Twitter BlackTwitter is such an integral part of my teaching. learning and professional development process that it is easy to forget that many teachers don’t really understand why they should be using it and what they are missing out. When first introduced to the notion of Twitter as a serious tool (Learning 2.008, Shanghai), I was immediately cynical. Surely it was only narcicists, snake oil salesmen and celebrities doing that stuff? It was only when I later realised that a colleague of mine, Martin Clarke, had a constant stream of awesome resources coming from Twitter, that I saw what I was missing. I was lucky enough to have Martin give me some pointers, but for many of the teachers I met at 21C Learning this weekend, who were inspired to use Twitter, there were no workshops for them to attend (I guess it has been done to death at such conferences). So, this article is a quick Twitter how-to for such teachers, sinpired by one of them: Sharon Culek.

Why Twitter?

In schools we are often isolated, with a limited source of inspiration and enlightenment. Twitter can connect you to a world of amazing teachers and education leaders, all sharing brilliant ideas, resources and stories. Stick around for a while, contribute some ideas of your own and you may be able to cultivate your own Personal Learning Network (PLN). This loose-knit group of overlapping individuals will become your virtual educational guru, helping you as you seek enlightenment. Of course, many teachers never get over Stage 1 of Twitter adoption (thanks to Daniel Edwards for his 10 Stages of Twitter), but if you do, the rewards are great indeed.

Twitter Glossary

This brief, non-exhaustive lexicon of Twitter terminology should be enough to get your started thinking about Twitter in the right way, as well as phrasing your questions to avoid embarrasment and searching with the right terms. My advice would be to read a few, and then go in to Twitter and experience them in action, before moving on down the list.

  • Twitter – a micro-blogging social network that allows users to post messages of up up to 140-characters, including links, images and hastags.
  • Tweet – a single 140-char message on Twitter. The 140 limit comes from the fact that Tweets used to be posted by SMS message back in the dark ages. The limit means that meassages are brief, and you need to be economical with your words.
  • User – a user holds an account on Twitter, which includes a username (e.g. rossdotparker), a profile and a collection of their tweets. You can search Twitter to find interesting users (there is a list for you below), and once you follow a few, the system will suggest more similar people for you.
  • Follow – if you follow people, their tweets will show up in your feed (or stream), so you can see what they are saying. Don’t think of your stream as an email inbox: you will go nuts. There is too much good stuff to worry about seeing it all. Just dip in when you can, and see what you have time to see.
  • Followers – your followers are those users who have followed you. What you post will appear in their feed. Whether they see it or not depends on how many others they follow (some teachers follow tens of thousands of users, I try uncessfully to keep it around 150), and how often and thoroughly they check their feed. At some point, you may cease to think of Twitter as soley a social network, but also as a highly customised news feed,
  • Mention – within a tweet, a user can be mentioned by prepending their username with the @ (at) sign. So, if you mention me in a Tweet by writing @rossdotparker, I will get an alert that you have mentioned me. This is the fundamental currency of interaction on Twitter.
  • Hashtag – a tag is a way to index and find interesting content. Some systems, such as Delicious, give you a dedicated field to tag your content. Twitter does not: to tag something you must prepend it with the # (hash) symbol. So, if I tweet about 21C Learning, and hashtag it #21clhk, it will be available to other users who have search for the same hashtag. Hashtags are the foudnations of Twitter-based communities, and a great way to find new content and get others interested in your content.
  • Retweet – the retweet button will send a tweet you like out to your follows, giving credit to the original sender. It is a way to forward on great content to your followes. Some users prefer to repost the content under their own account and use the accronym RT to show it is a retweet. This can deny credit from the originating users, so I try and use the inbuilt retweet button.
  • Modified Tweet – sometimes you want to add to a tweet (hard to imagine as their are only 140 chars), or to only pass on only a part of the tweet. Labelling your tweet with MT shows that it is a modified tweet. You can give credit to the originating user by mentioning them in the tweet.
  • Tweeps – short for “Twitter peeps”, your tweeps are the people you hang with online: your PLN. If you give to them (e.g. answer their questions, retweet their ideas), they will give back to you. This relationship can be hugely powerful, and hopefully next time you are at a tech learning conference, you might even get to meet them.
  • Spam – just like email and web comments, Twitter is not immune to spam. You can report and block users who spam, and in my experience after a few weeks of blocking, the spammers will leave you alone.
  • Client – to start with you will most likely access Twitter via the web. However, there are lots of other clients which you can use to interact with Twitter. One example is TweetDeck, but there are lots of others out there.

Some People To Follow

To start seeing interesting content on Twitter you will need to start following some other users. The following might give you a good start, after which Twitter will suggest related people to add to your list.

  • @alaindebotton – modern day philosopher to get you thinking.
  • @wmchamberlain – founder of #comments4kids, generally good guy.
  • @kowloony – the man who started my Twitter jouney, a constant stream of interesting humanities resources.
  • @intrepidteacher – the guy who made me realise how creative Twitter can be.
  • @neilringrose – primary school VP who shares great ideas
  • @thequote – motivation from famous thinkers and writers
  • @j0hnburns – iPad integrator, friendly teacher
  • ‏ @jennyluca – ICT director with library leanings

Some Hashtags To Investigate

As mentioned above, hashtags are ways to label tweets so they lump together and become searchable. Some of the following might be interesting:

  • teachICHK – a collection of resources gathered by my school
  • edchat – a place to discuss general education matters
  • edstuff – a place to post everything education
  • edtech – a place to post tech learning content
  • ictcurric – a place to post ICT curriculum content
  • pypchat – a place to discuss IB PYP matters
  • mypchat – a place to discuss IB MYP matters
  • dpchat – a place to discuss IB Diploma matters

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, there is nothing sacred or unique about Twitter (some are now saying G+ is better): it is simply another way to share online. However, what it does, it does very well, and it does it in a fast, easy-to-use manner. At the end of the day, if Twitter helps you to share, I believe it will hopefully help you to create more…which is at the heart of being what I call a Connected Teacher:

Good luck with your Twitter adventures. Post a comment here with your username and I will follow you.

Credit: Twitter Black image by Andreas Eldh on Flickr shared under CC BY