I remember my first Twitter chat. It was a snow day and the kids were eating lunch, so I just popped on to Twitter to see if anything interesting had been shared lately. At the time I was an eLearning coach in a 1:1 high school. I was always on the search for digital resources for the teachers I supported. Did I mention it was a Tuesday? I suspect you know what happened from there. I wouldn’t say I was hooked just yet, but who doesn’t enjoy the rush of their first retweet and the elation of seeing their followers go up? I certainly made more of an effort to watch for relevant topics, cast my vote, and join in when possible. In no time, I crafted my Following list and felt connected to a diverse group of experts.
I daresay we are all familiar with #edchat. In fact, the burgeoning Twitter community can be credited with a number of spin off chats honing in on specialized groups such as instructional models, grade levels and roles. There are even geographical edchats stretching across the globe, and most if not all that can be traced back to the original intentions of #edchat. One such branch is a community that myself and a dozen others have been cultivating, #INeLearn.
Establishing the #INeLearn hashtag served two purposes. First, like the original #edchat, it provides a place for Indiana educators from a range of roles and at all levels of education to identify themselves as part of a network where they can share resources, gather research and seek input on projects. And with our established synchronous chats, #INeLearn promotes conversational exchange around topics related to the integration of technology. Each Thursday just before 7 p.m. central time, I turn on and mute CBS, then log into Hootsuite and watch in anticipation to see who will join the discussion.
There have been weeks when just a handful of us carried on the conversation, but a group of regulars has surfaced and that number is growing. Our motley crew is sprinkled with visitors who find us through followers, the newcomer (and we are so glad when they introduce themselves) and lurkers that might tweet once or twice but haven’t yet committed to the group. There’s even an unacknowledged, friendly competition growing between two districts who tend to draw in clusters of Tweeps. Typically around 7:55, I realize not only did my favorite program end, there’s another on and it’s time to start drawing the chat to a close. It’s probably time to invest in the ability to record Big Bang Theory as I’ve missed a complete season.
Still in the initial stages with the Thursday night chats, we are building our norms. Each week is a little different as we recruit from the field when a topic suggestion comes without a volunteer moderator. Some weeks we use a Q/A format to keep the chat on track and at other times, the conversation is just organic and may have several splits within the general discussion. I’ll be honest, those weeks are harder to archive because I try to pull the threads together for anyone wanting to come back and review the topic. We do archive all the chats and I love that several members are now creating their own versions and sharing those with their schools.
Initially we followed the model of #edchat’s weekly topic poll, but we have evolved to being open to suggestions and scheduling topics monthly so that participants can make plans to attend. We realize that most of the regular tweeters using #INeLearn are active members in a number of other chats as well. In fact, some are facilitators and moderators of their own specialized chats. A Google Doc serves as a central location for the calendar, topic suggestions, and tips for getting started. I strongly encourage newly connected learners to join us as our size makes joining a chat for the first time manageable.
While the #INeLearn chat is part of my “work”, it has become a meaningful part of my personal learning network. I confessed to a former colleague this morning that I’m looking forward to our state’s Summer of eLearning, which has a number of face-to-face TweetUps planned. It was a confession as I’ve always identified myself as an introvert. But the reality is my personal tweet tally is nearing 4,000 tweets. Modest if measured against others, but surely that’s saying a lot for this girl!