This post has been written by Ed Moss and Hannah Saunders
A few months ago, two Classroom Secrets colleagues with no experience of Twitter’s teaching community (EduTwitter) embarked on a quest to see what joining it was like and what benefits it could bring. Hannah Saunders (a first-time user of the social media platform) and Ed Moss (a one-time keen Twitter user who left it a few years ago) share their experiences below.
1) What were your initial thoughts about joining Twitter, and specifically, EduTwitter?
HS: If I’m honest, my initial thoughts were pretty negative. I had never joined Twitter because my personal experience of social media (and listening to those of others) was that it sucks you into a vortex and monopolises precious time that can be spent more usefully. Where social media is concerned, I often wonder if I’m really that interested in what other people think is important.
EM: When I had a Twitter account previously, I used it exclusively for personal interests and terrible puns, so re-joining to jump into a work-related community seemed quite different and left me with a mixture of feelings. I was very aware that there are many educators out there with a lot more knowledge and experience than me, and that social media tends to create (for want of a better word) ‘stars’ who carry a lot of influence in their networks. I felt a little concerned that, like the new child at school, I might unwittingly say something that the ‘cool kids’ didn’t like for some reason, and where would that leave me?
I was also aware, however, that Twitter is an amazing tool for expanding support networks, that teachers need support now more than ever, and that sharing knowledge and caring for anyone who walks through the door are character traits that run deep in the teaching community. I was excited to see how people were doing, and to join in the mutual encouragement I was sure I would find.
2) Was it easy to create a profile? How did you go about joining the community?
HS: The sign-up process was really easy and straightforward. As part of it you are asked to select who you would like to ‘follow’ to start creating a profile of what you are interested in. Some of the suggestions were rather random but from an education point of view, there were plenty to select to get yourself off the ground. Luckily, shortly after I had signed up, someone tweeted asking who they should follow in the Education world of Twitter so I was able to jump on that and started following the recommendations too.
EM: Very. A few clicks and I was away. There were, of course, all the usual social media start up conundrums (what picture to choose? How do I convey the entirety of who I am in a three-line personal bio?) but it was all very speedy, with the option to return and change anything later if I realised my selections were causing people to run for the (digital) hills!
As for joining the community, I asked friends and colleagues who they follow, and also just jumped on the #EduTwitter hashtag and started following anyone and everyone. I also joined Hannah in sneakily purloining recommendations from other people’s ‘Who should I follow?’ tweets.
3) Was the community welcoming?
HS: I’m not sure that I have really got myself to the point yet where I have integrated myself into the community. I think that you need to invest quite a bit of time and be regularly active for that to happen. Watching other people’s interactions, I would say it was welcoming. There were a few incidents where a controversial educational topic cropped up and there were some slightly more heated discussions. One of the advantages is that you can watch and follow without having to participate directly. This does limit what you see and can do, but ultimately you are in control.
EM: Yes, the people I’ve interacted with have been great. I would say there is certainly a culture of advice, encouragement and support, and that this is one of the things I enjoyed most about the community. Requests for help are met with thoughtful and kind responses; frustrations are sympathised with; good or humorous experiences are shared and enjoyed. I never posted anything particularly controversial however, so couldn’t say how posts like that are received. If you’re interested in Twitter as a place to find new ideas and/or a boost, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
4) How useful has it been for your learning and development?
HS: One of the most useful aspects of Twitter is that it really is a good source of current, practical advice from other teachers, educators etc. If you look in the right places/follow the right people – and even be bold enough to post your own tweet asking for information/recommendations – you can find a lot of information to develop and learn. One example is that there is a heavy EYFS presence of experts who regularly tweet and engage in CPD based content. It’s easy to follow them, use the hashtag #EYFS and track the content they post. Another example is when someone posted asking for Christmas books suitable to use in their Year 5 class. The recommendations came thick and fast and not only that, the authors themselves started interacting with the posts thanking teachers for recommending their books. I found out about a Reading Rocks event that I could have attended and I also found out about the Blue Peter Book Awards, which without Twitter, I wouldn’t have known about.
EM: I found my Twitter feed was always chock full of useful news, blogs or discussions. There is so much information being shared, and really you get a distilled collection of everyone else’s research and learning. I felt as if I was sat in a central hub while a personally-selected team of experts retrieved helpful articles for me from across the internet.
5) Has it benefited you in any other ways?
HS: It was quite exciting to know that I could have the potential to contact authors, campaigners, leaders in education directly. The world suddenly seemed like a much smaller, more accessible place which was a positive.
EM: Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s deepened my already substantial respect for teachers. Some people are very open and honest about the struggles they face up to every day. Others are full of inspiring ideas and are a real burst of positivity. I think EduTwitter is a place where you can discover just how hard so many other members of the educational community are working, and how much they are giving to the people they teach. That in itself can be an encouragement.
6) What wasn't so good about the experience?
HS: The speed at which things change and move can be a bit intimidating. I felt that I needed to be on Twitter to try and keep up with things. This could potentially lead to a fear of missing out or maybe even adding to current stress levels.
EM: In the short time I’ve been involved with EduTwitter, there have not really been any negatives. Longer term I think it would be wise to keep watch on whether a network actually shrinks while it expands. What I mean by this is, there’s the potential that the breadth of points of view you see can get narrower even as the number of people you follow increases. If you start by following people who you mostly agree with, then recommendations (either from them or from Twitter’s own algorithms) for who else to follow are likely to only show more people you agree with, purely because we tend to want more of what we already like. I could be wrong, and it may just be my personal preference, but I wouldn’t want to end up with a timeline that exclusively showed me viewpoints which never challenged what I thought. This hasn’t happened yet, but it would be a negative for me if it did.
7) Did it take up a lot of your time? Was it worthwhile?
HS: As much as it’s an amazing source of information which can aid professional development, having those sources so readily available means that you can get sucked in and before you know it, you’ve spent a couple of hours finding and reading interesting articles. Sometimes I did feel guilty for doing that, thinking I could have been doing something more useful. Perhaps that says more about my personality than Twitter!
EM: I think I would be surprised by how much time I actually spent on it if I had the total presented to me. It didn’t feel like a long time, but then for me it took place in many small chunks, rather than a few long sessions. That may have added up without me realising. I found myself jumping on just to have a scan through my timeline if I had a spare ten minutes. Sometimes that would lead to many more minutes spent reading an article or looking through people’s responses to an interesting hashtag, but I wouldn’t say it was wasted time. Even when I got up at 4.45am to see what #teacher5oclockclub was all about, I was met with engaging and (for me, who does not do so well with early mornings) surprisingly upbeat conversations, so even that felt worthwhile. That proved to me, more than anything else, that if you’re on Twitter, you can find another educator to share experiences with at any time of your day.
8) If I wanted to join, how would I go about finding the right sort of content? Is there anyone who is a 'must follow'?
HS: When you first sign up, you can select topics that interest you which then helps to generate a strong ‘suggestions for you’ section. Once you’re up and running I advise you to just keep clicking that ‘follow’ button! I’ve only been on Twitter for just over a month, and I’m not sure that’s given me enough time to find some ‘essential’ people just yet.
EM: I’m sure everyone’s definition of ‘must follow’ is slightly different, so I suppose my answer to this question comes back to my answer to question 6. After following Hannah’s advice and building up an initial group of people you follow, I would spend some time reading threads and hashtags you find and following people on them from a wide range of backgrounds and points of view. Obviously @ClassroomSecLtd is a ‘must follow’, but then I would say that!
9) Any top tips for getting people to engage with your tweets? How can I build my work-related network on Twitter?
HS: Using hashtags is probably a must for achieving this. The most obvious one to use to connect with the right people would be #edutwitter. Also, there is such a thing as ‘Follow For Follow’ which is where if you follow someone and tag them, they then will follow you back. #FFBWednesday is a popular example of this, and it takes place weekly. Probably the most important thing is time. Not necessarily lots of it, but you do need to be regularly checking in and reacting and retweeting. This builds your network relatively quickly and means that it’s faster and easier to find the stuff you are really interested in.
EM: Hannah’s right; hashtags are key to generating engagement and for finding relevant people to add to your network. For those who don’t know, hashtags are short phrases preceded by ‘#’, which can then be searched for easily and help you to find all the tweets about that particular topic. They’re basically easy-to-find keywords, or titles of discussions. People use them to ensure the things they say are easy to find for the people they want to see them. So searching for ‘#edutwitter’ will bring up every tweet which has ever been posted with that hashtag, and is a great place to start finding people to follow and engage with. Being active in discussions or posting your own thoughts with popular, relevant hashtags is a great way to start to draw a following.
For more of Classroom Secrets on Twitter, follow @ClassroomSecLtd and check out #ClassroomSecrets and #ClassroomSecretsKids.