Social Networking | Feature
Twitter Tips for Educators
According to instructional technologist Steven Anderson, Twitter holds the key for putting teachers in touch with great ideas from all over the world. Here are 10 ways he offers to get the most out of it.
- By Dian Schaffhauser
Steven Anderson, known in some circles as @Web20classroom, argued that learning from Twitter is the best thing you can do as an educator because of how it expands the circle of people you're in contact with. Anderson, director of instructional technology for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in Winston-Salem, NC, frequently speaks at conferences on the use of social media in the classroom. Recently, he shared these 10 tips for getting the most out of the micro-blogging service and self-proclaimed "information network."
1. Don't Use Twitter.com
Anderson noted that going to the home page of Twitter's Web site can be highly inefficient. "I tell people, 'Only go to Twitter.com one time--and that's to register.'" He said he doesn't like the way the primary interface doesn't auto-update; the program has to be auto-refreshed to display new tweets; and it has "too many tabs; too many places to click on."
His advice is to use a third-party client, a program that allows the user to organize Twitter feeds in a more customized fashion. His preference for computer use: TweetDeck, a Twitter application that allows him to order various feeds into columns, one for friends, another for mentions, and so on. (Anderson said he actually prefers an older version, which can be found at oldversion.com.) Those columns can be set up by user or hashtag (the next topic).
2. Put More in, Get More Out
Anderson proclaimed that the more a person puts into using Twitter effectively, the more he or she will get out of it. He considers himself an example of that. He said, for example, that he wouldn't be presenting at conferences if it weren't for his Twitter efforts. Nor would he even have his current job, which somebody found referenced on Twitter and pointed out to him--via Twitter.
3. Count Following Not Followers
Forget about the number of followers you have, Anderson advised. What's more important, he said, is the number of people you follow yourself--and the quality of the tweets those people make.
4. It's All About the Hashtag
The hashtag symbol allows Twitter users to track what's going on in the areas of their interests and to allow others who may or may not follow them to track what they've tweeted. It allows Twitter feeds to be searched on and tracked. For example, said Anderson, for the FETC conference at which he spoke recently, hashtags in use included #FETC and #FETC13 (for 2013). When one of those hashtags is used in a tweet, that tweet will show up for people monitoring for that hashtag.
Well chosen hashtags, Anderson explained, expand the impact a tweet can make far beyond the number of followers a given account has.
He noted that even people without a Twitter account can search the service for given hashtags to stay up on a given topic and manage those feeds through a client program. With a Twitter account, however, the user can also post to Twitter with follow-up questions; and the use of the hashtag in that instance expands the number of people potentially who could respond with answers.
5. Check Out #edchat
Early in his use of Twitter, Anderson and a friend came up with one of the most popular education hashtags in use: #edchat. That's now grown to a voluminous number of hashtags, all dedicated to some aspect of education. That specific set of hashtags has actually been cataloged by Jerry Blumengarten, a former school librarian from the New York City area who has since moved to Florida. "His whole goal," joked Anderson, "is to beat Google at the number of pages they catalog." Blumengarten maintains the site, http://cybraryman.com/edhashtags.html, which offers "an amazing list of hashtags for any kind of teacher."
Advised Anderson, "You can copy [the hashtag] from this page, put it in the search on Twitter and see what people are saying." Sometimes, he added, a hashtag will be out of use, but a well turned tweet may turn out to be the one to "revive it."
6. How to Create Your Own Hashtag
To create a hashtag, all you need to do is "type it in," Anderson explained. But before doing that, he added, you should type it into Twitter to find out if it's in use for some purpose other than the one you intended. "You don't want to step on what they're doing," he noted, and "you might prevent embarrassment later."
Anderson offered this extra tip on searching by hashtag: He leaves off the hashtag symbol, because people don't use it uniformly. By leaving it off, usage of a given hashtag will pull up those that do use the hashtag as well as those that don't.
7. Expand What You Follow with Lists
Twitter's list feature allows you to group people based on "any criteria you want," for the purposes of reading their tweets, Anderson said. For example, he maintains a list of his staff members in order to follow their posts and another for the "100 most important people I follow." He also creates lists for specialties, such as science teachers or math teachers, so that when he has a specific question, he knows whom to contact.
You can also subscribe to lists created by others by clicking on "lists" when checking out somebody's profile. Choose the list you'd like to join and click Subscribe.
The list feature can be used in Twitter or TweetDeck. However, the list filter can't be used to send a tweet to that specific group of people.
8. Save Tweets (and Twitter-inspired Resources)
Although Twitter offers a Favorites feature (tweets with a star next to them), Anderson is no fan because they're public; others can see what favorites he's specified. He prefers other--more private--mechanisms for saving tweets.
The first is diigo at diigo.com/tools/save_tweets, which allows you to save favorite tweets. Anderson said he uses the service, which has paid and free editions, as a Twitter backup.
But the best free service, Anderson said, is getpocket.com. "Pocket is one of those services--if they ever charge, I'd pay for it," he stated. "This is a personal 'favorites' place that only I have access to." Pocket allows the user to put tweets, videos, articles, and other digital objects into a "pocket" and bring it up later for closer review. Pocket can run as a mobile app, and it can cache a site for offline viewing.
Anderson also said he relies on @myEN, the Evernote account that allows you to save tweets directly into your Evernote account. You simply follow @myEN, confirm the link, connect up the Evernote account with the Twitter account, and add @myEN to any public tweet to have it "saved for posterity."
9. Find Good Stuff to Tweet About
To have important Twitter content rise to the top of the stack, Anderson uses The Tweeted Times, a real-time personalized newspaper that's generated from his Twitter account. Contents are culled based on retweets, reflecting the overall popularity of a message. "I don't have to feel I'm going to miss something," he noted.
Anderson also uses paper.li, which pulls in content not just from Twitter but other sources too--Facebook, Google+, YouTube, and RSS feeds. He specifically has the service configured to organize content around hashtags, which means it pulls in information he may not have seen before because "it's not just from people you follow."
On his mobile devices, Anderson likes Zite and Flipboard, both of which allow him to create personalized digital "magazines" sharing content of interest from multiple sites and providing ideas that might be worth sharing on Twitter.
10. Take Just One
If these aren't enough for you, Anderson maintains an "Educators Guide to Twitter" online at livebinders.com with more ideas. But, he warned, don't try all of the sites and services he shares, "because you'll ultimately fail." His last tip: "Try one and then teach somebody else."
Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.