Welcome to the third step in our free professional learning series on building your PLN.
In the first two steps, we looked at what a PLN means and how to become a connected educator.
We’re now getting into the specifics of how to use particular tools, beginning with Twitter.
The aim of this step is to:
- Explain what Twitter is and how it’s used.
- Explain the benefits of using Twitter as part of your PLN.
- Helps you set up your Twitter account and connect with others.
Introduction To Twitter
Most teachers who are using Twitter would probably agree that it is their number one way they build and connect with their PLN.
In fact, a 2016 study showed that the most popular tool K-12 teachers use to connect with others was Twitter.
What Is Twitter?
Twitter is a social networking, news, and microblogging service that allows you to send out short messages called tweets.
Along with text and links, tweets can also contain media (up to 4 photos, a video, or a GIF).
Tweets used to be limited to 140 characters but this increased to 280 characters by 2018.
Twitter is a place that you can just lurk, by reading others’ tweets, or contribute, by sending out your own tweets. Obviously, the latter is what you work towards as the more you put in, the more you get out!
You can read tweets without having your own Twitter account (as long as the accounts you’re following are public — and the majority are). To contribute, you will need an account which we will explain below.
One of the great things about Twitter is that it is accessible on your computer, laptop, tablet, or phone. You can use the native Twitter website or app, or there are many other popular third party apps that aim to improve functionality and accessibility.
Tweetdeck was once an independent app that has now been acquired by Twitter. Many users enjoy using it to organize their feed.
Twitter is used by people in nearly every country around the world. 83% of 193 UN member countries have Twitter a presence. For teachers, this means you have access to thousands of teachers with rich backgrounds and experiences that can contribute to your professional growth.
Anatomy Of A Tweet
Twitter is made up of tweets. We created this diagram to help you understand tweets better.
You’re welcome to share it with others or display it on your blog.
Interacting With Tweets
When you see a tweet, there are certain things you can click on:
- The person’s name to see their profile page. You can look at their bio and see all their tweets.
- Follow to have the tweeter’s future tweets show up on your homepage.
- A link (if there is one) to open a website in your browser.
- A hashtag to see other tweets that are categorized with the same hashtag (regardless of whether you follow the people using that hashtag)
- Like (the heart) — this shows your appreciation, agreement, or acknowledgment of the tweet. Simply, tap/click the heart to like the tweet (tap/click again to undo).
- Retweet to share the tweet with your own followers. This demonstrates that you found the tweet interesting or shareworthy. You will also have the option to add a comment to the retweet.
- Direct message — you can message someone privately or start a private group conversation. Depending on individual settings, you might only be able to direct message someone if you both follow each other.
- Comments — this allows you to either read what other people have said in a public reply, or add your own reply.
Think You’re Not Interested In Twitter? Think Again!
Twitter is more than just “another social networking tool”.
It generally isn’t about reconnecting with people you knew in high school or sharing what you’re cooking for dinner. Of course, some people only use Twitter for fun, although for most educators Twitter is about connecting with like minded individuals for personalized and ongoing professional development.
There are millions of tweets flying around in the Twitterverse 24-7 but the good thing is you can use Twitter as your time and inclination permits!
Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach has shared an analogy of Twitter being like a river. The river keeps flowing but sometimes you might just walk past and have a quick look, sometimes you might hang around and dip your toes in, other times you might spend hours swimming around.
The choice is yours.
In this three minute video, Alec Couros explains how Twitter is used effectively in education.
Benefits Of Using Twitter
Twitter is like a virtual staffroom where you can catch up with your PLN. It’s a place where educators can find advice, give advice, find great links, share work, and engage in general musings about education.
- In this post, Chris Betcher describes what he got out of tweeting for just 10 minutes.
- Similarly, in this post Edna Sackson describes what she got out of 30 minutes on Twitter one morning.
- In the video below, Matt Miller demonstrates the types of tweets you’ll find on Twitter on any given day.
While these examples aren’t new and some minor functions of Twitter have changed, the basic premise remains; there are countless ways educators are using Twitter to benefit themselves and their students.
Five Steps To Building Your PLN Via Twitter
The sign up process is easy. Just follow these steps:
- Go to http://twitter.com and click on the sign up box, or go directly to https://twitter.com/signup.
- You will be required to enter information such as your name and email address as you’re guided through the sign up process.
- Once you sign up for an account, you can select a unique username. Try not to make your username too long and make it something that identifies you, like your name, rather than a complex nickname.
Once you’re signed up, you can customize your profile.
- Complete your bio so people know who you are. You have 160 characters for your bio. Educators often share the age group or subject they teach, and particular interests.
- Add a profile photo. Real photos can be a better choice than a cartoon avatar. It helps you to build your relationship with your PLN. Bios and photos can hold a lot of weight in virtual relationships.
- You’ll also be able to add a header photo. Popular header images for teachers include landscapes, a classroom photo, or a quote. Tip: You can make a personalized Twitter header image with Canva.
Refer to the Educator’s Ultimate Guide to Twitter for more detailed step-by-step instructions on how to set up and use Twitter.
2. Follow People
Following someone on Twitter means:
- You are subscribing to their tweets and their updates will appear in your home timeline
- That person is able to send you a private direct message if you’re following each other
Following isn’t necessarily a reciprocal relationship, like Facebook friendships. Someone can follow you without you following them back and vice versa. You don’t need to wait for approval to follow someone either, as long as their account is public.
There are thousands of teachers around the world on Twitter, you just have to know where to find them!
There are many educational thought leaders who thousands of people enjoy following such as:
- George Couros (@gcouros)
- Richard Byrne (@rmbyrne)
- Larry Ferlazzo (@Larryferlazzo)
- Tony Vincent (@tonyvincent)
- Shelley Sanchez (@shellterrell)
- David Geurin (@DavidGeurin)
- Matt Miller (@jmattmiller)
- Jennifer Gonzalez (@cultofpedagogy)
- John Spencer (@spencerideas)
- Eric Curts (@ericcurts)
- Kasey Bell (@ShakeUpLearning)
- Mark Anderson (@ICTEvangelist)
- Silvia Tolisano (@Langwitches)
- Vicki Davis (@coolcatteacher)
- Sir Ken Robinson (@SirKenRobinson)
- Steven W. Anderson (@web20classroom)
Additionally, there are many popular sources for keeping up to date with the latest news, trends, and research in education, such as:
- Edutopia (@Edutopia)
- EdSurge (@EdSurge)
- MindShift (@MindShiftKQED)
- TeachThought (@TeachThought)
- ISTE (@ISTE)
The examples listed above are only the tip of the iceberg and far from an exhaustive list!
Once you have a few people to follow, look at who they are following and you will start to build up your PLN.
You can also adopt some Twitter regulars as your mentors and ask them to put a tweet out to encourage their followers to connect with you.
Twitter also regularly shows you suggestions of people you could follow.
Watch this video to learn how to follow and connect with people on Twitter.
You’ll need to spend some time checking out the stream of tweets and getting the hang of tweeting, retweeting, direct messaging, and hashtags.
Some people say Twitter isn’t as intuitive as other web tools but it doesn’t take long for it to make sense. Give yourself a few weeks to try it. Whenever you have a few spare minutes, open Twitter, scroll through your feed, click on some links, watch how people are interacting with each other.
If the people you’re following don’t interest you, it’s fine to unfollow them. Remember, you’re in charge of building your own personal PLN.
When you’ve lurked for a while, jump and contribute! Like or retweet a few tweets, reply to tweets that resonated with you, and send tweets of your own. You could try contacting a few people via direct message too — ask them a question or introduce yourself.
It may take some time to get the hang of how Twitter works. We’ve made this cheat sheet to help. Feel free to share it with others or use it on your own blog.
Remember, the more you put in, the more you get out.
Don’t be afraid to start replying to people, retweeting tweets, asking questions, and striking up conversations.
Many teachers on Twitter are very friendly and always happy to help newbies find their feet!
What To Tweet About
Still not sure what you could be tweeting about? How about:
- A photo from a lesson
- A link to something interesting you’ve read
- A question about a topic you’re interested in
- A request for a resource
- A link to something from your own blog or someone else’s blog
- A favorite online tool you like to use with students
5. Stick With It!
Many regular Twitter users have commented that it took them a few attempts to get going with Twitter. Sticking with it is so important. Make yourself check into Twitter daily for a month before you make any decisions about whether it is for you.
It takes time to build rapport with people. When you do, you’ll find your professional world will be so enlightened and your students will be better for it!
Remember, you definitely won’t be seeing everything that’s tweeted, so don’t feel like you have to. You’ll receive notifications when someone replies to you, mentions you, tags you, or direct messages you. Otherwise, Twitter works fairly serendipitously and you’ll just see what you see!
To walk you through getting started with Twitter and to demonstrate some of the tips mentioned in this post, check out Starting a PLN on Twitter: A Quick Guide For Teachers by Common Sense Education.
Effective teaching and learning doesn’t occur in a vacuum. To be the best teacher you can be, you need a diverse and innovative network.
As we outlined in Step Two, traditionally, the staff at your school was your main network of teachers to collaborate with. This network may be fantastic but can become an echo chamber for the same ideas, values, and perspectives.
With Twitter, the barriers of distance and access are broken down and the world is at your fingertips!
In our next step, we explore Twitter further by looking at hashtags and Twitter chats.
PLNs are about sharing, collaborating, and learning from and with others. Here’s your chance to ask a question, comment, and get involved!
We’d like you to add your voice and ideas to our ongoing conversation on building your own PLN by undertaking one or more of the following challenges:
- Video Reflections: Watch How To Use Twitter Effectively In Education with Alec Couros or the Common Sense Education video on Getting Started With Twitter. Leave a comment on this post to share your ideas on how you might use Twitter to build your PLN.
- Join: If you haven’t joined Twitter yet, head over to twitter.com and sign up. Leave a comment on this post with your Twitter username so others can follow you. If you’ve joined in the past, now could be a good time to review your account. Do you need to update your images or bio perhaps?
- Find Someone: After browsing Twitter, find someone who you think you’d be interested in following. Leave their Twitter username in a comment and tell us what they’re tweeting about that you find interesting.
- Go Deeper: Write a blog post about your initial impressions of Twitter. You could include — what you see as obstacles to taking part in Twitter, what you have learned from being on Twitter, or who you have connected with via Twitter. Don’t forget to leave a comment here with the link to your post. You might even like to document your own journey as a new Twitter user to inspire others to do the same!
Also feel free to leave a comment to ask any questions or share your tips.