Monday, September 26, 2011

Twitter Series-A New Kind Of Twitter PD

 This week I am going to do a series of posts on Twitter. I get asked a lot of questions about it so I though, why not write about it and put all the details in one place. 

You can read Part 2 here and Part 3 here. 

Today I am starting with Twitter Professional Development.

As many times as I have talked to folks, done workshops for and even preached about Twitter, there are some that just won't (for whatever reason) jump in. When I first started I didn't understand. How could someone not want to just ride the rapids like me, soak in all the information they could? There was so much out there to discover, why not engage, react, comment, all the time? It took me a while to realize that maybe, for some, the best way to use Twitter was not to use Twitter.


Yep. I have taken a radically different approach to teaching educators about Twitter.

Take a step back and think about PD done about Twitter. Many will start with a basic example of its use (if the participants are lucky) or how the presenter started with Twitter or maybe a shoutout, asking their followers to tell where they are from and why they should Twitter. All good stuff. It's great to see how someone actually uses it but most times I find folks who take the time to come to PD on Twitter already know or have heard of the benefits from others or they just don't get that stuff to begin with so why start with it?

After the example comes the registration process. This can be a battle. Twitter has a limit as to the number of accounts that can be created from the same IP address. Many school networks are set up so that no matter what machine you are on it appears to the outside world every machine has the same IP. So if you are all trying to create accounts you could get bogged down in the process.

Then comes the terminology. What is a RT? Hashtag? Mention? Direct Message? At this point the folks who were super excited to learn might be feeling frustrated or overwhelmed even. Lots of information has been covered up to this point. Maybe an hours worth all ready.

And there is still so much more to cover...

Now comes the first Tweet. Then looking at chats or search or lists. The resources could go on and on and on and on and on...

When someone leaves this session one of twothings will happen.

They will be super excited about it all. They were engaged and soaked it all in. They are pumped and are going forth to the world to tweet to their hearts content.

Then there are the others. Those that might have been excited at one point but now are overwhelmed because of the amount of information covered. They may try to give it a shot but ultimately will walk away because it was simply too much for them to take in.

I used to teach PD like that. Exactly like that. Then one day I went back and looked at the number of people who actually stuck with Twitter. I talked to them, asked them if they were tweeting or even checking in now and then. For the vast majority of them, the answer was no. It was just too much for them.

So I had to do something different..

I developed a new method of teaching folks about Twitter where I don't actually teach them how to use Twitter. How you might ask. Well, sir, it's actually pretty easy to use Twitter without using it.

I always break my Twitter PD into several sessions. In the first, depending on who I am talking to, we look at the reason why they should use it. We have to make that personal connection to them so they see how valuable this tool can be.

So let's look at Administrators. They are usually the toughest folks to convince. We would start by talking about Twitter Search. We could brainstorm some common search terms for administrators and plug them into Twitter search and see what comes up. We may find stuff, we may not. (That's the beauty of search.) That then opens up the conversation to hashtags. What are they, and how are they used? So we would look at common hashtags Administrators use (like #cpchat or #edchat) and plug those into search. That's when the eyes light up. They see specific resources and people, right off, related to their area. (If you don't know a hashtag to search for with your specific group, check out this page from my good friend Jerry "Cybraryman" Blumengarten).

Now, it used to be we could save that search very easy with RSS (Twitter has since removed that feature but you can still add that search to Google Reader using these instructions.). Since it isn't quite as easy, a simple collaborative Google Doc with the link to Twitter Search and common searches works just fine. That way, after our time together, folks can add what they are finding and searching. The doc also serves the purpose to show how powerful things can be when we share. Then when we actually talk about how to use Twitter, they are used to it. The idea of sharing like that isn't foreign to them. So transitioning to the Twitter medium isn't that much of a jump.

Before they leave that first session, I give them my Twitter Livebinder. In it they will find loads of information. Videos on how to sign up, dictionaries, examples of use and best practices. They have it because they might decide to go ahead and sign up before the next time we meet. And if that's the case, it's one less thing we have to spend time on. And they will use it as a resource through out their learning and their journey.

The next time we meet we will go over all those basics about signing up, tweeting, etc. But we will spend most of our time on the other 2 things that drive educators away from Twitter; the Twitter Website and organizing information.

First the Twitter Website. We visit it one time. Then from there on out. They know not to return there. The web interface is the most unfriendly way to look at Twitter. We look at 3rd party clients like Tweetdeck or Hootsuite to help begin organizing our streams. They can take some of those searches they want quick access to and add them here. (Don't get me wrong, for some, the web interface works. For most, they need to get away from there as quickly as possible.)

One of the last things we look at is what to do with all the information they have gathered and will gather. Users need to feel like like they don't have to evaluate every resource that comes to them right then. Thank goodness they don't. I teach my participants about ReadItLater (hands down my favorite tool.). And I show them how to use Diigo too. And guess what? Learning about both of these are in the Twitter Livebinder so they have a way to go back and brush up their skills when they leave me.

So that is 2 days and about 4 hours worth of time learning about educators should use Twitter. We can then go further looking at setting up class/school/district accounts, or hashtags or anything else really. But I have found that this is pretty effective way for educators to learn about Twitter. They have got to see the value in. They have to see the resources first, before they even sign up in order to see why they should stick with it.

What do you think? What kind of Twitter PD worked for you? What kind didn't? Leave some thoughts below.

In Part 2 we will look what what people wished they had know about Twitter before they started. Check that out on Wednesday.
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