Grandmaster Flash and Autocomplete

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This blog was originally posted on March 3rd, 2015.

Meme showing grandmother at computer with the text Last fall, the Tumblr account Love, Grampa and Grandmaster Flash made a splash with its humorous screen captures of autocomplete gone awry. If you use Facebook, you know that the site has an autocomplete feature for user’s names. As you type a status update, the feature pops up suggestions of user names that it thinks you are typing, with a built-in link to the person’s Facebook profile.

The feature simplifies the process of connecting users on the site. Unfortunately, it can also change Grandma into Grandmaster Flash, as the Facebook feature guesses that if you type Grandm, you might want to tag Grandmaster Flash in your status update.The results are humorous status updates like this one:

Example of Autocorrect Text: asf

Just read a few entries from the website in class, and students are sure to giggle. You can use the site in any class to talk about the value of editing and proofreading. The site can also launch a discussion of doublechecking the corrections that spellcheckers or grammar checkers suggest.

I used the site last week to engage students in my Writing and Digital Media course in a conversation about affordances and constraints. Nearly every student will have an experience with autocorrect or autocomplete going wrong, so students have personal experience to tap as they participate in the discussion.

Before class, students read chapter 1 of our textbook Writer/Designer, which covers the concept of affordances. Students also read a Rolling Stone article about Grandmaster Flash and Grandmas, and a recent New York Times article on time “When Autocorrect Goes Horribly Right.” In class, we read through a few of the examples on the Love, Grampa and Grandmaster Flash site.

I reviewed the concepts of affordances and constraints, and then students opened up one of the Padlet boards linked below, where they brainstormed affordances and constraints of autocorrect and autocomplete:

As you can see if you look at either of the Padlets, students posted some strong observations. After we discussed their ideas in class, I used the activity as a springboard for their next assignment, which asks them to analyze a web-based tool for, in part, its affordances and constraints.

The classroom discussion was a perfect intro for the work they are doing now—and to think we have Grandma and Grandmaster Flash to thank for it! Do you have a particularly successful to introduce a topic in class? I’d love to hear from you. Just leave me a comment below.

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.