Building and Engaging in Meaningful Professional Learning Communities with Twitter

Inquiry Question:

How can educators build and engage in a professional learning community that shares best practices, inspires others with innovative ideas, and supports members in participating in a variety of levels? 

Professional learning communities are a vital component to providing educators with professional growth, support, and inspiration. I am always curious to learn from other educators the multitude of ways they build professional learning communities, and platforms they use to make connections. Especially given the shift for all educators to move to remote learning, I am curious to explore more about professional learning communities that provide multiple entry points for participants to engage in learning about technology and best practices. This inquiry has led me to investigate ISTE Educator Standard 1, and more specifically, the following indicator:

1b. Pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks.

I think it is important for educators to find professional learning communities that serve as a space for collaboration, provide inspiration from others, and support educators in growth and practice. It can feel quite overwhelming at times to explore finding and using new digital tools, especially as we are simultaneously navigating how to best teach our students through remote learning. I was interested in finding a professional learning community that allows educators to be flexible in their participation and provides users with findings and information shared by their peers on what their own teaching practices have looked like with those digital tools.

So, why Twitter?

Figure 1. Why teachers should use Twitter, by Derek Rhodenizer. Retrieved April 24, 2020, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=30gN4-pEZWg

When I was researching potential solutions to my inquiry question, I was drawn to the idea of exploring Twitter’s potential for providing meaningful professional learning communities. My experience and participation with Twitter has been somewhat minimal professionally. It has mostly consisted of using it as a personal social media account, to get updates on news, sports, and entertainment. When it comes to my use of Twitter professionally, my experience has been mainly to Tweet out links to my cohort’s blog posts or to retweet a post I connected with from another educator. As I began to research how other educators are using Twitter and expand my own experience with its features, I began to see the value Twitter provides in helping educators to build and engage in professional learning communities.

Understanding its Features

Figure 2. Twitter Cheat Sheet, by Edublogs. Retrieved April 25, 2020, from https://teacherchallenge.edublogs.org/files/2015/11/Twitter-Cheat-Sheet-20fh0uh-1u6qhrm.png

In order to use Twitter as an effective, meaningful platform for professional learning communities, it’s vital to understand all of the features it has to offer. Edublogs has provided this useful Twitter Cheat Sheet to help navigate and build confidence with all of Twitter’s features. One of the features I found to be the most beneficial in increasing my engagement on Twitter was the retweet button. For me, retweeting was an initial step towards increasing my presence in professional learning communities and helped me to build comfort in using this digital tool.

An extension feature to Twitter that I have found to be extremely useful in participating in ed chats, following multiple threads (i.e. your stream, notifications, trending topics, etc.), and expanding my Twitter engagement, has been TweetDeck. I could see this feature being especially useful when wanting to participate in multiple ed chats simultaneously, or if you were at a conference and were wanting to follow along with several different breakout sessions or education conversations taking place. Additionally, one of the most useful features that TweetDeck provides, is the ability to schedule out tweets. By tweeting your posts through TweetDeck, you are able to select the date and time you want your post to be scheduled for. This feature can be really useful if you want to post multiple posts about the same topic but want them spread out over several days. I think scheduling Tweets could also be useful for when you want to tweet about multiple conference sessions you are attending. Scheduling out tweets through TweetDeck allows you to stay connected in those Twitter conversations, while also not occupying your time with posting during the presentations.

Additionally, a feature I have just recently started utilizing more is the “List” feature. Through this feature, you can create or subscribe to “Lists” containing a specific group of individuals. For example, I recently subscribed to the Digital Ed Leadership list, which through that list allows me to view posts only from members who are also subscribed. This is another way to build out and engage with a professional learning community on Twitter.

Building your Learning Communities

Start “Local,” then Expand

An effective process for starting to build your professional learning community is by following educators you know, or as I like to think of it, starting “local.” Through a quick search in the search bar, you can get connected with a colleague from your school or an educator whose session you may have recently attended during a conference. What’s really helpful with starting here, is that Twitter will then begin to give you recommendations for other people to follow who have similar connections to those individuals. Following these “local” connections on Twitter also helps you to see other educators that these individuals may be connected to in the surrounding area. These connections foster an expansion of your professional learning community locally and may present future collaborative opportunities with surrounding educators.

From there, you can continue to expand your learning communities by following other professionals and organizations whose tweets you connect with. One of the most meaningful ways I foster new professional learning communities on Twitter is through exploring the retweets posted from individuals I follow. When I first started using Twitter for my Digital Education Leadership program at SPU, I began following other members of my cohort and of previous cohorts. Following these educators then provided me with additional suggestions of other educators to follow who are also passionate about digital education.

Explore Hashtags for Connections

You can also strengthen your professional learning communities on Twitter by searching for hashtags, whether it’s a grade level you teach in, or a topic of education you are passionate about. Exploring meaningful hashtags can provide opportunities to hear from other educators how they are engaging with that topic. For example, I recently started following Jake Miller (@JakeMillerTech), through exploring the topic #edtech. Had I not explored this hashtag and the retweets and posts connected to it, I might not have ever connected with his account and grown my learning community in this way.

Recommended “Must Follows”

As you continue to grow your Twitter professional learning communities and seek out new educators to follow, I wanted to share a few individuals who I consider to be “must follows.” These educators are inspirations to me in the topics of digital education, social justice, literacy, digital citizenship, educational leadership, and so much more. I encourage you to explore these educators’ accounts and see if their ideas and insights resonate with you as well. Through these leaders in education, you may find yourself getting connected with many more additions to your learning communities!

Engaging through Education/Twitter Chats

Until doing more research and exploration for this inquiry question, I had not had an experience using education chats. I had heard from other educators about their positive experiences with using them, and the insight they gained from these conversations. I knew that during my research, this was one of the features of Twitter that I wanted to investigate the most. One of the first education chats that I participated in was #FlipgridForAll. My grade band teammates and I have been using Flipgrid quite frequently to connect with our students during remote learning. This ed chat provided me with insight into innovative ways other educators are using Flipgrid. It has been inspiring to hear how educators are using Flipgrid to create interactive math lessons, connect with families, or partner it with other applications. Participating in this ed chat felt comfortable and supportive, and I didn’t feel added pressure to post a response. Instead, what I felt was the ability to access the conversation through a multitude of entry points (active reading, retweeting, liking, etc.), and ultimately empowered to share when I felt ready.

Another one of the ed chats that I have recently used to engage in a professional learning community is through Dwayne Reed’s ed chat #TeacherSrong. Dwayne Reed created this ed chat as an opportunity to build a supportive learning community for educators around mental health and self-care. With the shift to remote learning and the mandate to social distance, I have found myself feeling more stressed, anxious, and both physically and mentally “stretched” than I have been in quite some time. I have found this ed chat to be a space of vulnerability, visibility, encouragement, and hopefulness. Through my experience with this ed chat, I have seen the tremendous opportunity that Twitter provides for educators to build and engage in meaningful learning communities.

When searching for what education chats to follow and participate in, a helpful resource for finding and tracking when ed chats will be occurring is this robust list of Education Chats created by a group of educators. In addition, Edutopia has compiled this list of Popular Education Hashtags. Knowing the specific wording of these hashtags is important for ensuring that you are reaching the learning community you wish to connect with when posting a tweet or exploring an ed chat.

Do you have any “must follows” to share or inspiring ed chats you participate in? Please leave feedback and questions in the comment section below. I would love to hear more about your experiences with using Twitter as a meaningful way to engage in professional learning communities!

References:

Caron, S. (2017, February 3). Using Twitter for Professional Development. Retrieved from https://www.educationworld.com/a_tech/using-twitter-for-professional-development.shtml

Gonzalez, J. (2020, February 18). So you have a Twitter account. Now what? Retrieved from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/how-to-use-twitter/

Miller, E. (2017, April 20). Teachers on Twitter: why you should join and how to get started. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/2017/apr/20/teachers-on-twitter-why-join-get-started-social-media

Ray, B. (2012, December 7). How to Use Twitter to Grow Your PLN. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/twitter-expanding-pln

Teaching and Learning with Twitter (n.d.). UNESCO [PDF file].Retrieved from https://about.twitter.com/content/dam/about-twitter/company/twitter-for-good/en/teaching-learning-with-twitter-unesco.pdf

Step 3: Using Twitter To Build Your PLN. (2019, April 15). Retrieved from https://teacherchallenge.edublogs.org/pln-twitter/

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