Saturday, September 24, 2016

Reflecting on Twitter: What I've Learned So Far

As a twenty-one year old college student who grew up in a world with technology (I was fortunate enough to have a computer, TVs, gaming systems, iPods, etc. in my home), I like to think of myself as fairly tech-savvy. I've always felt like I had a higher-than-average understanding of technology simply because I've used it so much; I'm what some would call a "digital native." When I was told to tweet for class this week, I thought I had an advantage over some of my peers because I have used Twitter for years. But I wasn't prepared for some of the things I would encounter as I tweeted as an educational professional.

The first challenge that I encountered was how to create new and relevant content. On my personal Twitter, I tweet about things that happen during the day, quotes I read or hear others say, or even reminders to my followers about upcoming events on campus. My followers consist of my friends and family, so tweeting about my everyday life is relevant to them. However, my professional "teacher Twitter" is a completely different landscape: I follow leading names in education such as US Dept of Education and edutopia as well as professionals in education, and I am followed by some educators whom I do not know personally. This audience doesn't want to know how great it felt to turn off my alarm clock and sleep in until noon on a lazy Saturday. This community is interested in topics and trends in education, a much more difficult realm for me to add new and original contributions to because I'm not actually an educator yet.

To make up for this problem, I retweeted a lot of posts that others had added but I found interesting.

I added my own commentary to others' Twitter contributions.

I posted the links to articles I'd read and summed up a few of my thoughts (in less than 140 characters).

I participated in more than one TweetChat (see my post about my first TweetChat experience!), which allowed me to express my thoughts on questions others posed.

I posted comments from conversations I'd held in my teacher preparation courses.

I tried to increase the number of hits on my blog by advertising my latest posts on Twitter.

I tried to spark conversations by asking questions.

I added my thoughts to others' conversations. (I actually did this a lot because I think my view as a preservice teacher is a needed perspective!)

And, occasionally, I tweeted about current events and personal accomplishments that I attempted to link back into the realm of education.

Even though coming up with new content was a challenge, I believe I got better at this as I continued to tweet. Through this experience, I learned that my status as a preservice teacher was valued and sparked interest in the community (rather than distaste as I thought I'd receive because I relatively lack in experience and knowledge). I also realized that everything I tweet does not have to be original. It is beneficial to my community for me to bring in resources my followers may not have previously encountered. But it is also beneficial for me to add my own comments and ponderings from my individual frame of reference, because this is how we learn from each other.

Besides trying to add new and relevant content, I also struggled when I tried to lead conversations on Twitter. Part of the problem was that I don't have a huge network of followers yet, so there is a very limited amount of people who see my tweets. I tried to bolster the number of people who would see my tweets by using other hashtags (such as #handsonlearning, #community, #personalizedlearning, #iaedchat, #integration, #TPT, #pretchat, #newteachers, #ntchat, #curriculum, and even #selfie), but I don't think this was effective. The people who participated in my conversations (outside of TweetChats) were all people that I know. That doesn't mean we did not have a great conversations! But I wish I had been able to converse with others whom I would not normally have a chance to talk to.

Another thing I learned about Twitter is that it can move very quickly! Some of the conversations I started took off in different directions before I had a chance to respond to them. While some users may find this annoying and hard to follow, I loved to see how the conversations unfolded before my eyes (or later when I saw all of my notifications). I imagine this is what it's like to see students take off talking in small groups about the discussion questions you post!

One of the most successful conversations I started on Twitter was when I asked experienced teachers to share resources for new teachers to get free or inexpensive materials.

I was told to try my local AEA, Kuta, and look into grants from parent groups or community businesses. But when someone suggested Teachers Pay Teachers, a lengthy conversation started.

I did not expect to learn so much (and, actually, leave with some questions) about Teachers Pay Teachers, but I am glad Victoria and Melinda were willing to answer my questions about that resource! I plan to look into TPT sometime soon and return to this conversation when I have investigated it further.

Another fruitful conversation I led was when I tweeted on my classmates' comments about technology in my math class.

In this conversation, I was glad to receive reassurance from the professionals who follow me that technology can be incorporated in the classroom effectively. They even helped me try to see my classmates' perspectives; as John pointed out, perhaps they are less comfortable using technology and are therefore less willing to utilize it. I wasn't even expecting this tweet to lead to a discussion, but I am thankful that it did! This reiterated why it is important for me to add my thoughts on Twitter: as others add their views, my post can lead to valuable insights that I may not have otherwise considered.

From my attempts to ask questions and lead conversations, I learned a couple of things. Twitter is a great place to seek advice and learn from educators who are more experienced than me. I gained a lot of valuable information and resources from the discussions I led and participated in! As I continue to participate in official chats and other conversations on Twitter, my network of followers will grow and it will be easier to hold insightful discussions. While trying to use other relevant hashtags is a good idea, it did not pan out for me in my discussions. (I also was a little inconsistent when I used hashtags because it's hard to remember to include them!) I look forward to seeing if other classmates were more successful with their hashtag usage.

This is by no means all that I have gleaned from Twitter, but it is an attempt at reflecting on what has been the most insightful from my experiences so far. Now, I turn it over to you. Do you know of any hashtags I should try to use on Twitter? Are there any organizations or leaders in the education field that I should immediately follow? Related to Twitter, what should I be thinking about as I transition from preservice teacher to student teacher next fall?

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