Draft Presentation for later this month.
Twitter: viral professional development and networking
by Martin Pluss
Twitter (twitter.com) is a platform for micro blogging which I personally believe to be an excellent form of viral professional development and networking. To quote a fellow Twitter user Tom Barrett who is an ICT leader from “north Nottinghamshire, England – Robin Hood country!”
“…I hope to unpick what my Twitter network means to me in terms of my classroom practices and explore the best ways that you can utilise it in your classroom”.
How Twitter works
Twitter enables you to microblog 140 characters at a time with the capacity to make links to other sections of the World Wide Web. This means you can link to longer posts in your blog or other people’s blog, re-tweet something else someone has said on twitter and make links to information that you find useful.
Like many Web 2.0 tools Twitter evolved for practical purposes. Its origins is with a start up company called Obvious in 2006. It was used by the Los Angeles Fire Department to broadcast updates of the bush fires in October 2007. The American red Cross use Twitter to provide updates of local disaster and relief. Twitter was breaking the news before mainstream media concerning the earthquake in China in 2008. Mainstream media such as CNN, BBC and in Australia the Daily Telegraph used Twitter for breaking news. Business organisations and politicians such as Barack Obama began to see the value of social networking and delivery of information while using Twitter.
Once you start an account you are in Twitter by yourself. What you next have to do is find other people who also use Twitter and “follow’ them. Twitter does have some cross platform applications which enable you to find ‘friends’ also on Twitter and you can ask friends to join you in Twitter through mass emails. Finding people on Twitter is difficult unless you know they exact username and there is no indexing system, though in 2008 groups with special interests started to set up wikis with themes and associated Twitter users. Also as more and more people used Twitter normal Google searches were about to find people the themes of interests because the “Tweets” are searchable in Google.
To communicate directly with other Twitter users you use the @ prefix before a Twitter name such @username. In your account there is a reply tab and if someone has gone @plu this means they have referred to myself in their Tweet and you can see what they have said in your replies tab. Sometimes they are replying to something you have said, others they may be re-tweeting or comment a link you made and are showing a professional courtesy by referencing your tweets. In addition there is the capacity to send private messages to other Twitter users. . .
Especially if you were an early adopter it took a while to understand how Twitter worked in relation to connecting to other people – the social networking function. The real value of Twitter emerges when you have a critical mass of people you are following. In the early days it was difficult to find people of similar interests to “Follow”. Unlike other social networking sites where you seek permission to be a friend in Twitter you can follow who you like without their permission – though if you follow someone who does not want to be followed you can be blocked by them. Alternatively set up your account to be private and people have to ask to follow you.
How you manage your network is very important. If you do not follow people or people do not follow you no information will be shared and you will not reap all the benefits of Twitter. So it is important to look at other educators, see who they follow, look at their blog and make a decision if you want to follow them. After a while if you see they do not tweet frequently or the issues tweeted do not meet your professional needs you can un-follow the person and move on. The object is not to have a record number of followers or follow too many people. The trick is to attain a manageable number that is worthwhile. Likewise as a member Twitter it is important to remember you have an audience that will stay or leave you depending on what you contribute. So who follows who?
Viral Professional Development
The value of being able to follow who you like is that you can follow the leaders in your field, the A List bloggers see what they are researching and doing. As well you can follow and network with peers in a professional and social setting. I see Twitter as a form of viral professional development because as one Tweets information it can be re-tweeted by followers who inturn may pass the information of to others. It does not take long for information to spread virally. A selective use of this information can be invaluable for your professional development. Just to give you a few examples.
Early adopters in education have started to see the benefit of Twitter for their own professional development and in turn are starting to think about and use Twitter in their teaching and learning. In early 2008 when there was a series of rolling presentations of or the Federal Government’s Digital Education Revolution there were a number of early adopters who were tweeting the proceedings. This meant that their followers were getting live updates of what was being said in the different presentations and they were not even in the building let along the sate of the country for some of them. I fact people were sending in questions which were being answered by presenters.
To share a personal experience I was at an NSW Association of Independent Schools ICT Integrators meeting where we introduced Twitter. At the beginning of the meeting a message was sent out to the email group saying we were Tweeting the proceedings and during the day people were following the tweets of a number of the participants and were able to find out what was being discussed in the meeting. This meant that the group was able to connect with each other and those who could not attend that specific meeting had a sense of involvement by reading able what was being discussed, linking to the tweeted links and in some cases even contributed via Twitter.
This form of viral professional development was expanded later in the year with the National Education Computing Conference in June July 2008 in Oregon USA. A number of leading Australia educators attended the conference and those who followed them were kept up to date with latest developments through Tweets which were links to blog posts about proceeding sand even live video streaming. In those few days one was able to follow what was happening live through the evening or you could follow older tweets first thing in the morning while in Oregon people were winding up the day Conference sessions.
Twitter was the means by which I became aware for the OzNZ Educators Group. A few of the educators I follow one Sunday night were Tweeting about an online webcam audio meeting through a Flash Chatroom. Before long I was sitting in my living room in discussion via webcam with 25 educators from Australia, New Zealand and United Kingdom talking about the use of technology in the classroom. This lead me to the OzNZ Educators Ning Group and wiki and furthered my professional contacts and personal professional development.
What is the value of Twitter for teaching and learning? Although very much in its infancy stage some work has been carried out in this area. Once you have established your professional network Twitter can start to be leveraged for your teaching and learning.
Follow and/or be Followed
There are a few ways to use Twitter for teaching and learning.
Firstly, sign up and find someone you know or who have heard of and you respect and follow them. Watch their tweets, read their links and see who follows them and decide if anything interests you. Accordingly add other people to the list you follow. As your network expands some will drop off or you might work out a system of who to follow. Perhaps you want to just want to start with Australian educators and some key overseas educators you have heard or read about.
Many of the major news papers such as BBC, CNN and in Australia the Daily Telegraph now use twitter and list breaking news as Tweets with links the full articles. Major events such as the recent US Presidential nomination process had dedicated Twitter accounts where could follow what was happening as it was happening on the road as helpers were Tweeting from their iPhones. In education Edublogs update developments using Twitter and there is the potential for other educational organisations such as the AIS ICT Integrators to come onboard. Finally you can locate and follow educational leaders demonstrating best practice of teaching and learning – see what they do , learn and may be apply the ideas to your classroom.
Secondly you can become an active member of the community and connect with fellow educators by writing tweets. Once you have reached a critical mass you will start to connect with people, follow their links, get ideas contribute back your expertise and improve your own teaching practice. In some cases this can be achieved by using Twitter in your professional subject area. Get other people you know in person to be involved. In time you will get to know other people and before you know it you will be in another state or country town and you will meet up with these people and share ideas in person, be asked to attend a conference, hear about a meeting you did not know about or perhaps participate in an online video conference. Sometimes these informal gathering are actually known as an un-conference.
Expanding your horizon
1. Bridging the gap between Synchronous and Asynchronous
Twitter has been described as filling the gap between email and instant messaging. So it fills the gap between synchronous and asynchronous communication. Therefore if teachers/students are online you can communicate with them if not you can read their tweets at a later date and respond. Accordingly you can tweet a requests on Twitter and if people are around they could reply or you could leave the request there and come back in a few days and see if anyone has offered some guidance or information. The success of this strategy is in how many people actually follow you as they are the main people who feed into your tweets.
2. Use of third party Twitter applications
One of the dominate groups third party applications for twitter involves plugins to browsers or programs to download which enable tweets you follow to pop up on your browser. Once activated this means you can monitor tweets add links to Delicious to look at at a later date and contribute is you need to. They are not as invasive as emails popping through all the time as they are only 140characters enabling you to do a quick look and move on. Examples of such applications include, Twirl, Twitter Fox and Snitter to name a few.
The next layer of applications enhance the management of your network. Twitterverse does an analysis of who you follow, who follows you and the overlapping nature of the followed and the followers. It provides a graphical representation of your network in relation to others in your network and who they follow. Tweetstats graphs your statistics and gives you a good idea of what you have written over time and when you have contributed. Summize enables you to follow tweets by searching on the prefix of the user name or connect of the tweet. For example you can find all reference to your tweets by putting in @plu or you can find tweets relating to a conference by searching on #ais. One you have set up an account you can use an RSS feed which can direct updates to your rss feeder such as Google Reader.
It is also possible to merge with other aspects of your digital footprint. Face book has an application which means that tweets you do update the status of your Facebook account. Though not fully developed is the possibility for your tweets to be automatically uploaded to your blog. This is a useful way of archiving your tweets and seeing the patterns of your personal use of Twitter over time. One such application is Loud Twitter.
Concluding thoughts on the use of Twitter
The use of Twitter for the classroom is in its infancy stage. It maybe that Twitter is best used as a tool to gather information, resources and leads for the teacher who in turn can use these ideas in the classroom rather than students actually becoming a micro blogger using Twitter. Students could follow events live on Twitter gathering up-to-date information about important events as they happen and then expand their knowledge base with more in depth research. To expand this thought; knowledge gleaned can be processed, expanded upon, authenticated by reference to different sources and then analysed in the context of what is developed in the classroom teaching and learning context.
Clearly, however, Twitter is an excellent tool for the professional development and networking for the classroom teacher. New ideas, practices, strategies can be found, shared, built upon, re-worked and processed again by other members of your Twitter network.
“Twitter a Teaching and Learning Tool” 29 March 2008
“Viral Professional Development” 27 January 2008
“Would you use Twitter with your students” 8 September 2008