I’ll be the first to admit it: when I first started using Twitter 3 years ago, I used it purely as a social outlet. I “connected” with my favorite celebrities, chatted with a few of my friends and poked fun at the funny trending hashtags. But after spending quite a bit of time using Twitter personally, I soon discovered the value in using it to build a professional learning network. I have participated in numerous hours of in-person formal professional development, graduate coursework and workshops, but I can honestly say that I have learned and connected more from a few hours on Twitter right from the comfort of my own home.
Think of Twitter as a "chat room" where you are having a conversation with like-minded people sharing their ideas and great resources. Imagine a room full of people who all have something to share. One person stands up and says "Hey, I found this great article on differentiation.” Another person says, “I found a great resource for third grade students struggling with reading." Another responds, "Please share, I have been looking for strategies to help my students with reading." The beauty of Twitter is that these educators can communicate and share easily without being friends, or in the same room, or even the same country.
Twitter does not have to be overwhelming, or “one more thing to do” that you don’t get around to. With a few simple and easy tips, you can quickly become a Twitter expert and maximize its power.
Look Before You Tweet
Also, take the time to make a profile before you start actively participating in the Twitter community. The first step is to upload a picture. (The infamous default egg picture screams newbie, or I'm just not that into Twitter.) Add a description of who you are, or what your purpose is on Twitter. This is extremely helpful when you are looking for followers, since reading profile descriptions is a great way to weed through potential Twitter friends.
After you understand the basics and setup your Twitter account, start following at least 15-20 tweeters. Not sure who to follow? Look for educators who blog or have websites, and make sure you ask people you already know on Twitter. You can also think about a keynote speaker you enjoyed recently, or simply look for educational organizations and publications. Unlike Facebook, Twitter allows you to have one-way relationships, so you can follow someone on Twitter, but they don't have to follow you back.
For the next week, don’t Tweet, just watch. Spend a few minutes each day just scrolling through your timeline, and reading what others are posting. As you watch and read, look at who they are following and what they are talking about. You want to follow and connect with people who provide valuable content and information, so it’s okay to unfollow people who you don’t find helpful. Quality in the Twitter world is way more powerful and important than quantity, so as you scroll your timeline you want it to be a valuable experience, and not an extra place to store useless information. As you discover great Tweeters, they’ll lead you to others, as you expand and create a high-quality network.
After you have spent a little time looking and not Tweeting, decide how you would like to contribute so that you are not just a consumer. Passively using Twitter can be boring and ineffective: Twitter is so much more valuable when it’s engaging and interactive.
You could start by sharing an interesting article or blog, or even some of your students’ projects. You might even choose to have your students Tweet from a class account. Try connecting with another classroom to participate in a Mystery Skype (opens in new tab) challenge or Google Hangout, or become ePals. Or maybe you’re more interested in a moderated question and answer chat, or new ideas for your classroom. However you decide to engage, be very active for at least a week and see what happens.
Remember, Organization is the Key
One of the biggest reasons people get frustrated with Twitter is by becoming overwhelmed with the amount of content exchanged in a short period of time. There are various apps and websites you can use to explore Twitter and stay organized, and each of them provides a different experience.
One easy way to stay organized is by creating a list within Twitter. Lists can help you organize your feed so you can see Tweets coming from people with specific interests and expertise that you may want to group or categorize.
Using a tool like TweetDeck can be a helpful way for new users to navigate between different Twitter pages. TweetDeck can be downloaded to your computer, accessed via a website, an app on a mobile device, or through a Chrome extension. This application is powerful because it allows for real-time tracking and organization. Unlike the Twitter website, you can create several columns to view at once to participate and curate Twitter. This is particularly useful when following a specific hashtag at a conference, or event.
Hootsuite, another social media dashboard, allows you to organize Twitter while also connecting your other social media accounts like Facebook and Google+. This social media multiplatform allows you to share media between the tools. You can also add Hootlet, a Google Chrome extension that makes Tweeting even easier.
Google also has a Twitter curator add-on in Google Apps, which enables you to search for topics, hashtags or people on Twitter without leaving Google Drive. Drop your favorite tweets right inside your document to save them and share with others outside of Twitter.
Storify is a website that helps you tell a story through your social media tools. You can create a visual story of Twitter easily by sharing the most current events and trending topics. This tool curates all of the information from these sites and makes it easy to share.
Twitter is such a powerful way to connect. The amount of valuable educational content shared through this platform on a daily basis is priceless. Taking things one step at a time is a sure way to keep from feeling intimidated--soon, you’ll feel comfortable with using twitter as a way to connect and learn.
How do you stay organized with Twitter and other social media?
cross-posted at msedtechie.blogspot.com
Patricia Brown is the Technology Integration Coach at Old Bonhomme Elementary School in Saint Louis, MO, where she implemented the first annual OB Family Tech week and Digital Learning Day. As a classroom teacher, she was awarded a $25,000 Innovative Technology grant for her school. Read her blog at msedtechie.blogspot.com.