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10 Twitter Tips for the Tentative Student

In the online course I taught last spring, only two out of 26 students were using Twitter. And my announcement that I was active there (would be sharing resources, etc.) and encouragement to join me was met with a round of "is it required?"

While I didn't expect everyone to jump on board, I was surprised that these current and future instructional designers – most working educators and graduate students in the instructional technology field – were reluctant to give it a try. It really seemed like opportunity lost.

My Twitter Story

The truth is, my reaction to Twitter was a similar one at first. It's got a silly name, right? And who wants to know what everyone is having for lunch, anyway?

Several years ago I watched an online presentation from Dean Shareski who advised his audience of educators that if they were going to be giving advice about technology tools in the classroom, they really needed to do so based on first-hand experience. How can you say it's useful or not useful if you haven't tried it? Unable to counter the argument, I signed up for an account.

The rest, as they say, is history – it didn't take long for me to realize the potential for networking and communication, especially in the context of online learning.

Take Twitter for a Test Drive

As an online student you are in the right place at the right time to experience many new ways to work and communicate at a distance. New technologies are continuously emerging, appearing in both your courses and the workplace. Twitter is just one of these tools making a difference in education. Here are my tips for those of you who may be cautious about getting started:

  1. Have a game plan. You are in control of your account and can use it whenever you like for whatever purposes you choose. I recommend starting with professional use in mind, as a way to develop your online presence, sharing your expertise and learning from others along the way. Think about what you hope to gain from the experience and let that guide your initial approach.
  2. Set-up an account. You'll need to at least complete your profile to get started. There is a lot of advice out there about avatar images, links, and bio writing. The ProfHacker blog recommends "concentrat[ing] your bio on your academic positions and interests."
  3. Make time for it. This doesn't have to be a lot of time, but begin with a specific schedule, maybe 15 minutes first thing in the morning or at the end of the day. You need to be present and engaged to get a real idea of how it works.
  4. Listen in for a little while. Twitter can be intimidating at first. We all know of high profile people who received bad press because of a tweet. Monitor the flow of information and note how people are interacting with each other. Identify accounts that are sharing information that is helpful and in ways that appeal to you. Get comfortable with the platform before diving in, but don't wait too long.
  5. Follow people (and organizations) you know. There are millions of accounts, but chances are that you already know quite a few people who are using Twitter. Search for friends, colleagues, classmates, and instructors. The London School of Economics and Political Science recently assembled lists of "academic tweeters" you can search by subject area. Organizations and companies also have accounts, as well as leaders in your field of study, your favorite authors, etc. These accounts will introduce you to others you'll want to follow and your network will gradually grow.
  6. Follow topics you are interested in. Just because something is popular, or "trending," on Twitter doesn't mean it's interesting to you. Search for topics using hashtags (#) to filter the stream. Try #highered, #onlinelearning, or #jobsearch as examples.
  7. Explore the possibilities There's not just one way to use Twitter. You can follow breaking news, join live conversations, share resources, receive announcements, and more. Watch how others are using Twitter to communicate and adopt the strategies you find most helpful.
  8. Experiment with different types of tweets. You can send original messages (tweets), retweet (RT) others' messages, reply to other accounts, and send direct (somewhat private) messages. Each offers a different way to communicate, so try them all out.
  9. Be an active participant. Don't just set up an account, put it through its paces – introduce yourself, reply to someone's question, ask a question of your own. Once you become familiar with the flow, find ways to add to the conversations taking place and build your personal learning network.
  10. Make a commitment. Give yourself a few months, or more, to really experience the platform. It takes both time and practice to understand how it all works. This will set you up to make informed decisions about its usefulness.

While not all, or even most, Twitter accounts are focused on learning and education, educators and professionals in a variety of fields from around the world are connecting, collaborating, sharing resources, and networking in this space everyday.

Why not give it a try? Once you get familiar with the system, you can expand your use of Twitter to further your learning and networking efforts, as well as apply more advanced tools to manage and filter the information.

Share Your Story

If you aren't using Twitter, but have thought about it, what's getting in your way? If you are using Twitter, tell us your story and recommend some of your favorite accounts to follow.

Image credit: JefferyTurner, Flickr, CC-BY