Making Twitter work for your students

Posted by: Megan McPherson, Project Manager, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT University.

Megan tweets for the Not a Waste of Space Project @NaWoS and personally @MeganJMcPherson. The tomtom tweets @teachingtomtom.

Greater Blue-eared Starling
(cc) Flickr, Rodrigo Sala, 2009.

Late last semester, Dr Narelle Lemon presented her research on using Twitter in her pre-service Education classes for the first of the New Learning Spaces Research Network. We tweeted with the hashtag #NLSRh and you can find the full Storify of the presentation here.

There are over 3 million Australian Twitter accounts (and over 500 million across the world). Twitter’s use in educational contexts (K-12, TAFE and HE) as a tool that facilitates collaborative approaches to professional learning is recognised in the approach taken by the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. If you haven’t got on to Twitter yet, they would be a good place to start because of the wide range of learning and teaching resources that they tweet. Follow them: @aitsl.

Narelle used Twitter with her Education students within the framework of her curriculum that incorporates visual art practices in the teaching of all school subjects.

Twitter is a tool that allows Narelle a space to support student learning in the realms of:

  • professional practice
  • communication, networking and communities of practice
  • the prevalence (and pitfalls) of social media in schools.


More broadly, Narelle quickly realised the need to teach her cohort about the notion of a  ‘digital footprint’ for all users of social media.


Narelle spoke about how her students thought about using Twitter in their personal lives. She wanted to change a common perception about social media and capitalised on transferring social media skills from a personal domain to a professional one. Narelle was keen to realign their use of Twitter in this aspect to be about their professional learning as practicing teachers. Updating skills, knowledge and application in teaching practice through communication and networking within and outside students’ course, school and practice boundaries are essential qualities to success in the profession.


Narelle emphasised the role she plays in her class in scaffolding and modelling aspects of using social media. This included using different devices including phones and tablets. Most importantly, she described her experience in scaffolding the notion of a digital footprint to her students as prospective teachers and pre-service teachers in schools on their teaching rounds.


She emphasized mutual respect, using a professional profile description and appropriate images for students twitter accounts.


After doing the basics with students, Narelle found that connections were being established between the four class groups on different campuses. Conversations were taking place inside and outside the class within different years of the Education student cohort and connections with established practitioners were being formed.


Students were able to show their work to each other, research topics, share leads and contacts with each other, and teach each other social media skills.





Using social media challenged students to consider their online representation but also gave them a digital network to support them in preparation for and during their teaching rounds.


Narelle used hashtags as identifiers. Students could identify one another easily with the hashtags: #visart12 (2012) #visart13 (2013) as course identifiers. Image

Click here to read more about Narelle’s experiences in using Twitter in her courses.

For RMIT Staff, If you’re thinking about using social media in your course, why not try a DevelopMe course to get you started: Digital Networks: Social Media for Research & Teaching.

Also, RMIT University’s Social Media Policy is useful to check out before you start using Twitter in your class.

Share your thoughts about using Twitter and social media tools in the classroom in the comments!

Recently on the tomtom:

Inclusive Conversation Series

In the first of the conversation series to launch the Inclusive Teaching and Assessment Practices Project, Professor James Arvanitakis’ presentations are now online:

  • Inclusion and Exclusion – personal perspectives as a learner and teacher. In this session James models his practice of using collaborative activities in large spaces.;ID=nq508c9rbszh1
  • Pirate Pedagogy – Killing your Powerpoints and engaging students – teach like a pirate:;ID=23f56eiprefh1
  • Inclusive teaching: Strategies using social media – James outlines how innovative pedagogical approaches, such as those using social media, can include those most likely to be excluded while encouraging already advanced students to thrive:;ID=ljfym4fwv28h1

Please contact the Project Team if you have any questions:;ID=d4eojzqwyf9

Social media as professional development – can it work for you?

Post by Kylie Budge.

Image created via Wordle.

Inger wrote a great introductory post on how to use Twitter in your teaching. She’ll be writing more on this topic soon. Today’s post takes a slightly different angle and looks at what social media can do in terms of professional development for teachers.

I’ve recently discovered how social media works for me as a form of professional development (PD) and wondered if others might also feel like this. A few weeks ago on Twiiter I read a tweet related to this topic and then just this week, again via twitter, I saw a link to a recent paper on this very topic titled ‘The End of Isolation’.  As someone who has run face-to-face sessions on teaching for higher education and vocational education teachers for many years, it really got me thinking. What I’ve noticed is that since using Twitter and blogs for work I’m a lot more across what’s happening in the sector, trends in education, and educational issues generally than I was before I started using social media in this way. Twitter, in particular, works as a great PD tool for me because it offers super-fast bursts of news, information, ideas, and advice.

So in this post I’ll focus on why social media works as a tool for PD for me and why it might also for you. I like to think of it as virtual PD in a social format.

What I love about social media tools such as Twitter and blogs and what they offer in terms of PD is how they align wonderfully with the principles of self-directed learning. As the user you get to decide when you’re going to access the information and in what format. You get to decide what it is you’re going to use; ie. what the focus of your PD will be. You have control and this is very empowering. The added dimension that social media tools offer as avenues for professional development is that you are not alone. On Twitter, for example, people are always showing you useful information and commenting on what they’re reading or finding or doing in their teaching – this generates a lot of energy and enthusiasm. You have a lot of company on your PD journey when you use social media tools.

Let’s look more specifically at Twitter as a PD tool.

I’m a recent convert to Twitter. I’ll admit that before I started using Twitter I was one of those cynics who could not see the point. Now I get it and I’m hooked. Twitter is a micro-blogging platform which means that small snippets of information (140 characters or less) are fed to you through your Twitter timeline by those you follow 24 hours a day. For more information on Twitter basics read Inger’s recent post. In their tweets people often embed links to blog posts or articles in journals or newspaper reports or any other thing that can be hyperlinked. This makes Twitter a very rich source of information that goes a lot deeper than its 140 characters of space. As a Twitter user you get to determine who to follow and for most people this is aligned to their interests. If you like, you can just follow major newspaper and journals. Or only people who talk about teaching or research. You can go as wide or as narrow as you like in terms of the information you gather via your timeline. There are also channels you can follow that start with a #tag that will take you to a zone in Twitter where people are tweeting about that specific area of interest. You can save those channels in your Twitter account and go there any time you like to see what people are tweeting about. For those interested in teaching channels try:






Further information about #tags teachers are using can be found in this article.

What about blogs? How do they work as a professional development tool?

Like Twitter, blogs are available for people to access whenever they want. In this sense they work as a way of encouraging self-directed PD like Twitter does. Blogs inhabit a more luxurious space on the internet than Twitter can provide. However, they’re shorter and more informal than an academic journal paper but can whet your appetite to read deeper on a topic. And once again, you’re not alone when using blogs for PD. You can read comments by other readers or even leave one yourself. Like Twitter, the social aspects of using blogs as a PD tool means you can network with others interested in the same sorts of topics. Also, blog readers can access specific blog posts of relevance to them at a given time. Another thing I like about blogs is they become a resource that you can dip in and out of. I might skim a blog post about a topic and re-read it more deeply when I need to apply an idea from it at a future date. It’s good to build up a list of blogs you read for PD purposes and subscribe to them so you know when they’ve published a new post. There are many teaching related blogs out there. If you’re looking for some blogs to start with try those listed on the right hand side bar of this blog. At the teaching tom tom we’re slowly building up this list of resources and welcome suggestions for others to include. Bookmark blogs you like and/or subscribe to them. And make sure you subscribe to ours while you’re at it!

The beauty of something like Twitter or blogs when used as a PD tools is that you’re not limited by the resources, knowledge or experiences available in one institution. People feed information in from all over the world. This creates a very rich and diverse range of information you can draw on for professional development purposes. That said, it does take some getting used to. The key is to not feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available. Be realistic about the amount of time you can spend online for PD and take things at the pace you feel comfortable with. Remember – you have complete control over when, where, how, what and with whom!

I’m keen to know – do social media tools also work for you as a form of professional development?