Monday, December 8, 2014

Twitter as a tool for discussion

Life On The Wire by wildxplorer, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by wildxplorer on Flickr

I have been an enthusiastic user of Twitter for almost 6 years now and use it mostly as a channel for sharing links to interesting articles and news in educational technology. I have a wonderful network of people I follow who provide me with useful links and ideas every day and often provide answers to questions I ask. Twitter is used in many ways and although my focus is on sharing interesting content it can also be used for discussions in the form of a Tweetchat. I have either lead or participated in many Tweetchat sessions, especially in recent weeks on an open course I'm helping to facilitate, and I thought I could share some experience and reflections.

So if you're planning to arrange a Tweetchat here are some points to consider:
  • Marketing. Spread the date and time of the session several times during the week before and make it clear that the session lasts for a certain time (generally one hour). The amount of publicity depends on how wide you want your audience to be, if it's just for one class then you won't need to spread the word any wider.
  • Preparation. I create a Word document and write all my questions for the chat in advance as well as other predictable messages like welcoming everyone to the chat and thanking everyone for an interesting discussion. I also have a list of interesting links to relevant articles, tools or suchlike in case I need to provide them during the chat. This saves a lot of keyboard bashing during the chat. Each message includes of course the relevant hashtag. 
  • Pre-chat instructions. Record a short screencast showing how to participate in a Twitter chat and post it well in advance. Then people know what to expect and how to participate.
  • Welcoming. As moderator I welcome everyone to the chat session and ask everyone to say hello. This is useful because then you know roughly how many active members you have in the chat. Good to know that someone is out there!
  • Questions. Normally the format is a series of questions that the moderator introduces every 10-15 minutes. To show which is which you write Q1, Q2, Q3 etc. Keep them short and sweet - Twitter's in-built 140 character limit forces you to be concise. Some organisers try to get the participants to answer using A1, A2, A3 etc but that seldom works in my experience unless you have a remarkably disciplined group. Normally people forget to even write which question they are answering so it can be hard to a logical discussion flow.
  • Hashtag. Without the hashtag the tweet disappears out into the deep blue yonder, only seen by those who actually follow the sender. Many good comments disappear this way so it's essential to remind everyone to remember the hashtag. If I follow that person or they are replying to one of my tweets it will show up in my personal feed. In that case I will retweet it with the hashtag so everyone sees the comment.
  • Socialising. As a moderator I try to give positive feedback to good comments as often as possible and participants soon do likewise. It's also nice to see them retweeting particularly good comments on to their own networks. Once this is happening more people will be alerted to the discussion and it's fun to see external participants with no connection to the core group joining the discussion. Good to explain in the preparation material that this can happen. 
  • Embracing chaos. Chatting on Twitter is fast and furious; once you get going you seldom have a quiet moment. You'll get answers to Q1 when everyone else is discussing Q3 and there'll be plenty of retweets of earlier contributions. The flow of tweets is seldom particularly logical no matter how careful you organise. This can be confusing for newcomers and many find it frustrating to be forced to discus complex issues in 140 characters. However I find the challenge of being brief is rewarding once you accept the limitations.  
  • Time up. When the time is up thank everyone for their contributions and step away. If some want to continue that's up to them but it's best to end exactly on time than dragging on too long. Most participants are amazed when you say the hour is up.
  • Follow-up. You can save and even edit the whole session on Storify, including flipping the flow order and starting from the first tweet. This enables others to read through the session with a little more logic than in the raw version.
Here are some more articles with tips on Tweetchats:
The Ultimate Guide To Hosting A Tweet Chat (Steve Cooper, Forbes, 2013)

1 comment:

  1. "a little more logic than in the raw version" I can't imagine what you're talking about *wbg* /@Morrica moderator at #skolchatt