Hiatus: Back to School

It’s that time already! Time for me to get into an aluminum tube that will hurtle itself through the sky at 500+ MPH for over 15 hours. Said another way, it’s time for me to leave my family in DC and to head back to Shanghai for the start of what is sure to be an exciting Spring 2018 semester. This, of course, means that I need to do laundry, pack, cram in some more family time, and actually fly back to China.

So, this means that there will be no update this week. Rest assured, however, that I’ll be back next week with more exciting updated. Next up on the docket, and exploration of the way that early 21st-century inquiry highlighted the scope of LGBTQ+ issues in English language teaching and learning. Fun stuff!

Until then!

JMP

2017 Site Statistics

So, let’s see how the first year did…

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New Year, New Approach

Happy Holidays from ALx (Re)Coded. The new year will bring a new approach to the 2018 blog posts!

…You’re not one of those guys that are turning their blogs into books, their books into movies, their movies into Twitters, and their Twitters into books. –Orange is the New Black

So, after a particularly crazy fall 2017 semester—complete with fascinating courses, a slew of publication deadlines, and a small break to focus on family and mental well-being—It’s almost time to get back to this blog, which I have left horribly neglected in recent weeks.

So, starting 8 January 2018 ALx (Re)Coded will be retooled as ALx Lavender. The new format will focus on diving much more in-depth into LGBTQ issues in English language teaching (ELT). This will include discussions of the theoretical foundations, the rationale for including LGBTQ content in language classes, and advice on how one can queer their practice. I expect that this exploration will take up the majority of 2018, with a new update coming every Tuesday.

Until then Happy Holidays!

A Note to Graduate Students and Junior Faculty

So, I’m now, somewhat officially, drowning in due dates. I feel for my students now. First, a bit of housekeeping. I’m going to have to scale back on the updates here until about mid-December. I have three publication deadlines between now and 13 December. And, even though they have no bearing on my employment or my promotion, I must be sure meet them.

Now, for the note to graduate students and junior faculty: Never think it’s too late to reconnect with that old classmate or colleague. I’ve done a lot of reconnecting lately, and it’s been the most refreshing thing that I’ve done. Yes, being 13+ hours removed from most of my U.S. based colleagues is super challenging, but it’s completely worth waking up early or staying up late. I just had a brilliant conversation with my old MA classmate, Dr. Kasumi Yamazai (Japanese Studies, The University of Toledo). We talked about being junior faculty members on–and off–the tenure track. We talked about the joys of working with advanced students and commiseration that comes with talking to junior faculty members. We actually ended up developing some joint project plans together, some of which we’ll likely share here, on ALx (Re)Coded, and some of which we hope will pop-up at conferences near you. So, keep an eye out!

Automated Writing Evaluators (AWEs) in L2 Writing

Later today, a guest blog that I wrote for ELT Research Bites will come online. In that posting, I discuss how the Global Masters in Social Work (gMSW) program at NYU Shanghai decided to make a premium version of Grammarly available to our students free-of-charge, and I summarize a recent study that looked at student attitudes towards automated writing evaluators (AWEs) like Grammarly. In today’s blog post on Applied Linguistics (Re)Coded, I’m going to reflect a little more on AWEs and their (possible) role in L2 writing.

First, allow me to say that I was entirely in support of the gMSW program’s decision to roll out Grammarly to its students—L1 and L2 English users alike. I should also note, that I am an adjunct lecturer at the Silver School of Social Work in the gMSW program. However, I was also vocal in stating that we had to properly train students on how to integrate the AWE into their writing practice in a critical way. Far too often, students view AWEs as mere checking tools (see Cavaleri & Dianati, 2016; Reis & Huijser, 2016). Also, students have been known just to click, click, click through the suggested changes, to accept them with little thought as to how the recommended alterations might impact meaning and stylistics in their texts (ibid). Both of these practices drastically reduce the potential efficacies of AWEs—first, as learning tools; and second, as writing improvement tools. So, there are a couple of things that need to be kept in mind when scaffolding students’ use of AWEs.

For L1 and L2 writers alike, there is the need to highlight the fact that many advanced AWEs such as Grammarly, PaperRateror After the Deadline, aren’t just checking tools; they are also great learning tools. One of the reasons that I’m such a fan of Grammarly is because I can hover over a suggestion to learn more about why the AWE flagged it as a potential error. I can then see examples of other sentences with similar mistakes; and then, I can reflect on what I’ve written to decide whether or not it’s actually an error that needs to be addressed. Also, every week Grammarly sends me an email that lists my top-five errors (e.g., faulty parallelism, improper article use, etc.), which I can then use to identify a pattern of errors in my writing. After identifying the pattern, I can then begin actively to hunt them down in future writing. Both of these features are great tools for learning and not just for checking.

The second issue, however, is a much harder one to deal with. Novice writers tend to see AWEs as a silver bullet to fix their writing. I tell my students the same thing I tell early-service educators and researchers, “There’s no such thing as a silver bullet, so quit wasting your time.” The only way to improve our writing, our practice, or our research is to invest the time in it that it needs to be nurtured. This means critically reflecting on what we’re doing, the tools we’re using, and the successes and failures we’re encountering. Students must be taught to use AWEs critically. AWEs are, despite how advanced they’ve become, pretty stupid things that can only check for what they’ve been programmed to monitor for. And, even then, they’re only as good as the code that makes them run and the databases and corpora that serve as their foundations. So, you must look into all the suggestions that they make to inform your revision decisions. There are some cases where an AWE will make recommendations that actually change the intended meaning of a sentence, or that will introduce new error into the text. Likewise, there are somethings that the checker simply will not catch. So, it’ll never replace an additional set of human eyes.

I’ve been using the premium version of Grammarly for about a year, and will likely fork over the 140$ for another year. Since I’ve started using it, I’ve become more confident in my writing, and I’ve added an additional—and necessary—level of revision to my work. I actually got a compliment on my writing and style from an editor for an article that I submitted to their journal (an article that was also my first “accept with minor revisions”). But, that’ doesn’t mean that error doesn’t still creep into the writing. Clicking through the AWE doesn’t solve all the problems. It helps, for sure. But, you must always go through multiple rounds of revision and review. And, you can never replace a second set of eyes.

This post has been edited with the help of Grammarly, and I’m sure you still might find a floating error here or there that I missed because I was in a hurry to run downstairs for another cup of Starbucks.

source material

Cavaleri, M., & Dianati, S. (2016). You want me to check your grammar again? The usefulness of an online grammar checker as perceived by students. Journal of Academic Language & Learning, 10(1), 223-236.

Reis, C., & Huijser, H. (2016). Correcting tool or learning tool? Student perceptions of an online essay writing support tool at Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University. Show Me the Learning. Adelaide, AU: ASCILITE.