Skip to main content

Ask Professor Pedagogy: Twitter as a Learning Network

Posted by on Friday, June 28, 2013 in Commentary.

Ask Professor Pedagogy is a twice monthly advice column written by Center for Teaching staff. One aspect of our mission is to cultivate dialogue about teaching and learning, so we welcome questions and concerns that arise in the classroom; particularly those from Vanderbilt faculty, students, and staff. If you have a question that you’d like Professor P to address, please send it to us.

Dear Professor Pedagogy,

I keep hearing about Twitter… and though I’ve always considered it to be a waste of time but after attending a conference recently where everyone was tweeting and talking about something they called their ‘twitter PLNs’ I’m reconsidering.  Do I really need to join the Twitter bandwagon or am I safe ignoring this trend?



Dear Twit-Less,

Great question! Personal Learning Networks (or PLNs) have been around for ages. You probably have one right now if you think about it – the people in your PLN are most likely your friends, your colleagues, your mentors, and perhaps people at other institutions in your field. But as the internet and tools like Twitter have become nearly ubiquitous, PLNs are beginning to include people from diverse backgrounds, many of whom you won’t know face-to-face. And that’s what all the buzz is about.

So should you bother expanding your PLN using Twitter?

Professor P says YES. Twitter can be a place to find advice, give advice, find great links, share your work and engage in general conversation about higher education. And if you ask for it – get group feedback on ideas and projects. Twitter can also be a way to follow trends, get news, and hear about new research your field (or in topics you’re interested in learning more about).

Here are some ways that higher ed faculty and staff are using their PLNs:
–    Learning from subject-area specialists
–    Locating resources for a course or syllabus, such as free websites and software
–    Getting ideas or advice from experts in the field
–    Learning about new technology and how to integrate it into your teaching
–    Finding collaborative solutions
–    Finding interesting links to higher education news

How to get started

1. Join Twitter. Create a username for yourself that will allow others to recognize you. You’ll also want to complete your bio so that others know who you are. Be sure to add an image of yourself. Twitter users (unlike those of some social networks) tend to use their real names and real images, so you’ll want to do the same.

2. Follow People. There are thousands of people involved in higher education (and in your specific field) around the world on Twitter, you just have to know where to find them! No ideas? Start with key figures in your field, others at your institution, people who belong to professional organizations you do, popular industry/advocacy sites or groups, etc. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Related to Vanderbilt: @VanderbiltU (Vanderbilt’s official twitter account), @vandycft (Vanderbilt Center for Teaching), and @InsideVandy (Vanderbilt news). Many of the schools at Vanderbilt, as well as many of the centers and campus units have Twitter accounts. Do a search for ‘vanderbilt’ on twitter to discover these.
  • Related to Higher Education: @insidehighered (Inside Higher Ed), @chronicle (The Chronicle), and @ProfHacker (Prof Hacker). Most publications have a twitter account where they link to their newest issues, studies, and blog postings – following their feeds is a great way to stay on top of current happenings in higher ed.

Once you have a few people to follow, look at who they are following and you will start to build up your PLN.

3. Lurk. Yes, just lurk. Log into Twitter and spend some time checking out the stream of tweets from the people you’re now following. Once you have the hang of what kinds of things people tweet, you might go on to the next step. But many folks are plenty happy lingering here in the lurking stage – even if you never tweet, you may gain some wonderful insights and stumble upon some great resources that you can use.

4. Participate. Now that you’re more comfortable, start tweeting! Professor P (who has read too many tweets about what coffee you’re drinking and what you had for breakfast), has some suggestions of course:

  • Tweet articles or blog posts by your researchers, bloggers, or publications. If it is a good read or a good resource, it reflects well upon your institution that you tweeted it.
  • Ask questions (or for help!). You can ask your followers for suggestions, for feedback, or for comments. You can also seek their input on collaborative documents – there’s many stories out there of folks on Twitter joining in the creation of materials connected to areas of expertise.
  • Engage in a “backchannel” next time you’re at a conference. Those people you mentioned in your letter to me who were tweeting at a conference? Next time that could be you! Backchannels are great ways to share what you’re learning, to share resources you’ve found out about, or in case you’re stuck in a not-so-great session to find out about a better one to pop over to.
  • Attend a “#chat”. What’s a #chat, you ask? Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a chat that occurs on Twitter. Most #chats are hosted on a particular day, at a particular time, once a week. Prior to the chat, the moderators send out a Tweet asking participants to choose one of the given topics. #chats are very informal – you can lurk and get ideas, or you can jump in and share. You can interact with all, or none, of the participants. You can join the conversation late, or leave early. Interested? Here are two you might be interested in checking out: #HElivechat : Weekly Twitter chats about higher education hosted by The Guardian Higher Education Network and  #PhDchat : Weekly discussion by PhD candidates moderated by @NSRiazat. Inside Higher Ed maintains a calendar of #chats – so you could also consult their twitter directory for ideas.

Give yourself a couple of weeks before you decide if Twitter is for you. Keep logging in, lurking, and participating. I feel confident that you’ll find a level of participation that you’re comfortable with and find valuable.

….And let me know how it goes!

Professor P

Professor P


Tags: , ,

Leave a Response