What’s a Twitter Chat?
There are now hundreds of Education Twitter chats taking place around the world at almost any time of day or night. To follow any chat in real time all one needs is the hashtag (#). The hashtag is the key to the chat. Using TweetDeck, Hootsuite, or some other third party application it is easy to create a column that will follow only the hash tagged tweets of the chat. That will focus on and deliver each of the tweets in the chat in the order that they are posted.
Of course in a chat that may have fifty to a hundred participants it is impossible to follow every tweeter’s tweets. Very much like any face-to-face social gathering of such numbers of people, one would only engage with a few chatters at a time and focus on the topic of discussion within that group. I enter chats with the intent of engaging a few people with my point of view on the topic to challenge and test my own ideas, as well as the ideas of others. Many chats archive the entire chat so people can go back to see whatever it was they thought they might have missed from others.
My personal preference is to participate in chats with one topic to be explored in depth as opposed to chats, which program 5 or 6 questions in a one-hour slot. My feeling is that the chat never develops naturally with predetermined questions. The participants may just be getting started when time demands a change to the next question. Maybe it is a control thing on the part of the moderators of those chats. It does keep things moving in the chat, but it seems more forced and less organic. There are many however who thrive in that format. As long as topics are being explored the format of the chat is less important. We can never answer for how other people learn and participate.
In a single question chat the participants are more reliant on moderators to feed off of and restate questions and ideas. It is more of a practice in the art of discussion and less formula.
The purpose of any chat is to get a more in-depth discussion and reflection on a given topic. Hopefully, the most successful chats will generate Blog Posts with further reflection and clarity. The people attending these chats often have a specific interest in the topic. The use of Twitter as the platform for education chats enables not only anyone interested in the topic, but also people whose area of expertise might be that specific topic. Keep in mind that twitter has a global reach, so the only possible barriers to anyone’s participation might just be time zones. Many authors, speakers, bloggers, and thought leaders will often participate in chats.
Regardless of titles there are many chatters who offer great ideas, or challenges during chats. It is great to assemble educators who have a common interest to express their ideas on that interest. They are the very people that one needs in a Personal Learning Network to continue following and interacting within meaningful ways. Every chat should offer up some new people to follow on Twitter, or to engage further in Google Hangouts or Skype calls.
The one long-standing criticism of Chats is that they have a tendency to become echo chambers of like-minded people. I would agree that educators do have a common interest, but it has been my experience that they rarely agree 100% on anything. Everyone has his/her own slant on any given topic. Some even abandon their personal beliefs to stir the pot with opposing views. This is where experienced moderators prove their worth in chats. I do not prescribe to the echo chamber argument.
New chatters are usually hesitant to get involved at first. They sort of lurk and learn the culture of the chat. They try to figure out the leaders and just try not to get overwhelmed because of the rate that most of the tweets fly by. It can be quite intimidating. Most chats start off slowly as people begin to gather. It usually takes 5 to 10 minutes to get going. Some chats have people introduce themselves others just dive right in. There is one distraction newcomers should be aware of. Hashtags for chats are used for any tweet that may be related to that general hashtag. For instance a hashtag widely used for any Tweet dealing with education is #Edchat. People use this 24/7. That means that during the #Edchat Chats tweets my come in that have nothing to do with the topic being discussed. Knowing this before the chat helps filter through the noise.
To bullet point the chat strategy:
- Set up a column to follow the Chat
- Enter the chat to engage a small number of people and not the auditorium.
- Identify the moderators for guidance
- Follow on Twitter the most interesting participants to add value to your own PLN
- Do not get distracted by off-topic tweets
- Engage clearly and succinctly
- Reflect on your experience
Now all you need is find a chat to engage in. There are chats for educators in various States within the US as well as many other countries. There are chats for specific grades, subjects, courses, and interests. Of course the Granddaddy of chats is #Edchat which takes place twice each Tuesday. The first #Edchat is at noon eastern time and the second #Edchat is at 7 PM Eastern time with a different Topic. The #Edchat Topics are decided by a Poll each week. Please Join Us!
Here is a list of all of the Education chats taking place globally on Twitter.