Issue #54 Cover Story: Learning In 140 Characters: Why Twitter Is An Invaluable Professional Development Tool

Pages-from-•042-047-ETS_54-Cover-StoryBy Carol Skyring.

Imagine being able to ask for a resource or help on a topic and have an answer within moments – no matter what time of day or night. In addition, this resource is easy and it is free! Twitter is a great way to network and collaborate with other educators and access professional development 24/7. A teacher recently told me that he had learnt more in the 4 years that he had been on Twitter than he had in the previous 20 years of attending workshops.

The beauty of Twitter is that with its 140-character limit, you do not have to read pages and pages of information. In an instant you can get access to resources, help and advice from educators around the world. Twitter gives you an easy way to harness the collective intelligence of educators and experts in your field. Sure, there is a lot of dross on Twitter, but you do not have to listen to it. There are ways to navigate your way through Twitter so that you are just getting great information and resources in your field of interest. Here are some tips:

Hashtags (#)

The hashtag symbol (#) is used to mark keywords or topics in a tweet. People use a hashtag before a relevant keyword in their tweet to categorise tweets and help them show up more easily in Twitter searches. Hashtags can occur anywhere in the Tweet; at the beginning, middle or end. Clicking on a hashtagged word in any message shows you all other tweets marked with that keyword. For example, if you search Twitter for #education, you will find hundreds of tweets where people are discussing education or sharing educational resources or ideas.

Twitter Chats

Twitter chats are 140-character conversations held at a specific time and usually on a pre-determined topic. These virtual conversations are an excellent way for educators to discuss relevant topics and to share resources and best practices. Twitter chats are usually moderated by a facilitator who often poses questions to get the discussion going. Anyone who wants to add to the conversation uses a pre-defined hashtag in their tweet so that others can follow the conversation by searching for that hashtag.

One of the longest running and best-known education Twitter chats is #edchat where conversations are about various education topics and trends, and participants vote on the weekly topics. Here is a snippet from a recent #edchat:

#Edchat Topic: The Flipped Classroom, a trend or a lasting solution? What are specific positives and negatives of the Flipped Model? (from@cybraryman1)

@cybraryman1 I think the flipped model is like anything it has to be balanced with other models too #Edchat (from @Edu_Thompson)

I think the flip class is part of a shifting ideology & methodology. Parts will be incorporated, and parts will be lost #edchat (from @LScheinost)

The flipped classroom looks like a great concept but it seems to be geared more for the high school age. #edchat (from @ddubmills)

@ddubmills I have seen flipped learning applied K-graduate education #flipclass #edchat (from @jonbergmann)

@ddubmills I don’t think that is true as I have done it with my elem students and with my college students. #edchat (from @Edu_Thompson)

Check out more information about #edchat at

There are Twitter chats for many topics in education – just a few examples are:

  • First Grade Teachers Chat: #1stchat
  • Promote reading and literacy: #titletalk
  • 21st Century Education Chat: #21stedchat
  • Math Teachers Chat: #mathchat
  • English Teachers Chat: #engchat
  • Social Studies Teachers Chat: #sschat

There are several lists of educational Twitter chats – you can access three of them at:

Follow Conferences

It is possible to access live information from conferences and participate in conference discussions via Twitter. Most conferences have a hashtag, and many delegates tweet information as speakers are giving it. For example, the EduTECH national conference has the hashtag #EduTECH. By following this hashtag during the conference, you will see information and resources from all of the delegates who are tweeting. The great thing is that people start sharing before the conference and keep sharing after. For example, a quick search of #EduTECH in the lead up to the conference gave me links to the following great resources and articles:

  • Great video on the basics of blended learning.
  • How mobile learning trends translate to the classroom.
  • Ed-specific or student specific? Which device is right for your school?
  • How to be a terrible iPad Teacher.

If you are interested in a conference but cannot get there, check to see if they have a hashtag and follow it during the conference for live updates.

Help And Advice

The education community on Twitter is a great place to get help and advice. You can ask for resources on a particular topic or float ideas for feedback from other educators around the world. Just tweet your question and you will get an answer because there is always someone around, no matter what time of day or night. The best part about this is that you are getting help from educators who are out there doing what you do and who know what works.

Find Resources

Twitter is a great place to find resources. Educators who tweet are very generous in sharing resources they find useful. For example, if you check my tweets ( you will find a stream of tools, websites and articles about technology in education. Most links to resources are short and to the point – all you do is click on the link in the tweet.

Another way to find resources on a specific topic is to read a Twitter ‘newspaper’. Some people who tweet use another site to aggregate the tweets of people they follow into a newspaper format. To check this out, go to and type in a keyword of interest. You will get a list of online ‘newspapers’ with lots of resources about that topic. If you are interested in technology in education, you can check out mine at

Connect With Experts

You no longer have to wait several years for a book to be published, or even several months for a journal article from the experts in your field. Experts are tweeting their thoughts daily. Not only that, if you have a Twitter account you can ask them a question directly. Twitter gives you unprecedented access to experts and their current thinking.

Managing Information

Once you join Twitter and build up your network, you may find you have more information and resources than you know what to do with! It is a good idea to have a process for managing this information for later reference and use. It is also important to note that Twitter does not store your tweets forever, so you need to save those you want for later. The most successful way is to save your Twitter ‘finds’ to another platform (e.g. Diigo or Evernote) and use tags so you can easily search and find them later. This requires dedication and discipline, but it pays dividends in the long run.

Getting Started

If you are not quite ready to sign up for a Twitter account, you can check it out first by searching for topics of interest. Go to and type in any word of interest. Any tweet including that word will appear in the results. If you want an even better result, put a hashtag (#) before your search word. You can do the same thing for any Twitter chat – just type in the hashtag for the chat.

Twitter is most powerful when you build up a network of connections. These might be other educators or experts in your particular field. To get started:

  • Go to and follow the prompts to sign up for a new account.
  • Before you start tweeting and following other people, fill out your profile with some keywords that describe what you do and your interests.
  • Add a link to your website or LinkedIn account if you have one.
  • Add a photo before you go live – people want to know who you are.
  • Post a couple of tweets to say hello to the world of Twitter.

Now you can start building up your network. The best way to do this is to follow someone you know. If you do not know someone to follow, search Twitter for a term that interests you, check out the people who are tweeting about that topic and follow them if they look interesting. Twitter chats can also be a good way to find educators to follow. Next, look at the people they follow and the people who follow them – these will most likely be educators in your field. Selectively follow people and you will gradually build up your own network.

Now that you know what to do, it is time to have some fun, expand your network, and meet new people with interests similar to yours. Enjoy!

Carol Skyring has just completed her doctorate on the use of Twitter as a professional learning tool. You can read more about Carol and technology in education at

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Education Technology Solutions
Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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