Friday, January 19, 2018

New Twitter guide for educators

Photo: David Truss, with permission
Twitter is still a tricky tool to introduce to teachers. Sadly their general impression of Twitter is negative, associating it with fake news, trolls, celebrity trivia and toxic political mud-slinging. Creating an account means flinging yourself into the gladiatorial arena and opening yourself to attacks from all sorts of monsters. Persuading understandably skeptical colleagues that Twitter can also be used to create a valuable professional network and even community of practice is definitely not easy.

Twitter isn't an easy tool to adopt and the rewards are long rather than short term; basically you need a critical mass before the benefits become obvious. You need to follow people and people need to follow you and until you build up a network you'll be tweeting into the wind and no-one will know you exist. Like all forms of network building it takes time, patience and a lot of trial and error. That's why you need a clear reason for using Twitter and most importantly you need the help and encouragement of an experienced user.

If you're curious enough to give Twitter a chance and you want learn how to get started in a systematic and informed way then I can recommend a very practical guide in the form of a free e-book written by David Truss, Twitter EDU - Your One-Stop-All-You-Need-To-Know-Guide to Twitter. This book can be downloaded to your laptop, tablet or mobile in a number of formats and takes you through all the basics of using Twitter, essential rules of Twitter netiquette, finding people to follow and building an educational network. To get the most out of the guide you should create a Twitter account before you start and then you learn to tweet by tweeting for real. The guide can save you a lot of time, effort and despair since it focuses on good practice, respect for others, giving credit and responsible networking. You also get tips on how to spot and avoid typical spammers and time-wasters. Even if you are an experienced user like me, you can benefit from a quick browse through the guide.

One small line of wisdom explains why attitude is so important for success with Twitter, or any digital tool for that matter:

“If you think Twitter is ‘dumb’ or ‘a waste of time’, well then it will be.”

Although Twitter is certainly full of highly toxic and dangerous rubbish you can easily avoid it by following trusted colleagues and communities. My own feed is almost exclusively about education and every day I find links and ideas that are extremely useful in my work. I've also made friends and valuable contacts through Twitter and have met some of them in person. As David points out in the book you need to view your Twitter feed as a never-ending stream of information that you dip into now and then rather than trying to read everything; as your feed grows you very quickly realise the impossibility of this approach. Dip in a few times a day and see what's floating by just now. Forget what went past in the time you were away, what you don't see you don't miss.

But the real key to success with Twitter is engagement. To get something out you have to contribute. If you show that you provide useful information, ideas and tips then people will follow you. If you show your appreciation for the information you receive your reputation will grow and you will widen your network. Actually the normal principles of human communication apply in digital spaces, contrary to the common myth that digital communication is somehow virtual, cyber or not real life. Being kind and respectful pays off, even in Twitter!

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