Last month I began moderating a weekly discussion, via Twitter, that focuses on topics addressed in the Inside Online Learning blog. Recent topics of our #IOLchat include: quality in online education, online course communication, transparency in online education, trends in eTextbooks, and online course demos and virtual tours. This has definitely been a positive experience – finding new friends and perspectives – and one I encourage you to try.
Twitter chats, such as our #IOLchat, offer a forum for exchange of ideas, resources, and an opportunity to make connections with others who share your concerns and interests. These connections may include other individuals or organizations. Companies, educators, universities, publishers, and educational technology vendors are participating. You will also encounter other online instructors and students.
The chats take place in real-time and are text only, using your Twitter account to participate with 140 character tweets. Participants are online at the scheduled time and there is usually a pre-determined topic of discussion, although an open format is also popular. Typically, there's also a defined time frame ranging from 30 minutes to over an hour.
How it Works
- Prepare: Do a little work to get ready for the chat, especially if a specific topic has been announced. Read any suggested articles, find out more about the moderators and participants if you can, and think about making a few notes to remind you of key resources or other information you might like to share.
- Log in and Filter: Log in to your account at the appointed time and watch for an opening tweet from the chat's moderator. Using the chat's hashtag (#) allows you to monitor all of the tweets that the chat participants add to the discussion, while filtering out all of the other tweets in your feed during that time. You can do this in Twitter, or use a tool like TweetChat or Hootsuite.
- Introduce Yourself: Chat sessions often begin with introductions. Let the group know you are there, even if you plan to just listen-in (which is okay, and a good way to get the feel of the tweet chat experience).
- Comment and Contribute: After you've attended a chat or two you will be ready to join in the conversation. Watch for prompts from the moderator who may tweet specific questions to help facilitate the discussion. You can also ask questions as well as share your thoughts and experiences.
- Connect: One of the benefits of participating in an online chat is meeting new people. Make new connections by re-tweeting (RT) helpful resources and comments, and by following new accounts. Feel free to communicate with individual participants, as well as the whole group, during the chat.
- Review: A lot of information and ideas can come out of a particularly active chat. Use a transcript tool, such as TweetReports or Hashtracking to capture all of the tweets so that you can review the conversation later and visit any links you may have missed.
- Share: Continue to share new resources and information after the chat. You can use the chat's hashtag to connect with chat participants even between chats.
Cautions and Reminders
Depending on the number of participants, the chats can move pretty rapidly. It can seem chaotic, especially at first. Give yourself permission to miss a few things along the way. You can always refer to a transcript later on.
All of the chats I have participated in have been informal but professional. This is another forum in which you can grow your network. Your participation will also add to your online presence. Be aware of this opportunity and put your best foot forward in your contributions.
Don't forget that everyone can see your tweets, even those who are not following the chat's hashtag. You may want to let your followers know in advance that you are participating in the chat and even invite them to join.
Finding Chat Events
There are currently 475 chats listed on the Twitter Chat Schedule. Search for topics of interest or by host/moderator. This spreadsheet also provides links to chat web pages and lists the day/time when each chat takes place. Don't forget to consider time zones in your planning!
While the Twitter Chat Schedule is the most comprehensive list I am aware of, there are other opportunities as well. Look for additional chats mentioned by members of your network and sponsored by professional groups in your field.
Here are a few chats you might want to consider attending:
#collegechat – 1st and 3rd Tuesdays, 9pm EST
#HigherEdChat – Wednesdays, 4pm EST
#internchat – Tuesdays, 7pm EST
#jobhuntchat – Mondays, 10pm EST
#LinkedInChat – Tuesdays, 8pm EST
Note that times and dates may change. If you don't find a chat that is already focused on your interests, consider starting a new chat on your own. Let your Twitter network know what your ideas are and see if you can find a few participants to get it started.
Consider a Course Chat
Have you used Twitter in your courses? If so, you are already aware that it can be a great way to keep students posted on changes and to send out reminders and other announcements.
I listed several potential chats above, but what if you created your own? Create a hashtag for your course (e.g. #EDU1102_KU), set the time and day, and develop a topic and related questions to guide the discussion. Having the chat on Twitter, instead of within your course site allows for the opportunity to:
- Interact with a larger audience: You never know who might see an interesting tweet from your discussion and decide to join in;
- Invite a guest "speaker:" Bring a leader in your field a little closer to your students via Twitter and give them a chance to ask questions;
- Enhance small group discussions: Read more about how a professor at the University of Texas incorporated Twitter into traditional class discussions;
- Ask students to lead chat sessions: Leading a chat discussion can be great experience for students and an interesting alternative format.
Creating a hashtag for your course, and asking your students to follow it, is one way to explore the use of social media within a course. It can provide practice for everyone in creating that online presence, as well as posting in a public forum, with the instructor modeling the process.
Jump into the chat stream and enjoy the adventure!