(Thanks to my friend Dave Mulder, Instructor of Education at Dordt College, for sharing this blog post! Please look for Part 2 next month and in the meantime, send him a tweet!)
Think with me for a minute: Where do you go when you need advice, support, or new ideas for your teaching practice? Certainly formal professional development (PD) meetings have value for this, but you probably have other resources in education that you tap into as well. Do you turn to particular colleagues in your building? Do you email or visit with friends teaching in other schools? Are there journals, books, professional organizations, or websites that you use? All of these make up your personal learning network (PLN).
Consider your PLN…
Have you given much thought to your PLN? While large-group, general topic PD certainly still has its place in the realm of education today, many teachers I have spoken with express their desire for more targeted PD tailored to their individual classroom situation. (And let’s face it: if we believe differentiated instruction is good for our students, we also ought to own the fact that it’s good for us teachers as well!) Developing your PLN may help to provide you with more personally relevant PD. Enter Twitter.
A Short Introduction to Twitter
By now I’m sure you’ve at least heard of Twitter, even if you haven’t joined up. Twitter is a social network, and while perhaps not quite as popular as Facebook (“only” 500 million users, opposed to over 900 million for Facebook) there are a great many people sharing about a great many topics. And that fact means Twitter has some real benefits as a part of a PLN.
Twitter launched in 2006 as a microblogging site, and you’re still limited to 140 characters when posting (“tweeting”) to Twitter. The real benefit I see in this is that you have to be pithy and creative in sharing your message—or use your post to link to a blog post or YouTube video or other resource to share your ideas with more depth.
A key difference between Twitter and other popular social networks is that Twitter is asymmetrical: you can follow people on Twitter without them necessarily following you back. As counter examples, Facebook and LinkedIn are symmetrical: i.e., you have to mutually confirm that you have some sort of relationship with the person with whom you are connecting. I’ve found that Twitter is thus a different sort of community than Facebook, one better designed for broadcasting ideas to a wider audience.
Your username on Twitter is designated with an “@” symbol;, mine is @d_mulder. These @usernames help you communicate with fellow users as you tweet. For example, if you would tweet, “Hey @d_mulder, check out my blog!” I would be notified that you tagged me in your message, and I’d be more likely to respond.
One more unique thing for using Twitter: you can tag subjects using the “#” symbol. #hashtags are a shorthand way of flagging a topic of interest that other users can search for. You can hashtag anything, but it’s usually good form to only use a couple of tags in each tweet. For example, if you really wanted me to read your blog, you might tweet, “Hey @d_mulder, check out my blog! #science #teaching” Adding these hashtags tells me what I’ll find when I get there, and make me more likely to check it out.