Tech for Teachers:
Using Twitter to Start Your Personal Learning Network
ASCD Express's new Tech for Teachers column, by guest columnist Jason Bedell, uses both text and a tutorial video to encourage teachers to bring web technology into their practice in simple but meaningful ways that can contribute to student engagement and learning.
There is a strong correlation between high-performing schools and the amount and quality of time that teachers spend collaborating with one another. By supporting one another and sharing their knowledge, educators become better than they would be alone. How much more powerful would their collaboration be if teachers could also build relationships and share knowledge with some of the best teachers in the world? That's exactly what Twitter can offer educators who want to build their personal learning networks.
In my video, I highlight a few of the basic elements of Twitter that I find helpful as an educator.
Twitter is a social network that revolves around short status updates of less than 140 characters. The main difference between Twitter and other social networks is that Twitter becomes customized to those topics that you're interested in. As other people talk about those same topics, you'll find like-minded people who you can follow. Some will validate your ideas and provide support and resources, and others will disagree—but through that disagreement, they'll help you reflect upon your practice.
Twitter has been likened to a personal radio station. You can broadcast ("tweet") what you want to discuss, but also tune in ("follow") the stations of others that you find valuable. With millions of people broadcasting, this could be chaotic. However, you don't need to sift through all the stations. Twitter updates can be organized under topics that are designated by "hashtags." For example, #edchat is one of the most popular hashtags, in which people talk about general education ideas. Many other education hashtags can be found at Cybraryman's Educational Web Sites; there are discussions for nearly every grade and content area. And if a topic is lacking, it's simple enough to start one.
As an educator, there have been few things that have played as large a part in my own professional growth as Twitter. I have seen many benefits in the last three years:
- I've developed supportive working relationships with some amazing educators, about 50 of whom I talk to nearly every week.
- I've been exposed to ideas from people actually using them with students. For example, moving away from points-based grading and toward a model of assessment focused on learning and feedback was very helpful to me as a new teacher.
- I've been able to share my own ideas with an authentic audience and receive meaningful feedback.
- I've met many of the colleagues whom I knew first through Twitter in person at conferences and events and have formed true friendships with them. Teachers know that relationships are key to a successful learning environment, and I have strengthened the bonds I have with teachers from around the world.
- I've been able to participate in and lead conference sessions, including some that my colleagues from Twitter and I have organized. For example, in January, I presented at Educon in Philadelphia, where I connected with around 300 teachers I had met on Twitter. The sessions were all set up as conversations where the presenters fostered dialogue with the participants.
- I've taken responsibility for my own growth as a teacher.
- I've even received job offers. I've been offered full-time positions, freelance work, and conference speaking engagements from people whom I have interacted with on Twitter.
When using Twitter, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Relationships online, just like in person, cannot be built overnight; they require an investment of time. But the more time that you give to networking, the more time it requires. A lot of people get drawn into the conversations and feel like they have to participate in as many as possible or go back and read everything that was said while they were away. That's a kind of dedication, but it can lead to burnout. You need to find the right balance.
Last, although it is natural to stay within your grade level or subject-area niche, also try talking to teachers from other grade levels, administrators, school psychologists, instructional technologists, and specialists to gain additional ideas from other perspectives.
If you can devote some time each week to reading the ideas of other educators, responding to them, and posting your own thoughts, eventually you will build relationships organically, and you'll be able to see the difference in your own teaching. If you want to get started on Twitter, begin by following my tweets at @jasontbedell. Also check out my video on Twitter basics.
Jason T. Bedell is an instructional technology consultant and a library media specialist at Belmar Elementary School in New Jersey. He explores how effective technology integration can deepen student learning and make the school environment more student-centered.
ASCD Express, Vol. 7, No. 4. Copyright 2011 by ASCD. All rights reserved. Visit www.ascd.org/ascdexpress.