Twitter, what the hashtag?

In this section a practical piece on what Twitter actually is and with some reference to current research on education and the social medium.

The context of learning has dramatically changed in recent years. The explosion of the Web has caused a major shift in how we deal with resources. The Web is currently developing into “a mesh of interlinked resources that can be accessed through communication and collaboration with others.” (Kop, 2012, p.1) This adds complexity to the educational and learning landscape but it also strengthens it. (Kop, 2012) I agree with the Belgian psychiatrist Dirk De Wachter (2014) when he argues that the ‘paradox’ is the most important word of the 21st century. Handling the paradox of the information overload will gain importance for teachers. ‘Benefit from the network but prevent from drowning and still keep focus to your professional practice’ summarises my view of the informational paradox on the Web.

And Twitter is a good example of how the Web of social media can burst our digital lives with an avalanche of online resources, inside or outside education.

Kop (2012, p.7) exemplifies what Twitter actually is:

Twitter, a social media application that was first established in 2006, allows users to post messages of no more than 140 characters long and send these to people who are following them. People can follow others who they believe have something interesting to share. Users have started particular practices of including identifier codes in their messages, in the form of @ and #. This ensures that a particular person is identified in a particular message related to him in the case of the @, and that people can identify and search all messages related to a certain subject by using a keyword in combination with a #, producing a hash-tag, and can store this search in the form of a list. In addition, it is possible for users to amplify the same message they received from someone else, and pass it on to his own network of followers through the click of one button, which is called re-tweeting (Boyd et al., 2010). Microblogging messages have evolved to not just include a quick message about a certain topic, but to also contain links to web sites or blog posts, in addition to displaying these items in daily newspapers, which are Twitter aggregators that draw content from a combination of messages and multimedia from different sites. Educators are currently also experimenting with curating tools such as Scoop-It, which provide opportunities to curate messages and information on a particular topic, and add a longer comment than is possible on Twitter.

A more visual explanation of Twitter is this video of @courosa ‘Behind every tweet’.

Currently (Dec. ’15) there are 320 million active users on Twitter per month. Numerous resources can be found on the web, I refer to this blogpost where I curated some relevant resources on building a network with Twitter. In fact, the amount of information on Twitter proves the earlier point of resource abundance. Amazing how many articles can be found on Twitter and education. An advantage of social media is that you can ask for help and people are very likely to help. I illustrate by a tweet on interesting resources on Twitter & education:

Unfortunately, this tweet did not generate any response, nor useful resources. Yes, that is also ‘social media’ :)

Handling the uncertainty and fickle nature of social media is something you must take into account. Luckily, we can curate resources in social bookmarking sites such as diigo. Here you find a list of my public resources tagged with ‘Twitter’.

Carpenter and Krutka (2015, p. 710) bridge the gap between Twitter and CPD.

“Theoretically, Twitter  offers PD opportunities  that  differ  from  traditional approaches because of its immediacy, personalization and support of networks that are less temporally or spatially limited.”

Several themes emerged from their data. A summary of their findings below.

  • Twitter was praised for its personal, immediate and interactive nature. Respondents in their study conveyed that interactions offered superior CPD to traditional approaches. This is in contrast to the participants in my study who indicated few engagement in discussions.
  • Sharing worthwile knowledge and information is valued. #agreed ‘Twitter is an invaluable source of accessing and sharing resources’ (Carpenter & Krutka, 2015, p.714) could have been a quote of one of my participants.
  • According to Carpenter and Krutka Twitter can ease various forms of isolation. This is not grounded in the data of my research.
  • Twitter is credited for providing education trends especially in the area of technology.
  • In their study educators expressed “appreciation for Twitter connections with educators from beyond their own schools and districts. The likeminded and those with different point of views.” (Carpenter & Krutka, 2015, p. 714)

They conclude (p. 724):

“Outside the normal PD realm of formal institutions, policies and experts, Twitter offers evidence that at least some teachers are not content to simply carry out the objectives of others, but instead seek to be intellectuals and leaders in their fields. We are hopeful that the traditional school leadership might take notice and find appropriate ways to empower their teachers.”

Rita Kop (2012) #serendipity

The work of Rita Kop (2012) is also relevant. In ‘The Unexpected Connection: Serendipity and Human Mediation in Networked Learning’ she argues that “people will have to adapt to using information in a new way and will advocate the movement by learners into and inside information streams on open online networks.” (p. 2)

She introduces the notion ‘serendipity’, the slightly unexpected finding of meaningful resources. This relates directly to my findings on ‘peripheral work mastery’ and ‘transcendence’ although I did not name it ‘serendipity’. Empirical research to further test serendipity is needed.

Kop acknowledges that future inquiry is needed to find out how teachers can shape the stream of information most effectively.


Kerry Davis - Learning in 140 Characters: Teachers' Perceptions of Twitter for Professional Development.

The work of Davis (2012) also shows parallels with my case study. Davis investigated how engagement in Twitter #edchat sessions impacts K-12 educators. She concludes that “educators perceived Twitter as an online forum to reflect upon practice, exchange knowledge and experience, and be in the presence of supportive colleagues.” (p.1551 in Disability and Rehabilitation Volume 37, Issue 17, 2015).

A parallel with the early emerging categories in my case study:


Forte, Humphreys and Park (2012) Grassroots Professional Development: How Teachers Use Twitter.

Forte, Humphreys and Park (2012) have investigated how educators use social media in their professional practice. In this exploratory study they share a number of comparable facets to my case study.

  • Through Twitter teachers maintain professional ties outside their local schools.
  • Teachers use Twitter as “a place to share resources and to make and respond to others’ requests for information.” (p. 7)
  • High school teachers express frustration towards policies that prohibit the use of social media in schools. This is in line with Brown and Duguid (2001) who argue that network tools are still in the periphery of the organisation.

> Findings section. Introduction on findings and the nature of inspiration.