Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Using Twitter for Professional Dialogue and Development

Mali: Beautiful, and isolating. Photo Credit: Alexbip via Compfight cc
I love the close community of our small school. At the same time, the small faculty can be a challenge in terms of professional growth because we don't have colleagues teaching the same subject that we can use as sounding boards. Flying to conferences is time-consuming and expensive, and using email lets us talk with people we know at other schools but isn't good at helping us find new connections.

One solution to the problem of being professionally isolated is to use Twitter. Yes, the same tool that Lady Gaga uses to announce her latest single is something that you can use to improve your practice. So what is Twitter?

  • Accessible from the web, on your phone, tablet, etc.
  • Lets you post a public message that anyone can read
  • Lets you join a conversation on a particular topic by using hashtags. For example, searching for #edchat will bring up all the recent messages where people are talking about education and have used that same hashtag
  • Helps you stay in touch with specific people and meet new people by "following" them so that their messages appear when you log in
  • Helps you share ideas by "retweeting" a message you've read from someone else. When you retweet something, it is forwarded to all the people who follow you.
  • Enables real-time discussion - you can join a chat with other teachers as it happens. This is unlike Google, which is used to find resources that someone has already written and posted. It's like the difference between walking into a conference room with educators from ten different countries and walking into a library where you find books.
One of the best things about Twitter is how many educators are already using it to have "Twitter chats," which are loosely organized chats that happen at a specific time every week. For example, Jeff F. and I participate in the "Africa Educators" chat (#africaed). Every Tuesday and Thursday the moderator posts a question, and we participate if we want by writing a tweet and including the hashtag #africaed. By searching for the same hashtag, we can see what other educators are writing about it and engage in direct conversation if we like. Because it's public, anyone can join in. It's a great way to meet new people (and follow them, and get people following you). Here's what it looks like:

I particularly find Twitter valuable because:

  • It’s public and global. You can learn from and connect with educators halfway across the globe and join conversations about a limitless variety of education topics.
  • It’s fast. Messages appear instantly.
  • It helps you connect. Educators who have chosen to join Twitter are generally interested in sharing with and learning from others, so it's a self-selected community of educators ready to tackle tough questions.
  • It helps you make the most of conferences. You can meet educators online, reconnect with them at conferences face to face, and continue your discussions after you leave.

There are plenty of other hashtags for you to use (one list, another list) to connect with a bigger  community, and you can find a schedule for other twitter chats here. Feel free to ask Matt if you need help getting started!

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