College professors are anything but LOL at their students’ recent writing habits.Not only are instructors not laughing out loud _ shortened to LOL in text messages and online chats _ at the technology-oriented shorthand that has seeped into academic papers, many of them also sternly telling students to stop using the new language even in less formal writing.
The shorthand often consists of shortened variations of common words _ “u” instead of you, or “ur” for your. Text speak may be appropriate for a quick note to a friend, but professors are increasingly stymied by how casually students are using the terms.
“Despite the fact that I happen to be perfectly capable of reading any incoherent drivel you may send to my (e-mail) inbox directly from your phone keypad, ‘wut up ya I cnt make it 2 clss lol’ is insanely unprofessional,” reads the syllabus of Alejo Enriquez, a Cal State East Bay instructor.
“Therefore, I am imposing a higher standard of grammar, spelling, and use of the enter key upon you and kindly request that all e-mails sent to me resemble any other letter to your teacher, supervisor . . .”
Faculty members increasingly have expressed irritation about reading acronyms and abbreviations they often do not understand, said Sally Murphy, a Cal State East Bay professor and director of the university’s general-education program. One e-mail to a professor started with, “Yo, teach,” she said.
“It has a real effect on the tone of professionalism,” said Murphy, who also has seen younger instructors use the shorthand. “We tell them very specifically how this is going to affect them in life. It’s kind of like wearing their jeans below their butt. They’re going to lose all credibility.”
The introduction of such casual language into term papers is a sea change from the days when nearly all students addressed their instructors as “professor” or “doctor.” More faculty members ask students to call them by their first names, but many are drawing the line at texting shorthand or even emoticons _ smiley faces made out of punctuation marks.
Tech-speak has been moving through the educational pipeline toward colleges for a few years. A 2008 survey by the Pew Internet & American Life Project found that two-thirds of middle- and high-school students had accidentally used instant-messaging-style words in their work, while a quarter admitted using emoticons in assignments.
The breakdown in language skills is an odd phenomenon given how much time children and young adults spend in front of the computer, said Marcia Linn, who teaches about technology in education at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Education.
“Writing has actually increased as an activity,” she said. “Standards are another issue.”
Many students communicate constantly via text and instant messaging, so it can be difficult to leave the tech lingo behind in class, said Mohammed Shahid Beig, a senior and student-body president at Cal State East Bay.
“When we sit down to do something formal, it’s hard to switch to that way of thinking,” said Shahid Beig, who grew up in India speaking to teachers in the most formal tones.
The phenomenon appears to be widespread. Instructors at Sonoma State, Holy Names and San Francisco State universities have grumbled about text-speak showing up in assignments, and the president of the statewide faculty senate for community colleges, Mission College professor Jane Patton, said she has heard the same complaints.
College always has been a place for students to learn how to communicate appropriately, Patton said, and teaching them to can the tech-speak is merely the latest step in that education.
“That’s a standard part of every curriculum, pointing out the standards of appropriateness,” she said. “In some ways, (text language) is a small modification to add to the list.”
University of California-Berkeley professor Ken Goldberg said he has not received assignments using the texting terms, but said he has had trouble getting used to the casual tone of e-mails he receives from students these days.
“They just jump right in as if they were texting me. I don’t want to sound like I’m some sort of Victorian schoolmarm, but it’s an adjustment.”
Several professors said they are trying to emphasize the negative effects casual language will have on students’ job searches. Some, such as Diablo Valley College student Alicia Fambrini, are clear on that message.
“I think it’s an error by people my age not to use formal language,” she said. “I’ve always followed the philosophy that it doesn’t take that much longer to add ‘y’ and ‘o’ to ‘u.’ I spell everything out.