“Twitter is dumb; no one uses it!” Those were the first words out of my mouth the first time I was told to use the social network for a tech conference.
I wasn’t opposed to using social media as a collaboration tool, I just couldn’t get past the fact that most of my friends only used Facebook. Does anyone really want to be limited by 140 (now 280) characters? Not me! Or so I thought.
Back then I was transitioning from classroom teaching to instructional technology. In my first year, I was expected to support classroom teachers in all subjects, which required hours of Google Search. You could say that my PLN consisted of keeping my fingers crossed hoping to run across the right resources from the top experts.
All that began to change when I decided to put my opinions about Twitter to the test. In preparing for the school year, I had to list three measurable goals for professional growth, and I chose to make one of those goals about Twitter. That way I could see for myself if using the microblogging tool would lead to my professional growth and, at the same time, benefit my technology department.
Specifically, my Twitter goal was to post five times a week. It seemed like a daunting commitment given all my other tasks. But little did I know that what seemed like an ambitious goal would turn out to be easy – and a bit addicting.
From the beginning, I enjoying finding and sharing resources on Twitter, but it was something else that got me hooked. One evening, I stumbled upon a Twitter chat. At first, I couldn’t understand why so many responses were using the same odd hashtag: #vided in their conversations? Then I realized that this was a chat – a group of likeminded people from around the world coming together to discuss a topic of interest to all of them.
That date, Feb. 12, 2012, is now etched in my memory as the moment when my Twitter world was unleashed and my addiction to Twitter chats began.
I realized that I could learn more in one Twitter chat than I did during a weeklong conference or from my endless hours of Google searches. I began to wonder why more teachers were not engaging with these chats. How did I hit the jackpot by connecting with these #edtech experts?
I think all educators have a personal desire for growth. And the ISTE Standards for Educators advise us to "pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks." Twitter offers you an opportunity to do just that, and it’s free and easy.
If you’re ready to start using Twitter to build a PLN, here are six tips to get you started:
1. Get serious and get scheduled. Jumping into Twitter on occasion is no better than searching for something on Google. The point of social media is to be social and that takes consistency. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but make an effort to be on Twitter at least five times a week.
2. Collaborate. One of the greatest benefits of social media is the opportunity to collaborate with others around the world. Sharing information is just as important as validating information you find with "retweets." Don't be afraid to thank educators for valuable resources or ask questions to get support. Collaboration connects your personal learning to a network that forms your PLN.
3. Understand hashtags and handles. There’s a difference between #hashtags and @handles. The purpose of a hashtag is to collaborate and search for a specific topic, as in the post, "I am thrilled to share at #ISTE2018 this summer on the topics of #AR and #VR." If I wanted the ISTE Twitter account to get notified of my post, I would write, "I am thrilled to share at #ISTE2018 this summer! Thank you @ISTE for the opportunity." Since ISTE uses the Twitter account @ISTE, they're notified each time a post mentions that handle.
4. Connect. There are many different strategies around whom you should follow or not follow. The purpose of following educators and #edtech leaders on Twitter is to learn from their posts. Be intentional about who you follow because it's their posts you will see in your Twitter feed. We all start with friends when joining social media, so let's connect! You can find me on Twitter as @jaimedonally.
5. Join a Twitter chat. Although I landed in my first Twitter chat by accident, having a strategy when joining in is more likely to get you hooked. Find a chat that offers the topics that you enjoy sharing or learning about. Many times, we're limited by our availability to be on social media, so we pick chats that fit in our schedule. Fortunately, jumping into a chat also gives you a group of educators who want to help you.
6. Follow the chat protocol. The most important part of a Twitter chat is using the same #hashtag in all your responses so that everyone in the chat can see your answers. The moderator will give you a Q1, Q2 for questions while you and others will respond with A1, A2 for answers.
My most valued reward for taking the social media plunge are my global connections #eduheroes. While many of my friends remained on Facebook to talk about their latest adventures and family announcements, I’ve taken a journey into building new friendships with my personal learning network.
I was wrong! Twitter is not dumb, and every day I use it for my professional growth.
This is an updated version of a post that originally published on March 17, 2017.
Jaime Donally, a passionate technology enthusiast, began her career as a math teacher and eventually taught students in PK-8. She is the author of the upcoming ISTE book Learning Transported due out in March.