Digi Domi

Sharing my passion for technology and learning.

Dear users.

on November 22, 2013

Over the course of this week I have had to send out a couple of emails to everyone who uses the virtual learning environment (VLE). Without too much thought I addressed them ‘Dear users’. This term has since caused some controversy with some arguing that it should be ‘Dear colleagues’. The arguments are that colleague is a more pleasant sounding term, and that user might have some other negative connotations as a derogatory term for drug addicts. Perhaps it just goes to show the extend to which I have a ‘techie’ brain, and live in a world of developers, testers, programmers and users.

I’m not suggesting that anyone things this is a particularly important point, but it has prompted me to think about the language that I use. Often I will assume that common terms such as ‘users’ are things that everyone will be familiar and comfortable with. Within Higher Education I have always found there to be a debate about how to refer to the individuals, or groups of individuals who utilise our e-learning services. The most contentious debate is still around the term ‘customers’, and this is both in the previously mentioned context and also as a way of referring to students. Perhaps colleagues is the best way to refer to the group of individuals who utilise our services, and perhaps I should even be thinking of the VLE platform as a ‘service’.

Perhaps this seems pernickety but I think language is important, and it is all to easy to claim ignorance when one deliberately makes another unconformable with their words. At the same  time I would like to contradict that by suggesting from time to time we do need to loosen up and focus on the real problems of language, such as casual discrimination that is part of most Western dialects. By this I mean things like unnecessarily feeling the need to gender language, when it is not required, or dismissive or offensive terms for people of different ages, abilities or cultures. Rose George discusses how we often jovially use terms such as ‘Deli belly’, and yet ignore the fact they refer to serious problems of unsafe drinking water and contaminated meats that lead to the death of children.  

It just goes to show how important and misused language can get.


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