Twitter is a great place to start if you want to build your own PLN (Personal Learning Network). There are lots of educators out there, covering all types of different subject matter and they have all embraced Twitter as their weapon of choice when it comes to sharing great resources and opinions.
Of course, we have to remind ourselves that Twitter was not built as an IM (Instant Messaging) client and therefore has its limitations, like the 140 characters. But over the years people have “hacked” the platform and by looking at the amount of Twitter chats going on every week, it seems to work very well.
First of all, what is a Twitter chat?
A Twitter chat is usually a scheduled meeting, for instance once a week, where like minded people (in our case educators) gather around a certain topic and create an online discussion.
In order to find the relevant tweets of such a Twitter chat a so called “hashtag” is chosen by the organizer. The most popular hashtag in education is still the weekly #edchat in which hundreds of teachers and principals participate from all around the world. And while the #edchat is taking a more general approach there are also more and more specialized Twitter chats going on that serve the different verticals in education like the #eltchat or the #mathchat. For more ideas on general education hashtags, check out Top 10 Twitter Hash Tags To Follow For Education Technology.
How to start a Twitter chat
1. The right Hashtag
Well, first of all you need to pick a hashtag which people can use to follow the chat on Twitter. You need to keep in mind that the hashtag will reduce the number of characters that people can use to write their tweets. For example #edchat takes 7 characters which means there are 133 left for the message.
General rule of thumb: try to keep your hashtag short yet meaningful enough so people understand its intention. I would also suggest to use the word chat or cht so people know that it is an open discussion on Twitter and not just a tagged tweet.
2. The right time
Naturally, you want to have as many educators as possible participate in the chat, hence it needs to be scheduled at a time where teachers have the time to sit in front of their computers and engage in discussion. In the US this means you need to take three time zones into consideration and if you want to engage with an international audience, it gets even trickier.
Time is important as a chats value comes from the real time interaction between participants. Therefore, picking the right time is crucial. You could use a tool like Doodle where you can set up a set of different dates and times to choose from. Then, you share the link with your network and let them pick the times that work best for them. Eventually, you will get a decent overview and see which days and times most people are able to participate.
3. The right topic
As Twitter Chats are open discussions around a topic, you will want / need a new basis for your discussions every week. In order to know what people are interested in and want to talk about, you can also crowdsource this part of your chat.
The popular #edchat uses a free tool called Twtpoll for their surveys. Topics are chosen by the organizers and participants then vote on the topic they want to discuss over the week. You could also set up a Facebook fanpage or group and do your surveys on the social network.
How to grow a Twitter chat
1. During the Twitter chat
During the event you will surely tweet a lot yourself, and the more people take part the faster the stream of tweets will flow. To keep your head above water, you can use Twitter clients like Hootsuite that all have the option to follow a specific hashtag or, if you are using Twitter in your browser like I do, simply open a second tab with the Twitter website and enter your hashtag in the search field. This tab will then automatically update with the latest tweets and you can also filter by the most popular ones.
Keep in mind that all tweets that are assigned to the hashtag are viewable to everyone who follows the chat which includes @replies.
2. After the Twitter Chat
If you want to share the highlights of your Twitter chat, for instance on your blog or with your followers on Twitter, I suggest you create a Storify. Storify is a great tool that lets you search and collect not only tweets but also status updates on Facebook, pictures and videos and put them into one unified story.
This way you can make a collage of the most important moments of the chat and share them with the participants as well as with the folks who could not attend the live chat.
And that’s how you can launch your own Twitter Chat. What subject matter or field do you want to cover? What is the hashtag you will be using? Share it in the comments!
Image courtesy of Flickr, Zawezome