Top 5 Reasons Why I Do Twitter Chats

I am co-moderating and co-organizing three academic Twitter chats this semester–#Lingchat, #FYCchat, and the newly minted #SFLchat. It’s a lot to do in terms of social media engagement and planning. But I enjoy it–I told a colleague it’s my way to “productively procrastinate.”

Kidding aside, there are some good reasons why I do academic Twitter chats and have been doing them since I joined Twitter in 2013. And I think those reasons might resonate with some people who already participate in them–and they might encourage others to join in.

  1. They are convenient. Any academic who wants to contribute to their field or wants to keep up with developments in their field has several options. They can read or publish in journals in their field. They can attend conferences. They can join professional organizations. They can participate in webinars. But each of these has limitations. Journals are periodic and only allow delayed communication. Conferences are annual.  Professional organizations might offer listservs or newsletters, but most forms of communication will be  asynchronous. Webinars are great, but might cost money and sometimes are just a presentation. Twitter chats are weekly or bi-weekly, mostly synchronous, and free.
  2.  They help me understand my field of study. I’m early in my career–just two years out from my dissertation. Even then, I only know my subfield–genre theory in Systemic Functional Linguistics–fairly well. But the larger field of linguistics, or even the larger field of Systemic Functional Linguistics or genre studies, are still something of a mystery. Sure, I know our general disciplinary narratives. I know big names. But I still have big questions: Where are we going? What are we doing? Why are we doing it?  What I have always loved about the academy was the ability to think and speak freely in order to better understand the world. And while the halls of the academy–or the local watering hole–are good venues for this kind of informal academic discourse, Twitter chats enable it on a broader scale, exposing their participants to the unconventional view or the new idea. It is what I value most about academic Twitter chats.
  3. They improve my teaching. Obviously chats like #FYCchat are expressly designed to support professional development of teachers. And they do a great job of doing that–it’s why Trent M. Kays and I revived #FYCchat after it went on hiatus. We share resources on these chats and discuss important issues in our practice. I have used some of the ideas I’ve gotten from those chats. So there’s the explicit aspect of the chat that promotes the sharing of pedagogy. But on another level, even the more theoretical chats like #Lingchat and #SFLchat are spaces for me to practice my teaching–because sometimes mine is the unconventional view or the new idea. And I have to explain it to people who haven’t heard of it. In 140 characters. It forces recontextualization in a way that mirrors, in some ways, the classroom. Any time you get to practice teaching, like any craft, you get a little better. And Twitter chats give you a space to do that.
  4. They provide me with a community of colleagues, mentors, and mentees. We meet around a hashtag. That hashtag is our common idea, our focal point. That’s why we are there, initially. But then, as you participate more, you build what Karl Maton calls “sociality.” The community forms through the sharing of ideas and practices, through the support of each other, and through the resolution of disagreements (more later). As we learn more about each other, we develop relationships of different kinds. I have many colleagues on these chats, but I’ve also been mentored by people and mentored people myself through these chats. And those relationships have extended beyond the Twitter timeline, to long emails, conversations, and presentations at conferences. That community matters to me. And I’m personally and professionally grateful to have them in my life.
  5. They are challenging. I’m argumentative on Twitter. Sometimes too much so, and that gets me in trouble. But even if you’re not, Twitter chats will challenge you because they attract voices and views from literally all around the world. Most chats develop as supportive communities, but sometimes there are disagreements. And like any community, those disagreements can only be resolved by the members themselves. Fortunately, most (if not all) of my disagreements have been resolved well, and I learned something, and I like to think the other person did as well. But for me, what has mattered is that those debates have continued to influence my own thinking and research. I regularly think about how so-and-so from the chat would respond to some idea I’ve had. And sometimes that has changed my view or practice. I am–at least I like to think–more open-minded towards views because of the challenge that Twitter chats offer to my own views.

Like many things in life, Twitter chats are what you make of them–so your experience may vary. But these are the reasons why I spend some time every week on Twitter talking to people around the world about linguistics and teaching writing. If you haven’t participated in a Twitter chat, I encourage you to try one out. Here’s a good list to start from–or ask someone who participates about dates and times. Hope to see you there!


In Defense of Academic Writing: A Response to @sapinker (Part 1)

In Steven Pinker’s recent piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Why Academics Stink at Writing,” Pinker argues that academic writing suffers from a number maladies, including self-conscious stylistics, a “curse of knowledge,” and a lack of “incentives to write well.” I want to address each of Pinker’s points in detail. This first post will focus on the “self-conscious style” argument.

“Self-Conscious Style” Features Serve Functions Other Than Indexing The Author’s Membership in Academe

Pinker, drawing from Thomas and Turner’s style typology, asserts that academic writing is “self-conscious.” Academic writers, Pinker argues, are marked by a goal of “not so much communication as self-presentation—an overriding defensiveness against any impression that they may be slacker than their peers in hewing to the norms of the guild.” Pinker favors an alternative style, which Thomas & Turner call the “classic style.” In describing this style, Pinker says, though not explicitly, that the style has as its underlying ideology a correspondence theory of truth: a statement is true if it ‘corresponds’ to or matches something in reality. This theory of truth is not consistent with  many schools of thought in the humanities, such as Reader-Response theory, or the philosophical paradigms informing some social sciences, such as Social Constructivism or Critical theory. It’s not even consistent, as Pinker later notes, with post-positivism, which many physical and biological scientists espouse. But, according to Pinker, it doesn’t matter: classic style is clearer than the self-conscious, and that is why academic writing stinks. (more…)

The Prime Directive in Linguistics: Problems with Non-Interference

In the new Star Trek film, Star Trek Into Darkness, *SPOILER ALERT* Kirk and Spock debate the Prime Directive, which is the principle of non-interference with people who have not become interstellar space-faring civilizations. In the process of saving a non-Industrialized culture from a volcano, Kirk reveals the Starship Enterprise to the people he is trying to save. As a result, they draw an icon in the dirt that represents the ship, implying that the Enterprise will now become a symbol in their culture–either for good or for ill. The point is: Kirk violated the Prime Directive. Because of this, he is stripped of his command and demoted by Starfleet brass. *END SPOILERS*

I see a principle like the Prime Directive operating in descriptive linguistics. (more…)

Traditional Academic Feuds in Literacy Studies Part 6: Power and Weak Grammar

Note: This is the sixth part of a multi-part series which (eventually) will become a term paper for a class seminar on literacy.

After my last post, I started discussing the issue of Integration with some colleagues in linguistics via Twitter (in case you haven’t heard, we’re trying to start #lingchat). There are three Tweets I would like to respond to because they raise problems and objections to my analysis that are productive. Thankfully, Purdue’s OWL has already provided a resource on how to cite Tweets. Unfortunately, they’ve only done it for MLA, so I’m extrapolating an APA citation below.

Aside: I want to personally thank my Twitter colleagues @grvsmth, @NemaVeze, and @wgi_pr31ea for raising questions on this matter. Our discussions have been both productive and instructive for me. And while I argue against some of their claims here, I have great respect for their views and scholarship.


The Linguistics of Formative Assessment

We know from research how important formative assessment is to instruction and student learning. But sometimes questions and statements we make as teachers fail to elicit a verbal response from students. When this happens, we can try to use non-verbal cues to gauge student understanding for a response. We might also consider how the kinds of language choices we make may not function in ways we intend. Perhaps one of the most notorious phrases that fails to adequately assess students’ formative knowledge is:

(1) Does that make sense?


4C13 from afar: Twitter & Collaboration

In lieu of a more complete, short essay (coming soon), I offer today a few thoughts on the 2013 Conference on College Composition and Communication.

Twitter is my CCCC News Wire

I get all my news on the conference from the 4C13 hashtag on Twitter. I also have been browsingthe resources uploaded onto the NCTE site for the convention. I’m indebted to the fellow scholars tweeting about it, especially @webbsusa, who tweeted a fascinating talk by Dr. Victor Villanueva entitled: “Toward a Political Economy of Basic Writing Programs.”

Collaboration between Rhet Comp and Education

Villanueva discussed the need for Basic Writing (and Rhet Comp) to engage in more collaboration with other disciplines. While it seems Villanueva may have seen this need as a way to legitimize the course and empower its students, I contend that this collaboration needs to happen because related disciplines have a lot to offer Rhet Comp and vice versa. Education and Linguistics are the first places where more collaboration needs to happen. (more…)