Tips for Using Twitter as Part of a Personal Learning Network

James Lang’s latest Chronicle of Higher Education column, “Using Twitter to Talk about Teaching,” features a few quotes and suggestions from me about using Twitter as part of one’s “personal learning network.” Jim’s column is a great one to share with colleagues who are skeptical of Twitter’s utility, in part because Jim was skeptical of Twitter, too, at least at first. He’s done a great job in the column of explaining how connecting with colleagues on Twitter can enhance one’s professional life. I was quite honored to be asked to contribute to this column by Jim.

One result of Jim’s column is that I’ve picked up about a hundred new followers on my Twitter account. I’m glad to include these people, some new to Twitter and some Twitter veterans, in my own personal learning network, and I have a few bonus tips (not mentioned in Jim’s column) to share with both groups of Twitter users. I hope you find these tips helpful.

For those new to Twitter:

  • Complete your Twitter profile by uploading a photo (of something, it doesn’t even need to be you) and providing a description of yourself. There’s value in having other Twitter users follow you (since they’ll be more likely to interact with you than those who don’t follow you), but many people (including me) are hesitant to follow someone who’s a blank slate on Twitter. A photo and a few details go a long way toward interesting others to follow you.
  • Start tweeting. Sending out a few interesting tweets is a nice way to meet new people on Twitter. You never know who will see those tweets, perhaps through a keyword search or a retweet from someone already following you. Also, there’s not much reason to follow someone on Twitter if s/he isn’t saying anything there. I know that when I’m deciding whether to follow someone, I usually look at the person’s last few tweets to see if s/he tweets about topics of interest to me.
  • Follow these ten Twitter users, if, that is, you’re interested in the kinds of things I’m interested in. Jim Lang asked me to recommend some Twitter accounts worth following, and, while my recommendations didn’t fit in his column, he posted them over on his personal blog. And don’t forget to follow Jim! His Twitter handle is @LangOnCourse.

For those with a bit more Twitter experience, I’ll let you in on a secret: Twitter says I’m currently following 884 other users, but there’s no way I can keep up with that many people, so I don’t. Instead, I’ve used Twitter’s list tool to create a private list I call “First Column.” This list consists of the Twitter users (172 of them right now) whose tweets I really don’t want to miss. I use the desktop and mobile app TweetDeck to access Twitter, because this app allows multiple columns of tweets, each satisfying different criteria. The first column in my TweetDeck is devoted to tweets from those on my “First Column” list (thus the list name). When I check Twitter, I usually read all the tweets in the first column of TweetDeck, then read only the very latest tweets in the second column, which consists of tweets from everyone I follow.

This set-up ensures that tweets from a (relatively) small set of colleagues don’t get lost in my Twitter stream, while also giving me some of the advantages of following lots and lots of people. My “First Column” list can sometimes act like a filter bubble, since the people on that list tweet about topics I already know I find interesting. Dipping into my entire Twitter stream (in the second column of TweetDeck) lets me burst that filter bubble and be surprised by unexpected topics or perspectives. There’s real value in having a diverse personal learning network, but too much diversity is tough to manage. Twitter’s list tool lets me have my cake and eat it, too.

Image: “Tweet,” Frederik Hermann, Flickr (CC)

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