Saturday, March 28, 2015

So I Joined Twitter. Now What?

A Division One Perspective on Twitter


I have had an education-focussed twitter account since October 2009. Colleagues who decide to create an account often say to me "So I joined Twitter, now what?" This questions is often paired with "how do you find the time to keep up with everything?" and "who do I follow". These are all good questions but none of them have a cut and dry answer, hence the long blog post.

This is a general post about why educators should be on Twitter and how to get started. However, it will have an EPSB and a division one slant.

Why Join?


In my opinion, often the best part of professional development days are the conversations I have with colleagues and friends. To me, Twitter provides that experience all year. As Max Cooke says in his article Twitter and the Canadian Educator: At their best, EduTweeters are adeptly leveraging Twitter to brand themselves, to reinvent teacher PD, and perhaps to accelerate the transformation of our Canadian education systems.



As well, I find being on Twitter helps me better see what is happening in the world in relation to education, not just my division, city, province or country. It provides me a window into the classroom of others. As George Couros re-iterates in a recent blog post: Isolation is now a choice educators make. Like many other primary teachers, I have not had a grade level colleague (in the same program) in the last three positions. However, I choose not to work alone.

As someone who uses Google Apps for Education with my students, as well as Kidblog, I sometimes have a need for people to comment on my students' work. With my Twitter (and G+) networks, I have a larger audience to do so.

Who To Follow?


So now I've convinced you to join Twitter, you need to find people to follow. Personally, I think variety helps make Twitter effective. If you only follow like-minded people, you risk creating an echo chamber. A variety of educators from across divisions, provinces and countries is going to provide you with a richer Twitter experience. Consider following some people who do not have the same educational philosophy as you.

However that does not answer the question of how to get started. The best way to get started is to look at who people you know are following. For instance, we could look at who David Salmon follows by going to his profile. At the top you will see how many tweets he has done, how many people he is following, how many people are following him, how many tweets he has favourited and how many lists he has created. Here is what I look for when I decide if I want to follow someone:
  • A profile picture. Do they have the default egg as a profile picture or do they have a custom picture? If they do not have a profile picture, they are likely not an active user or it could be a spam account.
  • An interesting bio. What they say about themselves? Select people who have write ups that interest you. I tend to avoid following people who are vague or have no bio, unless I already know them. 
  • Their recent tweets. Click on their handle/name. When was their last tweet? If it was over three months ago, they are likely not active Twitter users. Do their recent tweets look like ones you would like to read in the future?
If you want the relationship to be reciprocal, consider making sure the above three tips apply to you! Lurking on Twitter is valuable, but being an active participant is even more so, and to do that you need followers as well as people to follow.

Here's the full list of who I am following. Another good resource for Alberta educators is @shawnram's AB Educator list.

What To Follow?


Some people do not focus on following people. Rather they follow lists and/or hashtags or participate in Twitter chats. 

Lists


You can make your own lists or you can subscribe to other people's lists. When you follow a list, you see the most recent tweets from the users in that list. The blog post Teacher's Visual Guide To Creating Twitter Lists has step by step instructions on how to create a list. 

Here is a new list I have created for this blog post and hope to add to: Div1 Edtech. These are educators who work (or have worked) in K-3 classrooms. You can subscribe to lists that others have created. For example you may want to subscribe to the ATA's ABTeachers list or Rick Stiles-Oldring's EPSB list.

Hashtags


The pound sign, #, is a hashtag. In social media # with the words that follow are used in a few different ways. Primarily they are used to label the contents of a tweet (a Twitter message). They can also be used as a creative way to deliver a thought or add meaning to a tweet in a concise and dynamic way. When you follow a hashtag you can see the tweets from all the people who use it. If the idea of Twitter as a conversation interests you, then you may be more interested in following hashtags than people.

I typically I follow the hashtag of my district, #EPSB. Then I follow other hashtags based on my interests and activities at the time. For instance, during our local Teachers' Convention, I follow #GETCA as well.  That way I can have some backchannel chats about the sessions I am in or convention in general. You can use a Twitter client, such at TweetDeck to see many hashtags at once in real time. You can choose what you want each column to display. In the image below I was at an EdTech Google Summit (they use the hashtag #gafesummit). So I had TweetDeck set up to show:

  • my Twitter feed, the most recent tweets of the people I follow
  • my notifications, interactions on Twitter
  • two hashtags, as Max Cooke states, hashtags serve as hubs for scheduled or ongoing exchanges among peers


You can find a large number of hashtags for educators in the blog post The Complete Guide To Twitter Hashtags For Education.

Twitter Chats (Chats Using Hashtags)


Twitter chats are a great way to connect with other educators and to keep up on current education trends. What are they? A Twitter chat is a scheduled event... on Twitter. Typically they happen at the same time each week. They are usually moderated by one or two people who set the topic, set the questions and keep the conversation focussed. These moderators will keep the conversation moving by asking a new question every seven minutes or so. They also use a specific hashtag filter the conversation. The moderators will ask a question using the Q1 format (Q2, Q3 and so on) in conjunction with the hashtag for the chat. The participants will answer questions with A1 format (A2, A3 and so on), also with the hashtag for the chat.


I've been enjoying #abedchat on Wednesdays!

How To Keep Up? Think Of It As A Staff Room, A Global Staff Room!


Often new users find Twitter overwhelming. Initially people feel they need to "keep up" with Twitter. To me Twitter is like a staff room. When I'm in the staff room I am a part of the conversation(s) that happen there. When I am not in the staffroom, I do not stress out about what conversations I am missing. As well, I can go in and out of those conversations as time and interest allows. Twitter is no different for me. When I have time, I enter my global Twitter staffroom and engage in both lighthearted and deep conversations. I rifle through the articles left out for me to look at and read more about the things that interest me and disregard those things that do not. The difference with Twitter and my real staffroom is that if I did want to go back and find out what a Twitter conversation was about, I can do so at any time, from anywhere.

Your Turn! 

Please share in the comments your favourite people to follow, your must have hashtags and your tips for Twitter!