Social Media and Schools as Professional Learning Communities: Building Your Personal Network with Twitter



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Twitter; is it really only the domain of B-Grade celebrities and those who wish to share the endless minutiae of their lives? We have all heard of or seen that little blue bird, but did you realise that Twitter is a powerful communication tool and vast source of information?  What’s more, we as educators can harness this mode of social media to transform our ways of working.

What is Twitter?

Put simply, Twitter is a form of social network that requires members to share their information in succinct posts of 140 characters or less. Also known as microblogging, Twitter members post ‘tweets’ online which are then shared by members of their network, known as ‘followers’. Who you follow determines the quality of your Twitter experience. Following celebrities will provide a wealth of inane, self-interested posts – but following educational experts will result in tips about useful websites, upcoming educational trends and links to quality digital resources.

How can Twitter help you work smarter not harder?

As educators we are constantly trading in information and advice. In the past, this information and advice was sourced from friends on staff, peers in specialist subject areas (for secondary school teachers), professional associations and more formal systemic networking groups. Accessibility limits this model of learning network.

The power of Twitter is that it places the teacher at the centre of a network to which all parts are equally accessible. What’s more, teachers who use Twitter can access not only traditional sources of information, but also the expertise and advice of internationally renowned experts from across many fields within and beyond education.


Research has identified six ‘common patterns of participation’ for users of Twitter:

  1.  Sharing Knowledge and Resources – sharing links to blogs, images or video clips of interest.
  2. Monitoring Educational New Sources – sourcing professional readings and research
  3. Digitally Attending Important Conferences – sharing thoughts and reflections from professional development sessions or conferences.
  4. Encouraging Reflection – engaging in a reflective conversation with others
  5. Gathering Instant Feedback – turning to Twitter as the first point of call when needing answers about their practice
  6. Mentoring Colleagues – turning to Twitter to find a digital mentor for yourself or a peer.
    (From Ferriter, W. M., Ramsden, J. T., & Sheninger, E. C. (2011). Communicating and Connecting with Social Media. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.)

The opportunity to share knowledge and resources, attend conferences ‘virtually’, mentor and be mentored, all for no cost and at any time is open to all educators; here’s how you can take full advantage of what Twitter has to offer:

Birds of a Feather Tweet Together – The Twitter ‘How To’ Guide.

Step 1: Sign up for a Twitter account. 

Log on to www.Twitter.com and join.  Twitter provides excellent assistance if you experience any difficulty – check out https://support.twitter.com/groups/31-twitter-basics for easy to understand instructions. Consider using your real name for your Twitter handle. Although privacy online is always important, if you are using Twitter purely as a professional learning network, it is easier for others to find and follow you if you use your real name; and building your network is one of the key purposes for using Twitter in this way.

Step 2: Find people to follow.

There is no pressure to begin ‘tweeting’ immediately. Ease into Twitter slowly by following some key educationalists, and become familiar with how they frame their posts, and the type of information they share. Once you have followed one or two people, you can expand your network by viewing who they follow. It is likely they follow people with similar interests. If you don’t know where to begin, have a look at sites such as http://wefollow.com/ or http://listorious.com/ or http://www.twellow.com/.  These sites are digital directories or yellow pages of Twitter users.

Step 3: Learn some hash tags!

Twitter uses the hash symbol (#) to identify key words used in Tweets. When a user is tweeting about a particular topic, the use of a hash tag means it will be easier to search for this post at a later date. Many educational conferences now have a conference hash tag, so that users can follow the tweets made by participants attending – an example is #iste12 – the hash tag for the upcoming ISTE Conference in San Diego in 2012. Already people are posting ideas for their conference presentations!

Other great hash tags for educators getting started with Twitter include:

#Edtech – tweets to do with technology in the classroom

#education – tweets to do with education

#edchat – a weekly discussion about all things education (discussions on Twitter that occur at an appointed time are often called ‘TweetMeets’.

#teachmeet – connecting teachers all over the world

#ozteachers – Australian teacher chat

Step 4: Manage your posts.

The number of tweets may seem overwhelming at first. A useful way of managing Twitter is to download an application such as Tweetdeck which interfaces with Twitter, and allows you to organise your searches so that they are easily viewable. You can download it free here: http://www.tweetdeck.com/

Tweetdeck looks like this: (click on the image to view a larger version)

So take advantage of the world of Twitter. There is no expectation that you become an expert immediately – and you will be pleasantly surprised at how much you can learn from your own professional learning network, that you have drawn from around the world!

If you would like to entice your staff to think about joining Twitter; download this cute poster that outlines the 6 common patterns of Twitter participation: twitter blog poster 1

If you would like to follow the authors of this post, we can be found at @KayC28 and @BenvanTrier.

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One thought on “Social Media and Schools as Professional Learning Communities: Building Your Personal Network with Twitter

  1. Pingback: Evolution of Digital Footprints « Kurtis Hewson's Professional Site

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