I had a teacher I used to work with contact me over Skype last week and he asked about using Twitter. I was almost caught off guard by the question because even though this teacher is very innovative with the use of technology in his courses, and is always one to help when others ask, he just isn’t into social networking. Which is okay. Social networking isn’t the right fit for everyone and there are certainly different levels of adoption. However, with him starting the conversation and asking the question, I thought I would share with everyone else who is considering using Twitter in their courses or as part of their PLN.
To start off I’ll explain my experiences with Twitter, because like many people I just didn’t get it. A little over two years ago I started hearing more about Twitter and when I attended a state technology conference I decided I would sign up. I didn’t really know what to expect and was really quite disappointed after the conference ended. I truly didn’t get what I was supposed to do. I didn’t know who to follow or really what following was all about. So I just stopped using it, because I couldn’t justify the time commitment when I had an entire district to look after. Over the course of the next few months I some how came back to looking into Twitter again and wish I could remember what triggered my interest in it again. Regardless of the reason, I gave it another chance and this time I started looking at how other people were using it and finally discovered what I had stumbled upon. As I started to slowly follow people I began seeing more and more resources and support for ideas I have that I think are important. Up until this point I had relied only on my RSS reader for my PLN, but now I was able to expand that network by including the conversations, shared resources, and other interactions that take place through Twitter. Twitter really brought a human component to my PLN. Overtime I slowly began sending my own tweets and have noticed that others are interested in what I have to say as well. The interactions I have had on Twitter have been some of the more in depth conversations I have ever had and now I can’t think of not using Twitter as a way to refine my skills as an educator.
So now that I’ve talked about my experiences, let’s get down to the nitty gritty of using Twitter:
- First things first, you need to sign up for an account. It’s free and pretty straight forward to do, especially if you’ve ever signed up for anything Web 2.0ish. So go to http://www.twitter.com and click sign up.
- Once you have an account the next thing you should do is find people to follow. This is where I struggled at first but I think this is getting much easier in education because more and more educators are using Twitter. I’d first start by thinking about people you know who might be on Twitter. These could be people in your school, your AEA (regional education agencies in Iowa), the Department of Education, or other associations and organizations. Once you find a few people who you want to follow, then start looking at who they follow. Chances are you have similar interests and will follow many of the same people.
- Once you start following other people, you will start to see the power of Twitter. You will see people tweeting resources, links to articles, blogs, and other resources that can help you learn. The best part of Twitter is that you don’t have to contribute if you don’t want to. There is certainly power in sharing your knowledge, but you need to be comfortable doing so first, so if you don’t feel like saying anything then don’t. It’s okay to just lurk for a while and see what everyone else is saying.
- The next step is to begin sharing. Once you have gained some comfort and followers, start sharing your ideas, resources, and anything else you think will help others become better educators. As you start sharing others will begin interacting with you and the power of Twitter jumps dramatically because even though you are using 140 characters to say something, you will be surprised at how profound and meaningful some of those short statements are. Some of the best conversations I’ve had with other educators have been over Twitter.
- If you see something someone else tweeted that you would like to send out to your followers, then you should retweet it. Retweet is simply resending a tweet. You would do this because there could be people who don’t follow the person who tweeted the initial tweet that follow you and may be interested in the original tweet. I also see it as reinforcing what someone said. You can also add to a retweet if you want to add something more, but beware of the 140 character limit!
- As you begin sending out messages, you may want to make your tweets are searchable by using a hashtag. The best way I’ve found to explain a hashtag is that it is the pound sign (#) with a word or single phrase following it. A hashtag doesn’t have any spaces and is usually descriptive of a topic, such as #edchat, #iowacore, #iwb, etc. This is a great way to help organize tweets about a certain topic and allows for more structured conversations to take place. It is also a great way to find others to follow and will help you establish more followers. You will also notice others using hashtags which you can click on to do a quick search of the topic.
- Once you get the hang of using Twitter, you should look into using software that helps you organize your searches and tweets better. The one I’m most fond of is Tweet Deck, which is an application that is installed on your computer. Tweet Deck allows you to organize your tweets in columns, which is handy if you want to have multiple hashtags open at once. Another that doesn’t need to be installed is Hoot Suite. It follows the same basic concept of Tweet Deck only it isn’t installed on your computer and is ran through a Web browser.
- If you want to send a tweet to some one specifically, you can either send them a direct message or mention them. To mention someone you type their handle (what shows up when they tweet, such as dmourlam) preceded by an @ symbol (@dmourlam). To send a direct message click on Message at the top of your Twitter Web page and click new message. The main difference is that a direct message is a private message where a mention is a public message.
There are a lot of things to know about Twitter, but once you adopt it into a regular practice, it doesn’t take much time investment. If you are looking to increase collaboration with your students, you could have them begin using Twitter as well. What you would need to do is make sure they all have access to a device that allows them to send tweets and then for instance you could create what is called a backchannel in your lectures/discussions. A backchannel is a live chat stream, usually projected if part of a physical classroom, where the audience can engage in the content of the lecture/discussion rather than remaining passive in the learning process. So as a speaker talks your students can ask each other questions or highlight parts that are important to them. Creating a backchannel is also a great way to receive feedback during a lecture. The key is to use a hashtag that is unique to your class, which you can make up ahead of time and let everyone in class know. You will also need to use a service like Twitter Fall to show all the tweets from the backchannel, which you can then project in the room. May sound intimidating, but it is a learning process and is certainly leading edge in terms of increasing the collaboration amongst your students.
As you begin looking at how to use Twitter, make sure to take some time to let everything digest. There isn’t a rush and you’ll have to admit that you can’t read everything. A good way to begin would be to devote ten minutes to using Twitter everyday. Just read some things others are tweeting and see where it goes from there. Another thing to keep in mind is to ask for help when you have questions. Twitter can get a little confusing, so make sure to reach out for help when you need it. Hopefully I’ve been helpful, but if you have questions, don’t hesitate to let me know.