Twitter for Educators

I put up this page over a year ago, so I really think I ought to update it – as with all consumer technologies, time moves fast and things are constantly changing. I have been able to assess and re-assess my thoughts around Twitter. When I started finding it useful, it seemed to be amazing, over time some of this changed, and then changed back, so it’s worth adding to what I’d written here previously. I find that while it has some flaws, Twitter is a fantastic tool, with loads of potential – This post gives a great account of how powerful it can be:

The Twitter Cycle

*Disclaimer* – this is completely anecdotal and unscientific – anyone who has any real evidence: please add it!

Having used Twitter for a while, I think I can see a bit of  a pattern – not sure how universal it is – but I’m going to call it the ‘Twitter Cycle

A) The ‘what’s the point of that? phase’. I remember first reading about Twitter – it just seemed to be a cutdown version of Facebook and I didn’t really understand what the point of it was. The key is in seeing how it differs and how you can use it, rather than comparing it to Facebook, a better analogy is probably thinking of tweets as just small blog entries published to the whole world.

B) Having decided to give it a second go, twiteros often reach a point where everything falls into place – in terms of the education sector, this is the point where people are following and being followed by a reasonable number of people. These often include people with some prominence in their field, in terms of ELT, this means that you can ask Scott Thornbury what his favourite textbook is… At this point every time people log in, they see interesting content and have long thought provoking tweet discussions. This is Twitter Nirvana, and is where addiction sets in…

C) During ‘Twitter Nirvana’ twiteros tend to follow more and more people and more and more people follow them… Along with this the amount of time needed to keep up with it all increases as the number of tweets in your stream increases. Trying to manage this has been compared to trying to get a refreshing drink from a firehose. Some seem to be able to cope with this fine (Hello, Shelly!), but I found at this point that I was spending too much time looking at links to content that I knew I was never actually going to look at…. Lots of good stuff, but I knew that I was never going to actually get round to checking it out. As this was probably also happening to a lot of the people that I followed on Twitter I also noticed that I was having far fewer interactions than previously, losing out on the best thing about Twitter. This all led to the next stage:

D)…. Coping! After withdrawing a bit from Twitter, I had a think about what I wanted to get from it, and tried to use it smarter. Different people have different ways of doing this, but this is what I did.
  1. Get ruthless – look at the tweets in your stream and decide if they’re useful to you or not… If not, unfollow them. I was unsure about this at first, but the reality was that the sheer amount of stuff was stopping me from getting the things that I would actually use, it also made interaction complicated. I was worried about what I would be missing, but it made what I would be getting much more useful. It’s all about the signal-noise ratio.
  2. Lists –I’ve seen these described as a ‘little-used feature’, but they really can make the whole thing much more manageable. If you set up lists for logical sections of the people that you follow then you can easily decide to just look at different topics. It’s also worth setting up list for people that you know in real life, as well as those you find most useful/interesting. I’ve added a list of lists that I’ve created and follow below (you can follow other people’s lists if you want.)– The big list, twiteros related to Education– List of twiteros working in the UK ESOL sector– List of twiteros working in the UK Further Education sector – List of UK based e-learning people
  3. Searches – These are another key way of cutting down the ‘noise’ is (these can be easily set up using the tools mentioned below). If you can find a keyword that is used predominantly in the field that you are interested in, then it is worth setting up a search that finds all the tweets about that subject. This is a good way of finding people with an interest in the same field.
    #Eltpics –!/saved-search/%23eltpics
    NATECLA –!/search/natecla
    IATEFL –!/saved-search/%23IATEFL
    ESOL –!/saved-search/Esol
All of these approaches seem to help manage the tweet deluge and keep it useful – for an alternative perspective on this – watch this interview with Grace Dent:

Twitter tools

While you can use Twitter’s own website, most people don’t. This is because there are a number of apps and utilities that make things much easier, whether you are using a desktop or on the move. They help by sorting through the stream of tweets coming in. For a desktop, my favourite tool is Tweetdeck. This free downloadable programme works by allowing you to set up different columns. Each column is a separate Twitter feed, so they could represent different lists or searches that you have set up. Tweetdeck also has a range of advanced features allowing you to schedule tweets in advance and to link in to Facebook and other social media sites. I’ve not really delved into it, but it seems to be a comprehensive tool.
Tweetdeck is also available for mobile devices and tablets, though I personally prefer the official Twitter app, which seems to work very smoothly and intuitively. There are loads of apps out there for different module devices, you just have to find which one suits you best. You can find some examples here:

Tweet Chats

They are not to everyone’s taste, but tweet chats seem to have really taken off amongst teachers on Twitter. These are set times where people decide to use twitter as a chatroom, attaching a specific tag to attach their comments to the chat session. A topic for the discussion is voted on beforehand and then the discussion breaks loose. Twitter was not really designed as a real-time chat room and this is the worst example of twitter-as-information-overload but it can be surprisingly useful.
  • #edchat, the original is every Tuesday at 5PM and Midnight UK time. This is global, having participants from around the world. There is perhaps a slight focus on US high schools, but that might just be my perception. The chats are summarised every week here:
  • #UKEdchat – This takes place on Thursdays between 8 & 9 pm and tends to focus on schools in the UK.
  • #BRELTChat (em português) – This focusses on the English language teaching sector in Brazil, but otherwise follows the same conventions as the other tweet chats mentioned here It happens every two weeks on Thursdays at 9.30pm Brazilian time (GMT -3 hours).
While they do take a bit of getting used to, these sessions can be an interesting exchange of ideas and links and are great for finding people with similar interests to follow and interact with. The best way to cope with them is to use a twitter client (see above) and set up a search for the hashtag; Tweetgrid seems to cope quite well with the deluge of messages. Also, don’t try to read and follow everything – it is almost impossible!
I’ve found a list of more educational hashtags here:

Tweeting Up

One area where Twitter really has made a difference is at events such as conferences, already half-knowing a bunch of people from Twitter makes things much easier when you’re as socially-awkward/English as I am. Look at the following posts to see how much of a social catalyst Twitter can be…
Disclaimer: meeting up with people from Twitter has as many risks as meeting up with any unknown people – you should read Gavin Dudeney’s post to see what can happen when Twitterlife and real life go badly wrong.

Sites and Blog posts about Twitter for Educators

These links give some different perspectives on Twitter for Educators – if you know any more, please add them in the comments section below: – Teaching Twitter to Students – Another take on the Twitter-Cycle and the dilemmas attached to it from e-learning guru Tom Whitby

Twitter Tools and Guides

Some twitter tools and guides for using the resource: – loads of tools and links about using Twitter in Education.  – An article from Russell Stannard in the Guardian about Twitter for English teachers. – A video tutorial from Teacher Training Videos (by Russell Stannard aka @russell1955)

Using Twitter with Students

Some great videos from Petra Pointer – @teflpet on twitter


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