This chat took place in March 2015 and started out as a very meta chat on Twitter about Twitter. You can read a complete transcript of the chat here. @sophiakhan4 got the ball rolling before the chat with a post about why Twitter had been so significant for her. It contains an interesting list of things that would never have happened without Twitter (including #AusELT) as well as some reasons why you might want to bother with Twitter if haven’t gone there yet, or if Facebook is your drug of choice.
This chat sumary is divided into two parts. In Part 1, long-time #AusELTer Kylie Tyler (@thesmylers) writes about the Twitter-related part of the chat, reflecting on her own social media journey and sharing tips on how to make it work for you. In Part 2, @sophiakhan4 summarises the later stages of the chat which dealt with social media identity and curation strategies to manage the flow of information.
Part 1: Twitter journeys and how to make it work for you
I first joined Twitter as @thesmylers in October 2010 but I wasn’t very active and only followed a couple of my friends who’d mentioned they had a Twitter account. I didn’t really know what it meant to “follow” someone and I think I might have “tweeted” maybe twice in the first 2 years. That all changed when I saw my friend @SophiaKhan4 present a talk called The Networked Teacher with @Eslkazzyb at a PD Fest in Sydney. They introduced me to #AusELT and, through the people they followed, the wider world of ELT on Twitter. I gradually built a list of people in the industry I followed and later that year I joined in on my very first #AusELT chat. I have to say it was both overwhelming and exhilarating. I barely had time to read the new tweets that kept popping up 7-at-a-time on my screen, let alone manage to respond to any questions or comments during the hour-long chat. However, afterwards I felt a real sense of achievement and connection with people who were interested in what I was interested in and that made me feel so good! Gradually, as I lurked at the next few chats, I tweeted a comment or two, and following the many conversations became easier and less frantic. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still fast and furious, and I still don’t understand how some people just seem to be part of all the conversations that go on during a chat. That’s why this month’s #AusELT chat was so helpful for me and hopefully in this summary you’ll find some helpful ideas too.
This month’s chat was a small one with some of the usual suspects, as well as newcomer @angelos_bollas, taking part, and some lurkers popping in every now and then. The topic was a good one: advice for those who are new to Twitter and other social media.
What can Twitter do for you and your professional development?
Just joining Twitter and following a couple of people really won’t give you a good idea of just how much benefit it can bring to your professional learning. I read somewhere that you need to follow at least 40 people for at least 6 months before making a decision for or against the usefulness of Twitter and I have to say that I agree, although when I started out I certainly didn’t. The couple of people I followed had nothing to do with ELT and I found myself wondering what all the fuss was. It wasn’t until I started following some #AusELTers, and followed who they were following, and followed who they were following, that, over time, I started seeing the (daily) potential in Twitter. Add to that the monthly #AusELT chats and I was finally sold.
The biggest thing Twitter can offer according to #AusELTers is being able to instantly connect with professionals who share the same beliefs and practices, regardless of whether they are interstate or international. @michaelegriffin referred to a post on his blog in which he exemplified the benefits of Twitter to some colleagues. He tweeted a question and within minutes had responses from around the world appear on his Twitter feed. As well as instant responses, connections like these can lead you to ELT blogs, the latest news and research in the field, lesson ideas and general support. Several #AusELTers even mentioned having formed new friendships through making professional connections on Twitter. This is something that sets Twitter apart from other social media like Facebook and LinkedIn and #AusELTers had a bit to say about this.
Most people agreed that Twitter has the advantage of being more anonymous. @aparnajacob noted that “unfollowing [on Twitter] is not as bad as unfriending [on Facebook]”, and this is true. Newcomers to Twitter can follow and unfollow people, and comment or not, without anyone being the wiser if that’s what they want. They can “just float on the Twitter tide” as @SophiaKhan4 wrote in this month’s #AusELT chat intro here. Other differences #AusELTers mentioned were @Penultimate_K: “Twitter great for chats & quick exchange. Linkedin/Facebook for more in depth discussion”, and @SophiaKhan4: “I follow ideas on Twitter & people on Facebook – Twitter offers a wider range.”
So who do you follow and how do you manage the volume of tweets?
As @Penultimate_K noted: “It takes time to adjust to the speed of the information flow. And the conventions of Twitter.” This is important to know when you first start out. If you’re used to using Facebook, Twitter can be like entering a different world; posts limited to 140 characters, using symbols like @ and #, “retweeting” and “favouriting”, can all seem a bit like a foreign language. But @michaelegriffin had some good advice for this: “one thing I think was helpful for me on Twitter was not to follow too many people at first. I added more as I got accustomed to the feed.”
Start by following some #AusELTers like @SophiaKhan4, @michaelegriffin, @cioccas, @Penultimate_K, and @forstersensei. Then, see who they’re following and from there follow who you’re interested in. Some recommendations from #AusELTers of people to follow were: @AnneHendler, @nathanghall, @TheSecretDoS, @Ashowski, @teflerinha, @HadaLitim, @michaelegriffin, @Larryfelazzo, @oyajimbo, and institutions/associations like @MacmillanELT @TheConsultantsE @Edudemic @TeachingEnglish@English_Aus, @acereduau, @VocEdAustralia, @NCVER, @RITCWA and @HeutagogyCoP .
Once you’re following more than a few people, the volume of tweets coming through to your Twitter feed can be overwhelming. Apart from being selective about who you follow or going for periodic culling (my technique until now!), here are a few less drastic suggestions from #AusELTers – and remember, as @SophiaKhan4 said, “Twitter is a garden – you need to cultivate it to the shape you want.”
- Favourite – @Penultimate_K recommends “using the ‘favourite’ function as a kind of bookmark.” “Favouriting” a tweet saves it in your favourites list which you can access at any time. This is a great way to save your reading for a time that suits you.
- Mute – Muting people can unclutter your Twitter feed by stopping their tweets from showing on your feed. Muting a user doesn’t unfollow them and you can unmute them at any time. Details on how to mute can be found here.
- Lists – These help you to filter your tweets into categories. You can create private lists of your own or join other people’s public lists. @aparnajacob said: “I enjoy sorting through a list of only lesson ideas for class or PD. You can customise your twitter feed.” @SophiaKhan4 agrees: “I follow a LOT of people – but some quite different pies (to have a finger in). Lists can help with that.” Twitter explains how to make and use lists here.
For practical info on how to use Twitter for PD and participating in #AusELT chats visit the #AusELT Twitter page. You can also access the #AusELT 1-page guide on how to get started with Twitter which includes a “starter” list of people to follow.
Part 2: Social media identity and managing the flow of information
Do you need to have different social media personas (personal and professional)?
@sophiakhan said she felt stuck with two identities – one for family and friends and one for work purposes. “I would bore all the teachers with mummy and kids stuff and vice versa if I mixed…” @aparnajacob also felt conflicted and cited this as a reason for considering having two Facebook accounts. After all, she said, “Who wants to hear about your work life?”
Of course we all know, ahem, that having two Facebook accounts is not allowed and no one does it. But is there anther way? Echoing the earlier conversation on using lists on Twitter, @michaelegriffin said “I know some folks that use lists/groups well on FB so their non-teaching friends don’t get swamped with ELT”. A few of us were a bit in awe of that and wanted tutorials – though both @michaelegriffin and @sophiakhan4 – arguably big FB users – still hadn’t got to grips with it and @sophiakhan4 thought this might be because this feature is “not obvious or user friendly.”
Having said that, many other chat participants felt it wasn’t an issue and just having one Facebook account or one Twitter account was fine. @thesmylers felt that having multiple log ins on a single account was too difficult. @Penultimate_K also added, “I connect with people [on Facebook] who may not be actual friends through groups/pages.” @angelos_bollas also said he was happy with one Facebook account – but he later admitted “my real friends & family have unfollowed me on Facebook! They can IM me so we keep in touch … plus I post in English – they are Greek and when they post something on my wall in Greek, I tell them off so … they did what they had to!” So it could be that using different channels for different audiences is a natural evolution that suits some people. It is true that that different platforms lend themselves to certain types of posts and so tend to appeal to different sorts of people – each has a very distinct character and audience.
So what about LinkedIn?
While many #AusELTers thought it was worthwhile to have a LinkedIn profile, @thesmylers will find sympathy with many when she says: “I think I’m on LinkedIn but never used it”. @aparnajacob finds it “clunky”, @sophiakhan4 said she couldn’t “weed out rubbish well” and @penultimate_K wondered if “Linkedin makes it harder to be selective in order to tempt you to a paid account.”
Again people often seemed to have profiles that they did not use much. @Penultimate_K said “I could never get into Google+ – not sure why. It just didn’t appeal to me as a channel” and @Angelos_bollas commented: “Google+ looks so… old, doesn’t it?”
However, several participants were intrigued by the idea of G+ hangouts, with the end result that a week later @sophiakhan4 and @angelos_bollas actually did hang out on G+, a few weeks after their initial random meeting via an #ELChat on Twitter. And it was pretty great! Easy to use, with a lot of potential for small group meetings and…hanging out.
How do you curate useful links?
@Penultimate_K said: “choose the channel where the audience would be most appreciative of the info. Cross-post with care!” @sophiakhan4 said she felt “split over several platforms” for exactly this reason. However, other chat participants kept it simple: @thesmylers said “I only use FB and Twitter – copying links to posts across those works for me” and @Penultimate_K said: “I share on Twitter/LinkedIn. I discuss on the Facebook group” She also added that “FB (whether we love it or hate it) is really great! And searchable!” – however, I would add that while a group page, such as #AusELT, is searchable, if you are curating links on your personal profile page or your business page, you cannot search, you just need to keep scrolling back, and this is a drawback for me.
Some other curation favourites within the group were:
- Pinterest: looks great – user-friendly – but better for visual things (it save images as a link to other sites, so a post without an image cannot be “pinned”)
- ScoopIt: useful for curating more information-based teaching-related links but not much social interaction
- PearlTrees: used to allow for “mind-mappy” curation of links, where links in different categories could still be linked to each other. Now it has been revamped it looks and behaves more like a less user-friendly version of Pinterest.
- Pocket: A favourite app for @angelos_bollas who says it is similar to Diigo but much simpler to use
- Wikis: @angelos_bollas suggested curating via a wiki, and even sharing it for public use. He mentioned the ‘almost endless’ storage capacities of a wiki and the flexibility in the kind of content you can store (links, PDFs, pictures etc.) Many of us agreed as we actually do have an #AusELT wiki that we use to curate things of interest to our community. However, we have recently decided to transition the content over to our blog primarily due to the more attractive interface and to curate all content in one place.
And that was about all we had time for. We covered a lot of ground, and as usual I would say – find what works for you!
For a complete workshop on social media for teachers, including presenter’s notes, PowerPoint and other materials, please click here. It’s under a Creative Commons license so it is adaptable and free to use in your institution.