What is it, with students and, with commas?

>> Monday, February 01, 2010

I write some, variation of this every time I'm, marking papers, but these, little, Shatners, they leave me no choice. At Unfogged earlier, we were discussing whether the ubiquity of text-based interfaces had a beneficial effect on student writing, and I neglected to mention the blindingly obvious: these fancy new text interfaces not only don't require commas, their limit on the number of characters actively encourages people to write without them. The result is that students form a mental picture of what a text looks like and it has nary, a comma, in it.

So when they're asked to write in formal, comma-containing sentences, they don't distribute the commas according to grammatical rules or the natural rhythms of a sentence; instead, they place their commas according to some aesthetic ideal of what an academic paper looks like. They're little, abstract, painters, who need to dribble a bit more punctuation here, and a bit more, there, in order to complete, their masterpiece.

I'm tempted to mock up that classic comma joke in a way that'll be memorable to them:

Let's eat Shatner!

Let's eat, Shatner!

Commas: they save lives.
I think I might have to replace "Shatner" with "Priceline Negotiator" if I want them to recognize the reference.


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