Twitter 101: Joining Twitter Chats
In the education world, social media has emerged as a surprising source of professional development. More and more educators are going online to share ideas, ask questions, and stay up to date on the latest education news. For many teachers, Twitter is a popular platform for quickly engaging with colleagues from around the world on a variety of education topics.
While Twitter’s short, concise conversational style allows educators to connect for just minutes a day, the platform also allows professionals to join together in larger, more detailed conversations. Many educators, administrators, and education stakeholders participate in regularly scheduled Twitter chats to broaden their horizons and increase their personal learning networks, or PLNs.
What is a Twitter chat?
Matthew Lynch, writing for The Tech Edvocate, explained that Twitter chats can be thought of as a “virtual gathering place” with several advantages for busy teachers. Since Twitter is a quick-moving platform with a 280-character limit, Twitter-users have to be succinct! Lynch also noted that Twitter encourages linking content, so each chat can become a resource of additional articles, blogs, and videos that delve even deeper into specialized education topics.
According to Lynch, Twitter chats are often an hour long and occur on a regular schedule. Some chats might take place every Wednesday at 5 p.m., while others occur only fortnightly or monthly. Each chat is hosted by an individual or members of a group, and the host is responsible for choosing a topic and posting questions for other chatters to answer. Twitter chats are a great opportunity for a group of like-minded educators to talk in-depth about a special topic in education—and build their own PLNs, too!
How to find Twitter chats
First, think about your purpose for using Twitter as an educator. Are you interested in learning about new developments in edtech? Are you looking for connections with other educators who teach your grade or subject? You’re almost certain to find a Twitter chat on a topic meaningful to your life as an educator.
One option is to look for popular Twitter chats in your PLN. Some Twitter users will tweet about a chat they’re looking forward to, or you may be scrolling through your feed when you see a flurry of tweets all ending in a hashtag such as #EdTechChat or #Games4Ed. As with all hashtagged communications on Twitter, click the hashtag to see what all the buzz is about!
Another option is to search for Twitter chats on a particular topic that interests you. The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) recommends these 40 education Twitter chats, and included a quick description of each. You might just find one—or more!—that relates to your grade level, region, or class content.
How to participate
When you first encounter a Twitter chat, the format and pacing can seem very different from typical tweeting. Take a moment to observe before introducing yourself, adding your thoughts, and interacting with the other chat participants.
Step 1: Observe
Since Twitter is a public forum, anyone can read along during a chat, regardless of whether they're participating themselves. According to Robert Ward on Edutopia, this approach—called “lurking” in the online world—allows you to listen in and get a sense for the chat before jumping into the fray.
While many chats follow similar formats, you might notice some differences in terms of how fast chats move, how users engage with the hosts, and the degree to which side-conversations are encouraged among participants. As you’re checking out a new chat, ask yourself these questions:
How does the host set the pace for the chat? Do they ask questions at planned intervals, or do they follow the flow of conversation?
How do participants introduce themselves? The tone can range from formal (“I’m Ms. Rodriguez, a social studies teacher from Kentucky. #ExampleChat”) to casual, especially with established chats (“Hi everyone! Monica here—excited to get rolling this week! #ExampleChat”)
Do participants stay on topic, answering only the questions asked by the host, or do you notice chatters replying to each other, asking follow-up questions, and adding additional thoughts? Chats with many participants might adhere to a strict question-and-answer format to avoid derailing the conversation, while smaller chats might encourage participants to reply to each other and add their own follow-up questions.
Lurking can help you determine the tone and culture of a chat—as well as whether participating in this chat is right for you. Twitter chats often require an hour-long block of your schedule, so if a specific chat doesn’t seem to align with your purpose, move on and find another! But if you think it could be up your alley, go ahead and give it a try.
Step 2: Introduce yourself
Once you’ve decided to join in, offer a brief introduction and prepare to be welcomed! (Don’t forget to include the chat-specific hashtag in your introduction so that other chatters will see your tweet.) Then sit back, get comfortable, and keep a light snack nearby—the next hour might fly by!
Step 3: Answer questions
As Social Media Today explained, most Twitter chats operate using a question-and-answer format. Hosts might label their questions by number: Q1 for the first question, Q2 for the second, and so forth. Participants will then label their answers to each question with a corresponding label: A1 to answer Q1, A2 for Q2, etc.
Because Twitter has character-count limitations, be sure to keep your answers short and to the point. Abbreviations are OK—encouraged, even—to fit your point into 280 characters, but don’t chop off answer numbers or the chat hashtag to save room, as these give other Twitter users the context to understand that you are participating in the chat and answering a specific question.
If the chat is moving so quickly that the host has posted the next question before you’ve tweeted your answer, don’t feel you have to abandon your draft. Finish your thought, post it as soon as you can, then move on to answering the next question. Some overlap is expected, especially with a large group of participants and a number of thought-provoking questions. Remember, the purpose of a Twitter chat is to interact in real time, which brings us to Step 4.
Step 4: Interact with other participants
As you compose your answers to each of the host’s questions, try to read the other participants’ responses as well. It might not be possible to read each and every tweet while the chat is ongoing, but it will behoove you to catch what you can.
If another participant's response resonates with you, be sure to let them know! Some chats prefer participants to simply hit “like” as an expression of support, while others encourage replies and retweets. If you reply to another participant, include the chat hashtag in your tweet to make your comment easily visible to other chatters.
What to do after the chat
Twitter chats can move so fast that you might be surprised when the hour is up! However, there’s a lot you can learn even after a chat has been archived. Read on for our three tips to extend your learning:
Read what you missed
After the host announces the end of the chat, you’ll want to spend some time scrolling through the chat feed and catching responses you might have missed while the conversation was moving quickly. You can also choose to review only the “top tweets” under the chat hashtag; this search tool serves to present a “highlight reel” of sorts, containing tweets that were liked and replied to the most.
Follow your favorite chatters
If another chat participant presented insights that you especially appreciated, you might want to follow them to see their tweets on other subjects, too. Finding and connecting with other professionals is the ultimate goal of using Twitter for personal development, after all.
Mark your calendar
If you enjoyed the chat, note the date and time of the next one so you’ll be ready to join in! Showing up and participating regularly will help you dive into discussions about specialized education topics and get to know other chat participants while you're at it.
The bottom line
Twitter chats give educators a rare opportunity to use the fast-moving social media channel for in-depth conversations. While teachers on Twitter frequently use the platform to share questions, observations, and ideas when they have a few spare minutes, chats require at least an hour of your time—but the investment is well worth the benefits. Participating in chats is a great way to leverage Twitter for your own professional development and continue to grow your PLN.
Twitter 101: Joining Twitter Chats is the fourth installment in our five-post Twitter 101 series. Miss the first three installments? Get caught up here: Twitter 101: Start Your Own Teacher Twitter Account, Twitter 101: Grow Your Personal Learning Network, and Twitter 101: Do's and Don'ts of Sharing Classroom Information Online. Ready to start connecting with parents and the local community? Check back in for our final post in the series: Twitter 101: The Home-School Connection.
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