I'm sure readers of this blog already know about the Twitter phenomenon, and many may already be proficient and copious twitterers. However, if you are a teacher and haven't joined in the tweet-fest yet, I'd like to urge you to give it a try.
Of course, everyone has their own reasons for joining Twitter, and everyone gets something slightly different out of it. For me, I joined Twitter some time ago as part of my usual dabble in new tech and social media things happening around me. I thought it was interesting, but potentially annoying - rather like the way Facebook rapidly (for me) transformed from something with potential into a right pain in the behind. When people started offering to knight me, or land vampire bites on me, and when my email started getting those ridiculous "compare" notifications, I began avoiding Facebook like the plague.
Thankfully, Twitter is quite different. It has the same connecting and networking qualities that Facebook has, without the peripheral temptations, distractions and constant sense of having your personal identity sharked all over the Internet in the name of innane dithering. Twitter's magic - quite aside from the obvious networking potential - is in its simplicity and relatively no-frills design and application.
For me personally (as a teacher and ELT materials designer), Twitter really began to appeal once I moved back from my 10-year stint in Korea to my home country of Australia. Fulfilling a long-held dream, my Korean wife and I settled in a small coastal town some distance outside Melbourne on Victoria's fabulous surf coast. Wonderful lifestyle change, and awesome spot for our two little kids, but quite suddenly I realised I had absolutely nobody to talk to about teaching, English language learning, etc. etc.! For ten years I'd been surrounded by schools, classrooms, learners, teaching colleagues, ELT events and conferences, and - in general - a very active public and social interest in learning English as a foreign or second language. Now, here in our new home town, it's all about the weather, the football, catch-of-the-day specials at the local Fish & Chips shop, and what's going on with the local kindergarten's Parent Council! Worthy conversation topics for sure, but the shock of being extracted from my old life in the thick of things in an EFL environment was pretty harsh.
So I've embraced Twitter with a vengeance, and while it isn't quite the same as before, it's often as good and in some ways even better when it comes to staying in touch with teaching and learning issues, meeting like-minded colleagues, and hearing about all the latest developments with teaching and technology.
So here are ten things I love about Twitter as a teacher and ELT materials designer:
- You can "meet and tweet" with hundreds, thousands (if not tens of thousands - depends on your appetite!) of other teachers from all over the world.
- These teachers can come from all walks of life, from all sorts of different teaching contexts, and from all sorts of disciplines (i.e., not just your own area of specialisation, but also related or entirely new teaching spheres).
- You can listen to and interact with professionals from various spheres within the field - fellow teachers, teacher training specialists, authors, publishers, etc.- and at a very personable level (though you may end up "culled" from people's contact lists if they feel you are being too innane, or don't quite relish the same level of interpersonal contact, so watch out for that!).
- You can stay very up-to-date with what is happening in your field, at a rate that far exceeds anything you experienced through website browsing or email correspondence.
- You get a plethora of links and recommendations for materials and teaching ideas (just need to be careful of the distinction between plethora and imbroglio - see below...).
- You can actually build and benefit from genuine relationships with people you meet on the Twitter network.
- Teacher-Twitterers tend to be quite interested in technology, without needing to be experts, and this is good if you want to develop this side of your teaching skills and resources.
- You can enjoy different kinds of participation - some people like to chat, others just to highlight resources, others to ask questions or challenge ideas (and you can choose how you participate or "listen" from day to day or mood to mood, so to speak).
- You gain a good audience for your blog posts and web-based materials - so long as you're not just in Twitter to relentlessly promote yourself, as Twitterers tend to have a sensitive radar for that sort of thing.
- You have a lot of control over what you are exposed to - it's relatively easy to switch other people in the network "on" or "off" depending on how valuable you personally find their comments and contributions.
There are probably a lot of other things I like about Twitter as a teacher, but those are the ones that come to mind first.
Of course, there are also some potential negatives to keep in mind:
- Don't be tempted by the "Social Status" game often associated with Twitter in terms of how many followers you have versus how many people you yourself follow. It can seem like a bit of a popularity contest at times - if you let it. So don't let it!
There is a subtle "tweetiquette" involved with Twitter which involves a lot of "mutual grooming" - things like making sure you compliment people who compliment or recommend you, ensuring you "RT" (or Re-Tweet) appropriately, and promoting others through things like #teachertuesday and #followfriday. It can become quite tiring quite quickly, but you need to remember that this is an important way of introducing and confirming people on Twitter - sort of like making sure you introduce your friend when meeting someone else you know, or when someone admires your teaching idea acknowledging who gave it to you in the first place. That said, it requires careful balance. Don't go RTing and recommending people willy nilly or in a sycophantic fashion, as you may be falling prey to the risk I mentioned in (1) above. Be reciprocal but restrained, generous but genuine in the way you acknowledge fellow-Twitterers.
- The amount of links and recommendations appearing on Twitter can be quite overwhelming at first, and finding the things that will really interest you can feel like you are trying to spot and hit a single tennis ball as one hundred others are launched over the net (mind the pun) at the same time (rf. the potential imbroglio I mentioned earlier). The "mutual grooming" factor can make this even worse, as several people in your contact network re-tweet the same resources at you and everyone else in their networks. My way of handling this is to basically only check out the links from contacts I've found to be the most reliable in terms of similar interests, and/or links that appear several times from different people (the more recommendations something gets, the greater the chance it might be of relevance or interest). Think of it as like being at a big international teaching conference or something, with hundreds of teachers moving and chatting around you, a huge list of options in the presentation schedule (some from teachers like yourself, some from ELT celebrities, some from academic experts, and others that are just straight up commercial), and the constant distraction represented by the publishers' stalls... Negotiating Twitter is rather similar - it can be a matter of focus or tuning out at times, and/or just seeing where things take you.
Twitter can become very addictive very quickly, as the real-time nature of it feels so much like being in several conversations at once that it feels like you just can't walk away while people are talking to you (and everyone else, of course!). Once you download something like Tweetdeck, it can become even more addictive as the "tweep" sound notifications come through your computer constantly, no matter what you are doing at the time. You need to be willing to switch Twitter on and off for set periods, or else get used to having it chirp away in the background while you get on with your other online jobs - dropping in from time to time to see what is happening or if there is anything worth checking out or contributing to. As one Twitterer recently commented (a little snidely), the entry message in Twitter ought to be changed from "What are you doing?" to "What are you supposed to be doing?"...
So there are some basic pros and cons of Twitter from a teacher and materials writer perspective (you'll find many many more around the Internet from other people as well - and remember, I'm a bit of a beginner and not high up at all in the Twitterverse).
Later, I'll let you know whom I've been following on Twitter, and hopefully give you some ideas on like-minded and helpful people you yourself may like to follow.
And if you're interested in following me on Twitter, I'm right here!