Using Twitter professionally to network with other teachers

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I use my professional Twitter account, @StuBillington, to follow and be followed by others involved in education. I get lots of ideas, information and resources from those I follow and I try to tweet things that I think they might find useful in return.

I don’t use my professional Twitter account to tweet about my personal life (e.g. what I think about the form of the football team I support). I reason that this might be relevant to my friends, but probably not to my teacher peers who are busy people and who don’t need to wade through that kind of stuff when looking through the hundreds of tweets on their feed. If I wanted to do that, I’d get another Twitter account for my personal life. (Although, actually, I probably wouldn’t, as I wouldn’t want my students stumbling across my life on show!)

I follow nearly 500 people, a number that is increasing all the time as I come across other like-minded people saying things I’m interested in listening to. Finding people to follow is relatively easy: initially, I just looked at who other people were following and, well, followed suit! If you wanted a starting point for some teachers to follow, you could take a look at some of the 500 or so I’m following. There are also “lists” of teachers on Twitter, maintained by attentive teachers; you’ll stumble across those as you look for people to follow.

Some of the people I follow tweet every day, some of them far less frequently. Either way, it adds up to a lot of tweets to read. Top tip: don’t try to read them all. Whenever I make time to look at Twitter, I just look at the most recent few dozen. In fact, timing when you tweet your own tweets is important, if you want to increase the chances of others reading them and not missing them.

Recently, I seem to spend most of my time accessing Twitter directly, through the Twitter app on my iPad. However, there are times when a more sophisticated interface is useful. My personal favourite is Hootsuite, but there are lots of other options out there. I’m also experimenting with Flipboard (an iPad app) at the moment. Perhaps something I’ll blog about in the future.

So, why would you want something more sophisticated? Well, tweets often incorporate “hashtags”: keywords that can be searched for quickly, to assemble a list of tweets on a theme, rather than the random ones on your home page that are limited to the most recent tweets of those you follow. For teachers, one of the most useful is #UKEdChat. For Science teachers, another is #ASEChat. For members of the a school’s leadership team, there’s also #SLTChat. And, more recently, there’s the rapidly upcoming #PedagooFriday. Setting up a Twitter feed for these search terms allows you to rapidily connect with like-minded “tweeps” who perhaps you don’t currently follow. Most importantly, most of those hashtags are primarily for a weekly hour-long online “chat” session, in which lots of Twitter users all tweet on a pre-agreed topic, all ending their tweets with the hashtag, so that their comments are relayed to the other people taking part. This is a very effective and highly regarded type of informal INSET. If you’ve never tried it, you should! #ASEChat is on Monday evenings, 8pm to 9pm, and #UKEdChat is on Thursday evenings, 8pm to 9pm.

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Using Twitter with pupils

Previous : A guide to using Twitter in teaching

I use my “Mr Billington” Twitter account, @FallibroomeBIL, to send my pupils things I think that they might like to know about. Sometimes this is a link to something from the world of Science that I think is interesting, sometimes it is a link to online resources that can be used to extend what we’ve done in class, sometimes it is just a message (e.g. information, a question, a joke or congratulations). Crucially, I don’t tweet anything vitally important, as I can’t guarantee that all of the relevant pupils will read it — it’s an “opt in” stream of information, for those that are interested.

While some pupils and parents are “following” @FallibroomeBIL, a lot of my pupils and their parents do not have their own Twitter accounts and so access my tweets simply by periodically visiting the webpage, www.twitter.com/FallibroomeBIL. Although some tell me when they’ve done this, I don’t really have a way to judge how many do this.

As the head of the Science Department at my school, I also maintain a departmental Twitter account as well, @FallibroomeSci. Again, this is for non-vital one-way information giving. However, this is a useful single point of contact for pupils and parents, if they want, as I use the @FallibroomeSci account to follow the individual Twitter feeds of all of the teachers in the Science Department. This is a good way to collect everything together in one place and advertises the existence of the individual Twitter feeds of the teachers.

By the way, it’s useful for a school to adopt an agreed format for all of the Twitter accounts (eg “@Fallibroome…” As it helps pupils and parents to find them all very easily using Twitter’s search box. It’s also useful if the school’s central Twitter account follows them all, too.

I have experimented with using my Twitter account to record (and publicise to parents) the homeworks that I set my classes. This actually worked well, but is limited to 140 characters, which was sometimes not enough. Instead, I switched to a homework blog (mrbillington.org.uk), which allows me to also upload resources, including worksheets, etc. More on this in a future post, but worth drawing attention to here.

One final thing, with relation to maintaining a professional level of contact. A school Twitter account is for communicating information to pupils, but they may “follow” your account using their personal Twitter account. It is vital to never forget that it is not appropriate for a teacher to follow the pupil back, or even to look at the pupil’s feed. Just because we know where our pupils live, it doesn’t mean we should ever go round to their house and spy on them through the front window and it is essential to extend the same social boundaries of the “in person” world into the digital world, too.

Next : Using Twitter professionally to network with other teachers

A guide to using Twitter in teaching

Think of Twitter as a big public square where everyone is speaking at everyone else, saying things they think others might be interested in hearing. Each thing said is called a “tweet” and can’t be longer than 140 characters, so each tweet is just a sentence really. You can tune in to what someone is saying simply by visiting their Twitter page, but if you have your own Twitter account you can also “follow” them, so that all their tweets appear on your own “home page”. More from Twitter themselves here.

There are two things really useful about Twitter from a teachers’ perspective: 1) it’s blindingly easy to send general “for information” messages to your pupils (and their parents) and 2) tens of thousands of teachers use Twitter every day to share best practice, making it incredibly good informal INSET in lots of different ways.

If you’re going to use Twitter effectively as a teacher, you’re going to need two Twitter accounts, one for each of the purposes above. Mine are @FallibroomeBIL and @StuBillington. (The “@” denotes Twitter usernames.) Both are public, meaning that I don’t “tweet” anything that I might later regret, including anything that could identify particular students, etc.

If you’ve never used Twitter before, why not take a look at them now, so you’ve got an idea what I mean? Remember, you don’t need an account to read other people’s tweets, just go to their “feed”: www.twitter.com/FallibroomeBIL and www.twitter.com/StuBillington.

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