Thanks to Aurora Meyer for inviting me to write this guest post for the MSTA blog!
Have you just begun your PLN (Personal Learning Network)? Are you new to Twitter? There’s a lot of conversation, collaboration, and sharing happening in 140 characters or less. It can be difficult to figure out where to start, and feel somewhat overwhelming. Sometimes it can feel a bit like drinking out of a firehose. I want to share with you some Twitter tips, a little bit about #EdChat, and also ways to find excellent subject specific conversations happening on Twitter.
So, you’re all signed up for Twitter. Now what? Well, first you need to take care of the basics. Get your profile created, including a picture of yourself! I promise it’ll be OK. 🙂 We want to be able to put a face with the tweets. If you have a blog or classroom website, share the link to it (there’s a spot for this in your profile settings too). Lastly, fill out your bio. Share with us what you teach, why you’re here, etc. These are all necessary basics in building your personal learning network.
So after you have your Twitter account all ready to go, what’s the best way to start building your network? Well you have to start following people. That means you visit their Twitter page and click the Follow button. The address to my Twitter page is http://twitter.com/kylepace. You can look at who I follow and you can in turn follow some of those same people, look at who they follow, etc. and before you know it you’ve got a nice little stream of information, resources, and conversation coming across your tweetstream. You can pick how many people you want to follow. Those teachers will be notified that you have started following them and they can follow you right back if they choose. This should give you a nice start to those that you are following and those that are following you.
Another great place to find other teachers to follow is the Twitter 4 Teachers wiki. It was created by my fellow Missouri educator Gina Hartman. What’s great about this wiki is that you can find teachers in a specific subject area to connect with. Are you a math teacher? There’s a whole page of them. Science teacher? Same thing. I don’t think there’s a curricular area that’s not represented there. Be sure to spend some time there finding more great educators to connect with.
Once some have started following you you’re ready to jump into the conversation. Watch the tweets of those that you’re following, see what they’re sharing and the kinds of conversations they’re having. If you want to jump in, click Reply to one of their tweets! It’ll automatically throw the “@” symbol and their Twitter name in the tweet box and you can begin typing your reply. To see their reply to you, you have to check what’s called your “Mentions”. This is where you can see anyone that has mentioned you in a tweet whether it was a reply to something you said or just mentioning you for some other reason. If you’re on the Twitter website just click on Mentions in the right column. If you’re using a third-party program like Tweetdeck (free), you can organize your Twitter stream into columns and this is one of the standard columns you will see. I would highly recommend using Tweetdeck once you’re comfortable with using Twitter.com. You’ll have a much better experience.
Conversations and sharing can happen on Twitter any time. There are, however, some scheduled education related chats that happen at specific days and times either weekly or bi-weekly. One of the most popular ones is called #EdChat. Anyone that is participating in edchat will include the edchat hashtag (keyword) in their tweets. That way, anyone following this keyword can see your tweets even if they aren’t following you. If you’re using Tweetdeck you can set up an edchat column where you can follow anyone tweeting with the edchat hashtag. A hashtag (keyword) can be made out of any term by putting the “#” symbol in front of the word. It doesn’t matter where in your tweet the hashtag is placed. I typically place it after my thought when I’m participating in edchat. Edchat is a weekly chat that happens every Tuesday at two different times. There is a noon edchat and a 7pm edchat (EST). Each time has a different topic. There is a poll that is tweeted out every Sunday afternoon for everyone to vote on the edchat topic each week. The topic with the most votes is the 7pm topic and the 2nd most votes is the noon topic.
Edchat can feel pretty fast and furious. Kind of like trying to get a drink from a firehose. 🙂 It’s best to pick one or two individuals to engage with during edchat. There’s no way you can talk to everyone. It’s like being at a big party. Lots of conversations happening around the main topic and it’s impossible to get to everyone.
If edchat isn’t for you, there are lots of other education related chats happening every week on Twitter. My friend Jerry Blumengarten, a retired NYC teacher now living in Florida, has an awesome website of teacher resources that can be found at http://www.cybraryman.com. His Twitter page can be found here. This man has an amazing wealth of knowledge to share about education. You definitely need to follow him. His website has resources for everything. When I say everything, I mean everything! He’s awesome! One of those pages that Jerry maintains is a schedule of all the educational chats happening on Twitter. The page can be found here and lists the day, time, and hashtag for each of these chats. Math teachers? Give #mathchat a try. New teachers? Be sure to join in on #ntchat each week. Special Education teachers? Be sure to check out #spedchat. That’s a very small sample of the other types of education chats happening on Twitter. There are even chats for principals and administrators such as Connected Principals chat (#cpchat).
These chats are all moderated by some outstanding educators. The person(s) moderating the chat will always identify themselves at the start of the chat time. Be sure to reply to them and say hello and let them know you’re joining in! I’m one of the moderators for the 7pm EST edchat along with my friend Mary Beth Hertz so be sure to say hello to us if you join in the Tuesday evening edchat!
While Twitter is an essential PLN tool for me personally, I know it’s not the only PLN tool. Twitter and other forms of social media are giving teachers new ways to participate in self-guided professional development. They’re networking, collaborating, and connecting with other teachers in a way that wasn’t around several years ago. It’s an exciting time to see how this evolves and gives our profession a new level of connectivity to bring to our districts, schools, and classrooms together.
What educational chats are you participating in? How have they benefited you? Please leave a comment and share your story.