Exploring Professional Learning Networks: The Twitter Experience

by Miguel Guhlin
external image twitter-logo.png
Image Source: http://beingpresbyterian.ca/wp-content/uploads/twitter-logo.png

"I have learned more about what people are discovering from Tweets," shares Porter Palmer, an educator in a university Master's course, "than any single blog could bring me. I especially like it when my edublogger friends’ Tweets begin with, 'just blogged this…' I don’t have to guess when they might have updated. I can just click over and read their blog!" Twitter is a powerful Web 2.0 tool to facilitate communication and collaboration--globally. It enables us to get in contact with educators from around the world. Many 21st century teachers are out there. Find them and create a Twitter network that can be a support group, provide inspiring projects, and keep you in touch with like-minded people. All of you participating in a workshop, for example, can be a group.

      • Twitter is a free social networking and micro-blogging service, that allows its users to send and read other users' updates (otherwise known as tweets), which are text-based posts of up to 140 characters in length.

You can use Twitter specific tools to connect with others. One of my favorites is the Twitter search tool, accessible at http://search.twitter.com. It allows you to search the many “tweets” that occur each day (view a search on Education) and subscribe to the results via RSS. (See the “Google Reader” section of this article for more on RSS). That way, real-time comments about what is critical to your work come to you. Whenever there is contact with other educators, I find my enthusiasm and energy for education renewed. That’s the power of communications. You select whose tweets you will receive so you can build your own professional learning network.

I can’t begin to share the excitement I felt on September 19, 2000, while participating in a TeachMeet 7 taking place in Scotland. How did I find out about it? Obviously, I was not in Scotland. I was sitting at my desk working on work projects, when a “tweet” came in from Paul Harrington, an educator in Wales. As a result of his sharing via twitter, I was able to participate in the conference via my web browser and listen to speakers like Ewan McIntosh and others share what they are doing in schools in Scotland. Do you think that might have impacted my perspective about the power of global learning opportunities? How might participating in a dialogue with educators from around the world have impacted your perspective?

When I introduced my supervisor to Twitter--as a way to stay in communication since we were both in Austin, Tx but at different events--I had her download and install Tweetdeck (http://tweetdeck.com ). This enabled us to not only stay in communication, but also be in communication with other Texas educators attending the events and find out what was being discussed. One of the fascinating "back-channel" conversations was one had at NECC Conferences, where "tweets" were shared about key presentations. There have also been numerous problems or questions I have had that a global community of tweeting educators has helped me solve (read one example here - http://tinyurl.com/5kgv6t ).

Earlier this school year, I found myself sharing Twitter as an educational app at conference presentations, a way to tap into the network of learners around the globe.

Here are some of the Twitter applications that really caught my attention as usable in education while reading this fantastic wrap-up of the 25+ Incredibly Useful Twitter apps (http://tinyurl.com/4legxe ):

  1. Just Tweet It - This fun tool enables people using Twitter to find others with similar interests. I can imagine sharing this with educators who are just starting out who need help finding other edubloggers.
    Visit Online at http://justtweetit.com/
  2. Hashtag - This enables you to track a specific event--such as a conference like TCEA2009--using the Twitter network. You can encourage people attending a conference or learning event to share what they're learning about and then track them all using hashtags.
    Visit Online at http://hashtags.org
  3. TwitterMail - You can send updates to Twitter via email. When you sign up for TwitterMail, you are provided a TwitterMail email address. Send an email to that provided address and it is posted to twitter. This might be great for educators who live behind the "Berlin Wall;" you know, access is blocked by content filters in an effort to "protect" anyone from using the web inappropriately but with the more disastrous effect of preventing anyone from using it all. You can email your twitter updates out and receive them.
    Visit Online at http://twittermail.com
  4. StrawPoll - Ever wish you could use your Twitter account to conduct a quick poll, maybe, how many of you think Texas funds the state technology allotment at a sufficient level? Well, you can use StrawPoll to accomplish this using Twitter. Do your own surveys using Twitter...what a powerful way to get answers from your network of co-learners.
    Visit Online at http://strawpollnow.com
  5. TweetBeep - You can get email results of searches when people tweet a particular keyword (like a tag). What a great way to tap into the conversation about education and reform without actually having to sit there and watch it happen as it happens.
    Visit Online at http://tweetbeep.com

Twitter facilitates communication and collaboration with other educators. As you explore Twitter, remember that you have control over who you connect with and how much you will learn.