Twitter 101 for educators

I’ve been so excited lately about the potential I see for Twitter as a learning tool. But Twitter does have a bit of a learning curve when it comes to understanding potential uses. It’s easy to set up a Twitter account and start sending status updates. But what is more important than this, I think, is what you do after that: Follow other people.


When you go to your Twitter home page it will show you a chronological stream of content from all the people you follow. The quality of that content depends on the quality of the people you follow. I am interested in news, social media, and technology in education so I follow news organizations such as @cnnbrk (CNN Breaking News), @msnbc_us, and @nytimes (New York Times), and social media and education types such as @chrispirillo, @kegill, and @smcseattle (Social Media Club Seattle).

What, you might ask, is the @ symbol in front of all those Twitter names (also known as Twitter handles)? The @ can be used to reply to a post or it can be used to give credit to a source when retweeting.

What’s retweeting? A retweet looks something like this: RT @jdlasica: In case you were wondering, yes, @lancearmstronG is tweeting quite a bit during the Tour de France #uwtwtrbook.

The RT stands for retweet. It’s used when you like something someone has has tweeted and you want to repeat it – or retweet it. You will also notice in this example that the @ symbol has been used for Lance Armstrong so readers can easily find his Twitter feed by clicking on the link that is automatically created whenever you use the @ symbol.


Also in this example above, we see something called a hashtag. You can create a hashtag simply by placing the # symbol in front of a word or abbreviation.

The hashtag is extremely useful for categorizing information. For example, an instructor might have everyone in a class tweet their reflections on a class and give it a specific hashtag, for example, #com346. Then the instructor, and the students, can do a search from the main Twitter page for #com346 and all the tweets with this hashtag will show up in chronological order. This can help instructors monitor class progress and questions and can help students review class notes and read other students’ reflections.

If you have the technology in the classroom it can be helpful to have the Tweets show up in real time on a projected screen using an application like Tweetdeck, which you can set up to show different hashtags and groups of people you are following.

Hashtags are also commonly used for special events like lectures and conferences (it’s helpful if someone announces the hashtag at the beginning of the event so everyone can use and follow the same one). For example, a conference on environmental journalism might have the hashtag #greenj. Try to come up with something logical, short and memorable.

A group might also want to start using a specific hashtag (though no one can own a specific hashtag – check to make sure no one else is using the hashtag you want to use). For example, students in the University of Washington Master of Communication in Digital Media program regularly use the hashtag #uwmcdm to post content relevant to other MCDM students.

Finding people to follow

As I said before, the quality of your Twitter experience relies on the quality of who you follow. But how do you find people to follow? One way is just to search by keyword. There are also many sites that are devoted to helping you find people with similar interests. WeFollow is one such site. Twibes is another. LocalTweeps is a site that sends you Tweets if you are in a geographic location of a registered event.

You will notice as you start following people you will suddenly get a lot of followers. The decision of whether to follow them or not is up to you. I usually check out the timeline of someone who has followed me. If the information is relevant to me then I follow them. If it looks like spam I don’t.

There’s a lot more about Twitter that I could go into. But this should be enough to get you started. And don’t feel like you have to read everything the people you are following tweet. Scan through when you think of it. If you have time to click on a few links, great. If not, don’t worry about it. The nice thing about Twitter is that the people you are following will filter information for you. If it’s really important it will probably come up again from another friend. Think of it as fishing for information. There are always more fish in the pond, but you only need to catch a few to be happy.

If you would like to take a look at some of the applications that have been developed for use with Twitter, there is a fan wiki with a lot of information.

You can follow my tweets at @UWComm.

Social Explorer maps U.S. Census data

If you’re looking for a visual representation of Census data, you should check out Social Explorer.  The site has maps you can filter to look at population, race, religion, commuting time, income, etc. If it was on the Census form you can filter for it. You can save maps, and even create slideshows like this one, showing the areas where Michael Jackson grew up.

Besides maps you can also create customized reports of the information you are looking for under the Reports tab.

The free edition is open to the general public. If you have a UWNetID or other access through an educational institution, you can access the Professional edition.