The title of this post immediately kills any chance of a large-numbered readership when it posts on ASCDEdge. For some reason any post with Twitter in the title does not do well with a general population of educators. Social media as a source of professional development has yet to catch on in large numbers among educators. There is however a growing number of educators using Twitter who look for strategies to better serve them in social media for collaborative learning. Whom should I follow on Twitter and how do I find them are key questions that need to be addressed.
First, we must understand that the worst advocates for collaborating with Twitter are more often educators who are collaborating through Twitter. They tend to overwhelm the non-users or new users with elaborate stories of the astonishing wonders of Twitter, as well as all of their astounding Twitter connections. They create an image in a newcomer’s mind that intimidates and scares them from engaging. Additionally, advocates often use jargon and acronyms of experienced Twitter users that do not communicate well with the novice while further mystifying the process. I will attempt to keep it simple.
The Follow Concept
To understand how Twitter works one needs to understand that the only information one gets is from the people who one follows. That is why when we first signed up on Twitter, there were no tweets in our timeline. We were not yet following anyone. The first reaction of an educator is to ask where are all these sources people are talking about?
Of course the first thing a newbie starts to do is follow the famous people, mostly entertainers and athletes. The timeline then begins to show their Tweets, mostly Public Relations, or fan related tweets. But where are the education Tweets that will get me collaborating, you might now ask. They don’t exist if you are not following educators, even more precisely, if you are not following the right educators. Following ten actors, ten singers, two politicians, and the art teacher down the hall will not generate many education sources, unless the Art teacher down the hall is also an adjunct education professor.
The key to getting many helpful education tweets containing sources that a teacher may use in the classroom is to follow many, many classroom teachers. Of course to pinpoint your specific education interests you will need to pinpoint those whom you follow as well. A third grade teacher may want to follow many other third grade teachers. A math teacher would concentrate on following other math teachers. As you build your Personal Learning Network (PLN) of collegial sources, you will find people outside your specific realm of interest that will also add value to your learning. As all of these “follows” Tweet their information out, your timeline begins to be populated with tweets giving education information and sources. Of course if you are also following your fantasy football team, you will have a great many football tweets as well. You may want to consider creating a separate account for your athletic gaming interests.
All Twitter accounts have profiles. You should fill yours out so that people know you are an educator, as well as specifics that are unique to you in education. This is how many people judge whether or not to follow you, basing that decision on your profile. You may do the same thing. Go to a person’s profile to make sure they are an educator that would add value to your PLN. Of course you may unfollow anyone at anytime if they do not prove to be of value to you personally. They are not notified that you unfollowed them.
I often follow educators who engage me on Twitter but that is not a rule; it’s a personal choice. There are well-known Tweeting educators who follow less than 20 people. I follow over 3,000. NO, I do not read every tweet. It is a personal choice for my Personal Learning Network. You decide what you need.
There are hundreds of education chats taking place every day on Twitter. It is very easy to access and participate in these chats. It is a great place to identify educators that will enhance you PLN. Educators involved in these chats engage in education discussions that often expose their individual education philosophy and education experience. Follow those people from the chat that you believe may offer you value to your network.
Blogs are a great place to find people to follow. The blogger lays it all out for everyone to see. You can quickly identify where any blogger stands on education. Most bloggers make it easy for you to follow on their site. Look for a “Follow Me” icon and click on it. Many bloggers are authors as well and they often attract other authors who guest post. Authors post their Twitter handle in their bios for people to follow.
If you access a person’s profile, you can go down a little further and access their ‘Lists”. Many Tweeters create lists that they develop for groups of educators. They will use these lists to follow group members on a separate column on TweetDeck or Hootsuite. You may follow these educators as well by clicking the follow button next to each person on that list. It is not stealing. Additionally, you can follow anyone that person is following as well just by accessing his or her follow list.
A great way I have found is to start a newcomer out with a list of over a hundred educators to follow. These are people who I have followed for years. The timeline of that newcomer now immediately fills up with information and education sources. The entire collaborative element rapidly becomes crystal clear. This is my list: https://twitter.com/tomwhitby/lists/my-twitter-stalwarts/members
#Follow Friday or #FF
Friday for educators is known as Follow Friday. If no one explains what it is to you, you may go months seeing the #FF hashtag and never understanding what it represents. I didn’t get it for months. Friday is the day that Tweeters make recommendations of great people to follow. A tweet will go out with a twitter handle and why you should follow this person and then at the end the #FF hashtag. A shortcut method, less personal or informative would be to list a number of Twitter handles and the #FF hashtag. I personally like to give reasons to follow folks.
There it is, a strategy for following all laid out in simple terms. A big problem with collaborative learning through social media however is that it is not a passive activity. There is no way of getting around the work one needs to do in order to get positive results. Having a plan or a strategy does make things easier. Focusing on following educators, who themselves are focused, makes for best results. Don’t just follow those whom you agree with, but follow those who challenge you as well. The most important thing to remember in Twitter: Big numbers of followers may impress some people, but whom you follow is far more important than who follows you.