What will you use Twitter for?

I will use Twitter to teach me what I can use Twitter for.

I understand that logic doesn’t scale, and that one cannot explore everything all the time in self-directed recursive learning (although now that I think about it, that’s not a bad way to imagine Paradise). But having learned another lesson from the kind of contact Twitter enables, I thought that in my heady state I’d be bold and provocative. Blame it on the altitude.

So what did I learn? Well, I was in an SAC session on gaming in education with the redoubtable Rachel Smith of the New Media Consortium, and the discussion in the room turned to the differences between games and simulations. (That question proved much more interesting and tricky than I’d imagined–nice, and very shrewd of our facilitator.) At one point, as Huizinga’s Homo Ludens popped into my head, I spoke up and said, “We play games. But we don’t play simulations. What do we do with simulations? What’s the verb there?” No one in the room, including me, had a ready answer. It’s always a cool moment when no one has a ready answer.

I had Twitter up in another window, so I put the question to my Twitter friends. I’d had such good luck with the streaming video question that I had great hopes for this inquiry. I got my answer, all right, and fast–fast enough to share with the group and continue that moment of shared inquiry. But that’s not the most interesting part of the story.

My answer came from a fellow blogger named Claudia Ceraso who teaches and learns in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She responded that the Oxford Dictionary of Collocations said “carry out” or “run” were verbs typically associated with “simulation.” (She also expressed some amusement that my question required her to consult a paper source first.) I’d never heard of the Oxford Dictionary of Collocations. I immediately looked it up on Amazon and learned that it’s a reference work devoted to helping non-native speakers of English speak more idiomatically. This extra bit of information sparked my imagination in several ways. First, I thought “what an interesting reference work.” Second, I thought “what a great way to start a conversation about language with native speakers.” Third, I thought “I’ve never heard the word ‘collocation’ before.” So I did a Google search on “define: collocation” and got this back:<!–

phrases composed of words that co-occur for lexical rather than semantic reasons, for example, a heavy smoker is one who smokes a great deal, but someone who writes a great deal is not a heavy writer. This seems to be a lexical fact, not related to the meanings of smoker or writer.
www.essex.ac.uk/linguistics/clmt/MTbook/HTML/node98.html

At the bottom of the page, there was this helpful reference from Wikipedia:

Within the area of corpus linguistics, collocation is defined as a pair of words (the ‘node’ and the ‘collocate’) which co-occur more often than would be expected by chance.
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collocation

Less helpful than the Essex definition, yes, but a succinct summary that gives some technical background on the term itself.

There are several interesting teaching-and-learning ramifications here, but the one that strikes me most powerfully is that asking a person a question will often (usually?) yield contextual information that can lead to a much longer and more interesting train of thought than a simple input-output “look it up” model. (This is especially true if the context is a little informal and a little playful–trusting, and not too goal-driven.) In this case, the answer exposed me to several very interesting ideas and resources that I can follow up on, or simply relish in the moment as an example of the power of a globally distributed learning community. Or both.

Education should prepare us to notice and enjoy longer and longer trains of thought. That’s another way of talking about connections, yes, but in this case the connections came unexpectedly, within a personal exchange, and using a medium (Twitter) that seems amorphous and aimless, at least at first. And the catalyst was a moment of shared inquiry that spread far beyond the walls of this “classroom.” Not a bad model for education. We need more in-the-moment connectedness as well as more opportunities for shared reflection out of the moment. For me, teaching and learning technologies give us the richest set of possibilities, for both. That was certainly part of the dream of the early pioneers in this field.

And a day that reveals another little bit of that dream is a good day. Which brings me to my New Media Studies class–but that’s another post.

EDIT: It seems to me that there’s an element of play at work here. Twitter feels a little playful almost all the time. Yet it’s also a very important conduit for collaboration and shared inquiry for me.

I sometimes envy the K-12 teachers who can make a playful environment in the classroom where they teach all their classes. I have an office, but I don’t “have” a classroom. Food for thought there. What if my teaching environment were more expressive of my mind, my goals for teaching and learning, and the shared expressiveness of mind that emerges from a semester’s work together? What if my students each term walked into a classroom full of interesting, intriguing bits of what the students preceding them had created?

EDIT TWO: Is it true that there’s nothing about the meanings of “smoker” or “writer” that would lead us to use “heavy” with the former but not with the latter? I’m not sure. I do think that poetry would play with the semantic/lexical boundary in an interesting way. Perhaps that’s one of the main things figurative language does? More food for thought. Also, it occurs to me that “collocations” is the opposite of
Amazon’s “statistically improbably phrases.”

7 thoughts on “What will you use Twitter for?

  1. As a K-12 teacher I find your comment about office vs. classroom fascinating. I’ve often envied you all your offices and wished for a space that was mine apart from my students. However, I’ve never wanted to give up my classroom for it (really, I want both). I love the atmosphere that I and my students create and how one can clearly feel it simply passing through our door.
    I wonder if it as true for middle school and high school teachers who have many groups of students each day as it is for us in the elementary schools. It seems less likely at those levels.
    I also wonder how college professors could create the same positive aspects without having a classroom to call their own.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking idea.

  2. Great post, Gardner. I, too, had never heard of collocation–and thanks to you, I am thinking once again about how my international students consistently contribute not only invaluable perspectives on the content of the course, but on the ways in which we use language, communicate, and interact with one another. Something important for me to consider as I pull together my new classroom…

    And classroom is exactly how I view the course blogs–my classes meet f2f in a college lounge rather than a classroom so that we can sit together without the interference of a table or desks, so that there is nothing about ME in there, and everything about US together in a moment, the moment of intense engagement in discussion or exercises. The blog-as-classroom, with its transparency and connectedness and archiving, allows the evolving learning community to create an environment “more expressive of [OUR ] minds, [OUR] goals for teaching and learning, and the shared expressiveness of mind that emerges from a semester’s work together. My students each term [walk] into a classroom full of interesting, intriguing bits of what the students preceding them had created.” That there’s the beauty of classroom blogs, yes?

    ~Barbara

  3. I wonder if the difference between smoking and writing has to do with consumption versus production? You can be a heavy smoker, drinker, eater…but you are a prolific writer or baker, and you have prolific fruit trees.

  4. I was happy to have stumbled into that Twitter conversation, getting a little jolt of interesting thought from a conference I wasn’t even attending. What is “cool” about this is that it really was different from the traditional blog posts which just summarize what was said in the session. I was drawn into the bonking and pinging thought life of someone actually participating. The blog post afterward also has its use–I now have a fuller picture of what was happening. But the intital act of “getting involved”myself, even just a little, caused a powerful connection to the conversation, so that I was motivated to read the blog post! (Well, its a Gardner post; I would have read and enjoyed anyway : ) )
    This takes me to the teaching and learning implications. In Higher Ed, do we too quickly dismiss the small actions and conversations and connections? How do we make space for them, give them the emphasis they deserve? This makes me think of Claudia Emerson’s statement at Student Academy about her student’s blog and its seeming “meanderings.” She expressed surprise that the meanderings were what, in the end, led to the important work and connections that followed! We keep being surprised by this progression. Is it time to recognize it and encourage it instead?

  5. I was glad to see Barbara’s post about her class blogs, because that’s what I first thought of when you talked about creating our own space as teachers with evidence of those students in previous classes.

    Even without student work on the physical space of our classroom, we can certainly provide that in our digital spaces. Students can already see previous projects that students in my classes have done. I make those links available. But I hadn’t thought about a conscious “space” of my own online that students could walk into. Intriguing.

    Besides, if I had a classroom of my own, it would be jampacked with books and papers to the point of near unusability. 🙂

    As for Twitter, although I have no idea what the company’s business plan is, it’s interesting to me that so many people are asking themselves how to use it. If we see it as a slightly different method of keeping in touch with other people, with people we’re interested in for a variety of intellectual or personal reasons, then good. Why the hand-wringing or defensiveness about it I see from so many bloggers? Is it that it’s really hard to explain to people who aren’t on it?

  6. To be honest, I was curious to know more about the people and the event you mentioned in the following tweet. Thanks for this context post.

    Twitter made the connection. Or rather your trust that someone in your network would provide answers. Luckily there are blogs to share the experience around the tweet exchange.

    The first dictionary I consulted to answer you is The BBI Dictionary of English Word Combinations -a translator’s resource. The word ‘simulation’ was not there. The Oxford Collocations is a learner’s dictionary specifically designed for foreigner to get a grasp of where a word fits. Quite a challenge when learning English away from the countries where it is spoken.

    The dictionary is particularly interesting for students preparing for an international certification of English such as the FCE. That is what I teach.

    At the same time you were writing this post, I was in class with my students explaining how corpora are made from their Cambridge FCE exams, which they will never see again. It all led me to explain again why our class wiki is called Corpus, why we do it online and share it to the world.

    It is amazing how close you came to the idea and spirit of my classroom wiki.
    I follow up on this in this post:
    http://eltnotes.blogspot.com/2007/08/efl-course-wiki-as-writers-community.html#links

    Now, without Twitter combined with blogs… how would we know how close *synced* our minds were that day?

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