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Using twitter in class

October 4, 2014 4 comments

Yesterday I started my 3rd year language and gender module. It’s a module I enjoy teaching, but this year I’m adding to my workload and making (being forced to make?) big changes to the content and structure of the module, mainly because of the recent Moodle roll-over which broke almost all of my content from last year… It also dawned on me that I hadn’t really changed much of the content since inheriting the module nearly five years ago, and since I really didn’t want to teach another class on Helene Cixous and Donna Haraway, I had to roll up my sleeves and get stuck in with new lecture notes and seminar activities….

Beyond the changes I’m implementing to my teaching material, one of the big things that I’m trialling this year is using Twitter so that my students can hashtag (yes, it’s a verb now) interesting L&G material and share it with one another. This was inspired by a teaching talk I went to over the summer by Gary Wood, who teaches a module on syntax at Sheffield Uni. One of the things Gary does with his class is to set up a twitter account where students can ask questions, share materials, discuss ideas and so on, and by adopting this particular strategy, he has seen the pass rate for syntax climb up into the 90%, not to say anything about increasing student engagement.

Being a big user of twitter (and social media more generally) in my research and ‘outreach’ activities, it was a surprise to me that I hadn’t thought of using twitter in my teaching. I suppose part of it was the worry of it being too gimmicky and that my students wouldn’t take it up. But seeing I use it at conferences, for public communication and so on, it seems a bit daft to think that it wouldn’t be good enough for my students. So yesterday I set up a hashtag, started tweeting about a few things and had a couple of students follow me on my twitter handle. It’s far too early to tell whether there’s an impact on student enjoyment/engagement, and that will come out at the end of the module, but it’s an interesting experiment.

I also tentatively brought up the idea that students can tweet during classes… I’m not sure if that was a great idea, but the cat’s out the bag now….

The Social Linguist

When will people realise that technology doesn’t wreck language?

November 1, 2011 6 comments

Ok, so shame on me for doing such a short post on Saturday, but Rebecca and I were heading down to Cambridge and I had (literally) about two minutes to type something up before I was being corralled out of the flat… I never even had time to properly tag my post I was that strapped for time.

Anyway, quite a lot has been written about Fiennes’ comments about Twitter (and I’m not even going to try and compete with the brilliant analysis/discussion over the the Language Log, here, here and here), but Fiennes’ comments bely a deeper distrust among certain sections of society on the detrimental impact technology (supposedly) has on language. It speaks more generally of the assumed superiority of the printed form, of the divide between standard and non-standard linguistic markets, and of the decline in the ability of people (usually young people) to express complex ideas or concepts in text (because, after all, how much detail can you squeeze into 140 characters?)

But technology has always been the fall-guy for alleged declines in standards (often without any sort of empirical evidence to support this claim), and historically, we can see a change in peoples’ attitudes towards language standards as new technology is introduced, from text messages (here and here), to the internetinstant messaging, radio (I’m not sure how far tongue in cheek that one is…), and Americans (principally through television and movies). Honestly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to find out if people moaned about how ‘English is going to the dogs’ once the printing press was introduced to Britain, but my mad research skillz don’t turn anything up (I’m sure they would have though).

But Ralph’s comments should be entirely unsurprising, given that technology is blamed for a whole host of social ills, including making us more lazy, more dumb, more anti-social, and more violent, to name just a few. In spite of the all the positives that come out of embracing and exploiting technology, it’s easier to blame an easily identifiable external ’cause’ (like technology) for all that’s wrong with the world…

Ugh, and it seems every sociolinguist’s favourite linguist, Noam Chomsky, got in on the act a few months ago…

– The Social Linguist