Take ownership of your professional learning with Twitter

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many of us struggled to figure out how to keep learning. At the time, I was an associate professor in an undergraduate teacher education program and had only ever taught in person. I was in desperate need of resources, guidance, and anything that could help with the quick transition to distance learning. One of the first places I turned to for help was Twitter. There I found an amazing community of brilliant and caring professors, faculty developers, educational technology specialists and others who guided me through this difficult transition by sharing their expertise on teaching online, their experiences adapting courses for distance education and their resources to support students. They also shared diverse perspectives that resonated with me, stories that inspired me, questions that prompted me to reflect on my teaching practices and policies, and insights that helped me grow both on both professionally and personally. Since then, I have also brought my own unique ideas and resources to the conversation. These experiences have shown me that leveraging Twitter as a professional learning network can be transformational for a person’s ongoing learning and growth.

What is a Professional Learning Network (PLN)?

Trust and Prestridge (2021) define Professional Learning Networks (PLNs) as “uniquely cultured systems of people, spaces, and tools that help educators improve their teaching and learning” (1). Unpacking this definition further, Krutka, Carpenter and Trust (2017) explain that PLNs often include people from diverse backgrounds, engaging with each other in a variety of the spaces (online, face-to-face or both) when they share and get tools (such as ideas, strategies, and resources) for continued professional growth (247).

Research shows that PLNs have many benefits. Trust, Carpenter and Krutka (2017) conducted a qualitative study with 151 higher education professionals to explore their experiences with PLNs. Faculty members and other study professionals reported that their PLN:

  • Helped them learn new ideas and skills related to their field/discipline
  • Exposed them to innovative teaching strategies and educational technology tools
  • Inspired them to adapt their teaching practices
  • Enabled them to connect and collaborate with others around the world
  • Encouraged them to share their experiences, expertise and resources with others
  • Transformed the way they perceived their professional role
  • introduced them to new professional opportunities

Twitter 101

One of the most frequently used platforms for online PLNs is Twitter. On Twitter, educators communicate with each other via tweets (short messages of up to 280 characters). Tweets can include media, such as photos, videos, GIFs, and links. They also often include hashtags, which are keywords/phrases preceded by the “#” symbol that are used to organize tweets. For example, common hashtags used by higher education professionals include #highered, #facdev, and #onlinelearning. Following hashtags is a great way to see what others are saying or sharing about a topic.

How can I use Twitter as PLN?

1. Create a Twitter account
The first step to leveraging Twitter as a PLN is to create an account. This will include creating a Twitter ID (or username) and writing a brief bio. In your biography, be sure to highlight your professional background and areas of interest or expertise. For example, my Twitter handle is @drtolunoah, and my bio mentions my experience as a faculty developer, educational technology specialist, and speaker.

2. follow others
It is important to follow a diverse group of people and organizations in your PLN. You can search for other people by name or username, or you can use keywords to find people with similar interests and backgrounds. Twitter also provides suggestions based on the people you follow. Plus, you can see who’s following the people you’re already following. If you want additional ideas for who to follow on Twitter, you can download this Twitter PLN Bingo game.

3. Interact with tweets
When you follow people and organizations on Twitter, you’ll see their tweets appear in your timeline. A great way to connect with others is to read and interact with their tweets by liking, replying, or retweeting (i.e. reposting tweets to your followers).

4. Share your story
You can share your unique ideas on Twitter if you feel comfortable. This can strengthen your bond with your PLN by engaging in mutually beneficial ways. For example, you can tweet:

  • Books or articles you recommend
  • Teaching strategies that have worked well for you
  • Educational resources
  • Testimonials from a university conference
  • Encouragement or support for fellow educators
  • Questions you would like feedback on
  • Answers to questions from others
  • Reflections on your teaching policies/practices
  • Reflections on trends in higher education
  • Upcoming educational meetings
  • Photos or videos of student projects (with their consent and without revealing personal information, of course!)
  • …and much more!

5. Join the conversation
Another way to improve your use of Twitter as a PLN is to participate in Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is a conversation on a specific topic that takes place at a specified date and time. For example, the popular #edtechchat takes place on Mondays at 5:00 p.m. PT. Discussions on Twitter generally follow a question-and-answer format, with a host posting a question every few minutes and participants responding with their answers. Whenever the host or attendees tweet, they include the question or answer number in their tweet (eg Q1 or A1) along with a specified hashtag (eg #edtechchat) so that everyone everyone can follow the conversation. There are dozens of active Twitter chats each week. You can also host your own Twitter chat! Just let your followers know the date and time of the chat, the questions you’ll be asking (so they can anticipate), and the unique hashtag that will be used for the conversation.

6. Manage resources
Educators on Twitter often share innovative teaching strategies and resources that you might want to save. One tool that can streamline the curation process is Tweetdeck. With Tweetdeck, you can display multiple Twitter feeds at the same time. Each feed is organized in a column. For example, you can add a List column, where you can display tweets from a specific group of people (e.g. “Faculty Developers”). Or, you can add a search column, where you can display tweets on a specific search item or hashtag (eg, “rating” or #ungrading). The List and Search columns are automatically updated as new tweets are posted, making it easy to keep track of the latest posts. You can also add a Collection column, where you can save your favorite tweets on a specific topic. Collections you curate in Tweetdeck can also be shared with others.

Tweetdeck not only works well for organizing tweets, but also for participating in Twitter chats. For example, you can add a search column for a Twitter chat hashtag so you can easily track all questions and answers. You can also add a Collection column to save your favorite tweets from chat.

seven. Consider your PLN
Reflection is an essential part of teaching, and this also applies to PLNs. Krutka, Carpenter, and Trust (2017) provide a useful framework that prompts educators to analyze the people, spaces, and tools that make up their PLN. Useful questions from the framework include: “Which people or perspectives are my PLN missing?”, “What spaces have I not yet engaged in that could be beneficial?” and “What new tools will I seek to advance my student learning?” (Krutka, Carpenter, and Trust 2017, 249). Engaging in ongoing reflection on these and other questions from the framework can be helpful to continue to build your PLN experience over time.

Conclusion

Using Twitter as a PLN lets you take ownership of your professional learning by exploring topics of interest with educators around the world, anytime, anywhere. If you want to know more, you can download this PLN, Twitter and Tweetdeck resource guide. It includes QR codes and hyperlinks to PLN research articles and resources on using Twitter and Tweetdeck.


Tolulope (Tolu) Noah, EdD, is the Educational Learning Spaces Coordinator at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB). Previously, she was a Senior Professional Learning Specialist at Apple and an Associate Professor in the School of Education at Azusa Pacific University (APU). Tolu has been recognized for her teaching effectiveness by receiving the 2019 Teaching Faculty Excellence Award at APU, and she is a regular speaker at teaching and learning conferences. You can connect with Tolu on Twitter at @drtolunoah or through their website, www.tolunoah.com.

References

Krutka, Daniel G., Carpenter, Jeffrey Paul and Torrey Trust. 2017. “Enriching Professional Learning Networks: A Framework for Identification, Reflection, and Intention.” Technical trends 61: 246-252. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11528-016-0141-5

Trust, Torrey, Carpenter, Jeffrey Paul, and Daniel G. Krutka. 2017. “Overcoming Silos: Professional Learning Networks in Higher Education.” Internet and higher education 35:1-11. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1096751617301380

Trust, Torrey and Sarah Prestridge. 2021. “The Interplay of Five Elements of Influence on Educators’ PLN Actions.” Teaching and teacher training 97:1-12. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0742051X2031386X?via%3Dihub



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