Twecklers in the Language Lab

This morning I upgraded TweetDeck for the mac. There are a gazillion different twitter readers out there…I started using this one when Twhirl died on me. TweetDeck allows you to not only manage multiple accounts…which I seem to have (personal, LLU, and soon… my class)…it also allows you to search for key words or just plain ole words and see where they pop up in the public tweets around the world.

A bit of background: Twitter seems to show up in the conventional media a fair amount…almost always in a negative light. The Chronicle of Higher Ed is notorious for this. It even coined a new term: Twecklers… people who use Twitter to “heckle” keynote speakers at conferences. Which is what they report happened at this presentation. Tweckling can happen to the best of us, even social media experts like danah boyd. She tells the story of her “tweckling” here.

The Twittersphere can be an amazingly supportive place, full of ideas, tips, suggestions, encouragement, even friendship. It’s all about whom you follow, whom you let follow you, the conversations that are being created and, yes, wait for it…the context.

Twitter can also be a space, when people feel frustrated, helpless, alone, angry, where those feelings can lash out and slap the stream and assault the people who read it. Much like passing notes in class, tweets can be catty, and sometimes totally off topic and distracting (as was the case with the tweets that derailed danah boyd’s preso). But hidden deep down under the layers of snark, there is a truth in there, a perspective that, while we might not share it, while we might not want to see it, needs to be heard.

So back to Tweetdeck.

Since I could search for terms, for giggles I thought I would search for the term “language lab” and see what might come up. Oh my. Here is what I found twecklers are saying about using the “language lab” in the Twittersphere (could be my lab, could be yours, who knows….)

The Language Lab as The Place Where There Are Rules to Be Ignored :

deviance

tetris

the students on Fb

youtube

The Language Lab as the place where I have to sit and log hours….endless hours….doing seemingly mindless things…for credit:

4hrs yuck

seven hours

12 hours

almost done hours

The Language Lab. Fail:

boredashell

not gonna miss this

blows

hate

sucing essence

Curiously the only non-negative tweets I could find (aside from “I’m in the Language Lab, come and find me”) was a tweet mentioning this song. And yet, the lyrics, or the lack thereof? is kind of off-putting.

So what are the Twecklers telling us? What are they saying about the way we ask our students to use technology in language courses? What are we saying to our students about what is important, necessary, vital in order to learn a language in an academic setting? What are they saying about how they would rather be spending their time? What are these tweets telling us about how the intersection of teaching, technology and learning is being received? And given the current economic climate of budget cuts and needed consolidation of resources (not to mention the halting of new projects altogether), what should we be hearing from these tweets to protect our jobs, our centers, our resources?

I have some thoughts. But I would rather hear yours. Discuss.

Barbara has been working for a small liberal arts college in the cornfields of Ohio for about 15 years. In addition to teaching Spanish she runs a somewhat unconventional language center. Prior to this adventure 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 watch the Red Sox. Preferably not all at once, although that could be interesting. To see her online portfolio please click here!

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  1. Lauren · December 11, 2009 Reply

    I say Yeah students!! Thank you for so obviously pointing out the failings of the traditional approach to the language lab. Seriously faculty, this isn’t about seat time. If you give them a performance task so that they can show you what they know, isn’t that what you want to assess. Some students take longer or shorter than others to learn the material necessary to perform well so credit for effort is not in anyway related to time on task, with the exception of the student who you know is working super hard but still struggles to do well. That said, even that student is doing their best and can be graded according to effort not time.

    As long as faculty are giving students tasks worth doing, the language lab will live on/evolve,IMO. However, if the spot continues to just be one of seat time, it will likely go away. Language labs offer opportunities to speak (they have headphones and mics not found in traditional labs) so why not use them for what they do best. They also have fonts installed that may not be found in other labs, so give students performance tasks that require them to use what a language lab is good for/meant for, however long or short it takes them to complete.

    • barbara · December 12, 2009 Reply

      Agreed, Lauren. Wholeheartedly. And yes of course there are differences in how our students process information such that many need to be allowed that time on task to get the job done.

      But I don’t believe that the people that are using the time in the lab for learning are sending out those tweets. The Twecklers are the people who are bored by the tasks we are asking them to do in the lab and the ones we have lost with our current teaching practices.

      How do we get our faculty to hear what the Twecklers are telling us about what works and what isn’t working? How do we get them to see that change needs to happen? and that change needs to start with them and their classes and their — dare I say it — lazy– incorporation if technology and places like the language center into the study of languages.

      IMO, it’s not enough that we have fonts and headsets…we need to know how to use those things and use them in a way that engages students and promotes learning.

      Will it take the persistent threat of closing down language centers for our teachers, for us, to wake up and understand that, as I have said before, no amount of technology can promote learning if it is part of a poorly conceived exercise or lesson plan?

      As teachers we need to be “active learners” and evaluators of our -own- teaching practices. How do we get our colleagues (and ourselves) to make that happen?

      Barbara

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