Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Twitteracy: Twitter as professional development tool

At last Friday's Tristate PLP kickoff, Will Richardson made a startling statement: "Twitter is my most often used professional development tool."

Now, I've been using Twitter for quite a while now, and I do find it useful. As a matter of fact, I found out about PLP itself on Twitter, but Will's statement still seemed audacious. It certainly got my attention. 

I have occasionally tried to explain why I find Twitter useful. I think I got it mostly right in a previous post, but Will explained not only why Twitter works, but also how he has a strategy for using it. Will's approach is that he follows people who he trusts, who are "thought leaders" in education, to pre-screen content for him. Faced with the reality that he can't read everything, he trusts others to consume and digest content for him, and pass along whatever is relevant and useful.

This isn't a new idea. For example, John Hodgman is notable for using Twitter as a crowdsourcing tool. He asks a question of his 108,000 Twitter followers, whom he addresses as his "hive mind," and gets back answers. Of course, that's easy when you have 108,000 followers.

For those of us who aren't famous, we can't rely on a massive hive mind. Will's strategy is to carefully select people to follow, and limit himself to following only 150 people to keep the amount of information manageable.

The irony here is that instead of it being difficult to acquire information, you actually have to limit yourself to the relatively few people who pass along the best information. As Clay Shirky points out, the paradigm has reversed, from "filter then publish" to "publish then filter." It also means that your list of tweeps should be a meritocracy- those who consistently pass along the best, most relevant, most useful information stay on the list.

What do you think of Will's strategy? What is your practice for using Twitter as a professional development tool?


  1. Jon, This resinates with me. As I sat in the audience with you on Friday, I was thinking about my own experience with Twitter as my "Personal Learning Network." In the last year, rather than look at my RSS feeds of blogs, I use Twitter to filter what I look at.
    I began following the 100 or so people in our field that had either written a book, like Will, were keynotes at conferences, were mentioned by those people often, or were face to face aquaintences. Over the last year, I have expanded the network to include those that I have met or heard at conferences, like @ijohnpederson, or those that started following me, who were actually educators and not spam! I'm now following over 300, which has forced me to have to do a lot of filtering. There are times my Twitter feed is more like the chat window on Monday night when we had 62 people typing away on Elluminate.
    Will's comment about how many he follows has made me rethink that. Who on the list is still "Follow Worthy?!"

  2. Twitter is by far the most important professional development tool in my toolkit. It especially was instrumental for me when I lived and worked in a part of the world where professional development activities were limited. Even now, living in the USA, I find that my Twitter network is invaluable. Not only does "the hive mind" return answers to questions faster than Google, but those responses are trusted because they've been filtered already by virtue of the fact that (usually) we follow each other based on common professional interests.

    My Twitter network has also pointed me in the direction of resources and ideas I never would have found on my own. I've been involved in some intense debates about education policy, health care, charter schools, curriculum, and lighter topics such as bacon and which wine to drink with dinner. Overall, my PLN on Twitter provides me with support and feedback, and for that reason I can say hands-down that it is the most important learning tool for me.

    As for number of followers / people to follow -- I tend to leave the "static" Tweeps alone. That is, I won't follow people who don't engage in conversation. If all a person does is post links, I won't engage. I can easily get those links myself via RSS or other means. The conversation is most important to me -- knowing that there are real people behind those tweets. But just because I follow 800+ people does not mean that I am interacting with all of them, every day. Using a good client (such as Tweetdeck) also helps, as I can sort conversations and filter by keyword, or turn someone "off" temporarily (which I have been known to do when some educators are watching a football game!).

    Everyone uses Twitter differently; the key is to find the way it works best for you. :)

  3. not inspiring or entertaining...but I have had a twitter acct for months and thought it a complete waste of time! This is genius! So tired of searching the internet for quality information..let someone else do it for me! I love it!

    Off to find the "right" people to follow! Thanks!

  4. I relate to some of Richardson's ideas as I have been forming my own personal learning network on Twitter. I hadn't put words to the fact that I'm allowing others to "filter" for me; I kind of knew that but now I have words to describe the process.

    One place where the people I follow differs is very few of the folks I follow are "thought leaders" only. Because I'm still "on the ground" so to speak, trying to help teachers teach with technology, I find that following professionals like myself is more beneficial for getting practical resources that I can pass along. I like the "thought leaders" because they give me new directions to ponder. But what I need more immediately are resources for myself and the people I work with. Tech tidbits that will intice folks into using technology with their students.

    I've blogged recently about my experience forming a PLN on Twitter. It seems to be a hot topic; enjoyed reading your post!


Keep it clean and on-topic, folks. Or if not on topic, make it visionary and inspiring. Or at least entertaining. Funny gets you bonus points.