What’s the point of Twitter? Why should educators get involved? What difference does using Twitter make?
Here are some answers that you might like to share.
1. Together we’re better
Teaching can be a lonely business. In a school where lessons are long and lunchtimes are short, not enough conversations between teachers I work with are about learning. We simply don’t have time. Twitter can be like a virtual staffroom for me, which I can step into when it suits me: in the queue at the supermarket or waiting for for the kettle to boil. I know that within seconds I can access a stream of links, ideas, opinion and resources from a hand-picked selection of global professionals.
2. Global or local: you choose
Whilst some Twitter users will not tolerate many overtly egotistical self-publicisers (some celebrities have come under fire for using the service just to broadcast banalities to their flocks of fans), there is no doubt that Twitter users have the potential to reach very large international audiences. In educational terms this is a real eye-opener: before using Twitter I had only limited understanding of educational systems and practices in countries like Australia and the US. It’s now possible for me to actively compare what’s happening in schools in my county with others on different continents. GPS-enabled devices like iPhones and the advanced web search facility allow searches which tell you what people are tweeting within a certain distance of a location, so if the other side of the world isn’t your bag, you can stick with your own patch.
3. Self-awareness and reflective practice
Excellent teachers reflect on what they are doing in their schools and look at what is going well in order to maintain and develop it, and what needs improvement in order to make it better. Teachers on Twitter share these reflections and both support and challenge each other. Reading about other educators’ experiences has made me question my own practice on a number of occasions, and whilst the resulting changes may only be incremental they are nonetheless important steps in the journey to improvement.
4. Ideas workshop and sounding board
Twitter is a great medium for sharing ideas and getting instant feedback. Its speed and instanteity means you can gather a range of opinions and constructive criticism within minutes; which can help enormously whether you are planning a learning experience, writing a policy or putting a job application together. Just this week, Doug Belshaw (@dajbelshaw) shared the experience of preparing for a job interview and used Twitter during interview to demonstrate the intellectual and professional clout of his impressive network.
As a further example, I tweeted whilst writing this post:
Within minutes various kind followers had responded with suggestions, including:
Whilst Twitter users do not have to use it synchronously like instant messanging software, the tool does lend itself well to quick responses.
5. Newsroom and innovation showcase
Sitting down with a newspaper is not a luxury I have the time to enjoy every day. Twitter helps me stay up to date on news and current affairs, as well as on the latest developments in my areas of interest: school leadership, technology and languages. By following leading individuals and organisations, Twitter users can stay right at the bleeding edge of innovation and creativity, and literally be among the first to know when a new product is launched, article is published or opinion is voiced.
Whilst very innovative folk, teachers equally spend far too much time reinventing the wheel. Twitter helps me to be smarter about my work by sharing resources, ideas, training materials and policies with other schools. Just this week I am putting together a policy recommendation for staff at my school about ensuring their personal details on Facebook are secure. Several colleagues (including Alex Blagona @blagona and Sacha Van Straten @svanstraten) have been kind enough to share work they had already done in this area. I no longer have to start from scratch and will share my finished policy with any educators who would like it. It’s a bit like the principle of ‘paying it forward’ on a big scale.
6. Professional development and critical friends
One of the best things about training days is the break out time between sessions, when teachers can get together to talk about what they are working on or struggling with. Twitter enables me to have that kind of powerful networking capacity with me all the time. It’s just a matter of finding the right people to follow. As @melaniemcbride said:
“Following smart people on Twitter is like a mental shot of expresso”
Since cash for cover is not always readily available, days out on expensive courses can’t be a regular thing for most teachers. I love to have access to learning on tap through Twitter as it doesn’t require large chunks of my day, or any financial outlay in order to have an impact. Twitter is also a source of healthy debate, and I have learned that if I am going to make a point I can’t be halfhearted about it; as there will be people who disagree! I have grown in confidence when it comes to my own convictions, and now take that back with me into school.
7. Quality-assured searching
I trust the people I follow. I hone and develop the list of people whose insights I value. Drew Buddie (@digitalmaverick) has mentioned several times that he believes his network to be more powerful than Google, and I am beginning to see why. Once your Twitter network grows past a critical mass, you can ask them detailed questions and get higher quality information back than a bog-standard Google search would generally provide, with the inbuilt assurance that it is a respected member of your network providing the information. On a broader scale, Twitter searching provides information about time-linked trending topics that Google cannot.
8. Communicate, communicate, communicate
Expressing yourself in 140 characters is a great discipline. I have become better at saying what needs to be said in my professional communications with less waffle and padding, and I refuse as far as possible to use txtspk. I previously read somewhere that every professional email could in theory be written in just five sentences. That seems luxuriously long!
9. Getting with the times has never been so easy!
There is no good reason why teachers shouldn’t stick with the times, engage with the technology and keep up with the kids. We need to be able to speak the same language and inhabit the same communities (both real and virtual) as our students in order to motivate them and relate to them. Twitter is anything but complicated! You simply visit Twitter.com and create your account. A little light searching using key words for your areas of interest will soon yield a list of interesting people to follow. There are plenty of websites offering advice on getting started and how to avoid a few common beginners’ faux-pas.
Remember, your experience on Twitter is only as high quality as the people who you follow and the information you share.
Your biggest challenge is likely to be getting the twitter.com unblocked on your school network if your main usage will be at school. Personally I find that having Twitter on my iPhone is enough most of the time. I then forward interesting links to my email inbox to look at in detail from my desk.
I hope this piece helps get more teachers involved in using Twitter. Do send it to your teams at school and all those people who don’t quite understand what it’s all about yet. I’m increasingly passionnate about it: Twitter is a very simple tool that allows me to connect with an amazingly clever, resourceful and innovative bunch of people who never fail to inspire and motivate me. Thanks guys!