Using Twitter to help get ideas and build your PLN (professional learning network) can be a lot of fun. Although daunting at first, there are a lot of extremely smart educators on Twitter, and once you grow accustomed to the basics and nuances of “tweeting”, it is a tool that can be quite powerful.
One of the most powerful tools that have evolved out of Twitter is that of the “edchat”. Edchats are scheduled throughout the week, usually in the evening, and last about an hour. Each edchat has a moderator who poses various questions and keeps the discussion focused. Sometimes the questions are posted in advance, and sometimes they are given on the fly. The format for the session goes something like this:
- @Moderator – Q1: What is the meaning of life? #mursdchat
- @Participant1 – A1: ooooh great question! I’ve often wondered that myself! #mursdchat
- @Participant2 – A1: 42 #mursdchat #hitchhikersguide
Let’s pause for a moment to analyze what just happened up there:
- In Twitter, users are identified by their username preceded by the “@”. This is also referred to as a handle. The user “@Moderator” posed the question.
- After the question, and after each post that is part of the edchat, users should tag it with the name of the edchat. In this case, the edchat is called #mursdchat. There are a whole bunch of edchats listed here.
- @Particpant1 gave their reply, which was not an answer, but a comment. This is common in edchats as are links to blog posts, videos, and other miscellaneous sites. Often they relate to the question or the general discussion, but sometimes they are a bit off topic.
- @Participant2 gave their reply, “42”, which, if you are familiar with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, IS the meaning of life. In addition to the hashtag of #mursdchat, this user added #hitchhikersguide, which may or may not be a hashtag used on Twitter. Sometimes, people add random hashtags to be witty, #eventhoughtheyreallymightnotbe
Tools to Help
So, if that all makes sense to you (it didn’t for me, not for a long time) and you are ready to jump in to Twitter head first, you might realize that an edchat can be tricky to stay on top of. In any given edchat, there may be a handful of participants, or there may be 20 or 30 or more. With so many people involved, there will be a lot of commenting, answering, follow ups, and side conversations happening simultaneously. As a participant, you’ll need to continually refresh the list to see the latest in the conversation.
You can do this manually, certainly, by refreshing the page every few seconds or so, but this can be annoying to say the least. Developers have created some tools and added some functionality to third-party Twitter apps to help automate this. Here are some examples of tools available to help with this.
Tweetdeck was bought by its original developers by Twitter, so if you already have a Twitter account, you are set to go with Tweetdeck. In addition to a neat way of organizing various aspects of your Twitter experience into separate columns, you can tweak the settings to stream tweets in real time, which is huge for someone who wants to join in edchats. One drawback is that there is not a native iOS Tweetdeck app, although the service is available through your browser (although not an optimal user experience).
Similar to Tweetdeck in that it helps organize twitter into Columns, Hootsuite is a third-party Twitter service that also has an iOS app. It has many of the features available on Tweetdeck, and also integrates into other social media services like Facebook, Google+, Linkedin and more. The free version allows you to set up 3 accounts, while the paid version allows you more.
Tweetbot is my favorite iOS app for twitter. First off, there are two versions, an iPhone version and an iPad version. When Tweetbot first came around, they were visually the same (this was back in iOS 6). Unfortunately, only the iPhone version was updated with the visual changes in iOS 7, and the iPad version remains the same. The functionality is still there, though, and it is a great app, but it looks like you were transported back to iOS 6 when you are using this app. The other bummer is that the apps are paid apps; the iPhone version is $4.99 and the iPad version is $2.99.
I like Tweetbot because you can customize the menu items at the bottom of the app, and because of the quick and easy access you have to saved searches and lists. Part of the beauty of Twitter is that when you find an edchat that you want to keep checking, you can save the search and refer back to it at your leisure. You can also create lists of users (like my Ed Tech twitter user list) to see just the tweets from those users. Tweetbot is a nice interface to easily access those features, which are not so easily accessible in the native Twitter app. You also have the ability to easily refresh streams of tweets, by pulling down in the app, or when you are on wifi, you have the ability to automate your refreshes and stream live.