Jul 14 2015

How Twitter Can Power Your Professional Learning

Overloaded with Twitter? Stem your tweet flow with advice from Principal Matt Renwick.

I had to chuckle a little when I read some of the posts of educators who had just logged on to Twitter for the first time after ISTE 2015.

Following the #ISTE2015 hashtag, people were posting content that displayed both their excitement and their feeling of being overwhelmed. Whom do I follow? How often should I check my feed? What if I miss something really important?

This activity reminded me of my own initial experience with Twitter, almost four years ago. I had this sense of discovery, followed by a realization that learning from Twitter without ways to manage it was like drinking from an open fire hydrant. I had to control the flow somewhat in order to make this social media tool work for me.

So think of Twitter as a water well or line for your home. You don’t have just one line coming into your residence for all your water needs, right? One line goes toward a bathroom, another toward a sink, and maybe another toward your outdoor faucets. Each line serves a different function.

Similarly, there are tools within Twitter and beyond that can serve a similar purpose.

Favoriting Tweets is Just the Beginning

Within each tweet that comes across your feed from the people you follow, there is a star. When you click it, that tweet is saved in your Favorites section. This is the easiest way to save a tweet for later, in case, say, it has a link to an article you enjoyed reading. Favoriting someone’s tweet is also a way to acknowledge the author’s post without having to reply to or retweet it.

After a while, your favorites list might become a bit long. In that case, consider exploring IFTTT, a site named after the acronym “if this, then that.” This service connects different apps and products through a specific action you take online. These actions happen through recipes, The IFTTT site defines recipes as “simple connections between products and apps”; there are “if” recipes and “do” recipes. Subscribers can access these on the website as well as create and share their own. For example, any tweet I favorite by clicking the star automatically gets saved to a Favorited Tweets notebook within Evernote, a productivity app. It is a better way to organize content for later reading.

Optimize Your Stream with Lists

Your default page when you go to Twitter is your main feed with everyone you follow. While there is a level of excitement within this randomness, our feeds can often be overwhelming. To prevent this, make lists of specific topics and interests.

To start, go to your profile page and select “Lists.” Next, create some lists that categorize the different areas of learning you are pursuing online. This is the next step in developing your personal learning network, or PLN. For example, I have lists titled “Admin PLN” for school administrators I follow and admire, and “Authors on Twitter,” for writers of children’s literature.

Finally, start adding people and organizations on Twitter to these lists. That way you can go directly to these personalized lists for content and conversations relating to information you want.

Flipboard Organizes the Twitter Stream of Consciousness

I tend not to promote or subscribe to one digital tool over another. However, Flipboard is an essential part of my online learning system. It is considered a content aggregator, meaning it pulls different informational feeds from online to one location.

In other words, you can put all of your Twitter lists, as well as other social media accounts (such as Facebook and Instagram), in a single place for easy reading.

There are other popular aggregators out there, such as Feedly. However, what makes Flipboard stand out is the magazine-style format that it uses to organize your different feeds. Select a tile that represents a Twitter feed you linked, or just a general subject area suggested by Flipboard, and it opens up to a visually appealing display. It works well on a laptop, tablet and smartphone.

Additional features of Flipboard include having the Twitter favorite function available, being able to create your own magazine of personally curated content and linking your subscriptions to news providers.

Striking a Balance with Your Feed

As you start taking more control over your personal learning network, consider three closing thoughts.

As you read and save what other people have to share, remember that you also have important ideas. Twitter should be a participatory experience: The more active you are on the site, the more you get out of it. This includes sharing your thoughts, links and blog posts.

What makes Twitter valuable is the information that is shared and the people who are sharing it. By using the tools and strategies mentioned in this article, you can manage these new connections more efficiently.

Finally, to come back to the water-line analogy, remember to turn off the faucet once in a while and enjoy spending time with friends and family and on personal interests. As a veteran educator once told me, we are more interesting people when we live life to the fullest. This will make us better teachers and leaders in the future.


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