Twitter, the social network that just increased its character limit from 140 characters to 280 at the beginning of this month, attracts a wide spectrum of users, including a growing number of educators. In the world of education, teachers are using Twitter to enrich their classrooms and connect with informal professional networks. Twitter is frequently used to reach out and communicate with students and parents alike, for assignments, links to educational resources, changes to homework, last minute information, and contests, just to mention a few.
Twitter is not only a great tool for reaching students and parents with a quick tweet, it also connects teachers with their colleagues and forums for quick up-to-date references on what other institutions are doing as well as the latest trends. Twitter for Teachers gives teachers access to hundreds of important links and helpful ideas from teachers around the world. The forum also gives teachers an opportunity to follow and implement good examples as well as share their own efficient teaching methods.
At Kuentz Elementary in Helotes, Texas, using Twitter to connect with students and parents is common practice. I recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of the 5th grade Teachers, Karen Connor, to find out why she finds Twitter useful:
TPM: Why do you use Twitter as a communication channel in your classroom?
KC: As a professional and the Fifth Grade Teacher Leader, I was encouraged by our principal to use Twitter. She invited me to attend a motivational speech by George Couros (@gcouros), which was very enlightening and encouraged me to use social media professionally and personally. In my classroom I use Twitter to share positive things that are happening in school and at other schools. I also use Twitter to connect with parents.
TPM: What are the three main things you use Twitter for?
KC: I use Twitter for professional development, outreach and global learning. Public schools are in direct competition with chartered schools for students. I keep myself informed on @WeGoPublic, so I know what I am up against. I try to stay ahead of the educational game by connecting with other teachers and schools.
TPM: Do you feel you connect better with your students and their parents using Twitter?
KC: It has improved since I started using Twitter two years ago. More parents follow this year and prefer Twitter over our web page, but the majority still rely on emails. My students are too young to have a Twitter account yet, but I do have an iPad in the classroom that they can use every now and then.
TPM: When do you resort to tweeting and how often do you tweet?
KC: When I tweet during school hours, it’s mostly an ‘in the moment’ thing when we’re doing something fun or creative that could be useful to other students and teachers. We use Periscope and go live too. My students think it’s fun and will make an extra effort.
TPM: What is your prefered social medium and why?
KC: For personal stuff I prefer Facebook. It feels more secure because I can limit who can view my posts. I use Twitter for professional development, to reach out and learn what is new in my field.
TPM: Do you feel Twitter is a good tool for professional development?
KC: I do now, but at first I hated it. I don’t like wasting my time, especially when you’re asked to go to professional development courses on your own time. With Twitter I can do it when it’s convenient, narrow down relevant topics and it’s an instant gratification.
TPM: Is it mandatory that you tweet and stay technologically savvy by Northside Independent School District (NISD)
KC: It’s not mandatory, but it’s encouraged. I am privileged to have a proactive Principal who encourages us to be on the cutting edge of what is going on in our field, and who provides us with the tools necessary to get there.
TPM: Do you find you connect better with your students by using social media?
KC: I use it mostly to connect with parents and the public. My students do get very excited when their work will be shown on Twitter and will work harder. Most of them don’t have their own Twitter accounts yet.
TPM: Twitter expanded its character limit to 280 characters. Is that helpful to you?
KC: When I first started using Twitter the 140 character limit was very frustrating, but it has helped structure my thoughts and get to the point quickly, and it makes it very easy to go through my feed. I am not sure what I think of the expansion. I haven’t reached the limit of 280 characters in any of my tweets yet.
TPM: Do you tweet professionally? Privately? Why?
KC: I do both. I have a classroom Twitter account and I have a personal account too. In the morning I will scroll through quickly and catch up on headlines, but after my day it will be something more purposeful and enriching.
TPM: Has Tweeting helped you develop new contacts in the educational world?
KC: Absolutely! I am much more connected. Not just to Northside Independent School District and Texas, but also beyond. I constantly learn about new methods on teaching or new ideas, and adjust them to fit into my classroom. I also reach out and tweet about what we do here. It’s refreshing.
Clearly Twitter has been a powerful medium for awhile now, and it continues to beat traditional media to the punch. In fact, traditional media often uses tweets to mold or lead their stories (Good luck trying to count how many POTUS tweets have national media coverage this year.) Personally, I have mostly worked with Twitter in a marketing capacity, and have viewed it more as a platform for celebrities to interact with their fans worldwide, or push products they are endorsing. But having a fifth grader in Karen’s class exposed me to another exciting world on this platform. Learning how educators like Karen are harnessing Twitter for networking, communication and professional development to further enrich the learning process for kids in elementary school was eye-opening and encouraging. And since these kids will be around social media their entire lives, being exposed to it in a positive, constructive manner this early in life to counter the increasing negativity is certain to help shape their views on how they use it later in their lives. #IwishKarenwouldhavebeenmy5thgradeteacher