Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Twitter for Educators: A Beginner's Guide

When I walk away from a conference, I feel energized. I'm excited and eager to try out a new strategy or use a new technology tool in my classroom. The problem is, of course, that feeling doesn't last. Three weeks later, my focus narrows and I lose sight of the big picture in the midst of all the ephemera.

Twitter, and, in particular, Twitter Chats are great ways to experience and be part of that same kind of environment on a weekly basis.

When I first heard about Twitter, I was initially very skeptical. I didn't understand how any meaningful conversations could happen in 140 characters and I've certainly never been known for my concision. I just couldn't wrap my mind around how it all was supposed to work: Tweets. Growing your PLN. Twitter Chats. Trending Hashtags. It seems chaotic enough to turn off even the most well intended teachers.

But, it just may be one of the best ways to keep informed and inspired during the daily trudge. Don't take my word for it - read about it here, here, here, and even in this article from ASCD in 2010 here. I am by no means an expert in Twitter and it can still be a challenge for me, but I'm trying to take a Growth Mindset approach to using Twitter to grow my PLN and to improve my coaching and teaching.

Back to Basics: What is Twitter?  What is and how do I use hashtags? What's a Twitter Chat?

Twitter: Originally Twitter was advertised as a micro-blogging social media platform. Essentially it is a way to share and find information on any topic you are interested. The catch: You have only 140 characters to write our your messages. This makes for quick, short bits of information that are easily digestible.

Hashtags: Finding information is easily done on Twitter though the use of hashtags. A hashtag is a word or phrase following the # symbol. Searching a hashtag will consolidate all posts related to that topic. For example searching #edtech will show all posts related to Educational Technology. Want to find information and advice specific to new teachers? Search #ntchat. 

Reply, Re-tweet, and Favorite: If you find a tweet and want to add to the conversation with the author, you can reply to the original post. If you find a tweet that you like, you can retweet it to your follows and, if desired, add your own commentary to the tweet. You can also favorite the tweet to let the author know you liked it and so you can easily find it later. 

Reply   |  Retweet  |  Favorite

Dissecting a Tweet:


When I searched the #3Musketechs, I found this tweet from Edulastic. I re-tweeted it to Ann Ventura adding my own hashtags #INeLearn and #edtech. Now anyone who searches for #INeLearn or #edtech will be able to find the post.

Twitter Chat: Participating in a Twitter chat moves you beyond a simple hashtag. Twitter Chats are led by facilitators who organize a time to discuss a particular topic or set of questions. For example, #edtechchat discusses all things related to educational technology on Mondays at 8-9pm EST.

That's well and good... But it's too chaotic for me!  

If you've ever followed a Twitter chat, you know that it is fast-paced environment with multiple threads of conversation happening at the same time. At first, this was a major deterrent for me. I wanted to consume everything. I felt overwhelmed trying to follow every line of conversation at the moment. And it was impossible to get anything meaningful out of the experience.

The best way that I've found to engage in a Twitter chat is by starting conversations with a few people. If someone says something insightful, or that you'd like to discuss further, reply to that person's tweet. It's like being at a party - you will never know what everyone says. You can't be part of every interaction, but you can form sub-groups to connect with others. Then after the chat you can review the posts and look at the archived messages to see what you missed.

But the only way that I can follow a Twitter Chat is by using a service like TweetDeck. TweetDeck organizes your Twitter feed into a manageable, easier to follow format. You can add columns to follow specific hashtags (like I did here with #etcoaches). As people post using the hashtag, the tweets will appear in the column.


Popular Twitter Chats (check out some lists here and here)

  • #edchat: General education discussion | Tuesdays at noon EST and 7pm EST. 
  • #satchat: General discussion for educators | Saturdays at 10:30 am EST
  • #ntchat: New teacher discussions | Wednesdays at 8pm EST 
  • #elemchat: Elementary education | Saturdays at 6pm EST
  • #edtechchat: Educational Technology | Mondays at 8pm EST 
  • #tlap: Inspired by Dave Burgess | Mondays at 9pm EST 
  • #1to1techat: 1:1 teachers | Wednesdays at 9pm EST 
  • #gafechat - Google Apps for Education | 1st and 3rd Tuesday at 9pm EST

Final Thoughts

If you are overwhelmed by Twitter (and I was too when I first started), it's okay to observer (or lurk) for awhile.You may forget about it for awhile, but don't give up on it; and come back to it when you need a refresher or inspiration.

Like I mentioned before, I am by no means an expert on Twitter, but I'm taking a #growthmindset approach to expanding my PLN. If you have questions, suggestions, or comments please connect with me on Twitter or email me.

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