“an online social networking and micro-blogging service that enables users to send and read short 140-character text messages, called “tweets” “
Of course, these days the content of this definition is fairly common knowledge. And people not only send messages but share photos and links too. (And that’s only the tip of the iceberg…)
Twitter distinguishes itself from other social media due to the above-mentioned need to be concise: 140 characters is not a lot.
The first question, once you know what Twitter is, might be, “But, why should I join? What will I gain from it?“, followed by “But… I don’t want to know what everybody has for breakfast…”. (Don’t worry: used professionally, it is easy avoid this genre of tweets! As you will see during this post, there is plenty that is of value on Twitter – if you know where to look.)
As an ELT professional, Twitter provides a platform for connecting with like-minded fellow professionals and sharing links to useful resources, as well as discussing ideas and issues.
Conferences often have hashtags (e.g. #IATEFL2014) which allow participants to share goings on with a wider community of teachers, those who are unable to attend. So next time there’s a conference you wanted to attend but couldn’t, you could look out for the conference hashtag, and join in that way?
If you’re still uncertain as to whether you’d get anything out of using Twitter, I suggest that you have a look at this link to a series of articles collected under the title “Why Twitter for teachers?”
For some more anecdotal evidence of why it’s worth joining:
I joined in 2011, because someone recommended it to me on an ELT forum. As well as this leading to me getting involved with #ELTchat (see below) and starting to blog, I happened to see someone post a link to the IATEFL conference scholarships. Prior to that time, I didn’t even know such scholarships existed. I applied for several and was lucky enough to win one, and as such was able to attend my first IATEFL conference in 2012, in Glasgow. At that conference, as well as well and truly getting the conference bug, I found the leaflet for Leeds Met University’s M.A. in ELT with Delta in my conference pack. As you can see from my blog site, the rest is history! So in my case, joining Twitter was literally life-changing!
- Create a Twitter handle:
As you can see, it’s a quick, easily completable form. Once you have set up your account, you will be able to do the following:
- Follow people:Many institutions, teachers, teacher trainers, DoS’s and other members of our profession have active Twitter handles.As well as individuals, IATEFL SIG groups have them (e.g. @MaWSIG, @IATEFL_BeSIG), as does IATEFL itself (@iatefl). If you follow them, their tweets will appear in your feed, when you log in. This can be a good way of keeping up with the online professional development opportunities that they organise e.g. webinars.
Professional magazines have them (e.g. @ETprofessional) and tweet a range of interesting, relevant links.
Finally, some popular, useful ELT websites such as the British Council Teaching English website, have a Twitter handle (@TeachingEnglish) in addition to their Facebook page.
- Retweet what you find helpful/useful/interesting:
When you retweet somebody’s tweet, it appears in the feed of anybody who follows you and returns to the top of the tweets indexed to any hashtag mentioned in the retweeted tweet, meaning that more people are likely to see it.
Retweeting somebody’s tweet indicates that you have found what they had to say interesting, or if the tweet includes a link, that you have followed the link and feel it is worth sharing with others. Therefore, it makes sense not to retweet any links that you haven’t looked at! If you want to tell the writer of the tweet that you think the content of it is really good, you could also “favourite” it. Once you have retweeted and/or favourited it, it will look like this:
- Try new ideas:Part of professional development is finding new things to try and reflecting on the outcomes. Twitter can be a great source of new ideas and things to try, shared by fellow professionals via links and discussions. Many Twitter users also have blogs. You might like to start blogging as well – if you don’t already blog. There are lots of benefits to doing so! Summarising hashtag discussions (see below) can be a good way in to blogging.
- Search for hashtags
There are hundreds of hashtags in use by different groups of teachers and educators worldwide. A hashtag is a means of indexing tweets. If the author of a tweet includes a hashtag within their tweet, that tweet becomes searchable via the hashtag. Anybody who searches for a #hashtag will see all the tweets which include that hashtag, ordered from most to least recent.Some of the hashtags are defined by location (e.g. #AusELT) some by specialism (e.g. #EAPchat, #edtech). Some are more general (e.g. #elt and #tesol or #ELTchat) Finding a hashtag that relates to an area of the profession that you are interested in learning more about can be an easy way in to accessing a regularly updated range of resources related to that area.
Many hashtags (e.g. #ELTchat, #EAPchat, #Edtechchat) run discussions at regular intervals, where people from all over the world – or a particular area of it – join to discuss a proposed topic, using the hashtag in question to gather the tweets. To find out about what hashtags are in use, you could look at this index of hashtags that was created by Chiew Pang and has been edited by people around the world since.
- Use Tweetdeck:Tweetdeck is a platform for navigating Twitter. When you search for a hashtag, it generates a column for that hashtag, within which all the tweets indexed to it appear. It updates as tweets are added. You can keep columns open so that it is easy to open Tweetdeck, have a quick look at what’s new and close it again. You can also generate columns to display any notifications (you get a notification whenever somebody retweets a tweet you posted or mentions your twitter handle in a post) and private messages, known as “direct messages” (you can send a direct message – with the same length constraints as a tweet – to anybody you follow who also follows you). Thus, using Twitter doesn’t have to be hugely time-consuming.You can use Tweetdeck by logging in via a web-browser but you can also download a programme, which is a convenient way of using it, to avoid having more browser windows open than absolutely necessary! (NB: You don’t need to “manage multiple accounts” for it to be useful – I only have the one!)
I could go on forever, listing oodles of people that you could possibly choose to follow, in addition to the examples I picked above…
However, I would suggest that rather than following people because I, or anybody else, said so, you do the following:
- Use the hashtags as a means of helping you find people to follow: Search for a hashtag, see who posts and what they post. If you are interested in hearing what they have to say and seeing the links they share, follow them!
- When you find people of interest, have a look at who they follow, if anybody from their list stands out, have a look at that person’s past tweets and decide if you want to follow them too.
- As you become more active, retweeting others’ tweets and sharing your own ideas too, people will start to follow you too. When someone follows you, have a look at their past tweets and see if you want to follow them back.
Now! Why not have a look! 🙂 You don’t have to tweet straight away, it is perfectly normal to start using Twitter by simply “lurking” – which means to look without participating and is definitely not as dodgy as it might sound! – and learning how it works through observation. You can learn a lot by seeing how other people use it.
- #ELTchat discussions take place once a week for one hour, on Wednesdays, at 12.00 BST (GMT in winter) or 21.00 BST (GMT in winter) on alternate weeks. During these hours, the hashtag is dedicated to the discussion, so you should refrain from using it to tweet links or ideas that are not related to the discussion taking place. It may seem completely chaotic the first time you watch or take part, but you’ll soon get used to it! For more information about how to propose and vote on topics and what the next topic will be, visit the associated website.
If you know about any other regular ELT-related Twitter discussions, please comment on this post with details and I will add the hashtag and discussion times to this post.
- Be polite: as with any social media, it is advisable to use it courteously. This makes it more pleasant for everybody involved! If someone is abusive towards you, or spams you, you can both block them and report them to Twitter. A good post by Nathan Hall about manners on social media, as well as the importance of approaching it critically, can be read here .
- Don’t use it purely for self-promotion: You may have lots of good ideas and links to share, but take time to look at others’ too, and retweet anything you think is of interest.
- It’s like a massive staffroom with no walls: Treat it well (see first bullet point!) and you can connect with people all over the world – what better if you want an injection of fresh perspectives on the profession!
- Don’t get overwhelmed: Yes, there is lots of information out there, but a) you don’t need to look at it all and b) the really good stuff will get retweeted so you’ll see it eventually anyway.
- You don’t need hours a day: Which is good, because who has that kind of time?! As little as 5-10 minutes will mean you catch a lot of good stuff – even if you can’t immediately read all the links you end up bookmarking. Using Twitter doesn’t have to mean a massive time commitment. To help you, it might be advisable to streamline your curating system – do you use Diigo? Evernote? Whichever means of organising information you do use, it will come in useful when you uncover useful stuff during your Twitter travels.
- If you use Tweetdeck: You can change the settings so that it doesn’t beep at you every time something happens (the default)! Each column you generate has the symbol you see highlighted on the right-hand side at the top. When you click on that, the options appear. Make sure “Alerts” is set to “None”!
- *Everybody* can read your tweets: Tweets are all publicly viewable. The only tweets that are private are direct messages. Your boss could follow you on Twitter. (E.g. my current DoS follows me!) A prospective employer could look at your tweet history. Therefore, it makes sense to only say things that you are comfortable with sharing publicly. Avoid saying anything you might later regret. As a rule of thumb, if it’s private or personal, it’s best off not being shared on Twitter!
If anybody with Twitter experience reads this and thinks I have missed anything vital/useful/interesting from this post, please comment and let me know so I can add it! And finally, I hope it is useful to those of you who aren’t yet using Twitter professionally.