The Educator's Guide to Twitter (Tools, Tips and Hashtags)
If you’re an educator, chances are you’re interested in using Twitter as a teaching and learning tool. And the good news is, we’ve got you covered, from basic instructions on general use to creative strategies you can incorporate into your course or lesson plans. In this guide we outline how to set up and organise your account, how to find and follow others, what to Tweet vs. what to Retweet, which hashtags to keep an eye on, and, most importantly, how to use Twitter for learning.
So take a look, and feel free get back to us in the comments if you’ve got tips of your own to share.
Why Use Twitter for Education?
In a 2013 study published in the British Journal of Educational Technology, two hundred and fifty-two undergraduate students in Business and Management were encouraged to use Twitter for communicating with their tutor and each other during a 12-week course. Their involvement was evaluated using a survey considering amount of Twitter usage and students’ attitudes and experiences. The researchers found that the students who used Twitter most often felt most engaged in university-associated activities.
Twitter also provides students with opportunities to learn important skills, such as collaboration, responsiveness, and the ability to join different discourses.
“Apart from anything else,” says Emma Rich, senior lecturer in the Department of Education at the University of Bath, “it’s a great way to bring some additional life into lectures and encourage students to think about their online presence; something they inevitably will have, but which is usually separate from their learning.”
As far as educators are concerned, student gains reflect teacher gains. But what about the benefits educators receive from using Twitter themselves?
A 2014 study in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education found that K-16 educators valued Twitter’s personalised, immediate nature, and the positive and collaborative community it facilitated. Many cited Twitter’s role in combating various types of isolation and described it as superior to traditional professional development. In this regard, Twitter has become a major player in improving teacher quality and training.
General Use and Etiquette
Many of you already have active accounts. But for those of you who would like to join but haven’t, here’s a brief tutorial on getting started.
How to Set Up Your Account
To create a Twitter account, simply go to www.twitter.com and click, “New to Twitter? Sign up.” You will be sent to a page that allows you to create a username, verify that you’re human, and complete the setup process. Remember that your username is included in your 140-character limit, so try to choose a short one.
When it comes time to create your profile, choose a professional profile picture and a background that reflects your interest in teaching. The setup page will ask for a brief description of your account, such as the following: “InformED features interesting conversations about all aspects of education and edtech.” Think of a few words that illustrate your reason for being on Twitter. You don’t have to be clever–just write something that reflects the real you. You can also include a location and a link to your personal blog or website.
How to Find People
- Follow experts: Get useful information from other experts in your field.
- Use Twitter’s “Who to Follow”: Log on to your Twitter account and click “Find People” from the main toolbar. This will give you three options to find new accounts to follow. With “Find on Twitter” you can search for people, organisations or companies that you know have a Twitter account.
- WeFollow: WeFollow’s directory gives you several methods to search for new followers. Its homepage lists the users with the most number of followers for each category, which include celebrities, music, social media, entrepreneurs, news, bloggers, tech, TV, actors and comedy. Clicking on any of these top users will bring you to a stats page, with the user’s number of followers, how many they’re following, the number of updates and the tags they’re listed under. WeFollow also lets you enter tags into the search bar to further narrow down your search for users to follow.
- Twellow: Twellow (think: YellowPages for Twitter) grabs publicly available messages from Twitter.com, then analyses and categorises each of the users responsible for those messages, helping you find suitable people to follow. There are several ways you can use Twellow. You can browse for users to follow based on category; keyword and “TwelloHood,” in which you use a map of the world to zoom in on users from a specific location. Twellow also generates an extensive list of suggested users and lets you follow them without leaving the site.
- Follow your followers’ followers: Check out the follow lists of people you find interesting and connect with them.
How to Search for Topics
- Keyword tricks: Take advantage of the advanced search option on Twitter.
- Quotation marks: If you’re looking for a specific term, put it in quotation marks to get better results.
- Hashtags: If you come across a useful hashtag, click on it to see what else you’ll find.
- Subscribe: Keep up with useful keywords and hashtags by setting up an RSS subscription for them.
- Trends: Stay on top of the latest in your field by seeking out and participating in trending topics.
How to Stay Organised
- Tweetdeck: Make use of this tool to organise tweets from various groups into easily managed categories.
- Create Twitter lists: If you know a group of people on Twitter who share a common interest with you or your students, collect these users into a list. Take things one step further and invite others to join the list by making the list public and sending invitations out via Twitter or Facebook.
- Make good use of alert tools: Make sure you’re not missing good conversations by setting up alerts that will tell you when friends and other Twitter users discuss keywords you’re interested in.
- Don’t try to read everything: You will be on Twitter all day and all night if you try to read every single tweet from your followers–just drop in when you can.
How to Build Your Presence
Take some advice from customer service specialist Aaron Lee via the Social Media Examiner:
- Personalise retweets: It’s easy to click “retweet to followers,” but it won’t get you noticed. Set yourself apart by adding your own opinion, question, or other commentary to a retweet in order to give followers context.
- Engage by asking questions: “Have you tried this strategy?” “Which method works best for you?” People are more likely to click, retweet, or tweet you back when you ask a question.
- Share articles more than once: Tweets don’t have long shelf lives. With this in mind, you need to tweet multiple times to stand out and maintain momentum. A mistake most people make is tweeting the same headline and link over and over again. That’s not the best way to go about it. People may see your extra tweets, but if you don’t change it up, you look like a spammer (not the image you want, right?)
- Include trending topics: “Hashjacking” or “trendjacking” is a method of using popular hashtags to get extra exposure for your tweet. You can find trending topics on the left side of your profile. These are the hottest topics and discussions on Twitter at the moment. Take note of them and see how you can use them in your own tweets.
- Use visual content: Humans rely heavily on visual content. Take advantage of that opportunity to stand out. Add images to your tweets and you’ll notice your retweet ratio increase almost right away. Bonus: If you haven’t looked at Twitter cards, you should. When you install them on your blog and someone tweets out your article, the Twitter card grabs the featured image and includes it in the tweet.
- Talk to people: The simplest, most effective way to get noticed on Twitter is to engage with people. Responding to tweets helps you stand out and nurtures relationships. But don’t wait around for someone to tweet you before you reach out. Spend some time looking at your own stream and start a conversation around a topic someone else is tweeting about. Listen to what people are saying in general. While everyone else is busy shouting his or her own message, you’ll be the one listening so you can make a better connection.
- Be yourself: The worst thing you can do on Twitter is to be like everyone else. Show your personality! It may sound simple, but many people don’t do it–maybe they think it’s not professional. But you can integrate personality and still be professional (and your followers will enjoy meeting the real you). Having a personality helps you to stand out on Twitter.
- Twitter Counter: Twitter Counter provides statistics of Twitter usage and tracks over 180 million users and counting. Next to that it offers Pro Twitter Stats for even more powerful statistics and sells featured spots on its website to people who want to gain more followers. Twitter Counter also offers a variety of widgets and buttons that people can add to their blogs, websites or social network profiles to show recent Twitter visitors and number of followers. Every day it generates more than 4 million of those widgets on thousands of websites all over the web.
Lingo and Shorthand
- Tweet: an individual post
- Retweet (RT): a repost of someone else’s Tweet
- Timeline: a series of tweets from people and lists that a user follows
- Follow: by following another user or list, their tweets show up in your timeline
- Tweeps: 6-character slang for followers and Twitter friends
- List: a set of related users or topics
- Link shortener: Services like bit.ly or goo.gl take a long URL and give an equivalent that is 20 characters or less, making it possible to comment on links in a single tweet. Each of these services is essentially a huge database linking long URLs to short, customised ones.
- Hashtag: the (#) sign, which helps group tweets by subject
- Mention: a tweet that includes a user’s @username
- Reply: a public response to another user
- DM: Twitter’s private message option (you must follow and be followed back to send one of these)
- RT: The Retweet, a basic way of relaying other people’s Tweets to your followers.
- MT: The “Modified Tweet,” whereby you add a comment or an edit to another person’s Tweet
Do’s and Don’ts
The following tips have been adapted from Edudemic’s Teacher’s Guide to Twitter:
- Be Retweetable: Share Tweets that others will want to Retweet.
- Use popular Tweets as blog posts: If you share a site or bit of information that turns out to be very popular, use it as a jumping off point for a blog post.
- Use your real name as your Twitter name: Be more personal and authoritative by using your real name.
- Respond: Don’t just sit in your ivory tower–talk back to the people who want to engage with you.
- Share your credentials: Let people know why you’re an expert in your field.
- Shake things up: Offer a good variety in your stream of links, blog posts, retweets, responses, and questions.
- Don’t spam: Just don’t do it. No one likes it, and it won’t be tolerated.
- Share information: Gain a reputation as an expert by sharing helpful links, resources, and more.
- Be sincere: Be honest and considerate in your tweets and replies.
- Find out authoritative keywords: See which keywords the authorities in your niche are using.
- Discuss what’s hot: Share your opinions and resources on what’s currently moving on Twitter.
- Don’t go crazy with links: Avoid using your Twitter account just to post links to your blog.
- Point out interesting information: Don’t just talk about yourself; discuss what’s happening in your field.
- Follow authorative accounts: Populate your Twitter neighborhood with people who have authority.
- Promote your Twitter URL: Share your Twitter name on your email, blog, Facebook, and other locations online so people can find you.
- Slow down: Don’t clog up your followers’ Twitter screens–keep your Tweets relevant and interesting, not inane and constant.
- Be helpful: Spread goodwill by answering questions, introducing others, and offering recommendations.
- Reply to others: Get involved with the people you follow and engage in the Twitter conversation with replies.
- Show your personality: Show off the person behind the brand on Twitter.
- Use keywords: Use keywords that are important to your field to attract followers.
Creative Uses For Twitter
- Teach concise writing.
- Create a course hashtag.
- Create assignment reminders and updates.
- Answer questions outside of course time.
- Discuss a guest lecture in real time.
- Discuss a video in real time.
- Discuss a student presentation in real time.
- Teach digital literacy.
- Teach effective research strategies.
- Role play.
- Teach a foreign language
- Create course newspapers using Twitter feed.
- Use it for instant feedback.
- Giving students a voice in the education debate.
- Stay connected with other educators.
- Interact with peers during a group project.
- Connect with experts and mentors.
- Practise forming an opinion in real time.
- Follow the news.
- Get help from peers and teachers.
- Discuss a course topic with your peers.
- Draft thesis statements for essays.
- Connect with students around the world.
- Share the progress of a project.
- Brainstorm ideas for projects, essays, and other assignments.
- Pose questions for other students to answer.
- Share research you’ve found via links.
- Organise your interests into lists.
- Post confusing passages, concepts, or quotes from a text.
- Tweet your reactions to a live presentation.
Hashtags to Use and Follow
- #lrnchat (social media and education)
- #blendchat (blended learning)
- #pbl/#pblchat (project-based learning)
- #ntchat (for new teachers)
- #gbl (game-based learning, from serious games and simulations to video games and more)
- #edtech (education technology)
- #BYOD (Bring Your Own Device)
- #iPaded (iPads in education)
- #EdApps (education and learning apps
For a useful guide on how to locate specific hashtags, click here.