Is MLA Dead?

As part of our Tablet Rollout to Middle School students, all students in grades 6, 7 and 8 have spent a session with our librarian discussing a range of things. Grade 7 and 8 students talked about the need to reference their work, how to create a Works Cited page, and how to use Noodle Tools to create an MLA-approved citation.

I agree whole-heartedly with the skills and ethics involved with referencing:

  • Creating a citation requires students to verify the authenticity and veracity of the source they are using.
  • Including citations is a way of acknowledging the work of others.
  • Citations allow the reader to verify the information that the author is presenting.

When I was in junior high school (we didn’t have no stinkin’ middle schools back then!), my bibliography was my proof to the teacher that I did the research for my essay (which I typed out on a typewriter). Did she go to the library, find the book that I put on my bibliography and check my work? I doubt it. (Actually, I know quite a few students who ‘padded’ their bibliographies to make themselves look smarter!)

Now that we’re 1:1 throughout the Middle School/High School and all the students are paperless (no printing privileges on campus for any student!), don’t hyperlinks make more sense? Yes, we still need to explicitly teach students how to verify the validity of their sources. But aren’t hyperlinks actually a better way of acknowledging the work of others? When used in online writing such as blogs and wikis, the authors of the sites being linked to will be notified that they are being acknowledged. And aren’t hyperlinks a more useful way for the reader to check the information the author is using? A single click and she can see for herself where I got my information from.

Is MLA dead? As I said in an earlier tweet which inspired this post, is MLA  an anachronism whose time has come?

Image Credit:Encyclopædia Britannica, Eleventh Edition (1911)‘ by Stewart (CC BY)

3 thoughts on “Is MLA Dead?

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  • August 23, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    Nice post Clint; it is certainly thought-provoking. I think you’ve covered most of your bases here by showing how a simple hyperlink can satisfy the main obligations of citations. I also would agree that there is a growing gap in relevance of the MLA citation conventions between the university scholar and the typical classroom digital-age researcher.

    I also think that including inline MLA citations in written work, which are great for ensuring that reader is keenly aware of bias, does not exclude the use of a link to that resource or to the works cited where a link should be included. My biggest problem is the impediment to writing caused by forcing kids to keep track of all this stuff. To what extent do young writers of all ages need to adhere to these rules to meet the three goals you mentioned?

  • August 24, 2010 at 9:39 pm

    Thanks Kevin. It’s a little easier to articulate a thought as a blog post rather than a tweet!

    I agree that MLA (or any other style of referencing) is more of an impediment than anything else. As one of my colleagues said, kids in grade 6 spend more time making their works cited page than they do actually writing the work! I know that MLA has its place in academic writing – particularly in that prehistoric ‘paper’ format – but we seem to be basing our expectations of 12 year olds on the wants and needs of extended essays and universities. If our goal is to help shape our students into informed prosumers of information then we should be making referencing more accessible and not less.

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