Update: Six weeks on from this post and Twitter chats have become a go-to component of my PLN. I’ve attended four other chats in the intervening weeks with another scheduled for today. I’m finding that when I’m in need of a particular kind of research or just in a curious mood I turn to a scheduled chat or skim related hashtags of past chats. Some chats are definitely operating at higher levels in terms of depth of thought, extent of conversation, or ideas and resources shared. However, I’m singularly impressed by the one characteristic common to all of them so far — how welcoming, friendly, and generous the participants are. Too, I had no idea how many chat groups are out there — not just in education, of which there are dozens. I’ve even found a couple chats for my husband who works in the hospitality industry and is always looking for new ideas. He is a Luddite. But after a couple hours of his peering from the corner of his eye from the other side of the sofa as I chat, I figured I’d see what I could find for him. When I sent him the links, his response was, “…I’d like to know more….” Next stop is getting him his own Twitter account!
The New Addiction
I’m officially hooked on Twitter chats. While I knew these were “a thing”, I was never clear on how exactly to access them. And I certainly never thought they were as organized as having an official chat list. Admittedly, I found them rather intimidating to start. However, our reading from the PLP Network was spot on with “how to”. A particularly good recommendation is to use TweetDeck — a platform I’ve used in the past for my multiple handles*, but discovered its ultimate usefulness in this chat context.
3 Different Experiences
In all, I participated in three chats. Coincidentally, they provided three different kinds of experiences. I’m trying not to rate them on a qualitative scale; however, I did find one a more enjoyable, and thus a more worthwhile, experience. But “enjoyable” and “worthwhile” are according to what works for me in terms of my learning style and learning habits.
Starting with the chat I found most challenging, Digital Citizen Chat (#digcit), was the most rambling and freeform. Chronologically, it was my second chat which followed a highly organized first experience last week. So the differences were immediately noticeable. Right from the start, there were a number of participants who seemed to be looking forward to the chat.
Yet about 15 minutes past the designated start time, there was this exchange between Professor Passafume and Hope Frazier.
From what I could tell, no moderator ever showed up. So people posted randomly. While I’m not sure the number of conversation threads were different from other chats, it all seemed vague and scattershot with very little focus. In all, I didn’t find it a terribly helpful chat given there were more opinions being solicited and shared than useful practices and resources.
The middle-of-the-road experience was the Instructional Coaching Chat (#educoach). More organized and attended by experienced coaches, #educoach had two moderators and a set of nine questions at the ready. While the other chats seemed to be attended by several self-identifying pre-service and novice teachers, I felt more in the company of my experiential peers in #educoach. Unfortunately, there is either an error on the Education Chats schedule or there was some other kind of snafu. When I showed up 10 minutes ahead of the scheduled start time — 9pm Central — it had clearly been underway for 50 minutes. I didn’t feel comfortable crashing in with ten minutes on the clock, so I scrolled and lurked through the conversations and liked the tweets that had thoughts and resources I found useful for my work. One such resource was a meta-analysis shared by @region13coaches at the very end of the chat. It was a nice button on the conversation for how the work of instructional coaches has a measurable impact on teacher practice and student outcomes. I read it and immediately emailed it to the principals of the schools I work with — as research support and encouragement for our work.
Finally, the chat I found to be the most enjoyable experience was, oddly enough, my first. Last week I decided to preview the Twitter chat experience in anticipation of this week’s assignment. I didn’t want to troll this one, so I decided to boldly identify myself as the nube I am. I tend to get anxious with online interactions among strangers. So participating in this new way among fellow professionals felt risky because I knew there likely were all kinds of rules of etiquette of which I was completely unaware. But I could not have been more warmly welcomed. I
wouldn’t say my contributions to the conversation were high-level or even on topic. They were more about meeting and greeting and getting my feet wet with this new professional learning experience. Luckily, though, the folks over at #hseduchat were accepting and supportive of my lack of chat experience and encouraged my contributions. Their behaviors made it more likely that I’d participate in other chat in the future.
This chat was very well-organized, the moderator having sent out the questions in advance, reviewed them all again when the chat started, and gave instructions for how to format responses. She then released the questions at regular intervals. In this way the moderator kept tabs on the conversation and kept it rolling. All these elements fit with my own needs as learner. It really was the perfect chat for my first attempt.
The assignments this week made for highly enjoyable learning (more on the Resident/Visitor map to come). While I’m not new to Twitter, chats are a revelation. In my experience Twitter has been a much more positive, uplifting, useful platform than, say, Facebook. Still, as a professional resource, it always seemed a bit random, even when I used hashtags to track down resources. But having entire lists of chat schedules, the ideas and suggestions from Nicole’s narrated Prezis, and some chat experiences under my belt, Twitter finally feels like an actual arrow in my professional and ICT quiver. My exploration now will turn to those chats that are moderated and organized for those times when I’m on the hunt for useable material — actual ideas and resources. Though I can see hanging out in a chat with no clear facilitator where participants ask and answer random questions, for those times that I’m looking simply to network or have collegial conversation.
It’s become increasingly clear to me that informal learning is an extremely potent type of learning. Twitter chats hit so many of those buttons — self-directed, just in time, anytime/anywhere, tailorable to a learner’s needs of the moment, learner choice, working with a sense of relaxed and stress-free flow in the learning moment. I can see how Twitter chats can be a powerful tool for a particular kind of teacher support and professional learning. With such tools and access, this really is an exciting time to be an educator!
*: I have one professional Twitter account: @commonelements. I also have two personal Twitter accounts: @oberon60657 for general, personal tweeting. My husband and I enjoy cruising and try to do at least one sailing a year — despite the outrageous behaviors of many passengers. I finally couldn’t take that behavior anymore and as an outlet started a separate handle just to tweet out the ridiculous things people say while shipboard. If you want a laugh, follow me on @some1saidreally.