Reposted with permission from blog.texthelp.com
Last week I shared several no and low cost professional development opportunities for educators to take advantage of throughout the school year. While this primarily focused on webinars and video tutorials, one resource that should not be overlooked is social media. Or more specifically, Twitter.
Twitter is one of the best sources of up to date information for educators that I have found. However, if you are new to Twitter it can be a little intimidating at first to understand how to create an account, who to follow, what to tweet, and so on. The purpose of this post is to serve as a quick start guide for those looking to join for the first time or become more active in the Twitter community.
Create an account
To begin using Twitter you must first have an account. If you do not already have an account it is very simple to create one. Simply go to www.twitter.com, enter your full name, email and a password. From there you will need to choose a Twitter “handle” (basically a username), upload an image of yourself, and enter a few additional details. Once complete you are all set. A few tips to consider:
- Choose a relevant name. For example, I use @jkcarroll (Twitter automatically puts the @ sign in front of the name), which is associated with my email address and other usernames I use. I’ve seen educators use handles like @LiteracyPro or @TechNinja. Whatever you choose, just make sure it matches the “look” you want to portray to the outside world.
- Upload an image of yourself. This is optional, but I highly recommend it. By default your profile picture will be an egg. This basically means a “newbie.” Many people will ignore comments, tweets, etc… from individuals with an egg as their image thinking that it may be spam.
Follow other Twitter users
Now that you have an account you need to follow people that tweet the type of content and resources you are interested in. For example, you could follow me by typing @jkcarroll in the Twitter search bar, selecting my name, and clicking the Follow button. The same goes for Texthelp by typing @TexthelpUS in the search bar. You will then see items that Texthelp and I tweet on your start page when you first login to Twitter. You can also search the users we follow in addition to the users that follow us. Most users will have a short bio that tells a little about them. This will help you decide if it is someone you want to follow.
For a list of some recommended people to follow, check out my previous post on Educational Technology Leaders.
Once you start following people Twitter will automatically recommend similar users you may be interested in following. There is no set number to how many users you can follow. I follow around 1,000 people at the moment and have a little over 1,000 followers. Some people have millions of followers. You may notice that many of the people you follow choose to follow you back. This is common courtesy in the Twitter world, but it is not required. You can always unfollow people at any time.
As you start following people you may decide to organise them into lists. For example, you may have a list for Math, EdTech, Language Arts, Sports and so on. To create a list, visit your list page after you login to Twitter (i.e. www.twitter.com/username/lists). Click create new list and start adding users. You can also check out other users’ lists, which is another great way to find people to follow. To learn more about using lists check out Twitter’s Help Center page on using lists.
Despite being the focus of an occasional comedy skit, hashtags are actually one of the most useful tolls in Twitter. A hashtag is basically any word or phrase (without spaces) that beings with #. Twitter users often use hashtags to show that a tweet is relevant to a particular topic (i.e. #EdTech, #HigherEd, #Google, etc…). If you find a hashtag that is relevant to the content you are interested in you can click the hashtag (or enter it into the search bar) to view a list of all tweets using that hashtag. You will find that many conferences also use hashtags to keep track of what people attending the conference are tweeting about. This is a great way for people unable to attend to still have access to some of the information.
A few useful hashtags to use and search for in the education field include:
- #EdChat – Topics related to general education. Weekly chat on Tuesdays. Learn more here.
- #EdTech – Conversations and resources related to educational technology.
- #HigherEd – Topics related to Higher Education.
- #GAFE – Topics related to Google Apps for Education.
- #gafesummits – Hashtag used during Google Summits. Great way to access the many free resources that are often shared during Summit sessions.
- #ATChat – Topics related to assistive technology. Weekly chat Wednesdays at 8pm EST.
For an exhaustive list of hashtags related to education check out Cybraryman’s website.
Join in on the conversation
By now you have created an account, chose some users to follow, and may have even started categorising those users into lists and researching a few hashtags. Now it’s time to join the conversation. There are a few easy way to do this:
- Retweet – If a user shares something you find particularly useful, you can click the “retweet” button. This basically shares that person’s tweet with your followers. This is one of the quickest ways to share information because you are just tweeting what others have posted.
- Chime in on a topic – You may find a conversation going on between users that you follow or during a chat. If you have something useful to add feel free to “reply” to one of the tweets (just keep in mind that you are limited to 140 characters) This is not seen as rude and is actually expected when using Twitter.
- Ask a question – Once you begin acquiring followers take advantage of them. If you have a question about using Twitter, effective strategies for a classroom, or pretty much anything else related to the audience that follows you, just ask!
Keep at it
Twitter is only as useful as you allow it to be. If you are finding and sharing great content, interacting with users, and putting what you learn into practice Twitter is great. However, if you just use it as another source of media to consume it will quickly become another resource that you have access to but no time for. I personally use Twitter as my primary social media tool for professional development.
Are you a Twitter user? What helpful tips and tricks would you recommend to new users? Or if you are new to Twitter and decide it’s time to create an account be sure to list it in the comments section below so that I can follow you.