For week two of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC)  – E-learning & digital cultures, students are asked to look into the crystal ball and imagine what the future holds for technology, language  and society.

The resources include a brilliant blog article by Clay Shirky likening the seemingly unstoppable rise  of MOOCs to the way MP3s (and Napster) transformed the way we consume and listen to music.

Even if you have no interest in subscribing to a MOOC, I’d urge you read this entertaining and informative piece.

A less happy choice of resource is that of the core text by graduate student, Rebecca Johnston, from Texas Tech University. When compared to Shirky’s sharply argued writing style this is as dull as dishwater.

In the course discussion forum, I explained why I this was a poor choice. I’m posting my gripes here too as a way of getting them completely off my chest:

Rebecca Johnson’s article on internet metaphors (‘Salvation or destruction) is a poor choice of core text.

The subject is an interesting one but is this really the best piece that could be found? I found the article to be poorly written and weakly argued.

The use of ‘impact’ as a verb is one of my pet hates and Johnston starts off on the wrong foot by stating that we need to understand how –“metaphors…impact the Internet’s future”.

To add salt to the wound, in her introduction she refers to : “The process of norming ideas” . I’d like someone to explain in plain English how you can ‘norm’ an idea – to my mind ‘norm’ is no more a verb than ‘impact.

On top of this the short introduction contains 29 uses of the word metaphor (in the singular or plural form) and the word is used ad nauseum throughout. Considering the author has taught writing classes, I find it odd that she seems so reluctant to use good old fashioned pronouns to make the text less repetitive.

In describing her research she says how she analysed editorials which she refers to as a genre that “offers opinions and narratives to and by a general public audience” . She goes on to say that some of these ‘editorials’ consisted of ‘letters to the editor’. I would venture that if they are letters, they are NOT editorials and, while we’re about it, editorials offer points of view and not ‘narratives’.

Overall, I think that Johnston’s text falls into the trap of many academic articles by simply listing conclusions from other studies instead of coming up with any fresh ideas of her own. I stifled a yawn when I came to the point where she writes that  “the ways they [Internet metaphors]could potentially shape culture should be an important practice for researchers”.

Sorry Rebecca but you surely could and should have been a little more assertive that this.

Related links:
Is impact a verb? (Grammar Girl)
Impactfully Impacting the Impact of the Transitive Verb (Grammars Not)
Impact is not a verb (In other words)