Twitter as back lane

60 Somerville

I grew up in the heart of Montreal; the 24 bus hurtled along our street, a restaurant and convenience store were kiddie corner, and I could walk to the heart of downtown. You might imagine a childhood in the heart of the city fast paced and frantic. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our house, along with 9 other houses, backed on to a lane which provided space for unstructured and unscripted goofing around. In the lane you could show up, no invitation or reason needed. Maybe someone was there, maybe not…it didn’t matter. The space allowed for interactions, interactions  grew connections, and connections made magic happen.

Want to start a volleyball game? Sure! Ok lets see who else is around…
Let’s go exploring and collect bugs…Let’s run a vet center for baby birds…
Should we put together a Christmas play? Yes! I’ll ask my mom if she can help.

For 2 minutes or 2 hours, regardless, you could show up…hang out, muck about. Time was open and the space empty, to make of it what you wanted. When we had to jet away (aka a mother’s shout out the back door) we left, no questions asked. When we showed up again, a week or a month or an hour later, it was like we never left.

The lane is where I discovered my love of planning elaborate events. The lane is where I began to dream. The lane is where I discovered caterpillars, ants, and my love of biology. The lane is where we discovered ourselves, what we liked, what we didn’t and then changed our minds.


danah boyd explains teens use social media to find places to mess around and roam free. She believes children are reacting online primarily to social changes that have occurred off-line.

Perhaps children aren’t the only ones who miss roaming free and unstructured down time? Maybe adults caught in the schedule trap also crave spaces to hang out, a place where invitation or planning is not required?

For all the talk about life in this age speeding up…Twitter slows my life down. I come to Twitter to hang out, to roam a bit, to shoot the breeze …to discover. In the midst of a life that feels over scheduled and full of must do’s, Twitter is a reprieve. Twitter affords a pace I miss and recognize. This pace moves me back in charge of discovering what interests me…and perhaps the opportunity to connect with others who have the same interests. The pace stops the internal dialogue of “I should be interested in this” to I AM interested in this; I have the opportunity to hear my internal ping of interest. The space affords time and permission to watch, listen, interact, how and when appropriate….without pressure or expectation.

While information and buses continue to rush by….there is a place for us to hang out, dream, plan, or just be.

See you in the lane peeps…


The Unfollow.


We are a puny and fickle folk. Avarice, hesitation, and following are our diseases.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

I didn’t see it coming. We had been so happy together. Or so I thought.

We have been through thick and thin, good Tweets and bad. I thought we had an understanding. But now…I see…I was wrong.

Maybe you’ve been tweeting around and you found Tweets you like better than mine, or maybe you just wanted me for my follow.
Maybe you added me a friendapalooza?

When we meet you liked my Tweets and I liked yours. It was Twitter-tastic!!

But things have changed…

Maybe my Twabstinence made you realize you did not need me.

Maybe the moments I doubted myself, my voice came through.

Or maybe…I just…did not fulfill all your Twitter dreams.



I realize.

If you don’t like my Tweets. It is OK. It will be OK.

I have to be me here.
I thought maybe I could be everything, to everyone…


to be honest…

I need to be me more than I need your follow.

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?

Celebrating Canuck chicks who tweet.

Last year I saw a list that bugged me. A lot. SOME OF CANADA’S TOP EDUTWEETERS 2.0 Only 15 are women? Huh? If you take a look at the percent of women in education (66% in 2005 ) this number does not jive. This disconnect stuck with me and made me a little more mindful of who I was following and the gender of the voices that were resonating with me the most, not in a critical way, but in an observant way. It also pushed me to find female voices on Twitter or to notice if in fact, there were female voices out there that did resonate with me. I also read this article  On Twitter, Men Are Retweeted Far More Than Women (And You’re Probably Sexist, Too) in the summer which got me thinking some more. It takes you to TWEE-Q (“Twitter Equality Quotient”) which asks:

“Gender equality is always a hot conversation topic on Twitter. We were curious about how equal the conversation ON Twitter really is and created this little experiment in order to find out the truth. The idea is as simple as elegant: insert the twitterhandle you want analyzed and we’ll check the balance between the sexes behind your retweets. A 10 is the perfect Twee-Q. Do you dare to start with yourself?”

My TWEE-Q is not very high!!

My TWEE-Q is 3.2!
My TWEE-Q is 3.2!

So below are just some of the Canuck Chicks who I have followed over the last couple of months (and who are not already on the LIST above). This “list” is not annotated or numbered intentionally! It represents some Canadian (sorry my Yankee lovelies) women in education who I have noticed out here, either on Twitter, blogging or both. Maybe who have women who you follow to add? Maybe you have ideas on why there seems to be less female presence in the Twitter-sphere, especially in Canada? Maybe you have not noticed this but will have a look at who you RT? Or maybe you think gender just does not matter?


Starleigh Grass

Jodie Reeder

Pamela Richardson

Jenny Cho


Michelle Hiebert

Audrey McLaren McG

Tia Henriksen

Heidi Hass Gable

E Gregory

Barb Danielsen

Patti Walker

Gallit Zvi

Naryn Searcy

Karen Lirenman

Lisa Domeier

Verena Roberts

Claire Thompson

Sheila Stewart

Carrie Gelson

Sheila Morrisette

Elisa Carlson

Valerie Irvine

Cheers my fellow Canadian lovelies, here is to Tweeting up a storm! P.S. If you are a Canuck chick who tweets and you are not on the above this list send me your name and I’ll add it on, it is not meant to be exclusive in any way 🙂