Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Twitter Series-What I Wish I Knew Before I Started Twitter

This is the second in a series I am doing all about Twitter. You can read the first post here, where I discuss the need to change the way we teach about Twitter. 

Today, lets go back to the beginning and look at what we wish we had known...

If you have read any of my leadership pieces before, you know I am big on reflection. As educators, looking back on our practice is one of the most important things we can do. I try to set aside time each day to just think about how I did a workshop or something I said or a resource I looked at.

I think reflecting is pretty easy. We can look at where we are and how we got there and think about the ways we would have done things differently. What is working and what do we need to change...

So is the case with learning about something. Take Twitter for example. For those that use the service heavily, or even those that don't, they can think of a few things they wish they had known when they were starting out to make the learning curve a little less severe. I included, wish I had know several things.

Keeping that in mind, I sent out a tweet:

Doing some writing for an upcoming piece. What do you wish you knew about twitter before you started? Use

I also posted it on Google Plus and asked a few of my folks in my office the same question. Now that you use Twitter (to whatever degree is comfortable for you) what would you go back and learn early on? Or if you are new what is it you don't understand?

The responses I got back fit into just a few categories...

Before Twitter-"I wish I knew how to make it meaningful to me." This is one that several people said to me. And it goes back to my earlier post. There is a misconception to what Twitter is and what it is not. When I started almost 3 years ago the perceptions were much worse then they are today. How could anyone in education be involved in something so narcissistic? Twitter is only for people who want to share what they ate that morning or for celebrities to spew something even more dumb then they can do face-to-face. It isn't the place for educators to have meaningful conversations or exchange resources.While many of those things do occur, in the education world, there are some huge advantages to using something real-time like Twitter over traditional resources. The problem is, as I laid out before, often times the way Twitter is presented is irrelevant to the people wanting to learn about it. Many sessions are generic in nature. And again, I will be the first to admit that was me. I taught sessions like that. There is so much specific information out there to find that, at this point, it should be easy to differentiate our training so that if English teachers want to learn we show them #engchat first. Or if science teachers want to learn we show them a great list of science teachers to follow. Like anything in technology or learning in general, making the content meaningful is the first and best step.

Before Twitter-"I wish I had known how to find people and build my PLN." Again, several folks said that to me. And people who have been on Twitter for a while still struggle with this. Finding good folks to follow can be a challenge. If you start out on your own, you really might not know a soul to follow. Thank goodness for sites like Twitter4Teachers. This is a great place where you can find other educators with similar interests to follow. When I was starting out, I stumbled upon this site. I was doing a Google search for "Twitter and Teachers" and thank goodness I found it. Otherwise I wouldn't know where to begin. But that is just one way. Twitter search is a great way to find people to follow. Plug in some key words and see who is tweeting. Another thing people may not understand is the idea of quality over quantity. You don't have to follow 1000 people to get a huge amount of meaning out of Twitter. Rather, choose people who provide value to you. Perhaps they tweet great resources. Or maybe they push your thinking. Remember, you can follow folks and they may or may not follow you back. That's ok. I see more and more that people are worried about followers. Oh I need only 2 more followers to get to 50. If Twitter is about seeing how many followers you can have, then maybe you are in it for the wrong reasons. Worry about the information you want to gain while here and forget about the other stuff.

Before Twitter-"I wish I had known I could talk to people." This statement was made a few times to me. And it is always surprising each time I hear it. Twitter is social media and social networking. Social. Engagement is a part of this medium. Now, I am big believer that lurking is ok on Twitter. Nothing wrong with plugging in and seeing the great information that is out there. The beauty of social networking and social media is that it levels the playing field. And really anyone in that space is just the same. If someone says something that you don't agree or you do agree with, say something. Send them a mention. Engage in a conversation. Ask for help if you need it.  I don't mind sending a message out to Sir Ken Robinson or asking Robert Marzano a question. Even last night I had a great conversation with the Governor of Delaware. Sometimes they might not get back to me. Often times, they do. The point is, engage. Twitter is less about consumption and more about engagement so put yourself and your ideas out there and see where they might take you.

Before Twitter-"I wish I had known I didn't have to read everything." I can't tell you how many times I have heard this. It goes to the statement that people don't have time because there is just too much information to sift through and they don't know how to organize it all and it probably isn't worth it anyway. There is a well known thought that Twitter is like a river of information. Some people get in their raft and ride those rapids everyday. Others stay on the shore and watch it go by. When they want to find something they wade in, find what they need and come back when they are ready to go at it again. You don't have to be on it 24 hours a day, everyday. Many times, good, quality information is past around over a few days. Can't miss resources or blog posts that make a difference will go around and around and around. So if you have taken the time to follow high-quality folks, chances are you will get the good stuff. If not, there are other ways to make sure you don't miss stuff (but you will have to wait until the next post to learn about those).

Before Twitter-"I wish I had known about hashtags." This is the big one. More than 90% of the responses I got to my questions about what folks wish they had known said once they learned about hashtags, things changed for them. This is the sole reason I changed the way I do Twitter PD. I always start out with the idea of the hashtag. Using Twitter search can yield great results. But once folks learn about hashtags it completely changes how they use Twitter to find information. Hashtags can also help in finding good, high-quality people to follow. If you are talking to people about Twitter, show them the hashtags you use. If you don't know which ones to use check out this huge list and do some searches. A good one to tell everyone about is #edchat. (In full disclosure, I am biased towards edchat because I helped create it.) Hashtags can also lead to chats which help deepen Twitter conversations. So, if you don't know that much about hashtags now, get to know them. They are just little pharses that were created to help track conversations but have turned in to a powerful delivery system of information, resources, and more for educators.

What else do you wish you had known? What advice would you give to a new Twitter user? Leave some thoughts below.

In part 3 we will look at all the tools I use to stay organized. Keep an eye out for that on Friday.
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