(This post is cross-posted at Web Tools for Schools)
If you know the meanings of these words, then you must have a Twitter account. The list of words are words specific to the Twitter community and words that we learn as we go. The words alone tell a great deal about Twitter as a tool. First of all, it is a fun tool. It has a sense of humor. The words are even fun to say. But it is more than that. For so many of us, Twitter has been the link to a Professional Learning Network we didn't know existed. It is amazing what can be said in 140 characters. We can spread news of a new baby, distribute a professional article we like, share a photo from a parade, inspire with a quote and more. Twitter is a tool that can do all in just 140 characters at a time. Will Richardson states, “It’s the blend of the professional and the personal that makes Twitter such a cool tool on so many levels. Some people have described it as a “sixth sense” in terms of the network: you feel more a part of the larger conversation, more a part of the community. (p. 87)
I have heard Twitter defined in many ways. Wikipedia defines it as:
a website, owned and operated by Twitter Inc., which offers a social networking and microblogging service, enabling its users to send and read other users' messages called tweets. Tweets are text-based posts of up to 140 characters displayed on the user's profile page.
My favorite definition is one that I heard from Lee Kolbert in a presentation at November Learning's BLC10. She described Twitter as "The teacher's lounge where you get to decide who gets to come in and who gets to stay."
People join Twitter for various reasons but most come to realize its power rather quickly. Twitter is a tool that provides a way for us, as educators to learn and grow. In Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, Will Richardson explains, “Following other educators on Twitter creates a 'network at my fingertips' phenomenon where people ask questions and get answers, link to great blog posts or resources, or share ideas for projects as they go through the day. For many, it’s becoming a running river of conversation and ideas that has cemented their connections to the community and made the network even more palpable.” (p. 86)
I have been a Twitter user for exactly two years. I began with a Twitter account at an NCTE conference in 2008. My process was a long one and I described it in an article last year. I have built my network and am learning from more and more amazing people. I chronicled my use of Twitter in my early stages in an article for Choice Literacy titled, Addicted to Twitter: How Did It Happen?.
Since writing the article, my Twitter group has grown over the last few years and I rely on it consistently. In order to push myself to learn more during this study, I wanted to figure out ways to get more out of the conversations that are happening. Because the list of people I follow has grown, I have no good way to keep up with all of the good information being shared. It is time for me to better organize and take advantage of some of the tools available to help me manage Twitter better.
Learning to Participate in Focused Conversations
I have listened in on groups talking about "Twitter Conversations", "Book Parties", etc. I could not figure out how those could possibly work when everything seemed so sporadic. So, I decided to join in on a Twitter Conversation that happens on Sunday evenings called #Titletalk. I learned a lot and was amazed by the depth of conversation.
Here is how it works. At a certain time (8:00 on Sundays for #Titletalk), people who want to join in, get on Twitter. The facilitators, Donalyn Miller (@donalynbooks) and Paul Hankins (@PaulWHankins) usually sends out a tweet with the topic and hashtag (#) prior to the event. The October topic was "Challenges and Successes to Leading Kids to Books." Participants create a search for the hashtag and you can follow the conversation. I usually participate via Tweetdeck and the column with the #titletalk search collects the conversation. The key is that participants must hashtag each comment that is part of the conversation. The other part I love about this is that you can revisit the conversation because it is archived on a wiki. The address to the wiki is http://titletalk.wikispaces.com/3+October+31%2C+2010. It is a great resource and a great way to have a more indepth conversation on a particular topic.
I have since found other ways people are using Twitter to dig in to deeper conversations with their tweeps. I enjoyed this series, "Sir Ken Robinson Answers Your Twitter Questions". Ken Robinson is answering questions he receives with a hashtag on Twitter. He is posting videos with his thinking on various questions that have come to him with the hashtag
Learning to Better Organize My Use of Twitter
When I started Twitter, I followed a few people and I added as I found new people who seemed interesting. It was very manageable for a very long time. But then I found that I had to organize my tweets. I began to use Tweetdeck a while ago as a way to organize my tweets. Because I didn't always have the time to read tweets from the hundreds of brilliant people I was following, Tweetdeck allowed me to organize the people into categories and my tweets were organized in that way on Tweetdeck. So, I could keep my personal friends from home in one column and librarians in another. I could create as many columns as I needed. This works out most of the time.
But when I try to divide my groups into the smaller segments I want, there are too many groups for the column set-up. So I decided to explore the idea of lists. Twitter Lists were launched in 2009 and Josh Catone explains them this way, "They offer a way for you to bunch together other users on Twitter into groups so that you can get an overview of what they’re up to."
Creating a list is easy to figure out on your own. First open the tab that says "Lists" on your Twitter sidebar. Once you get into "Lists", you can then click on "New List" to create a new list.
The "New List" feature is at the bottom left.
A pop-up window then appears asking you for details about the list such as title, privacy, etc.
Then you can add people to your list.
Each list allows you to pull up those people you follow. Twitter Lists is a great feature for me to find what I am looking for now that my Twitter list is so big.
Another feature of lists that I discovered was the ability to follow someone else's lists. I had trouble understanding this idea because it isn't as I first understood it. When I follow someone's list, For example, I began to follow @mcleod's edtech list. I could follow it as its own list or add it as part of a list I've already created. This list does not mean that I am following the people in @mcleod's list. They do not show up in my Twitter feed. But I can have access to their tweets by going to the specific list.
Lists are a big "aha" for me. So often, I don't have time to visit Twitter or Tweetdeck in a week and I can't catch up. But there are certain people I follow whose tweets I do not want to miss. I also tend to follow people with various areas of expertise. I follow librarians, technology specialists and children's literature experts. I will be able to think through these people and create lists that help me organize the information.
Learning to Use Seesmic
Another big problem I am having with Twitter is organizing my accounts. Because I tweet from 3 separate accounts, I have had to sign in and out to send status updates and to follow others, and to read updates from various followers. A friend told me about a tool called Seesmic. Seesmic is a tool advertised as one to manage social networks. This is a tool that is also available on iPhone and IPad, which is an important feature for me.
When you register for Seemic, you can go into settings at any time to add an account.
My Seesmic account is then organized with all of the information I need for all of my accounts. I can read status updates from people I follow, create status updates from each account, go to lists, direct messages, mentions, etc. This tool pulls everything together in one place.
I can follow all of my Twitter accounts in one place.
My favorite part of the tool is the ability to create status updates from each account separately in the same box. The box (below) allows you to write a status update and check off the account that you'd like it to be sent from. So, if appropriate, you can tweet it simultaneously from more than one account at the same time. Or you can choose the account that you want the tweet to come from. The box also allows you to add a link, photo, location, etc. so I don't need to have separate Twitpic accounts either.
Seesmic allows me to Tweet from each of my 3 accounts in the same box.
Resources for Teachers
Twitter is one of the best tools for teachers that I have found. In terms of my own professional growth, I have learned more since I joined Twitter than I have ever learned. I have always participated in professional learning communities but Twitter allows me to expand my professional world and to learn from people anytime.
For teachers to use the tool, they have to see the value in it. In order to do that, I have found some resources that will help teachers get started. In my experience, the beginning of Twitter was difficult. I didn't feel like I was part of the conversation and I wasn't sure that I wanted to be. But since then, I have found great resources to support teachers and I am keeping these in my Delicious account so that when teachers are ready, they will have access to the resources. Delicious is starting to feel like a file cabinet to me--for resources for teachers.
I really liked Neal Chambers' video called "Twitter Kit". This gives an overview of not only Twitter but how it can help educators. It is a good combination of information discussed in a way that makes sense to people who are not yet part of Twitter. There are a few follow-ups to this first video which are also helpful.
There are also people who have collected lists of people to follow. Gwyneth Jones has a newbie-to-follow list as part of her Twitter List page. I also like to take advantage of #FF (Twitter's "Follow Friday") in which people tweet out Twitter handles of people they recommend following. This is another great part of Twitter--sharing networks with others has become part of the Twitterstream.
The Twitter4Teachers Wiki is a great resource that is always growing. It is a collection of teachers who tweet and they are organized by field/area of expertise. As I find new areas of interest, I find myself revisiting this site. For teachers new to Twitter, this wiki provides people right away that they can follow--they can begin to customize their list by studying the list and finding people who meet their goals for Twitter us.
I also like this collection of 30 Essential Twitter Tutorials for Newbies and Experts. I like how specific the topics are and I find myself revisiting this list often even though I found it after I'd been a Twitter user for a long time. I am intrigued by the idea of creating a website with Twitter updates and other ideas in this list. It is a great collection and you can jump in wherever you need to jump in based on your Twitter experience. Another similar collection is
Everything You Need to Know About Twitter and Tweeting. Although this list provides some ideas for people new to Twitter, this is a good one to have on hand as teachers are looking to move forward with Twitter.
Implications for School
As part of this study, I began a Twitter page for our school library (http://twitter.com/reslibrary). I think Twitter can be a powerful tool for public relations and a great way to share news of the library. I am hoping that as Twitter grows in our community, it will become a great tool for communication. I agree with what David Stuart says in
In his book, Reach, Jeff Utecht says, "When do you officially have a network? There is no magic number. A few people can be a network, or a few thousand. What makes it a network is when you start using the collective intelligence of others to find information, resources, and collaborate on projects. The interaction between you and the people you have connected with, or who have connected with you, is what creates a network. Once those connections are in place, you can start using your network to learn, hence creating a Personal Learning Network." (p. 36)
For me, Twitter has been a key to my professional learning network. I don't know exactly when it happened or how, but I know I am learning more every day than I could ever have imagined. And I am learning from people I never had access to before. Twitter seems to be one of the best ways for educators to begin to create their own network.