What’s under the hood: letting the outside in

This entry is part 33 of 48 in the series Teaching Transparently

One of the most frustrating things about blogging is that fact that unless someone actually takes the time to comment on your posts, you never have any tangible evidence of being read and what your readership thinks about what you have written. Unless you know how to look under the hood.

My students express their frustration about the lack of comments frequently. And yet, it never cesases to amaze them that there are hits, and that those hits come from all over, and that they keep coming.


No this isn’t the Huffington Post nor do we have any delusions of similar grandeur. But these numbers are important. Even when you weed out the spambots, the facts are telling: People are searching, people are finding us, and some people are even staying and commenting.

It’s the getting those visitors to stay and comment that’s the hard part. It’s learning to write (in a second language) so that others feel their comments are useful, that they are welcome to comment. Those are difficult things to do in English. It is wonderful to see some of my students accomplish that very subtle and yet important skill when they blog in Spanish.

But still, we are glad people are visiting. Very glad. We are even happier when they stop and engage. Ecstatic even.

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Barbara is a Lecturer in Hispanic Studies at a small liberal arts college in Maine. Rumor has it this was also her alma mater. She used to work for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for almost 20 years as a teacher and language center director. Prior to these adventures in higher ed she taught high school Spanish and loved it. She wishes she had more time in her life to play with her dogs, write, read, swim, do yoga things and making stuff out of clay. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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  1. Tom · May 8, 2009 Reply

    I think that’s part of why Twitter is so popular. With blogs you have to work very hard to build a small audience. With Twitter it’s far easier (at least to get the appearance that people are reading what you write), in part because people tend to feel some pressure to reciprocate the “follow.” There’s also less risk in Twitter because people can only use 140 characters of your time and you can only feel obligated to respond in such a similarly small chunk of time (and thought in most cases).

    I’m not saying any of that is particularly good. I’ve just been thinking a lot about what’s been making Twitter so popular lately.

    Do you have your students do anything in the microblogging world?

    • Barbara · May 12, 2009 Reply

      Hi Tom:

      Thank you for your comment (sorry for the delay in responding…the end of thr semester is upon us).

      I have been watching the twitter phenomenon (And playing along…we have a Twitter account for LLU) and am not quite sure if it has a place in my classroom. My professional practice? heck yes…I have learned incredible things through Twitter…but second language conversational skills? Hmmm…

      Well let me put that another way… if I could see a form of learning and deep, sustained connection that could happen through Twitter for my students that could not happen otherwise, I might consider it. And yet, I feel that my goal is to get my students to produce more and more, in as many contexts as possible vs limiting them to 140 characters.

      What do you think?


      • Tom · May 12, 2009 Reply

        I’m not sure myself. I was thinking of it as a place for plentiful and more instantaneous feedback with the built in reciprocation that your students seemed to want more of. Your post happened to at least touch on some aspects that I’d been thinking about.

        On the other hand, it might be a good place for higher level students. They’d be exposed to a lot of slang and abbreviations and it seems that’d be challenging- but I don’t teach languages. I’m guessing (in total ignorance) that other cultures would have their memes and slang and in figuring out the conversation you’d learn a fair amount about the culture etc. Just seems you’d really have to “get” the language to be able to follow and participate in the kind of conversations that go on in this environment. Maybe they’d just make for interesting “puzzles” on occasion.

        Other random thoughts from someone who’s talking nonsense- it’d be interesting to see how shorter, more spontaneous conversations might force different kinds of fluency. With the right usage, Twitter could help connect people to your site for deeper conversations (and you to theirs). I would probably see twitter as another context with some real complexity when it comes to using it well in a second language w/in its limits (might force vocab growth through searching for shorter alternatives, slang stuff again, etc.). In some ways I see it as more challenging than a blog because of the relative speed required. You have to be able to reply accurately and in the moment. If the “humor” aspect is paralleled in other languages it seems that’d be a pretty complex thing to deal with as well.

        I have no idea the market penetration of Jaiku or Twitter or whatever in Spanish speaking countries. Could be it’s a lonely world. That’d probably be a point in their favor if it were the case.

        Twitter, for me, isn’t a place for deep, sustained anything but it does point me to things like that in other places. In those cases, I see twitter kind of like the small streams big fish sometimes use to get from one pond to another.

        I’m just rambling now, and certainly not pushing Twitter. So please forgive what are likely rocks thrown at the moon.

        • barbara · May 12, 2009 Reply

          Heh, no you aren’t rambling. It’s all good. 🙂 And you bring up a good point…the LOLs and the ROTFLs and all are important “registers” of language in their own right.

          During our UT-Arlington talk we entered into a conversation about this (around the 57 minute mark). For some language faculty, they find informal speech, slang, BRBs and AFKs to be an abomination. I find it fascinating, and for some (not all) of my students, it’s just the “hook” to make them feel connected with a native speaker.

          What I have seen is that IM’ing and conversing in a second language works…it’s short hand enough to be efficient and fast but not limited to a certain # of characters to be restrictive.

          What I will say is that the people I follow on Twitter who are in Spanish speaking countries share some of the best resources, and up to date news on current events…and while my students might not being interested in y.a.t. (yet another technology) I am happy to share what I can through the tools I feel comfortable (and relatively competent) using.

          I have thought about threaded stories and twitter… but there again, I would love to hear them TELL me the stories vs focusing on typing them.

          But along those lines…here is a delicious account I set up for work to share ideas/links/articles with my faculty…and here are the links I have accumulated this semester (thru Twitter in fact!) about teaching and learning with Twitter… enjoy!


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