This page was originally authored by Mark Barrett & Sheri Johnson (2010). Edited by Kimberly Wagner (2012) and Quentin Flokstra (2014).
Twitter, established in 2006, is a free social networking and micro-blogging service that enables its users to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of short, 140 character messages called "tweets." These messages are posted to your profile, sent to your followers, and are searchable on Twitter search. Twitter's functions have several educational implications.
Twitter has become a powerful tool for anyone wanting to quickly share and receive information in a friendly environment such as, community organizers, marketers, politicians, celebrities, and educators. According to Fitton, Gruen and Poston (2009), "Twitter connects a wildly diverse array of people from all over the world, erasing barriers and boundaries all the way." The potential for educators to capitalize on this new way of connecting with people locally and globally is boundless.
Educators have found success using the tool to connect with students, distribute information to parents, and share and receive resources with colleagues in synchronous and asynchronous formats (see Twitter's Position image).
According to the Center for Learning and Performance Technologies, Twitter has been ranked as the number one learning tool every year since 2009.
The ability to extend learning beyond classroom walls and the regular school schedule is a feature which has enabled online learning to experience remarkable growth. Twitter is no exception to this trend, and illustrates yet another successful tool in the proliferation of Web 2.0 oriented learning.
Twitter can be described as filling the gap between email and instant messaging (IM). IM is all about synchronous communication, relying upon people being online at the same moment. Asynchronous communication is slightly more time consuming, but it does not rely on people being online at the same time.
Twitter communication can be viewed in both of these two different spheres. It is a platform that can fluidly handle both synchronous and asynchronous messaging which is important because the teacher is afforded the best of both forms of communication and the ability to utilise the power of them within one application.
Educator to Educator
Twitter can be used as a way of dispersing information to other educators regarding activities that are happening in the school, but it can also be used as a powerful professional development and mentorship tool among educators. Educational technology leader Principal Eric C. Sheninger (@NMHS_Principal) uses "the micro-blogging tool Twitter...[as] his mainstay for professional development" (Davis, 2010). Twitter can connect educators to other educators around the world fostering a community that provides them with a platform to share information such as interesting websites, helpful resources, and ways to develop best practices (Parker, 2011). Along those lines, for novice educators, Twitter can provide a helpful mentor relationship (Risser, 2012).  Moreover, all of this underscores Twitter's role in Online Teacher Professional Development
As William Ferriter (2010) points out, educators "can look inside the minds of motived peers to learn about new projects, research reports they are reading, and websites they are exploring" (p.74).  And by replying or using the Direct Message (DM) features within Twitter, they are able to converse with individuals to build on their learning. According to Joseph Zydowsky (2010), "A school administrator may find it helpful to follow local news outlets, experts in the field of education, professional educational organizations and other school administrators" (para. 6). Likewise, teachers can follow or make connections with other educators according to subject or panel to develop professionally. It can also be used to create and foster mentorships.
Many education conferences often use hashtags for participants to follow prior to and during the conference to get announcements, share ideas, and generally receive instant information. For example, Advanced Broadband Enabled Learning (ABEL) has a summer institute every August in Toronto, Ontario, and they use a hashtag that combines the acronym for ABEL Summer Institute (ASI) and the current year (i.e. #ABEL2014). It is sometimes used during the year after the conference to continue the idea sharing.
Personal Learning Network
Teaching quality is improved through continuous professional learning (Hord, 2009) . This is certainly facilitated by a Personal Learning Network (PLN). A PLN is an informal network of people you connect with for the specific purpose of learning, based on reciprocity, and a level of trust the each party is actively seeking value added information for the other (Lalonde, 2012) . PLN’s find their essential elements in constructivism. Burns, Menchac, Dimock (2001) highlight six key aspects of a professional learning community.
- Learners bring unique prior knowledge experience and beliefs
- knowledge is constructed uniquely and individually in multiple ways
- learning is both an active and reflective process
- learning is a developmental process of accommodation, assimilation, or rejection to construct new conceptual structures, meaningful representations or new models.
- Social interaction introduces multiple perspectives through reflection, collaboration, and negotiation
- Learning is internally controlled and mediated by the learner
Establishing a PLN through Twitter certainly encapsulates these six aspects. Twitter plays a crucial role in forming and maintaining a PLN. Firstly, Twitter allows you to engage in instantaneous conversations with you PLN which deepens the relationship with the members of their PLN. Secondly, because the conversations take place in an open space, opportunities exist for contributions by “strangers “ which can result in an expanded PLN. You also have the opportunity to share and exchange resources, ask for help, and create large, collaborative projects. Finally, Twitter is an excellent platform to amplify your own thoughts (Lalonde, 2012).  Essentially Twitter allows you to work with other professionals to create a "collective inquiry into best practices" (Dufour, 2008). Each teacher's PLN will be different depending on their subject, grade, and focus in education.
Educators are able to share resources, ideas, questions, and challenges in a manner that is interactive allowing participants to learn by doing. If the user does not find the response useful, it can be disregarded and the next reply can be considered. In this way, the PLN is fully customizable.
Miriam Clifford  suggests a few ways to maximize your use of your PLN. Some of the pertinent tips to using Twitter including asking questions, being an active participant, acknowledging contributions, and engage newbies.
PLN's have grown via Twitter due to weekly education chats (ed chats). According to Davis (2010), "One of the most popular types of educator events in Twitter are 'EdChats'-one hour conversations that take place every Tuesday around a particular topic" (para. 18). This PLN was created by Thomas Whitby, the co-creator of The Educator's PLN Ning social networking Web site, Steven Anderson, Web 2.0 blogger, and Shelley Terrel. Steven Anderson describes the Twitter Ed Chat as "a giant conference that's on all the time" (Davis, 2010, para. 28). When teachers feel isolated in their teaching, they can feel more connected by interacting with other educators in the EdChat on Twitter. The chat topic is based on a poll conducted by Steven Anderson and the highest vote getter is discussed at the original 7pm EST and the second place topic is discussed at noon EST on Tuesday. All participants add the #edchat hashtags to their tweets to identify their involvement in the conversation. Involvement in a synchronous conversation involving numerous people can be confusing, but using any number of the free TweetChat, TweetDeck, or Hootsuite application makes it easier to follow. Transcripts of the chat are posted online after each session and are viewable at any time. For Canadian educators, there is an Ed Chat that happens on Mondays at 8pm EST.
Beyond the edchat, there are a variety of resources that can be found through searching hashtags such as: #edchat, #edtech, #teachertuesday, #web20, #edublog, #classroom_rules, ,#social-media, #Education, #english-teacher, #followfriday, #Librarian, #Teacher. A complete list of relevant hashtags can be found on Jerry Blumengarten’ website. A social collaboration of education-related Twitter chats is contained in a regularly updated in an open-access Google document.
Mentoring is a popular component of many programs designed to support new teachers because studies have shown how important formal mentoring is in retaining novice teachers within the profession (Risser, 2013). Studies also show that novice teachers intentionally network with other teachers and that their networks are often more informal rather than formal. These connections provide teachers with social capital. Moreover, novice teachers that are part of the millennial generation are able to maintain long-term relationships through technology (Baker-Doyle, 2011 as quoted by Risser 2013). By extending one’s network of mentors, novice teachers may diversify the ideas, suggestions, advice, and resources they receive (Rodesiler and Tripp, 2012)  “Social networking tools allow novice teachers to form relationships with individuals outside their school, their state, even their country. Outsiders can provide access to different points of view as well as a safe space to discuss concerns.” 
Thus, mentorship can also be developed through the development of Twitter connections. Educators can follow the tweets of their mentors, perusing their recommended best links to a variety of multimedia resources. There are many teachers who credit the social connections they have built through Twitter for advancing their careers (Parker, 2011). It follows then that more experienced teachers ought to reach out to novice teaches to mentor them (Rodseiler and Tripp, 2012). More experienced teachers, in the role of online mentor, ought to help novice teachers by sharing materials with them, showing them empathy, sharing their ideas (if merited), and engaging them in the public discourse. Twitter can easily facilitate this process.
Criticism of PLN's
Online PLN's and mentorships are not without its critics.
Jessica McElvaney and Zane Berg  have identified five potential disadvantages to having/using a digital PLN.
- Connection Addiction:
Some individuals may feel compelled to spend large amounts of time trying to read and responds to all the information that they are receiving. Moreover, you could become more connected to your online PLN and become disconnected from your physical friends.
- Work Interrupted:
You may be tempted to incessantly check your Twitter feed for new articles, updates, etc. which could become a drain on your attention and productivity.
- Popularity Contests:
It is possible that due to the popularity of some people on Twitter, that some valuable or innovative ideas put forth by lesser-known people become lost in the digital noise.
- Echo Chamber:
You must create a purposefully diverse PLN otherwise you may simply just be drinking the same Kool Aid as everyone else. This is similar to the network effect in which users simply are hearing the same idea from different sources. When your PLN is talking about the same idea without any criticism, there is a real danger that you are in an echo chamber. This is one of the major concerns that opponents have with online PLN’s.
- Privacy and Security Concerns
As with any online environment, you do give up some amount of privacy and leave yourself vulnerable to harsh criticism and/or harassment by others. Moreover, anything you post is public and thus may be found by future bosses!
Responding to the Critics Tom Whitby, one of the founders of EdChat, responded to the key criticism of the echo chamber in a blog post in August 2011. He acknowledged that logically, many EdChat participants would have similar interests and philosophies as that is what draws them to the chat. However, as time goes on more and more educators are joining and listening in. Moreover, while many of the people in the chat may be in agreement (echo chamber), the value, he argues, lies in what happens after the chat. The teachers on Twitter represent a small percentage of the teachers in America. Thus, when they take the ideas from Ed Chat to their schools, they show the true value of Ed Chat and thus proving it isn’t just about drinking the same Kool Aid. Moreover, Karl Fisch  argues that if you follow more than one person and work with someone else you cannot exist in an echo chamber. He asserts that the idea is simply a myth.
Educator To Student
Students need to acquire the skills necessary to compete with Web 2.0 and Web 3.0. Twitter can be used a powerful tool for collaborative learning and disseminating classroom information; "educators are brining Twitter into the classroom in an effort to create a sense of community among students and to aid teaching and learning" (Davis, 2010, para. 4). Regarding the use of social media with students, Sheninger says, "I'm passionate about engaging students...and I'm using these free tools [like Twitter] to do it." At Flint Hill School in Virginia, a teacher sees Twitter as a tool to make students work smarter and not always harder. It is a way to prepare them for college and a new way of gathering information.
In addition, connecting to your students through Twitter can provide an avenue by which you may reach them outside the traditional classroom, thereby offering opportunities to extend lessons beyond the regular instructional day. William Ferriter, a North Carolina teacher who blogs about the teaching life on The Tempered Radical, is "convinced that we can use digital tools to differentiate learning for students" (2010, pg. 74). One way it can be leveraged for meaningful learning is as a community building tool where student can make connections and develop their own PLNs. The connections in their PLN can be a valuable tool for their learning if they Tweet relevant questions to their learning and engage in meaningful dialogue with field leaders and experts.
Sugato Chakravarty, professor of consumer sciences and retailing at Purdue University, tested the use of a software called Hotseat which allows students to post questions and comments to Twitter (and Facebook) during his lectures. This was an early form of back-channelling. Jeffrey R. Young (2010) believes that the use of such tools "alter classroom power dynamics and signals to students that they're in control" (pg. 9). Regardless of the student's grade level, allowing them to play a more active role in the learning process is engaging and becoming an expectation of modern students who expect a more interactive environment. Even students who will not normally ask questions in class, will post their questions anonomously because there's no fear of embarrassment or uncertainty (Young, 2010). Although classroom management can be more complicated, the classroom learning can turn in meaningful directions that could never be anticipated.
Traditional classrooms have been progressively summoned to find new ways to prepare their students for future challenges. For example, according to The Telegraph, Twitter has been included in the new UK primary school curriculum. In the article, it is suggested that children should be able to "organise and adjust" speaking and writing skills depending on the technology being used, including using "emails, messaging, wikis and twitters". Moreover, during the primary years, children should also be taught to speak, write and broadcast using "blogs, podcasts, websites, email [and] video". Twitter helps fulfill these prescribed learning outcomes.
In a seven week study, researchers at the Shanghai Jiao Tong Distance College found that Twitter was a useful tool in their EFL (English as a Foreign Language) classroom by actively promoting ways for students to express themselves. Students in this study were in a blended classroom, which consisted of students attending in person, attending virtually by browser or by watching a streaming lecture, with class sizes ranging from 80-120 students. Even in such large classes, Twitter allowed all students to participate in discussions and become part of the class community. Twitter's accessibility was also useful for students in this class as students could send and receive messages almost anywhere using mobile phones or computers. The 140 character limit of a 'tweet' was encouraging for all students, regardless of English level.
According to Grosseck & Holotescu (2009) Twitter can help create a classroom community, encourage collaborative writing, allow for reader response, allows for collaboration across schools, is a valuable tool for assessing opinion, and can help students summarize their thoughts in order to fit the set character limit.
Twitter represents one facet of the dramatic departure from the traditional "sage on the stage" to the "guide on the side" style of teaching which has found new momentum and support among professionals who espouse pedagogically sound teaching practices. John Dewey is quoted as saying, “If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.”
There are many ways in which you can constructively connect with your students using Twitter:
Connections can be made with other classes and students in the world to expand the students' world views. Being connected with the members of the class can be beneficial as well for organizing study groups and social collaboration.
Ask student their opinions or get feedback on future projects or topics. Although this can be done directly in Twitter if you take the time to self-tabulate the results; however, two better options for simple polls are the external applications Twittpoll, Poll Daddyor Poll Everywhere.. If you want to get answers to more than one question (i.e. multi-question survey), use a Google Form (which is part of Google Documents) or Survey Monkey instead. Provide the link through your Twitter account and the results will be available in the external application account.
Allowing students to tweet during your lessons can be a challenge but it is also an effective way to extend learning. Start by giving clear directions and goals you have for using microblogging during class. Explain how this is a way to write their thoughts while the lesson is in progress. Instead of just thinking, "I'm not sure if I agree with that," you can tweet it. This can help steer the lesson for better understanding for all. If you have a projector, try to have the discussion stream showing for the whole class. Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano, a teacher who avidly uses technology in Jacksonville, Florida, establishes Twitter as a ‘backchannel’ during collaborative projects with classes in other geographical locations; the students Tweet questions and comments about what they are learning.
There are a few websites/apps that can help facilitate this process. Backchannel Chat is a class discussion tool that is subject to teacher control and thus can prevent objectionable content from being posted. Moreover, the software has its own built-in profanity filter. This app is available on the Apple App Store for $15.
Twijector is another real-time back channel tool that can be used for conferences or classrooms. It also has a built in filter for profanity and spam. It also supports multiple tags. This software is free but you can upgrade to a plan which allows for a more customized approach.
Daily Learning Tool
A Twitter feed can be used during class, or after class, to allow students to Tweet questions. These questions can be addressed during class to initiate or influence the discussion. Dr. Rankin's (n.d.) Twitter experiment at UT Dallas is an excellent example of a Twitter in the classroom use (Kesmit, 2009).
Direct Messages can be sent to parents or older students as a means of private communication for an educational purpose. Thse should always be professional in purpose and content.
If the information is relevant to all students, it should be sent as a regular Tweet for all followers. Educators can send out reminders about upcoming tests, project due dates, or any news that needs to be shared. Administrators and school board officials can make announcements regarding inclement weather or upcoming parent/teacher conferences (Zydowsky, 2011).
The live, real-time nature of Twitter allows us to get live updates as world events are happening, often before they are reported by major news services; however, major media outlets like NBC and BBC are now “using Twitter to deliver news and programming information." Tracking the tweets regarding a world event give you the most current, grass roots information available; search the hashtag in Hashtags.org, browse or browse the most popular stories on Digg, or search and follow what’s most popular in real time in Twitscoop. The use of Twitter gives students the opportunity to connect with real authors, experts, and other professionals. For example, in addition to having a Web site or Facebook page, authors are also using Twitter “to reach followers…in an instant without the time investment of posting to a blog". According to Zydowsky, users can “decide which accounts to follow” that are most useful for learning about current classroom concepts. Moreover, by using tools such as Twitterfall and Trendmap, students can see what and where certain topics are trending.
Both educators and students can post interesting websites that are relevant to their class. When sharing websites through Twitter, the URL is often too long, being greater than the character limit. To avoid exceeding the character limit (and to adhere to etiquette), it is appropriate to use a URL shortener utility, such as bit.ly, tiny.cc, TinyURL, or MooURL.
Student Example Sharing
Use Twitter to post links to student work and promote students' success stories. Be careful to maintain anonymity if the student wishes to remain anonomous.
Help students learn how to use Twitter by offering assignments such as this one from a Georgia Southern University instructor. There's also value in getting students to make connections concerning their academic interests, for example, librarians, authors, historicans, scientists, environmentalists, or politicians (Kroski,2008). These connections could become a part of their PLNs. As Clive Thompson noved in Wired (2007), the Twitter experience is collective because "you're creatiing a shared understanding larger than yourself" (para. 9).
English and literacy educators can assign stories or written answers that must be Tweeted within the 140 character limit to practice writing with succinctness. Twitter messages "may be especially attractive to writers" which creates " a self-imposed exercise in brevity" (Barach, 2009, para. 4). Another great English class activity is a "twittory" where students participate in creating a story where each person can add up to 140 characters to contribute to the story as a whole, as demonstrated by this example. The Royal Shakespeare Company created this unique twittory, Such Tweet Sorrow, in which actors play the roles from Romeo and Juliet in a modern context, retelling this well-known story in a new way; (Kennedy, 2010), it could be used as a teaching resource. Thirdly, students can be assigned the homework of twittering between characters of a current fictional reading-short story or novel. Tweeting vocabulary words with definition, tweeting as if they are historical figures, or brainstorming creative writing ideas are a few more ideas.
For educators who have concerns regarding privacy, Twiducate, a social networkingsite, was developed by teachers to create a safe environment for students to blog, network, and improve their overall Internet skills. The service is a closed/private network that only allows teachers and students of a particular class to view posts. Tait Coles provides a list of 35 ways to use this resource in the classroom. This video provides an overview of Twiducate.
Applications that connect with the Twitter environment have been created by third-parties for the purpose of sharing "private resources, such as photos, videos and contact lists, on another site" without sharing usernames and passwords. Twitter made changes to their Developer Rules, limiting the number of Third-Party Applications that are now able to use Twitter's API. The most popular supportive applications listed here were created for a commercial purpose but are also useful in an educational context.
Using a Twitter Client such as TweetDeckHootSuite or Twitterrific (which only works on Mac OS), can make your use of Twitter more enjoyable and efficient. All of these are also available as apps for hand-held devices.
These tools help to organize your followers and tweets. Instead of creating different accounts, divide your tweets into categories based on hashtags or user-created groups.
Sharing Through Twitter
GroupTweet You can make twittering in your classroom-group easy using this tool.
Hashalbum - Twitter automatically creates a photo gallery page which displays the user’s last 100 uploaded images. Collect images as a class in one place centered around a relevant topic.
Twitter Local Twitter Local will generate an RSS feed of tweets from a particular geographical area.
Selective Tweets - Also useful for multiple communication, install this app on your Facebook account and supply your Twitter username. Anytime you end a Twitter update with the hashtag #fb, that post will be sent to your Facebook page. You must be logged in to both applications when you post.
tweetymail - Direct tweets to your email. Receive direct messages, tweets, and make replies all from your email account.
Twiggit - Let your students know about the articles you digg by using twiggit. Share relevant and current online articles that relate to course content.
Photo & Video Sharing
Several applications allow for the photo or video to be displayed directly under your post as a "View Photo" or "View Video" link, i.e. Justin.tv, Plixi (now Lockrz), Twitgoo, Twitvid, Ustream, Vimeo, Yfrog and YouTube.
Other Photo Applications
Twitpic - You can share photos on Twitter, or find photos from all around the world using this service.
Twitxr - Be able to send photos from your mobile phone using this app - great for teachers and students alike. With the increased use of portable devices, this app can be useful for capturing class activities, like tableauxs, experiment process, a board diagram, or steps outlined on chart paper.
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