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I am currently teaching an optional course for our teachers on Embedding Technology.  Our last class was an introduction to Twitter.  During the class, I asked for responses from my PLN to the question “How do you find useful education professionals to follow?” The teachers in my class requested that I post the responses in an easy to read format, so I chose to use my blog for this purpose.

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Here are some live links to the websites included in some of the responses:

A big thank you to @turrean @edt727 @web20classroom @MikeMcilveen @dpeter @SErwin @dhanson39 @elkedas @griffinmaus @aoakes4 @andyblanco @isamaria for interacting with my class!  Please feel free to click on the link to their Twitter user names if you would like to follow them.

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Over the past few months, I’ve been learning and connecting with other educators from around the world using Twitter.  This has become a very valuable collaboration tool for me and I would like to share some more of the things I have learned along the way on how to effectively use Twitter.

According to a Nielsen report, 60% of people who sign up for Twitter fail to return to the website the following month.  There has been much discussion and speculation about the reason behind this.  Personally, I think a lot of it has to do with one simple thing: purpose.

While many of us found ourselves on Twitter out of curiosity, I believe those who stay and are able to find meaning in the chaos do so for a specific reason.  My own reason is the opportunity to connect and collaborate with other educators.  I finally decided it might be worth while to try out Twitter at an Instructional Coaching workshop.  The presenter, Jim Knight, explained the potential of Twitter in the world of collaborative education.  With this purpose in mind, I dove in.

I have many friends and family who have dabbled in Twitter.  Mostly, this was to satisfy curiosity and and to see what all of the hubbub was about.  They made an account and sat back to watch the “Twitter magic” happen…only it didn’t.  The vast majority of my non-professional contacts have tweeted 5 times or less, have never written a bio, and still have the brown and light blue o_O icon as their profile picture.  The other thing they don’t have?  Purpose.

“What are you doing?” I believe this input prompt is misleading.  Honestly, I really don’t care how many cups of coffee you’ve had today, how many times your dog threw up, what you had for lunch, or what you’re watching on TV (Sorry, American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance fans!).  I see why the Twitter guys started out with this question.  But to get anything meaningful out of this service, I believe more meaningful queries would be “What are you wondering?” or “What have you found worth sharing?”  This is where the moniker, “follow ideas, not people” comes into play.  Being on Twitter isn’t about who you follow.  It’s about conversations involving your interests.  It doesn’t have to be professional.  I’ve seen some pretty interesting conversations about family cooking and dogs.  Find an idea that interests you and that you are passionate about.  If it’s worthwhile to you, I’m sure there are more people out there who feel the same and are willing to connect and share ideas.

So once you have a purpose and an idea you would like to follow, how do you go about finding people connected to that idea/purpose?  First, you start with yourself.  If you want to engage people in conversation, you need to let them know who you are and what you’d like to talk about.  Go to the Settings option in the Twitter menu, then look over the information you have entered for your account profile.  Now, I understand the trepidation many may have about putting too much information out on the net, especially on something you are just trying out.  So please stay in your safety comfort zone, but do the following:

  • Name: Please put at least a real first name
  • More Info URL: If you have a public website of any kind (esp. if it is related to your Twitter purpose) please include that here.
  • One Line Bio: This is important!  Please write 1-2 sentences or a list that tells something about you and what your purpose/interests are.  By telling others the ideas you are interested in following, you will be able to easily connect to more like-minded people.  Remember that you can always revise this later.  This also helps people realize that you are not a spam account.
  • Location: How specific you would like to be is up to you.  At the very minimum, I would include your country or state/province.  Twitter is a global community and it’s fun to know how far your conversations can reach.

o_ONow that you have let people know the types of ideas you are interested in, you need to add a picture.  Yes, I said you need to add a picture…   o_O By the way, the symbol on the default picture is an emoticon which  means “bored, annoyed or awkward; concerned; ‘what?’ face.”  Many people out there won’t follow someone who has this symbol because it is seen as a sign that the person isn’t serious about using Twitter to collaborate.  It also helps people determine more easily if you are a spam account.  Are you uncomfortable with putting a real picture out there?  That’s ok.  While some would disagree, I would argue that any picture is better than no picture.  So feel free to use a cartoon likeness, your dog, something that represents your interests, or play with a photo of yourself in Photoshop or iPhoto.  If you are using Twitter for professional purposes, I would highly recommend a real picture of yourself.

Now that you have a basic profile set-up, start writing a few tweets about your interests/purpose.  You can include your thoughts, write about the kind of information or collaboration you are looking for, ask questions, include a few websites that you have found informative and helpful, etc.  How much you tweet is up to you, but you want people to see that you are actively using the site when they take a look at your profile.  This gives them more incentive to interact with you.

Now you are ready to find people who also follow the same ideas.  Please remember that you do not need to follow everyone.  It’s ok to be selective and to stop following someone if they’re not sharing the kind of ideas you are looking for.  There are a few ways to do this.

  • If you know someone who actively uses Twitter for the same purpose, browse through their following list.  Find a few people you think sound interesting and follow them.  Then you can look through their following lists, and repeat the process.  I prefer to use following lists instead of followers because they are less likely to be people who don’t share the same interest/purpose.
  • Use Twitter Search and input keywords related to your interest/purpose.  Click on the profiles of people who have tweets that interest you and decide if they are engaged in the conversation you’re looking for.  If you like the ideas they are discussing, then follow them.  From there you can use the first step to branch out and find more people.
  • Search for related hashtags.  Hashtags are words that are preceded by the “#” symbol.  Their purpose is to make it easier to search posts related to that idea.  For example, I am currently able to follow the protests in Tehran by searching for the hashtag #iranelection.  There are also scheduled chats such as #educhat and a growing number of professional conferences such as #TED, #NECC, &  #GLS09.  Anyone who is talking about this subject can include a designated hashtag in their post so others can see it and be part of the conversation.  You can learn more about hashtags here.
  • Check out services such as WeFollow.  Look up topics that are related to your interest/purpose and find people to follow that interest you.

Once you have a few people you’re following, feel free to jump right in or watch and get a feel for how people use Twitter.  It is still a good idea for you to keep posting questions, resources, etc. to help people decide if they want to follow you.  Feel free to “retweet” good ideas that other people have written.  Just be sure to give them credit by starting the post with “RT” (short for “retweet”) and then writing their @name, followed by their post.  See an example here.  Or you can write “via” and their @name at the end of your post.  See an example hereYou want to be sure you credit the ideas of other people. RTs from others also give you a chance to find more people with the same interests/purpose.  Just click on their @name and it will take you directly to their profile.

Once you feel comfortable, start responding to other people’s posts.  Answer their questions, provide resources, and comment on their ideas.  To reply, you can hit the reply button on their tweet or type their Twitter name into your dialogue box with the “@” symbol in front.  Feel free to include hashtags if they are appropriate.

You can also respond privately by using the Direct Message feature on the right hand side.  Just click on the “Direct Message” link.  Then choose the person you want to communicate with from the drop down menu, type your message, and send.  Please note that you may only send Direct Messages to people you follow and follow you back.

If you have a website you would like to share, but the URL is way too long to include in a 140 character tweet, you can use a service such as TinyURL.com to shorten the URL.  Also, many Twitter clients provide a URL shortening service.  I am currently using Tweetie.  All I have to do it type my tweet, and then hit option+command+s to automatically short the URL.  It’s very handy.

A note on spam: If you gain followers who have a limited, non-existent, or general bio, only a few tweets, tweets that are all about advertising (such as how to gain 3,000 followers in a week), or they follow 5,000 people and only 100 follow them back, then they are more than likely a spam account.  It is best to block these by going to your follower page and hitting the “Block” button by their name.

I hope these tips will help you find the “Twitter magic” and put it to good use.  If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to let me know.  I’ve been trying to find the best way to describe this unique service and the best way to help people get started in leveraging its use.  I’d love to hear from you.  Thanks!

Resources:

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I have been playing around with Twitter a lot lately.  Mostly, I have been using it to help develop my PLN, or Personal Learning Network.  I’ve enjoyed delving into my professional interests in a new and different way.  My experience has ranged from “Huh, what’s the point of this?” to “How will I ever process all this great, but overwhelming amount of information?”  In an attempt to congeal my experience thus far into something more comprehensible for myself and my friends, here are the highlights:

Not long ago, I attended a live Classroom 2.0 session on Twitter for educators by Rodd Lucier, The Clever Sheep.  You can listen to the archive of the session here and see the Sharetabs page here.

Twitter Clients – I think that once you hit a certain threshold of people you follow, trying to make sense out of everything on Twitter is a bit like herding cats.  This is where applications such as TweetDeck and Twirl come in.  These are two different Twitter clients that you can download onto your computer and use to sort the furballs from the choice morsels.  I am currently using TweetDeck, though either client seems to work fairly well.  I have my incoming tweets sorted into several columns, making it easier to peruse though the information.  This organization changes whenever I get whatever seems to be a more efficient idea.  Here are some resources for TweetDeck:

HashTags – I am still playing around with the possibilities of this idea.  Without throwing a lot of net jargon at you, hashtags (or #hashtags) are keywords included directly in your posts to make searching easier.  I have seen this used mostly for conferences (#TED), synchronous events (#educhat), and keeping track of topics (#edreform).

Synchronous Events – This is when people use #hashtags to have a discussion on Twitter at a specified date and time.  I participated in the 2nd #Educhat last night and I rather enjoyed it.  Since the amount of tweets can be overwhelming, I tracked them using TweetGrid and its Twitter Party function.  I will play with Monitter next time around (April 6th) to decide which I like better.  Please feel free to check out #Educhat and consider joining the conversation.

Privacy Concerns – Since Twitter is a public venue, there are student privacy concerns. The easiest way to address this is to have your students make their Twitter accounts private using the settings.  Another option is to use Edmodo instead of Twitter.  Edmodo is an education version of Twitter which strives to protect student privacy.  Also, remember that anything you type is a part of your digital footprint.  This means it is public and searchable.

Overall, I am enjoying the resources and community I am finding on Twitter.  I get good ideas and thoughts from people everyday.

More Resources:

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“Twitter may either be the greatest prank ever played on the internet community or it may be the best thing since sliced bread.” -Phil Bauman, 140 Health Care Uses for Twitter

In the past day or so, I’ve been researching and experimenting on Twitter with a specific focus on its potential use in the classroom.  What exactly is Twitter, you ask?  It’s a social networking and micro-blogging site.  Ok, so what does that mean?  Basically, people continually post small snippets of information in 140 characters or less.  I’ve found that many of these “mini-blogs” are mostly either like Facebook Status updates (a statement of what the person is currently doing) or a link to another piece of information (like a news or journal article, online resource, picture, etc.).  Twitter “feeds” are posted by individual people, corporations, clubs, universities, NASA, presidential campaigns (Obama & Nadar), celebrities, and even governments.

Twitter has been put to some interesting uses including NASA updates on space shuttle missions and to break the news of the discovery of water on Mars, coordination of political campaign workers, live sporting event updates, public updates from the office of the British Prime Minister, a part of university emergency alert and other institutional systems, updates on evacuations, meeting points and other needed information during the 2007 California wildfires, and many used it during the Mumbai siege of November 2008 to gather information on the safety of friends and coordinate responses.  With the ability to update and read Twitter feeds from mobile phones, the uses can be even more intriguing.

How can it be useful to me as a teacher?  I’m still figuring this one out and I would love to have your input.  Since I work in a “high access” school (every student has a laptop) I realize I’ve been thinking about applications mostly in this context.  But what else can we do with it?  Here is a list of possible applications that I have considered so far:

  • Assignment Log for homework and make-up work
  • Entrance and/or Exit Slips
  • Class Polls
  • Reading Discussion – This has different possibilities.  Students can ask the teacher questions about reading hang-ups they have at home.  They could engage is a Cris Tovani style of reading dialog with their teacher and peers, teachers could have students respond to open-ended questions and to classmate’s responses.  Students could write summaries of reading in which Twitter would force them to be concise (140 character limit) and put it into their own words (students could divide up sections/jigsaw, have their own feed, etc..)
  • Resource Sharing – Teaching APUSH makes me think of this.  I always want students to share the resources they’ve found online to facilitate awareness of historical scholarship, broaden research skills, learn about individual interests, find study resources, and more.
  • Current Events – Many teachers do different activities with current events.  This could be used creatively in that area.
  • Homework Help “Hotline” that everyone in the class can benefit from.  Teachers can respond to students.  Students can respond to their peers’ questions and help each other out.
  • Clubs/Activities – Keep your members in touch with events and share ideas with students who are unable to make it to meetings.
  • Coordinate collaborative group work outside of the classroom
  • Post web resources for students to use
  • Develop a class’s sense of community and connection
  • Creative feedback (from teachers and students)
  • Writing – There seems to be a plethora of writing applications for teaching grammar, rules of writing, helping students to be concise (important in history), “continue the story” activities, etc.

I don’t have all of these worked out of course, but it is just a brainstorm list of ideas.  Just remember that purpose and content always come before choosing a technology to integrate into your classroom.

Twitter Resources

Web 2.0 Primer for Newbies

The Wired Campus

AcademHacK

Tame the Web

Twitter Fan Wiki

5 Things to Get Your Twitter Network Off the Ground

I’ve started my own Twitter feed so I can learn the ins and outs in order to see what can be done with it.  If you are interested, you can find the feed here.  I invite you to create your own feed and experiment with me on what can be done with this technology.  If you already have a feed, please feel free to follow mine.  I’ve already learned some rather interesting things.

Possible Questions for Comment:

  • What do you want to know about Twitter?
  • Do you use Twitter?  Do you have any advice?
  • What are your concerns about Twitter?
  • How have you used or seen Twitter used in the classroom?  What ideas for possible applications do you have?
  • General comments?

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