Twitter for Teachers

What is Twitter Exactly?

PictureTwitter is a social networking tool that allows users to post 140 character updates called Tweets. In a tweet, you can include links to websites, photos, video clips, as well as regular text.

You can follow others around the world, depending on your particular interests. Following people allows you to see their tweets. Twitter works similarly to a lot of other social networking tools. Below are a few definitions of some of the key aspects of Twitter.

  • Tweet: A regular tweet is just a 140 character message that others can view.
  • Retweet: Similar to forwarding an email, a retweet forwards someone else’s tweet.
  • Reply: Where you specifically mention another twitter user. It shows up with an @ symbol in front of their name, e.g. @chamada, @mscofino, @intrepidteacher, @klbeasley, @lissgriffin, @jplaman. This is a public message but also shows up in that user’s Replies list.
  • Direct Message: Just like a message on Facebook, or an email, only the person you send it to can view it.
  • Hashtag: a way of grouping tweets about a similar topic, e.g. tweets from ASB Unplugged are tagged #asbup, tweets about education are often tagged #edchat.


Five (Mis)Perceptions of Twitter

Let’s see if we can clear the air about some of the things that I’ve heard about Twitter from other teachers.

  1. Twitter is just a bunch of people sharing useless trivial updates. Like everything else on the internet, there is  a lot of information being  updated on Twitter (27 million per day in October 2011). And yes, some of it is by people who just like to hear themselves type. But there are also very strong communities on Twitter who share your interests and passions!
  2. I have nothing to say. Obvious to you. Amazing to Others. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Twitter takes up too much time. Ever subscribe to a newspaper? If you are anything like me, there were days when you were able to read every section, days when you could only skim the headlines, and days when you just didn’t get past the headline on the front page. Twitter, for me, is the same: it takes up as much time as I can allow.
  4. It’s too hard to find people to follow. With over 100 million active users, this can be true. Fortunately, there are some easy ways to jumpstart your own Twitter network, including lists, hashtags and searches.
  5. Information overload! Actually, this one is true. There is information overload. But you can use Twitter to help you with it! Once established, your Twitter network can act as one of your filters for the open internet. If somebody in your trusted network sees fit to tweet that link, then they must see value in it and think that you might as well!


Ten Top Tips

For those just starting out in the Twitter game or for those that started an account years ago but never really got into it, here our some of our top tips for using Twitter to expand your PLN:

  1. Public, Personal, Private Just as we would tell our students, it is important to understand the distinction between public, personal and private information.
  2. BPLBio, Photo, Link. It’s hard for others to separate the gold from the spam when you don’t fill these things out!
  3. Tear Down That Wall! – Don’t protect your tweets! Again, it’s hard for others to decide to follow you back if they can’t see what you’ve added to the conversations.
  4. Go Beyond Basic – While Twitter as a service is fantastic, Twitter as a website is less than desirable. Try a Twitter client like TweetDeck, Hootsuite, or Echofon (just to name a few!) that allows you to separate your Twitter feed into easy-to-monitor columns.
  5. Lists – Twitter lists allow you to create groups within your Twitter stream. You can even include people that you do not personally follow. Even better, you can follow lists that others have meticulously created. (Kim Cofino has a great International Teachers list.)
  6. Hashtags#asbup #learning2 #edchat #scichat #mathchat #kinderchat These are all examples of hashtags. Hashtags make it easy to group and search for tweets about a specific topic. Using a Twitter client like Tweetdeck, you can even use a hashtag to create an easy-to-follow column in your client. @cybraryman has a comprehensive list of education-related hashtags.
  7. Search For It – Is there something that you’re passionate about? Chances are there are others on Twitter who are passionate about the same thing. Use the Twitter Search function to find people who are talking about your hometown, your favorite sports team or anything else you might be interested in.
  8. Lurking (aka Legitimate Peripheral Participation) – One of the best and easiest ways to learn Twitter etiquette is to lurk amongst some of your favorite lists or hashtags. Once you see how things work, it’s a lot easier to join in!
  9. Retweet and Reply – For some, the highest compliment you can pay them on Twitter is to retweet them. For others, they prefer the conversation that comes along with an @reply. Either way, it is a great way to engage others and to add followers to your PLN.
  10. Conversation is King – Twitter, first and foremost, is about connecting with people around the world who can help you grow as a teacher and as a person. This happens through conversation and through getting to know one another as you would a fellow teacher on your campus. Sometimes these professional relationships develop into personal friendships that last a lifetime!


Further Resources

There are tons of guides and resources out there for you to use while continuing to develop your Twitter presence. Of course, the greatest one in my opinion are the people on Twitter themselves. Sue Waters (@suewaters) has written a very comprehensive guide to All Things Twitter. Edudemic (@edudemic) has a couple of posts on hashtags and on Twitter in Education. There is also a Twitter4Teachers wiki where you can add your Twitter name to lists of teachers in the same subject area or grade level.

While it is extremely well-used and on the verge of becoming cliche, the best metaphor for your Personal Learning Network is that of a garden. It takes time and energy and patience to cultivate a PLN. But if you stick with it, it can be a very beautiful thing!
Image Credits:
Squawk! by Kevin Collins licensed under CC BY NC
Looking Up by Louise Docker licensed under CC BY

Thanks to Keri-Lee Beasley, with whom I have created and refined this presentation over the years.

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