Growing up can be a difficult and traumatic experience. It is not uncommon for ten year olds to try to define themselves compared to other, act out and begin to experiment with new things.
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It was ten years ago this month that Twitter was founded and it was launched to the public in July 2006. It has changed in both looks and function in many ways during the past decade with many of the biggest changes happening with the past few years. Not everyone has welcomed all of the changes, but like a ten year old child, Twitter is maturing, trying out new things and trying to adapt and find its place in the world.
For the uninitiated, Twitter has Five main features.
- Each post can only be a maximum of 140 characters (for now at least) and Twitter supports many languages, emoji images, images, videos and links within a post.
- You can follow other users so their posts appear in your timeline and other users can follow you.
- You can refer to or mention another Twitter user by adding their username preceded by an @ symbol to your post to talk to them… or about them.
- Users can ‘label’ their posts with hashtags so other users can easily find tweets about the same topic. A hashtag can be any combination of letters and numbers preceded to by a # symbol.
- Users can send private direct messages to other users for private conversations.
Recently, Twitter has introduced a wave of new features and tweaks. Twitter introduced the ability to direct message a group of people a year ago, making planning and private discussions much more easily. Over the last few months Twitter has extended its video capabilities, allowing short videos to be recorded and uploaded across its various platforms and apps. The ability to post polls was introduced which give users the capacity to gather opinions quickly. But probably the most notable and unnoticed change has been the absence of the fail whale in recent times, the equally beloved and berated graphic which was displayed during times when Twitter failed or was over capacity.
But what is the point of Twitter for educators and how has this evolved over the past decade? The value of any social network has always been the web of connections teachers can make. Naturally, the sheer number of educators who have started to seek their own learning opportunities on Twitter has exploded over the years, from being a niche and (wonderfully) geeky pursuit to thousands of educators conversing to improve their classroom practice everyday. Yet, guesstimates of the number of educators who actually use Twitter for CPD is often suggested to be only a few percentage points of the hundreds of thousands of educators in schools across the UK.
Because of the large number of edu tweeps or tweachers now using Twitter, you have much more choice for building your tailored CPD network. This doesn’t mean that you should follow two thousand people in your first week as you will quickly find that not all tweets are created equal. Be discerning about the people and organisations you follow with your professional account to keep your timeline uncluttered and to get the best information and ideas for your classroom. Just like your school (hopefully) invests some of its budget into your professional development, you will need to invest time into building the prefect bespoke personal learning network for you.
Tribalism exists both in the online and offline world and it seems to have increased over the years in the educational community too. Before social media, teachers had a small select group of colleagues to swap and develop ideas with in their own school – and many still do. Twitter gives the scope to look beyond a local group, yet it is very easy to interact with only a small group of like minded people online too. Teachers of different subjects and phrases have so much to offer each other. Make sure you follow some people who (politely) disagree with your view of teaching and education who will make you think and challenge your world view. To get you started, browse the nominations for the best educators to follow on Twitter as voted for by the UKEdChat community last year at bit.ly/uked16mar01.
Twitter (and the #UKEdChat hashtag) acts as a central place where teachers can share the best of what they do and the resources they make and find for other people to use. It is the launch pad to a wealth of blogs, ideas, images, resources, tools and opportunities gathered by your personally chosen seekers from all over the web.
Twitter is also about the continuous conversation to improve what we do in the class to develop the learning of the pupils whom we teach. As the graphic capabilities of Twitter has grown, our timelines have increasingly filled with rhetorical quotes and meaningless memes. Social media should not be about broadcasting, but engagement. The potential for incremental improvement and refinement of an idea as it moves through a chain of minds during a conversation is a joy and wonder to behold.
To ask questions to experts, subject leaders or teachers who have experience to share is an invaluable resource that was unthinkable before social media appear, and no educator should ignore the encyclopaedic knowledge and skills that are only 140 characters away.
The true wonder of Twitter isn’t the character limit, the short videos or the fail whale. The reason that so many educators have flocked to Twitter is because other teachers have gone there and made it their digital home from home. It is the interconnectivity of minds that is the draw for joining and the reason why we stay. Whatever the next ten years bring, as long as Twitter is the place for educators to be it will have a bright future.
In a tongue-in-cheek thought experiment I have devised a few teaching standards which educators may wish to work towards as a part of their performance management reviews. Share your own ideas using the #TweacherStandards hashtag.