There are conversations that are so inciting that you are impelled by every muscle in your body to jump in and join. You join to learn more. You join to connect. You join to share and to contribute to the shape of the conversations.
Twitter can be absolutely anemic, devoid of any purpose or reason or even care for the presence of others.
But it can also be a maelstrom of issues and opinions, of arguments and discussions, of thoughts, of questions and suggestions, and of links and videos and images.
It can transform the very way you think and teach and learn. It can network you with colleagues and people of similar interest around the world. It can organize meetings both virtual and actual. It can rally movements and ideas. And it can make us better people.
How I began
One year ago last Friday I joined Twitter and tweeted my first tweet.
I don’t remember the content of that tweet. I lurked for about only ten minutes, then I leapt, eager to wet my feet, when a conversation that peaked my interest came along. My induction into Twitter began with conversation.
I joined Twitter because as a substitute teacher more than anything else I felt that I needed to relate more to my students. Since most of them spent much of their lives texting and instant messaging, I felt that social media was a good way to close at least some of the technological gap between my students and me.
Previously, I had been an ecologist. I spent most of my time outdoors, in a lab, in an office or in front of a university lab or classroom. Social media had not taken off yet. Internet Relay Chat, e-mails and websites existed, but Twitter, blogs, YouTube, Flickr, RSS and all the many many cloud and Web 2.0 applications were not yet developed or popular. Then came a twelve-year gap during which I dealt with severe health issues and I lost all connection with technology.
You can imagine my shock when I returned!
Building a PLN and developing professionally
Fortunately for me, George and Alec Couros offered a Using Social Media for Transformative Teaching & Learning webinar series at just the right time.
I was able to jump into social media with some support and guidance, so avoiding the shock many teachers who don’t get that support experience.
This is where Twitter surprised me. I joined expecting that anemic activity that most people not having sampled Twitter imagine. What I found could not be more opposite.
Twitter is professionally and personally empowering when used purposefully. It can help you:
- connect, engage and network with like-minded people,
- share what you know,
- learn about professional and collaborative opportunities and resources,
- learn from others, and
- enhance your teaching, learning and thinking toolkits.
Teachers interconnect around the world to discuss issues, ask questions and help each other become better teachers.
When used correctly, it is an exemplar of professional development.
What I accomplished
But it doesn’t stop at tweets.
Along my journey this past year, I discovered uses of Twitter that further professional development and networking.
- One of the first things I discovered were links in tweets to resources, courses, tools, and people who are experts in teaching and content areas.
- I also discovered colleagues and experts who use Twitter through mentions, retweets, replies, and discussions.
- From these I built a community of people I follow, most of whom are teachers, but many of whom are scientists, writers, artists, technology experts and other people of interest.
- And in turn, as my tweets became more helpful to others, I gained followers.
- I collaborated with many people on mutual or individual projects.
- I accessed the perspectives and knowledge of colleagues through tweets, blogs, posts, comments, paper.lis, mashups, RSS feeds, Diigo or Delicious indices, images, videos, and media, all accessed through Twitter.
- I built an identity, a brand or reputation, confidence in my relationships and opinions, and a staff — yes, it is a bit pompous to consider my PLC as a personal staff, but as a sub I lack one otherwise.
- I welcomed those who are new to Twitter, paying forward what my PLN gives to me and looking forward to networking with new people.
- I even connected with people who are just entertaining, such a Samuel Clemons, a ferret of all creatures who tweets just to entertain others. Such connections are important just to take a break.
- And I developed a Twitter sense of humour that lightens some of my tweets.
- I linked to formal professional development opportunities advertised in Twitter.
- And I tweeted about myself and about beautiful things in the world to stretch beyond the professional and into a larger sphere.
- But what I most value about Twitter are the impromptu and informal conversations and the formal and planned chats that I have participated in. Conversations and chats are where Twitter shines and professional development really happens. They are also what my students gain from texting and instant messaging. I regularly participate in #mathchat and, though I would like to do the same with #engchat, #scichat, #globio and #edchat, only occasionally participate in these.
- I even informally hosted some sessions of #mathchat, suggested a few topics and just recently selected a popular one for discussion.
I encountered a few problems along my journey with Twitter.
- I inadvertently insulted a few people for a short while, only later learning I had done so. This I suppose is a trap common to all social endeavours.
- I stated things that were interpreted completely differently than I intended, only having to clarify my meaning with more than 140 characters.
- I have even recently run into Twitter’s 2000 or 1.1% follower threshold, which I calculated I can never make up as more people I want to follow follow me. To this end, I have weeded out people I follow who no longer tweet, who do not fit into my matured PLN or who tweet only occasionally or in irritating chains or spurts. Such pruning is a hard lesson to learn.
Ending the year
I may not remember the content of my first tweet, but my final tweet of my first year on Twitter was short and sweet. I tweeted one simple word.
I did so in response to an unrelated context, but I think it encapsulates my experience this year with Twitter.
How I feel about this past year
Tweeting and lurking can be time-consuming. Let’s be honest. It takes time to build relationships, time to converse and chat, time to read or view or listen to others’ tweets and the resources they link to. Tweeting takes time. But any worthy professional development takes time. Any worthy professional development builds and grows. It gets richer, broader, deeper and more vital. But it takes time.
And it is time worth consuming.
In the end, it is our students who matter. In the end, all this tweeting and blogging and casting and photographing has to work with other things we do, including planning lessons and units, creating assignments, managing classes, assessing, coaching, caring, fretting and hoping, to help our students learn.
I have learned so much from my PLN that I am a better and more responsive teacher.
Would I recommend Twitter to other teachers?
You bet. Twitter rocks!