A Twitter chat is a live, real-time discussion that takes place via Twitter messages, also known as tweets. Connected by use of a specific hashtag, those contributing to the discussion can add their comments in 140-character increments. While it may seem an odd way to participate in a conversation, you may be surprised at the benefits the platform provides, and at the growth of this format among educators at all levels.
As moderator of the Inside Online Learning chat (#IOLchat) since June 2011, I’ve experienced many of these benefits. It’s been a great opportunity to connect with a larger community of students, educators, and instructional designers, and to facilitate new connections among participants. It’s also an effective way to (virtually) meet leaders in the field of online education who have served as guest hosts.
If you’ve thought about joining a Twitter chat or are completely new to the concept, the intent of this guide is to provide you with the basic information necessary to successfully participate in your first live chat.
What to Expect
As in any group discussion, Twitter chats feature a general exchange of ideas, opinions, recommendations, and resources. Most are open to the public, and anyone interested in the topic is encouraged to attend. There are four common components of these live conversations you should look for:
- Moderator: An individual or group that organizes the event and facilitates the conversation. Several chats, including @chat2lrn and @lrnchat, have their own Twitter accounts and homepages to help coordinate efforts.
- Central topic: Most chats are organized around a central theme of interest, as well as a more detailed topic for each “meeting.” For example, one of the more popular events for educators is #edchat. This group always discusses issues related to education, but also picks a focus each week. A recent May session sought input on the question: “How important is it to teach critical thinking and how do we do it?”
- Hashtag: The # symbol used with a series of letters and numbers is known as a “hashtag” and adding the chat-specific hashtag to each of your tweets allows you to participate. The hashtag is searchable and creates a way to filter the tweets that are part of the chat. Hashtags are also increasingly part of other social platforms, including Tumblr, Instagram, Google+, and Flickr.
- Time and date: Many Twitter chats are recurring events scheduled monthly, weekly, or another pre-determined interval. Find a chat that meets both your interest and availability on compiled lists like these: Weekly Education Chats, Twitter Chat Schedule, Twitter Directory for Higher Education.
As you review existing Twitter chats, you may notice that some provide discussion questions in advance, while others include them during the live event. But some chats will be more open-ended, taking direction cues from gathered participants. As a participant, you should assume that your contributions will be collected in some sort of transcript, ranging from a blog post summary to a compilation via a hashtag aggregation tool like Storify. (more…)