Tweet Yourself Smart: Building a professional learning community online
Often I find myself at conferences or collegiate activities and someone will ask in conspiratorial tones “Do you use Twitter?” and the conversation usually goes like this.
Well I joined, but I don’t use it, not like Facebook or anything. I just don’t get it?
It’s great for professional learning
(incredulous) How? What can you say in 140 characters or whatever it is?
Well, you follow people and hashtags
What’s a hashtag, I just don’t get it, how many people do you follow?
What?! You can’t read 500 posts.
Well, I make lists and then I check the lists I am interested in at any given time
I just don’t get it.
And then someone on the side, who is eavesdropping, will inevitably shout Twitter is for TWITS , like it’s the first time anyone has ever had that thought or made that comment, and the conversation will achieve an awkward silence.
It’s not an uncommon scenario. Check out this search prediction from Google
There are always those who dismiss Twitter as a tool for celebrity watching and the meaningless posting of photos of lunch, followed by equally inane comment. However, most of the time the person inquiring about Twitter has a curiosity and desire to understand, but becomes frustrated when the application of the tool is not immediately apparent.
Social networks fulfil many purposes and if ‘lunch photos’ are your thing, it will cater for that. But if you really want to learn more about a particular aspect of curriculum or have a conversation with an expert, Twitter is also an amazing forum for learning. So here’s THREE “to”s – how-to, why-to and where-to with Twitter.
(For a quick orientation on Twitter go here)
For an extensive guide on how to join up to Twitter I advise using this Google Doc – Guide To Twitter by my excellent colleague Kristen Morgan, @Morganiseit
For a quick summary to getting started I suggest you think of these four things
An email address you are likely to check and can access easily from anywhere – I use a Gmail account
A “Twitter Handle” – this is your username Most people who are interested in professional learning and maintaining a professional presence on Twitter use their given name. Undoubtedly you will find that your own name is “unavailable”. So some version of your name, possibly combined with a number may be required.
But that does not mean you have to use your given name! You can be as creative as you like. I have both a personal and professional presence as I like to separate my work and personal life. Other people have one identity on Twitter that they use for both personal and professional dialogue. How you represent yourself as a professional is important. As Twitter is open to the world you should consider your name and your tweets carefully.
Avatar – Get rid of the egg. Twitter will assign a generic “egg” avatar. Get rid of it as soon as possible. If you don’t want your face on there, use an image. No-one takes eggs seriously!
Your first Tweet – It’s a bit daunting staring at the “compose new tweet” screen, because compose suggests something clever, witty, erudite or complex and all you can think of writing is “this is my first tweet” whichyou are posting to absolutely no one because you have no followers, as yet! Do not be alarmed. Tweet away and put in the hashtag #firsttweet and draw attention to it by putting a friend’s twitter handle, or you can of course use mine @klbutler65. Once you are off and running, it will seem less foreign.
This was mine
Very boring! However in the process of writing this blog I discovered Twitter has an app to find your first tweet! There really is an app for everything! https://discover.twitter.com/first-tweet
The Twitter tool bar
Microblogging is an art –
Be concise as you only have 140 characters, so if you want to say more, link to a site or further information.
This user tells stories with his 140 characters
If you want particular people to pay attention include them with the @ sign as well as adding a hashtag to attach your comment to groups of content. (more on this below)
Here’s a useful wiki on How to write in 140 characters or less. As links to other sites can be long and use up your character limit, create an account with a URL shortening service like Bit.ly.
Following – using the @ symbol
Who you decide to follow is entirely up to your interests. Whoever you follow will appear in your feed and may link you to professional learning in areas of interest to you.
Here is an excellent article, with this infographic from @edudemic, on Twitter for teachers
Some SA educational or technology in education accounts that may be of interest are …
Use the @ symbol followed by an account name in your posts to:
- address your tweet for the direct attention of someone – useful if you want to ensure they will see your tweet … and/or if you want them to respond to you.
- virtually tap people on their shoulder and get their attention. Facebook users will find this the same as ‘tagging’. The tweet might not be about them but you want them to see it.
- to cite, reference, credit/give kudos to someone.
If you only want the person you are addressing to see your tweet use the @ symbol at the beginning of your tweet. If you want the world to read your tweet start with a fullstop and then the @ symbol eg
Adding a hashtag to a word in your tweets immediately hyperlinks your tweet to groups of discussions globally. Education hashtags for South Australia include
See the above infographic for more hashtags or go to these useful sites
Oz Tweehcers PLN
You can make your own hashtags and invite people to join in a conversation on a topic. To check if a hashtag is being used, type it into the search window. If it has not been used before it will not produce any search results. Some hashtags I have made up, on the spot or in consultation, have been original or I have discovered they are already in use
#GreenwithPS – to facilitate a PD at that school using Twitter as a back channel
#dontgoogleit – as a response to a keynote about students going deeply into knowledge
#keynote commenting while attending a keynote at EdTechSA conference
#powlearn – working with the Numeracy and Literacy team on powerful learners.
When you start to follow a lot of people it can get pretty busy in your Twitter feed. It may be a good idea to add people to lists so you can check feeds according to your interests. To create a list just click on the cog icon, at the side of the person you want to add to a list, and create a list title on the spot. Here is an example of list names I use but you could be much more creative and strategic about yours:
When you have more than one Twitter account or many lists a useful tool is “TweetDeck” – it’s free and can display multiple Twitter feeds at once. Another tool if you want to keep track of twitter and Facebook is “HootSuite“, which similarly allows you to view various feeds at once.
I asked my networks for the top three reasons why educators use Twitter and their responses can be found on this storify page.
And from this I gleaned the following seven reasons why educators can and should use Twitter.
- Professional Learning -: Twitter gives access to experts from all over the world who regularly post videos and thought pieces that can be used to inspire and support innovative practice. For example @SirKenRobinson is a respected thinker in Education. A tweet I discovered
led me here to this excellent animation that could be used with students to talk about activism and the cross curriculum perspective of sustainability.
- Authentic Connection with Communities – A Twitter account created for a classroom offers connection with families of students and educators around the world. Students can view a Twitter feed without having to join if they are under 13. Two colleagues who share a class, Jarrad Lamshed and Jessica Ottwell have a Twitter account for their classroom.
A quick look at the feed and you can see that they have received comment from around the world.
And this account received over 70 retweets at the time of writing this blogpost
- Professional Leaning Networks: By hashtagging PLN you can see tweets from educator groups around the world, but you can also create your own professional learning network by creating a list of interested teachers and sharing conversations and insights as they occur to you. A powerful and active PLN can be a source of excellent learning
- Social Action – During the “Arab Spring” Twitter was used as a main vehicle for organising protests. Other accounts are set up to directly influence the ways in which we treat each other, for example the Everyday Sexism account was established to call out sexism that was occurring everyday and has been linked to a change in behaviour by multinational company Dove and American Express by mobilising followers to target their Facebook pages.
- Deprivatising Practice – Most good educators, at this point in time have come to the realisation that closing your classroom off to the outside is no longer possible or in fact desirable. Being continuously connected, and the ubiquitous presence of mobile devices means that half thoughts, drafts and incomplete ideas are shared all the time. Polished publications can evolve out of the open dialogue and debate that inform our practice. Therefore anxiety about saying something wrong, or putting yourself out there for scrutiny can be tempered with this knowledge i.e that it is expected that a person can change their minds, form new opinions and generate, contribute and construct new knowledge. While your digital footprint is permanent, your thinking is not – it evolves over time and can be viewed as a “work in progress” This avoids subscribing to “on-message” ideologies and “group-think”.
- Ideas Exchange – This is similar to professional learning, except that it is a little more immediate. It is the opportunity to rethink what you will do Monday, in your classroom. Ask a question through the hashtag #mathchat and you will probably get many suggestions for maths lessons or links to places that hold lots of information about great activities to do with students in your year level.
- Feedback – You can provide and receive feedback. Imagine being able to ask a group of people the so-called “dumb” questions. My mantra is always “there are no dumb questions” when I am running PD on using technologies for learning, but inevitably there is a shy teacher who thinks their question is too basic to warrant verbalising but usually he/she is not alone in “not knowing”. You can ask a heap of strangers for answers on questions you have and generally people are very helpful, and if someone is not helpful – you block them. You are in control of who you listen to and are not under any obligation to acknowledge anyone using Twitter inappropriately. Through topic based hashtags you can engage with people who are endeavouring to improve our collective knowledge.
Twitter like any tool is neither inherently good nor evil. Its potential for either is entirely up to you. Where you take your involvement in Twitter and how beneficial it will become is under your control. Some ideas to consider however are
When using Twitter in an educational setting, especially with students and families it is important to make sure you make digital citizenship an ongoing part of your teaching. Discussing a digital footprint and behaviour in online spaces is not something you can cover in one session with a guest speaker or through a few workshops. Digital citizenship is a conversation with no end point, just like literacy or numeracy. It must be taught explicitly and embedded into practice. It is an integral part of the ICT General Capabilities and the new Digital Technologies curriculum. For links to excellent resources regarding the use of digital technologies with young people, I have compiled a list in this google document.
There are times when you want to collect Tweets and use them for professional purposes or – even better – share your insights with others. Storify is one of many curation tools that allows you to collect tweets by topic and publish them for other users. But there are many sites that already curate content and document the use of Twitter and how it benefits educators. This article on teachers to follow on Twitter for example might be good starting place for educators new to Twitter.
Twitter’s emergent literacies
With any social media platform or emergent technology there will be a new set of language and practices. Here are some forms of language that have developed around the popularity of Twitter that reflect both its lighter and darker sides and some Twitter literacies you will develop.
Twitter Handle: Your username. The word handle was made popular in the 70s when people communicated via CB radio. Often a handle was used to conceal identity, but has been absorped into modern speak to be synonomous with username, whether it reveals your actual name or not.
# – followed by a topic will link you to talk about that topic. The hashtag also makes searching Twitter based on your interest or query much easier.
@ – followed by a name will draw the attention of that person
Followers – People you follow will appear in your newsfeed, they are not “friends” in the same sense as Facebook, they are simply people you are interested in whose tweets will appear when you log in to Twitter.
Following – People who follow you – ie your tweets appear in their newsfeed. People you don’t know will follow you.
Retweet – often listed at the beginning of a tweet, you will read RT which means that someone has retweeted or copied a post on Twitter into their own feed. Or someone may have made adjustments to a tweet they have read and posted it with “MT” = Modified Tweet” or commentary along with a copied tweet will be listed as QT – Quoted Tweet
Twitchfork mob – when groups of people band together to attack users on Twitter
Trolls – people who attack other users, often anonymously and continuously, without obvious motive and unfairly.
Tweet-up – Meeting your Twitter followers at a “real life” function organised on Twitter. I went to one once for @socadel – it was awkward and fascinating at the same time!
Tweetable – information worthy of a Twitter post
Back-channels: When attending conferences Twitter is often used with a hashtag so people can comment on insights as they occur to them throughout keynotes and workshops. This is referred to as a back-channel. It is also interesting to watch tweets appear on television in relation to a particular program. @QandA on the ABC is a popular one which combines a televised panel of guests with live tweets posted across the bottom of the screen. If you are working with children under thirteen and you would like to introduce them to the literacies of Twitter, a great tool is Today’s Meet which allows you to establish a back-channel with 140 character limit. The comments can be transcribed and saved as a PDF for later reference.
Audience awareness – be aware of who you are Tweeting to and who is following you. Someone may retweet a post you have posted and may be of questionable character and someone with whom you do not want to be associated with. It is important to check your notifications regularly. You may get a request to follow someone and it is important to check their profile, because they can sometimes simply be seeking Followers to market something or may be soliciting your attention for something inappropriate to your ethics or values. Always read a profile to ensure they have listed who and where they are and read some of their tweets, before deciding to follow someone.
Reporting someone on Twitter – Twitter has a detailed and rigorous method for reporting abusive Tweeters which is important to persist with, as ‘Trolls’ will report people regularly to get them removed from Twitter, however if someone is behaving in a way that you find offensive it is important to react as you would in the physical world and take action.
Tolerance for risk – You have to evaluate your preparedness for critique and confrontation when embarking on Twitter, because there are people with whom you will disagree. Discomfort is the place where deep learning exists and hearing conflicting information is an opportunity for reflection. There is obviously a difference between being challenged and being abused. You need to be prepared to set your parameters and make sure you are being challenged within your limits.
If you have any more that you would like to add to this list feel free to comment or Tweet to me at @klbutler65.
Public vs Private
Being online has created a situation where many taken for granted notions, like privacy, are being redefined. You are in charge of how much you share. Jeff Jarvis, the author of “Public Parts” and “What would Google do?” offers insight,
Publicness is less complicated than privacy. It’s not about fear, limitations and laws. It’s about sharing, connecting, joining, learning, acting, adding. Knowing one’s privacy is secure makes it easier to be public
Privacy is an ethic of knowing. Public is an ethic of sharing.
It is our responsibility to be aware of our privacy settings and to consider our behaviour online as whether it is adding value. This does no mean we sanitize what we say so that it is of minimal value, but that we act responsibly with our own information and the information shared with us. We also expect the same from the organisations that are recipients of our information and challenge them when they use it unethically.
NB: Here is a great article from @edudemic on the 8 Digital Literacies need to participate online
So now when I have a conversation with a colleague about Twitter, I will glare meaningfully at the colleague who announces Twitter is for Twits and point them here.
The ubiquitous nature of mobile devices and being connected anywhere, anytime offers opportunities to challenge the sociocultural limitations set by dominant narratives and rewrite new visions for societies and education systems as we would like them to be. Are you on board? Are you helping to rewrite this narrative, into a story that puts all learners at the centre and provides them with a voice that can redefine the future to a more trusting and accepting society, through the public sharing of our collective smarts. And if you are not tweeting yourself smart, [there is no need to platform centric] are you in a space that allows you to contribute your knowledge to the collective? Are you building onto your knowledge through many voices including those who are often marginalised? Let me know!
@klbutler65 – professional profile
@talkychalky43 – personal profile