Habits of mind à la Twitter.

I could go on about how Twitter has expanded my practice, my point of view, and my edu-buzzword vocabulary. Alternatively, I could debate whether or not educators should get connected via Twitter.

Instead…I have been considering my Twitter-use-fallout “habits of mind” that until recently I was not clearly aware of.

My top three habits provided à la Twitter training are:

1. The Habit of Backchanneling

I vividly remember 3 years ago, talking with a student as he received a text from a student across the room. I could not, for the life of me, fathom what on earth they were doing; talking to each other across the room via text? It was baffling and mind-boggling behaviour. However, it fascinated me, so much so, that I wanted to understand what exactly was going on. Similarly to travelling to Mexico and spending 2 weeks ensconced in a 4 star all-inclusive, you can’t really claim you understand the local customs. As a tourist in a foreign country you cannot judge social norms and customs until you have experienced them in context. I understood that I had to immerse myself before I could decide.

Now looking back I understand what students were doing; they were participating in a form of backchanneling. They were backchanneling class, back channeling their lives…I finally get it. Only now, because I have experienced it.

Using back channels at conferences, meetings and in class has caused me to think and communicate with clarity and precision, making my contributive puzzle piece clean edged and meaningful. When students Instagram their lab set up or Tweet out a funny comment made in class, I see how integral to creating a healthy and thriving learning environment each act is; they are selecting what is important about their experience then sharing and archiving it…they are actively participating in their learning!

2. Habits to tame the stream; thinking fast and thinking slow.

When I started teaching, I perceived information as an immobile mass sitting rigid and captive in a textbook. Occasionally an article would surface, making small scratches on the large marble statue of content. Now content no longer sits for long, content flows like a raging river during spring run off. Nowhere is this more apparent than out on Twitter. First immersion into this flow, can be mentally painful and overwhelming, like using a power washer on your face, blasting you backwards and putting you off-balance.

David Gelernter, a computer scientist at Yale, writes:

“This lifestream — a heterogeneous, content-searchable, real-time messaging stream — arrived in the form of blog posts and RSS feeds, Twitter and other chatstreams, and Facebook walls and timelines. Its structure represented a shift beyond the “flatland known as the desktop” (where our interfaces ignored the temporal dimension) towards streams, which flow and can therefore serve as a concrete representation of time.”

To work in this flow effectively I use both fast and a slow thinking to navigate. Thinking fast is needed when I am in the midst of the flow; I need to be agile, nimble and maneuver my way through the deluge of tantalizing tidbits. I need to instantly decide what is relevant and what I can ignore. I need the help of tools (Hashtags and Twitter lists are such tools) for sorting and efficiently storing the information for later processing.

Different Flows of Water.

The thinking slow is not an immediately obvious consequence of Twitter’s training. Thinking slow happens over long periods of time and may require back tracking, swirling in an eddy until the stream brings something new down that pushes me out and on. Fast and slow thinking complement each other, and I find fast thinking actually slows my slow thinking down, making it deeper and richer (see habit 3 below). Both these speeds are needed for my overall progress down the stream, one is not dominant or better, they travel together in the same river bed, just as the water pictured above travels at different speeds in the same river bed. Deliciously I (think) I finally get this sentence that has been a brain knot I have been working on for several weeks from Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age by George Siemens : “The pipe is more important than the content within the pipe. Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.”

3. Habit of consuming “more concentrated” information.

Not watered down, not shipped in from Chile and tasteless…rather…ideas and content fresh from the source.

In the past ideas, initiatives and visions for change were “shipped in” from far away. By the time the message or idea arrived at my doorstep it was dilute, watered down or modified. Just as in broken telephone, each transaction had altered the original message every so slightly and the message that finally arrived was mangled and distorted.

In this new era of information distribution, I can go to the source, maybe even talk to the author on the phone to clarify (true story) and ask them to give pertinent and related examples.

I have acquired a taste for information in its purest form, undiluted by interpretation or agenda.

 ____________________________________________

What mad skills or habits of mind has Twitter given you or made you aware of?

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4 thoughts on “Habits of mind à la Twitter.

  1. As always, I love your posts & writing! Slow thinking for me is called “festering and stewing”. When I can’t immediately work out an issue, find a solution, I let it fester and stew. I ignore it; don’t treat it; I let it cook in a pot with the lid on; I let it sit there in the corner of my mind and I turn my back on it. Then spontaneously, it combusts and clarity appears. Sometimes life gets in the way of slow thinking, especially in this world of instant gratification, but it is vital!

    • HA, great minds think alike, one of the images that was running through my mind as I wrote was the crock pot one just as you described!! I find it amazing how the mind can “cook” ideas, the species and flavouring mixing and co-mingling, until…presto change-o a delicious scrumptious idea pops out. Yes, life and the tush of family life sometimes does conspire to reduce time for slow thinking, but it make me appreciate the opportunity all that much more when I do get the chance 🙂

      Thanks for sharing!
      c

  2. Hi Carolyn,
    Twitter has caused me to be pickier about what I read and save. I am a bit of a hoarder and I used to feel like I had to bookmark every interesting looking blog post and I had to read every post in my Google Reader. My experience with Twitter made me realize that I have to be more selective because I can’t possibly read it all, and heck, some of it is poor quality or just not relevant to me so I need to move on. I also know that if I overlook something good, my awesome PLN will make sure that it pops up again and onto my radar.
    Thanks for getting me to think more about this.
    Cheers!

    • Hi Claire,
      I laughed reading your comment as I was a digital hoarder for a long time too. As you, I have come to realize that the really good stuff gets circulated lots. I also used to think I had to read everyone’s Tweets, which obviously poses some problems. But over time I have changed my Twitter usage patterns, but it still remains my number one go to learning tool. I only wish I had it and a PLN as a started teaching.
      Thanks for the comment and for sharing 🙂
      c

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