It’s 2016, and we live in a social media age. Even without realising it, social networks such as Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter provide us with news and information on a daily basis. Traditional journalism uses it to get the inside scoop on what’s happening, and citizen journalists are capturing the news as it happens.
What does this have to do with you, as an educator, and your choice to use Twitter? So much.
The world we live in has changed beyond measure in the last ten years. The way we communicate, create and share information has led to a world that is no longer shaped by information scarcity. Even the most well informed person can no longer hold within their head the total amount of information that exists on any given subject, and so we must move our focus from what we know, to how we find out. I have written before on the theory of Connectivism, which suggests that learning is the process of creating connections, and the potential to know is of more value than the amount currently known.
Connecting on Twitter is a terrific way to begin building a personal learning network. As an educator and learner, it is vital to be in touch with sources of up to date knowledge and information, and to be able to call on this when and where you need it. A teacher can never stop learning, but there is a limit to the time and money you can spend on formal professional learning opportunities. It is now almost impossible for a teacher to be engaging in best practice unless they are part of a supportive, informed and well developed network. Twitter is just one way to begin making these connections.
Ferriter, Ramsden, & Sheninger suggest that there are six ‘common patterns of participation’ for users of Twitter:
1. Sharing Knowledge and Resources – sharing links to blogs, images or video clips of interest.
2. Monitoring Educational New Sources – sourcing professional readings and research
3. Digitally Attending Important Conferences – sharing thoughts and reflections from professional development sessions or conferences.
4. Encouraging Reflection – engaging in a reflective conversation with others
5. Gathering Instant Feedback – turning to Twitter as the first point of call when needing answers about their practice
6. Mentoring Colleagues – turning to Twitter to find a digital mentor for yourself or a peer.
So if I have convinced you to give it a go, read on for a step by step account of how to connect in the Twitter world. Building a network takes time, and but the benefits of being an educator in touch with the world are amazing!
Step One: Sign Up!
Signing up for Twitter is easy. Similar to other social networks, an email, password and username is all that is needed. Use a secure password, and if at all possible, resist the temptation to log in using another app such as Google, for the security reasons I have outlined previously. If you are signing up to enhance your learning opportunities, it is good practice to own your identity – in other words, use your real name and image. Of course it is totally up to you – everyone has their own levels of privacy with which they are comfortable. However, when making connections, people like to know to whom they are connecting. Personally, I hardly ever connect with someone who has used a pseudonym unless I actually know who they are. My learning network is important to me, and I minimise spam and problem accounts by making sure each person in my tweet feed is legitimately there for the same reason I am – to share and to learn from each other. Although this article is a little old, it is still a good summary of why I dislike linking with unknowns.
Once you have signed up, the fun begins.
Step Two: Learn to love the Twitter Interface
Twitter looks different depending upon the device you are using. The computer version has slightly more features than the mobile app version, but they are all similar, and operate in the same way. I have created an interactive graphic of the current Twitter desktop interface so you can get to know what everything does. This interface will change (this is the third version of this interactive interface I have designed over the years!) but the general features stay pretty similar, and as you become more confident, you’ll adapt to small layout changes. Remember the uproar every time Facebook changed in the beginning? A part of being digitally literate is to realise that everything is perpetually in beta, constantly changing, and to make learning to go with the flow a skill that you can transfer to multiple contexts!
Step Three: Lurk and Learn!
There is no pressure to dive in straight away – the beauty of informal learning is that there is no timeframe. Spend time ‘lurking’ – choosing who to follow, getting familiar with the ‘genre’ of tweets and seeing which tweets you are most interested in and who posted them. Of course, your experience using Twitter will be richer once you start interacting and making connections, but there is no hurry! Search different hashtags; the more specific the hashtag, the more likely you will find like-minded tweeters and more relevant tweets. You can find lists like this one by googling ‘twitter hashtags for teachers’.
Step Four: Begin to Build your Network
Spend time building a small network of useful, quality tweeters who will become the backbone of your Professional Learning Network. Choose those who you find to be posting tweets that really interest you, and look who they follow – chances are, they will also have similar interests, and be worth following also. I have compiled a list of Tweeps you may like to begin with –Teacher Tweeps to Follow – but it is by no means exhaustive, and is reflective also of my own interests. Use it as a starting point!
Step Five: Begin Tweeting
Once you feel comfortable with the interface, and you have a small network, it is good to start ‘giving back’. The community is only as rich as it is thanks to the generosity of everyone who shares. Don’t think ‘what I have to say isn’t worth sharing’ – there’s a great video that answers that doubt here:
If you are stuck for ideas, check out this great list of suggestions, and think about what you like to read. Often, it is the tweets that just give an insight into what other people are doing that are worth the most. Not the groundbreaking new theories, or earthshattering events; just the peek into everyday, that we so often miss when we lock ourselves in our own classrooms.
Step Six: A Little, Often.
Your network will not grow overnight, and it will take some time to get comfortable with tweeting and retweeting. However it is like riding a bike. One day it will be a struggle, and the next, it will ‘click’, and you will be away. I have contacted countless people via Twitter to ask for help, compare experiences, share ideas, and have always been met with warmth and welcome. You get back what you put out, so make sure your tweets are positive and constructive, and you will receive in return!
In ten minutes on Twitter, here’s what I found:
There really is something for everyone. So get started on your Twitter journey. Tweet me and we’ll talk more! See you on Twitter.