The world of Twitter

Over the years I have created several Twitter accounts, however, for one reason or another I have never used them, other than during the initial sign up session (which it appears is also true of a number of other people, link to follow).

I have now been a fully fledged user of Twitter for the last three weeks, mainly due to the medium I am now using to access it (An Apple iPad, more of which in a future post). During this rather brief flirtation with the micro blogging site, I have been exposed to more useful information related to technology and teaching and learning, than I have come across in the past year (and it is my job to research this kind of information).

This has been possible thanks to the educational groups and conference hash tags (#) which I have managed to follow, over the last few weeks. Educational chats such as #edchat and #ukedchat, have enabled me to identify people who have similar educational interests to me, and by following them I have been able to identify more people and related conference links to follow, such as #gtauk and #mootustx10. In three short weeks, this methodology, of finding and following educationalists, has enabled me to create a very effective personal learning network (PLN), which consists of me currently following 625 people and 340 people following me.

As an e-learning strategist and MSc elearning & multimedia student, my current work is focused on using technology in order to create an improved personalised learning experience, for our learners. To this end, we are currently developing a personalised learning environment (PLE), which currently consists of a Moodle Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), E-portfolio, Google Apps for Education and a variety of additional Web 2.o technologies. Following my experiences using Twitter, and the fact that we are able to embed a live feed from Twitter into Moodle courses, I believe Twitter would be an excellent addition to our PLE.

I like the way Twitter enables people to create their own PLN and believe learners will autonomously create their own PLNs, if we can kick start this process, by exposing them to certain subject related hash tags to follow (in the same way I followed the predefined tags #edchat and #ukedchat).

This is where I now find myself in a dilemma, due to my lack of knowledge and experience using Twitter. I have tried to establish whether there is an existing protocol for educational hash tags, (by tweeting and asking) and it appears that most, but not all tags, include the word ‘chat’ (I may be wrong here and if I am please let me know) e.g. educational chat is #educhat or #ukedchat, new teacher chat is #ntchat and elementary teachers chat is #elemchat etc. I understand there are some subject related tags with Literacy using #litchat, #writechat, #writing, #publishing, #amwriting and #amreading while Numeracy use #mathchat and #math. My question here would be: are these focused on teachers sharing content and experiences or on learners too? I expect these are teacher centric and therefore, a learner focused tag is required, but again I could be wrong.

As I stated earlier, I would like to create a more personalised learning environment by enabling learners to participate in their own personal learning networks. In the first instance, we will be doing this internally via Moodle, using meta courses, which will enable all learners on a course to communicate with everyone else who is studying the same subject, regardless of time or location. This will also enable sharing between learners on different levels thus encouraging peer mentoring. In addition, we would like to encourage further collaboration outside of college, by running live Twitter feeds within each Moodle course, which will link to a subject specific hash tag like #eduhair (hairdressing), #educater (catering), #edupublic (Public services) etc. With the expectation learners studying these subjects anywhere in the world, could use these tags to share their blogs and useful websites. I have already received positive feedback from colleagues from home and abroad who are keen to link their learners together via this method.

If there is an existing protocol for educational subjects (particularly vocational subjects), then I’d obviously like to follow it, as there will already tweets out there. However, if there isn’t, I just want to make sure I use the right kind logic structure, which will make it easy for people to remember and add more as required. Hence a simple #edu prefix for the subject. We could also narrow the tag by location by using a uk/us/aus/nz suffix for country, if required, and even perhaps a bc (Bolton College) could be added to identify the institution. I am sure once learners connect, they will autonomously create their own PLNs and associated tags.

I know delicious can help learners share links to blogs, websites etc, however, I believe Twitter and critically the live feed (push), will offer the ability for learners to receive dynamic information, as and when learners (and tutors) discover and share new resources, as so many tutors already do. Eventually, we could have learners asking questions at all times of day and night and another learner answering it, from somewhere else around the globe, which is happening to me now.

My initial suggestions for tags for consideration would be: (note none of these currently return a find during search apart from my own tweets)

#educater – Catering
#eduhair – Hairdressing
#educare – Care services
#eduict – ICT
#edumath or #edunum – Numeracy
#edulit – Literacy
#edubeauty – Beauty Therapy
#edumotor – Motor Vehicle
#edupublic – Public Services
#edusport – Sport

As I have said continuously throughout this post I am new to Twitter and therefore I could be missing something rather obvious. I’d appreciate feedback/comments from anyone who can assist me or would like to be involved in widening their learners’ PLN.

I can be found on Twitter @moodlemckean


About moodlemckean

I am the Learning Resources and ILT Development Manager at Bolton College, in north west England. I am responsible for all the libraries and learning resource centres along with the college's ILT/e-learning Strategy. In September 2010 the college take possession of a £67M new build and this blog will hopefully help me share some of the experiences and opportunities this move will bring. Follow me on Twitter @MoodleMcKean
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11 Responses to The world of Twitter

  1. Cheersphilip says:

    Good stuff! Can I tentatively suggest #edudt for Design & Technology discussions? (might come in handy once I convince more D&T teachers to tweet!)

  2. David Sugden says:

    Thanks for sending me this Paul. It makes much more sense that the Tweets.

    >>[Just going off plan for a second – and maybe this is something you will touch on whilst writing your Masters (especially if you choose Twitter as a subject) – one of the benefits/disadvantages of Twitter is that it exists both synchronously and asynchronously and you can never be sure of how the reader ‘reads’ their Twitter stream. e.g. I’m in America at the moment, I’m six hours behind the UK and when I turn the laptop on, there are so many missed tweets that I have to decide ‘do I look back through them all?’ – or ‘do I start from those I see on screen and not bother about those I have to scroll to?’ I choose to do the latter and whilst I may well miss an awful lot of information, chat, discussion – that’s ok. A former tweeter (he got fed up of being distracted while writing up his doctorate) said that he regarded Twitter like one might regard a river. There is a constant stream (of water/tweets) and you can only really see the bit that’s in front of you!]<<

    So, hash-tags? They never made much sense to me Paul, but I think that what you propose deserves much merit. It will require a lot of work though. For example, the lead catering/teacher organisation in the UK is PACE and some co-ordination with them might be required. Then there are the other subjects.

    If you already have colleagues in Australia willing to go with it – I’d just ‘do it’. Then keep up a constant barrage of RTs to get the message out there. A tag seems to be taken up simply by usage so go for it. Check out Folksonomy.



  3. David Sugden says:

    Sorry about the URL – I tried to follow the WordPress formula instead of one I knew would work. Doh ..

  4. moodlemckean says:

    Thanks Dave. I take on board your comments. For information, the rationale for using Twitter is that the tags will be pushed via the Twitter feeds to a Moodle meta course, thus exposing learners to a steady stream of information, as you say. The Twitter feed and edu tag will provide a platform where learners can ask questions to a likeminded community of learners and via the tweets/responses to tweets, enable learners to start to follow people and create their own PLN.

  5. Alison Iredale says:

    Hi Paul. You’ve hit on something with these hashtags, and think they are logical. I would go for these now, as I have several trainee teachers (learners) who may be persuaded to use twitter for their own learning and development, and then more indirectly for thier learners. If you intend to go for these hashtags just let me know and I’ll save them. I have tried to encourage my PGCE students to take on twitter for 2 years now (60+ students) but its slow going. Perhaps you could come along to talk about this with my groups?

  6. paulbrichardson says:

    Hi Paul,

    Interesting stuff. It is very valuable to see someone reflecting out loud on their plans, and I hope you will let us know how it goes.

    Dave’s comments on the synchronous/ asynchoronous distinction make a great deal of sense. You may have noticed that anything labelled #chat often entails a synchronous discussion at a specific (usually weekly) time, around a pre-agreed topic (often selected by online voting). #edchat takes place at 5pm on a Tuesday, BST, which is good for us Europeans, and also for U.S. Eastcoasters on their lunchbreak. There is also one later in the day, I believe. These discussions are not everyone’s ‘cup of tea’ – they are very quick-fire, and perhaps shallow, but occasionally some real gems emerge. They are worth sampling.

    Essentially Twitter is too big for anyone to follow, so you must either filter by @user or by hashtag. The most powerful way is to do both, and use the hashtags associated with topics or events to identify new people to follow.

    I would expect students to find hashtags very beneficial, as they enable the stream to look and feel more like a discussion forum (with very short messages!). This is especially true if you use a client such as Tweetdeck, which allows you to reserve a column for each tag. For example, I am currently studying an OU module, and I have a continuous column for tweets tagged with the course code (an easy way to get a short, unique tag). That way I don’t miss any messages on that topic, and others from outside the course have an opportunity to contribute (sometimes accidentally, since #hashtags are often included in replies by default). That’s no bad thing, in my view. But it may be worth warning your students that Twitter is not a private space.

    Good luck with this!

    Paul Richardson

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  9. Colleen Vincent says:

    Hi Paul
    I am new to Twitter and when I found your blog I started to jump up and down…I am a certified educational assistant, working on my teaching degree, and I work in an alternative school in Okotoks, Alberta, Canada. Why am I excited about your blog? I am also working on an independent study for a provincial College, and the topic is “How does digital technology benefit learning in the alternative middle school classroom?” I am bombarded with information right now because there is so much out there. I am currently using Moodle (I am the person who manages our Moodle classroom), simulation games (still looking), creating music with a mixing board program, animation with Scratch and using the Smart Response system with our Smart Board, to name a few. We are just getting our website live and I am also in charge of populating it! This is so new to me!! I haven’t even started my paper as I am having way too much fun doing the research. I would like to get your opinion on which technology you think I should try in a middle school, all male, alternative classroom.
    PS I enjoyed your Twitter blog.
    Our website (please note…still under construction:
    I would appreciate your comments

  10. Like you … many Twitter accounts over time. No interest … but recently have found it a fabulous resource. Need more from the assistive technology and special ed arena to come on board! But we are getting there. 🙂

    • Paul McKean says:

      Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for your comment. Have you tried following the #spedchat & #accessibility hash tags? These may help you find more of the information you are looking for.


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