their discretion to simplify or gloss language as the teacher sees fit. On one hand, I think teaching idiomatic expressions, phrasal verbs, and jargon is essential for students who wish to participate in a specific discourse community. On the other hand, if these lexical items cause confusion or overly complicate texts, teachers should feel no allegiance to AT but should simplify as they see fit for the sake of their students.


I teach an intermediate-level ESL class. Now, “intermediate” is a relative term but, suffice it to say, my students are a long way away (at least a year, more likely two) from being able to handle a newspaper or magazine or English website. Thus, to make the in-class readings more understandable for them, I have gone to great lengths to simplify texts as well as create appropriate texts.

       I’d love for my students to understand               Herbert ‘Mourn-ya-till-join-ya H-dawg’ Kornfeld        but then they wouldn’t need me.

However, after the implications of my research, I have reexamined the class texts I use and found that I am guilty of doing all the types of simplification that are most harmful. Specifically speaking, I split complex sentences and this has the effect of distorting sentence structure, making the resulting sentences longer, more redundant, more unnatural, and ultimately less cohesive. (Although greater redundancy may seem like a good thing, Goodman posits that authentic text’s natural redundancy helps learners reconstruct texts as well as understand texts through context.) Moreover, I do students a disservice by restructuring syntactical and grammatical forms because I am not familiarizing them with the authentic forms they will find in other texts.

While I may be guilty of problematic syntax and grammar simplifications, I feel justified about my choices in linguistic simplification. L2 learners clamor to know what every word on a page means; it is a natural impulse. And yet, what is the value of teaching intermediate students words like twixt or pulp or marsupial? None. Not when there are more common words or phrases that are not only suitable but also expose students to language they are more likely to encounter. Furthermore, despite my use of linguistic simplification, I haven’t noticed any demotivation.

Fun? Yes! Important? No!

That is not to say I have done away with unfamiliar words. As gatekeeper, if I determine a word or phrase has a high frequency, I will leave it in for the purpose of using it in a post-reading vocabulary building exercise. Moreover, I am conscious of occasionally peppering the texts I create with unfamiliar words for exactly the same purpose. In my mind, the thing to remember is that teachers should provide the contextual clues that make it possible for students to guess at the meanings of new lexical items. I have found that using these methods, students are engaged and motivated by the opportunity to discover words on their own. This has the added benefit of strengthening their contextual reading skills when they eventually read authentic texts.

Understand that these conclusions are based solely on the class I’m teaching now; another class and another context, and these conclusions might need to be revised. The point is that ESL/EFL teachers need to consider the lesson objectives before they make black and white judgments on the authenticity of their texts.

A Linguistic Analysis of Simplified & Authentic Texts

Crossley, S.A., Louwerse, M., McCarthy, P.M., & McNamara, D.S. (2007). A linguistic analysis of simplified and authentic texts. Modern Language Journal, 91, 15-30.


As you may have already read from my previous posts, there is a divide in the ESL/EFL world (although it is lessening – more to come!) regarding the use of authentic texts (AT) as opposed to simplified texts (ST). As this concern has been mentioned in journals since the late 70s/early 80s, I was interested to see how far the debate has come in the decades since. This is the reason why I have chosen to review one of the most recent articles to discuss the topic: Crossley, Louwerse, McCarthy, & McNamara’s “A Linguistic Analysis of Simplified and Authentic Texts”.


The most striking element in the debate, according to Crossley et al. is that advocates on both sides support their arguments with the same observations gathered from linguistic features, syntax, and discourse structures. The reason for this comingling of support is that previous studies have looked at the effect of text on student recall and comprehension (mainly done with “shallow-based readability formulas and vocabulary counts”) as opposed to the linguistic properties of text. In light of what Crossley et al. believed to be a serious lack of empirical evidence, they set out to analyze these features using Coh-Metrix, a computational tool that measures text cohesion and difficulty. (There are a number of reasons why Coh-Metrix rocks and these reasons include phrases like “syntactic parsers” and “causal cohesion”. And who could forget “latent semantic analysis metrics”?)

Memphis is known as the home of Graceland and the birthplace of Coh-Metrix.

So here’s the nitty-gritty of the study: The researchers rounded up texts – 105 in all – from seven ESL books. Then Coh-Metrix was put to work analyzing seven linguistic metrics: causal cohesion, connectives & logical operators, lexical coreference, density of major parts of speech, polysemy & hypernymy, syntactic complexity, word information & frequency. I’ll save you the less-than-thrilling specifics and explain the pros and cons of AT and ST.



  • Ability to clearly show cause-and-effect relationships
  • Ability to clearly develop plot lines and ideas
  • Variety is both natural and profound in terms of lexical items and syntactical structures
  • Greater use of abstract and low-frequency words (read: reading is slower but more nuanced)



  • Strong cohesion
  • Beneficial redundancy and semantic overlap
  • Clear language
  • Greater use of high-frequency words (read: reading is faster but less nuanced)
  • Lack of natural language
  • Reliance on facile syntactic constructions (overuse of nouns phrases and qualifiers)
  • Reliance on simple constructions means elaborating on syntactically tight authentic constructions (read: reading results in a higher cognitive processing burden)
  • Short, unnatural syntax (read: meaning is clouded)


Whew – that was a lot!


Who’s sweating?

So, what is the upshot of all this? According to the researchers, it may behoove beginning L2 students to have ST because ST have a lot of repetition as well as high-frequency words, and these elements make comprehension easier for the already taxed cognitive processes of an L2 learner. That being said, AT are the big winner in all other respects: despite not having the degree of cohesion that ST do, AT make up for this deficit by providing a greater degree of cause-and-effect comprehension. In addition, low-frequency words and syntactically complex structures expose students to language that is more natural. Crossley et al. make it clear that they prefer AT to ST with almost all learners with the exception of beginning L2 learners.


All in all, this is a pretty compelling piece of evidence, and I think evidence is the key word here: these findings provide the debate with the support that has been, until now, mainly based upon intuition.


However, I told you I was an advocate of ST so let me give you my perspective on the study. First off, Crossley et al. say that ST can be useful for beginning L2 learners but they don’t define what they mean by this. After all, “beginning” is a relative term which means it could be viable for learners who are learning a language from word one up to learners who have a good handle on conversation but still make grammatical errors. This article would be more useful if the authors included a clearer dividing line between beginners who could benefit from ST and those students advanced enough to benefit from AT.

Talk about a verbal and syntactical verbal uppercut! You try teaching this to ESL students.

Another issue I have with AT is that they are time consuming. AT may be fine for pleasure reading or self studying or even as homework, but they typically do not work well in the classroom because the questions that arise from AT can easily suck up precious class time that could arguably be better spent in achieving the day’s objectives.


Despite these reservations, I am grateful that I had the opportunity to read this article (and others like it) because I have a better understanding of what’s at stake when educators talk about using ST and AT. And, I have a newfound appreciation for AT: in particular, we can extrapolate from this article the fact that, although AT makes use of low-frequency words and complex syntactical structures to a greater degree than ST, through sheer dent of practice, L2 students are likely to find the language in AT more useful and more natural. If a student can get to this level of understanding, the rewards are limitless.

Simplified Text Simple

Just in case you didn’t read my last blog, I am researching a debate that is common to any ESL/EFL teacher: What type of text is the most beneficial for students – texts that have been simplified or texts that are authentic (read untouched)? My hypothesis is that there is ample evidence to support simplified texts based on a number of personal observations. First, I know I can’t give my students a newspaper or a script or a magazine article and expect them to understand even a quarter of what they read. Second, simplified texts allow teachers to focus on specific features such as syntax, vocabulary, grammar, and so on. Third, there are a variety of industries–everything from readers to pre-made lesson plans–that subscribe to the idea that simpler is better when it comes to texts. But enough about me– What do the experts say about simplified texts?

Crossley, Louwerse, McCarthy, & McNamara (2007) sum up the position of the pro-simplified-text camp pretty well. Basically, they say that beginning second language learners get more from texts that are “lexically, syntactically, and rhetorically” simpler. Furthermore, these texts are more akin to the teacher language the students hear in the classroom, making the transition from the world of the classroom to the world of the text easier to manage. Crossley and co. also discuss Simensen’s (1987) take on the issue. She sees simplified texts as having three benefits in that teachers can use them to: 1) illustrate a specific grammatical feature; 2) manage the amount of lexical input so as not to overwhelm a student’s cognitive processes; and 3) control the “propositional input” (I take this to mean the information we are proposing is true about the world). Any of this sound familiar?


He hits it outta the park!

(Okay, I didn’t say all those things—and certainly not so eloquently—but I did get points 1 and 2.)

So what does text simplification look like? Young (1999) offers us Long & Ross’ methods: texts can be shortened, idiomatic expressions and low frequency vocab can be deleted or replaced in favor of synonyms or more concrete language, and complex syntax can be replaced with simpler structures. This last method, according to Petersen & Ostendorf, entails reducing the frequency of adjectives, adverbs, and coordinating conjunctions. The number of phrases per sentence is also reduced. (One result of this, interestingly enough, is the potential to have longer texts because the author has had to add material in order to explain a complicated idea. If this is true, then we should ask if we are not dismantling one obstacle just to put another one up. Students may be more overwhelmed by a longer and more repetitive text than a shorter but more syntactically concise, and yes, complex text.)

But, when all is said and done, it seems that the preferred type of simplification is a lexical change. At least, that is what Young (1999) found when she asked linguists and instructors to simplify four texts. Lexical replacements accounted for an average of almost 50% of the total changes. This seems to beg the question: Was the original vocabulary truly low frequency or was it just believed to be beyond the grasp of the students? If it was the former, then perhaps it was better to modify. If it was the latter, and this is a common enough word that students will encounter elsewhere, it seems worth it to leave it in.

(SPOILER ALERT!) The issues I raised with simplification are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the literature I have read thus far seems to indicate that, because simplified texts create so many problems, there is a large faction of researchers who favor using authentic texts. It turns out simplifying texts is not so… (ahem) simple. But this is the topic of a future blog.


I made a mistake. I should have never simplified that text.



The Whole Simplified Text vs. Authentic Text Imbroglio

Every Monday morning at my ESL school, a new batch of students show up, and a small group of us in the Academics Office have the unenviable task of figuring out what level each student should go in. Once the students are placed, the responsibility of assessment falls on the teacher but in a slightly different respect. Every test, every worksheet, and every text must be assessed for its level of difficulty and the teachers must agonize over the same question: Is the language of the text  challenging but manageable for my students? Do they have the ability, either with the help of other students, or with me, or from the context, to figure out what this is all about? Yes, we look for that sweet spot—Lev’s Zone of Proximal Development.

So clearly I have spent a lot of time considering this issue. One instance in particular stands out. While teaching my Level 8 students (8 out of 10, that is), I planned a thoughtful lesson around Hemingway’s Soldier’s Home. I believed that, as a result of my hard work, my students were going to have a deeper understanding of (what I thought were) universal themes and participate in a thought-provoking discussion. Instead, reading this story resulted in the students feeling demotivated, frustrated, and disinclined to ever pick up another story in English. Worst blunder ever! After examining the story through my students’ eyes, I realized all my mistakes: the language was tough, the imagery difficult to picture, there was a lot of information that had to be got from reading between the lines, and the context was unfamiliar.

Papa didn't feel any better about it.

When this kind of problem arises, the solution seems simple: simplify the text, and so, make it easier to understand. You can break up long, complex sentences in favor of shorter, easier sentences; reduce the number of complex grammatical forms; and choose synonyms more familiar to your readers. However, this creates a new dilemma for teachers: What does a text lose when authenticity is replaced with simplicity?

As this is a constant balancing act for all ESL/EFL teachers creating their own curriculum and lesson plans (and certainly every textbook publisher in the industry knows how difficult this can be), I want to explore this topic further to understand how and when to simplify texts. And even more importantly – is this okay? I’m pretty sure that I will find out that simplifying texts is a good thing for the simple reason that it is preferable for a student to be reading – anything, even simplified texts – than for a teacher to worry that the student is missing out on a text due to a lack of authenticity. (What I just said will probably be looked upon as sacrilegious by many in the TESOL department.) Of course, I don’t have any info to back this assumption up: this is just my gut instinct.

I found three texts that I might use to further flesh out this topic:

Crossley, Greenfield, & McNamara (2008) – Assessing Text Readability Using Cognitively Based Indices

Young (1999) – Linguistic Simplification of SL Reading Material: Effective Instructional Practice?

Crossley, Louwerse, McCarthy, & McNamara (2007) – A Linguistic Analysis of Simplified and Authentic Texts

Reconsidering Technology in the Classroom

This posting reexamines Blog #1 in light of all of our readings and class discussions thus far. In Blog #1, I asked: “I’m kinda curious if anyone else out there thinks that [technology and the social constructivist theory of education] can be truly and completely merged. Can we be “co-constructors of knowledge” in the pursuit for higher education from behind a monitor? The functions and applications that allow us to more quickly and more profoundly interact with one another, can they truly substitute for face-to-face communication?”

Coincidentally, the last topic we discussed in class narrowed in on this same topic. The springboard for this was Jackson’s quote: “Technology is changing people’s relationship with reading and writing, thus forcing our notions of literacy to change… [B]ut educators need to do more than just adapt to the changes technology introduces. We need to add a critical lens and make sure our classrooms do not become ‘technocentric,’ i.e., using technology uncritically and focusing more on technology than our student learning.”

I too fall in with Jackson’s camp. As Dr. Wormuth mentioned, the horse is out of the barn: it is too late to wonder if technology should be used for education because it will be in the classroom whether we like it or not. To which Mark made an interesting comment about this: we might consent to using technology in the classroom but we need more longitudinal studies of the effects (I perceived this to mean the physical or psychological effects) this will have on students. (I hope I didn’t overstate your position, Mark. I realize you were playing devil’s advocate here.) This is an ethical and worthwhile point to consider but having been inundated with television since the 20s, computer games since the 70s, (modern) cell phones since the 90s, people have been spending more and more time in front of screens – both for work and pleasure. People have obviously found the positive effects outweigh the detrimental ones.

So, if the technological classroom is here, I think the most important factor teachers need to consider when creating lessons is, “Am I creating a lesson that can be enhanced by technology or am I creating a lesson that is driven by technology?” The latter leads to a focus on gimmickry and on entertaining students. This, in turn, leads to students being underwhelmed by using technology in a way that is artificial and institutionalized. More importantly, students are losing out on gaining the necessary skills and information that is the upshot of a good lesson. Clearly, technology should not be the primary focus of a good lesson. The former, however, realizes that technology can be used to improve lessons but only uses it as a means to an end. In particular, it is not a replacement for the social interaction that leads to a co-construction of knowledge between student and student or student and teacher.

For your consideration: I brought up SMART boards and their growing popularity. On the face of it, they seem to be the kind of gimmick I am opposed to, but, after hearing Amber’s explanation of how her friend implements the SMART board in class, I just may be a convert. What’s your take?

I also came across Corning Incorporated’s vision of… glass. Woah! Do you believe the hype? It looks cool and creepy at the same time.

The ‘Correct’ Interpretation

For my money, one of the most interesting topics we have discussed came up last week when we asked: Is there a correct interpretation of a text? Why do we view some interpretations as more correct than others? And, do these interpretations truly deserve to be more valued than the individual interpretation that a reader derives from a text?

I suppose one of the reasons this inquiry fascinates me is that the art that we value is, more often than not, informed by authorities who bring works of art to the public’s attention through their educated interpretations.

While, Rosenblatt doesn’t exactly tackle the matter of authorities, she does discuss how certain accepted interpretations are arrived at. From Writing & Reading: The Transactional Theory, Rosenblatt remarks: “[G]iven a shared cultural milieu and shared criteria of validity of interpretation, we can without claiming to have the single ‘correct’ meaning, agree on an interpretation… The concept of shared criteria of validity of interpretation in a particular social context recognizes that different interpretations of the same physical text may be acceptable, and that some readings may satisfy the criteria more fully than others.”

Through the AV Club’s podcast, Reasonable Discussions, I first heard about Renoir’s 1939 film, La Règle du Jeu (The Rules of the Game). After a little bit of research, I learned that it is often put in film critics’ lists of the best movies of all time. Interestingly enough, when the film premiered, a good portion of the audience greeted the film with jeers; one viewer lit a newspaper in an attempt to burn down the theater; threats were made to other theaters who intended to screen the movie; and it was eventually banned by the French government. It wasn’t until after World War II that the movie resurfaced.

I watched La Règle du Jeu to see what all the fuss was about, and I gotta say, I was pretty underwhelmed. Actually, it was kind of a chore to watch it. So, why is it so highly regarded? From what I can gather, it is acclaimed for its tight narrative and technical brilliance, the likes of which had yet to be done in cinema. Thinking again about the film, I can see what modern-day critics mean: I can appreciate the camera work, the imagery, and the actors’ élan (if I’m going to talk French film, I might as well be as pretentious as possible) in carrying out their roles, as well as what these roles meant in terms of a world on the brink of world war. And still, the interpretation that this is one of the best movies ever made escapes me. However, I recognize that authorities have a certain training in the study of cinematography that I lack. I am thankful for the validity of film critics’ authoritative interpretation, and yet I believe my own interpretation is just as valid. If you don’t believe me, try watching La Règle du Jeu; I’m curious to see if you care one iota.’

C’est meh, n’est pas?

To go back to the original question, I think that we as teachers have a double duty. The first is to provide opportunities for students to use their critical skills to make their own, personal interpretations that they can explain and defend. The second is to provide students with the interpretations that Rosenblatt states possess the “shared criteria of validity”. Of course, this is not an endorsement, per se, of that interpretation; rather, we should encourage a critical examination of this interpretation to discover if it is founded in the dominant discourse or is it one that truly has intellectual merit or is it, in fact, both.

Even though I know everyone says it's crap, I love the original Tron. That’s my interpretation and I’m sticking to it.

Classroom of the Future

Going over this week’s reading in the Handbook, I was really struck by the way Pawan & Honeyford seemed to zero in on two (arguably there are more but for the sake of this post…) concepts: today’s learner as a “digital native” and the learner as “co-constructor of knowledge within the academic discourse of a classroom”. On the face of it, any forward-thinking educator would take both these ideas as a given when considering the current direction of educational theory.

However, there seems to me to be something equally obvious: the activity of using a computer to access the Internet – despite all the arguments in favor of the way the Internet connects us all and provides communication in a way unlike ever before – is at its core an isolated and solitary activity.

Look what computers and smoking did to me in the 70s.

When considered in these terms, the idea that we can use computers and still be active participants in a community of meaning-making seems flawed.

Although Pawan & Honeyford don’t come right out and say it, I don’t think they are arguing it must be one or the other. Rather, I think they indicate that computers and the Internet are a reality as is the modern take on educational theory, so how is it we can reconcile the two when they are so fundamentally at odds? In many ways, this is already an old question. After all, distance learning has been going on since 1728 according to Wikipedia (who knew?!). Slightly more recent, the University of Phoenix opened its websites to business in 1989, and was the first to offer a bachelor’s and a master’s degree that could be completely done online. However, though I don’t have any direct evidence of this myself, I can imagine that a lot of these online students felt/feel like Casazza’s Anna. Anna was the student who participated in a class using distance-learning methods, but quickly came to feel “like an outsider” because “she needed that connection” of interacting with classmates and teacher.

So, other than pointing out Pawan & Honeyford’s interesting juxtaposition, I’m kinda curious if anyone else out there thinks that the two can be truly and completely merged. Can we be “co-constructors of knowledge” in the pursuit for higher education from behind a monitor? The functions and applications that allow us to more quickly and more profoundly interact with one another, can they truly substitute for face-to-face communication? It’s always a gamble to play the game of setting a truth in stone, especially when, time and again, history has taught us that there’s no predicting the limitations of technology and progress. Although, I’m not keen on the idea, I have to think that one day it will be possible. Or, maybe it’s possible I read too much sci-fi in the downtime between semesters.

I don’t want to draw this out any longer but this is too apropos not to include. Salman Khan has also been considering this question, and his conclusion is that computers should not replace the classroom but rather replace the lectures.

Not this Khan.

Students study the video lectures for homework, and what used to be homework, is now done in the class. Surely, this is already the design of a reading class: the readings (read: lectures) are done at home and the discussion is done in class. However, when you consider math or science classes, the application of Khan’s techniques could be a game-changer.