Building a PLN is essential to ongoing professional learning and on Twitter there are enough education-orientated chats to satisfy all interests. When you start out on Twitter it can feel quite daunting and lonely. Though you may be blogging or enthusiastically sharing your interests, it can feel like shouting into an abyss when you have less than 10 followers. Nobody hears your contributions. The key to building your network and getting heard is to join in chats. These chats are where you will begin to build your network, make the professional connections that best reflect your personal interests, and where you will be exposed to new ideas.
When you start on Twitter you will find that many “influencers” or big names will follow you and, in gratitude, you will naturally follow back. The initial excitement of this “connection” quickly fades when they unfollow you shortly after and you realise that you are being harvested to give them followers and sustain their status but they are not interested in what you have to say. My advice is, do not be cowed by the number of followers a person may have. Instead, you must think, ‘am I actually learning anything from this person that is important to my professional practice’. If not, click “unfollow”. Instead, put aside time each week to build authentic relationships with people who want to interact with you.
Here are some of the chats that I try to make as regularly as possible, from which I have drawn the majority of my PLN, and why I enjoy them.
1. #BFC530 – This is a 15 minute “spark chat” each morning that aims to get you motivated and in a positive mind frame to begin your day. There is possibly no place on Twitter as positive as this little community co-founded and moderated by @TyrnaD. What makes this chat interesting is that it is usually moderated by a different community member each morning and so topics differ greatly each day.
2. #whatisschool is the weekly award-winning chat co-moderated by @mrkempnz (see his excellent introductions to Twitter here and here) which deals with different areas of interest for teachers. This chat is arguably the best general weekday chat for teachers as while it attracts a large community each week it has not become a victim of it’s own success as has happened to other large weekday chats. #EdChat for example is, despite excellent topics, difficult for the novice to engage with as the hash tag is used by almost anyone seeking exposure so it is difficult to sort out the spam from the discussion.
3. An important chat for all new users of twitter is the #NT2T chat each Saturday. It is co-moderated by @shyj, @defstef98, @martysnowpaw, @JenaiaMorane and @BarbaraGruener who have created a place for new teachers to experiment with twitter in a safe and supportive environment.
4. The weekend is dominated by #satchat and #sunchat but the one I find myself most regularly involved in is #satchatwc. Moderated by @burgess_shelly it tackles a wide range of practical pedagogical topics but is elevated by a positivity similar to that of #BFC530.
5. For EdTech enthusiasts, @mr_isaacs and @katyamuses moderate #edtechbridge with the aim of bringing developers and teachers together to create EdTech for schools.
My professional practice has benefitted greatly from Twitter. As an example, last semester at the University of Augsburg I introduced a seminar on Evidence-Based Teaching. I had very much enjoyed reading @GeoffreyPetty Evidence-Based Teaching in preparation for the course and it was a thrill to be able to engage directly with him and discuss the similarities and differences between John Hattie and McREL’s Meta-analyses. It deepened my knowledge of the topic and boosted my confidence in designing the course. In addition, I have established contact with @hpitler of McREL who will join my students next semester via Skype for an interview and provide an authentic and reliable representation of the work undertaken by his company.
Similarly, in another seminar, I wanted my students to gain first-hand experience of Project-Based Learning (#PBL) and while I was aware of @BIEpbl’s treasure-trove of resources on their website, through twitter I became aware of their weekly online and free-to-access video chats on Google Hangouts. I also became acquainted with their sister organisation @PBLUniversity, which offers ready-made PBL units to download and use in class. I just recently enrolled in one of their short classes on integrating standards into a PBL unit. Again, it has enriched my daily practice.
Interactions with individuals in my PLN has also led to unexpected surprises. After a discussion on fostering positive parent relationships on #BFC530 one morning, I became involved in a side-chat with @DeidreGammill which led to her recommending me to @EdWeekTeacher. I subsequently wrote an opinion piece for the magazine which in turn opened up new contacts in the USA.
An important piece of advice on how to make full use of Twitter is to not simply grow your PLN, but nurture it. At the time of writing this I have 667 followers. I have shaken off about the same amount because they are not related to education. This leads back to the idea of “influencers”, or users with many thousands of followers. A quick glance at their PLN (which is a great way of looking for new and interesting people) will often show that they are followed by and follow just about anyone on Twitter. That may suit you. You may be interested in using your account for work and recreation. However, rather than have 1,200 followers to look good, I have been careful to prune my list to 667 active users in education that I can learn from and rely on when I need help (and to whom I offer assistance when I can). I have also found it to be almost exclusively the case that each of those individuals whom I learn most from has a small but focused PLN. By carefully choosing who is in your PLN from the outset you are guaranteed a high quality Twitter feed from which you can revolutionise your practice.