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

Visiting guests and noting opportunities

A photography lecture in 1947

Melbourne Technical College 1947. (cc) RMIT University Archives Image Collection

Posted by: Megan McPherson, L&T Group, College of Design and Social Context, RMIT.

One of the pleasures of being connected with a university is the opportunity to hear visiting lecturers presenting at different forums and for different audiences.

There are some great visiting professors coming to speak over the next few weeks; Anthony Paré and Helen Sword just to name two this week: Wednesday and Friday respectively- click here to register!

On 8 November 2012, Professor Erica McWilliam, Adjunct Professor at Queensland University of Technology, spoke at the RMIT College of Business Research Showcase in the Swanston Academic Building. Her audience was mainly comprised of research students in the College of Business involved in higher degrees by research, however her discussion was relevant to any one involved in knowledge creation and learning and teaching.

Professor McWilliam’s presentation was about scholarship and the discomfort of being involved in research that is challenging and new.

A few of the many ideas Professor McWilliam discussed were:

  • The three simple questions that she uses to define her research area:  What’s going on? How do you know? And So What? Twenty-first century researchers know that there are creaks and leaks in knowledge creation; it is how you, as a researcher, position yourself in relation to these three questions which is relevant.
  • What counts as a field? McWilliam suggests Robin Rogers’ notion of twenty-first century researchers operating in a tessellated field and our ability to collaborate, as networks and nodes, changes the way we think of discipline boundaries. Twenty-first century researchers need to be able to tolerate the discomfort of working not in one field or discipline, but being crossdisciplinary, interdisciplinary, multidisciplinary and transdisciplinary. Check out the Research Whisperer’s post for detailed discussion of these terms.
  • Twenty-first century researchers creating trouble for what she called ‘straight thinking’, questioning how we design research, using patterns rather than straight lines. McWilliam used Gosling’s The Knight’s Move as the metaphor; see her keynote speech to the 3rd Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference (The Knight’s Move: its relevance for educational research and development, 2009).

The McWilliam keynote was twittered on the day by @kyliebudge, @thesiswhisperer and @MeganJMcPherson with the hashtag #mcwilliam. Using Twitter in a lecture presentation is a form of active note taking. It’s also a way to practice writing short, sharp summaries of bigger ideas. Anthony Paré describes this as a type of heuristic writing to make sense; and to make meaning and knowledge. The tweets start to make a narrative of the event, and the results can be both a record and a prompt to do further work with the information.

The Twitter notes have been useful to connect me with information and to network with others. I found the other keynotes referenced here and Kylie Budge (@kyliebudge) found McWilliam’s article ‘From school to café…’ and posted it to Twitter. The notes have been interesting for networking in academic circles; I had great questions and supportive comments in my Twitter feed from academics from different countries and from within Australia.

Thanks to @thesiswhisperer and  @kyliebudge for tweeting at the presentation in the room and all others who contributed to the #mcwilliam feed. Professor McWilliam’s Twitter handle is @elmcwilliam.

You can use tools like and to look at and collate the tweets from hashtags. When the College of Business has the video finalised, we will provide a link here too!

References / Further Reading:

Judge, A (2012) Insights from Knight’s move thinking, accessed 18 Nov, 2012

McWilliam, E (2009) The Knight’s Move: Its relevance for educational research and development. Keynote paper presented at the 3rd Redesigning Pedagogy International Conference, Singapore. Accessed 18 Nov, 2012.

Click here for slides from the above keynote.

Paré, A. (2009) What we know about writing, and why it matters. Compendium 2, 2(1), Dalhousie University. Accessed 18 Nov, 2012

Thomson, P (2012) Academic travel diary: a narrative to find the way. Accessed 18 Nov, 2012

Share your thoughts about getting the most value from conferences and visiting guests in the comments!

eBooks and Twitter: from L&T to research

Posted by: Rebekha Naim, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University.

This is from a presentation given at the monthly teachers@work, L&T seminars, School of Media and Communication, RMIT University.

Establish your reputation by publishing online and watch it go viral!

self-portrait with portable devices © Jenny Weight:

© Jenny Weight:

When Jenny Weight, lecturer in Media and Communications and post-graduate supervisor, grabs her laptop, tablet or smart phone she does extraordinary things. At a teachers@work session she showed us how. She links her research which is published online to her Twitter account. This then becomes ‘live’ research as she uses the tweets to further inform her work.

Jenny teaches in the area of networked and convergent media at both graduate and post-graduate level in the School of Media and Communication, RMIT. Her recent research has focussed on the sociology of media device use in the area of pedagogy and networked media.

She uses iBooks and eBooks in combination with Twitter as a way of researching, teaching and disseminating her research.

Jenny publishes her research on Apple’s iBooks format which can include video, audio and interactive media, making it a richer experience for students.

Being on the cutting-edge means that not everything is perfect. The current reality is the iBooks store approval process is time consuming and learning the layout software is complex. Also, not all of the students are able to read the work so a pdf version is necessary.

However Jenny got canny! She now publishes the pdf files on her blog then advertises them via twitter to a ‘doco research’ hashtag (#), each created specifically for that research. When Jenny first did this, her research took on a life of its own – some retweeted, others blogged, still others scooped it, and before she knew it, Jenny Weight’s blog page had 20 000 hits!

Inspired? Want to know more? Please have a look at Jenny’s presentation. She would love to hear from you:

the Tom Tom, learning & making connections

Post by Ruth Moeller & Kylie Budge.

Image by: Ruth Moeller.

The Teaching Tom Tom has been an initiative of the Learning & Teaching Team, College of Design & Social Context, RMIT University.

When the Teaching Tom Tom began 6 months ago, its aim was to create a community of practice amongst learning and teaching staff (or achieve world domination, whichever comes first). We wanted to trial using social media, in our case blogging and twitter, to provide a forum for those interested in teaching and learning at the tertiary level.

Well, we haven’t achieved world domination quite yet (!) but the Tom Tom has had some success in developing a community of practice. As a reader of the Tom Tom from the comfort of your computer screen, you are joining about 600 others world wide who have an interest in learning and teaching. Think about it, how many people were at the last teaching and learning meeting you went to?

Along the way we have learned many things but the main thing being: social media is social; it’s about making connections. And it’s a two-way dialogue. This doesn’t just have to mean online. ‘Shut up and write‘ sessions have provided a chance for writers across RMIT to share a coffee (or herbal tea), have a chat, write for one pomodoro (25 minutes), have another chat, and write for another pomodoro. In doing so, making connections that help in research, teaching, and blogging. Connections are also made in sourcing, encouraging and supporting contributors to the Tom Tom and in discussing and commenting on posts (both face to face and online).

The other aspect of our social media experiment has been connection with the twitterverse, where we have discovered and shared ideas and resources with fellow Twitterers, most of whom we have never, and will never meet but who have become part of the community of practice we have been engaged with. Being part of this community, we have realized that this kind of activity can also be part of professional development, not replacing journal articles, conferences and more formal professional development initiatives, but enhancing them – providing tasters and snapshots that can lead to further exploration.

We would like to acknowledge all those would have supported the Tom Tom, and in particular our fellow RMIT bloggers Inger Mewburn from The Thesis Whisperer, and Tseen Khoo and Jonathan O’Donnell from The Research Whisperer for their advice and encouragement.

We are taking a break for a few weeks until early next year. This will give us an opportunity to review, reflect and refresh our approach.

Have a restful holiday season!

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?

Teaching with Twitter (part one)

Dr Inger Mewburn is a Research Fellow in the School of Graduate Research, RMIT University. She co-ordinates the On Track generic research skill program at RMIT, teaches online as well as writing for and editing The Thesis Whisperer blog. The rest of the time she listens to research students who want to tell her their problems and writes on the subject of research education.
Being a Twitter enthusiast is a bit like being a cult member. Those who ‘get it’ are your instant friends, while those that don’t tend react with puzzlement – or pity. I can understand why Twitter divides people. It is absurdly easy to sign up and start tweeting, but it is quite difficult to work out how to use and enjoy it.

In this series of posts I am going to attempt to demystify Twitter and make some suggestions about how you can use it in your teaching. But I want to make you think about uses beyond the classroom too. Twitter can be used to help you build a ‘personal brand’ and connect with people who share your enthusiasm for certain subjects. If you are careful about how you work with Twitter, you can become a ‘trusted source’ and build a substantial follower base who will carry your words much further than you imagine. There is clear value, especially for sessional lecturers, in creating a recognisable brand presence in Twitter – you never know which future employers are listening!

The first step to successful tweeting is to understand how the platform works. For those of you who are yet to be acquainted with the mechanics of the platform, Twitter is a ‘micro blogging’ service where people post ‘tweets’ of up to 140 characters.  You can follow anyone (unless they block you) and arrange them into lists. You can be followed by anyone – unless you lock your account and force people to ‘knock on your door’ to enter. When you log in to Twitter your timeline shows the tweets of all the people you follow and anything they have re-tweeted (RT). The Tweets may be just plain text, or include web links and special searchable links called ‘hashtags’ (#).

I recommend you have an account that is set aside just for academic work (you can always have another, possibly locked, account to talk with your friends). Use your own name, or choose a name which will resonate with the topics you are teaching and researching. For example, I call myself @thesiswhisperer, which simultaneously publicises my blog and announces to anyone cruising by that my purpose is to help people to write a PhD or Masters thesis. Make your bio concise and signal the topics you are interested in talking about in 160 characters so that people can understand who you are. For example, this is how I describe myself:

Research Fellow @RMIT University. Does research on research ( yes – really), writes for and edits the Thesis Whisperer blog and thinks about stuff.

The main value of Twitter in teaching is the conversations it enables and the ability to harness the wisdom of the crowd to find useful information. But what puts many people off is that the more people you follow, the faster the tweets multiply in your timeline until there are literally too many to read. The first thing to do is relax – imagine Twitter as a rushing waterfall of information and noise. You can’t drink from the waterfall by sitting under it with your mouth open; you hold a cup under it.  Since you will only be able to catch a small amount of what is going by in your cup, you need to ensure you are catching more information than noise.

There are three different ways to ‘tune into’ Twitter and sort information from noise: be selective about whom you follow, use hashtags and compile lists. I’ll tackle each of these in turn.

Your students, and any other followers you attract, will look at who you follow to work out who you are and what you value. Use this opportunity to send the right signals by being careful about whom you include in your ‘waterfall’. If you are a teaching and researching politics you may follow politicians, political journalists and perhaps certain bloggers; if you are also interested in knitting you would include other knitters and perhaps supply shops and so on.

Don’t worry if you end up following lots of people; you can use lists to organise them. When you make a list you are essentially making an alternate timeline to view. The key advantage of a list is that the timeline can be viewed by others, so I like to think about myself as a curator of an art gallery here. I try to make lists of people that others will want to read.

Lists can be used to track and monitor your audience. I have over 2000 followers. If I followed everyone back I would have a really crowded timeline, but I am still interested in what they are saying, so I organise all my followers into different lists. The lists are broadly speaking organised into interests – sort of like online ‘birds of a feather’ groups. I can scan these alternative timelines when I have time and get a sense of what conversations are going on and pick out interesting links. To ease this process I feed all my lists into an aggregator (, but more on that another time.

Hashtags are a powerful way for a teacher to start to organise materials and discussion. A hastag placed before a word, or string of words with no spaces, turns the piece of text into a special sort of ‘search link’; when you click on it your timeline changes to show all the tweets containing that hashtag. Hashtags can be used to make informal, adhoc chat channels. A good example of this is #phdchat, which is used by many PhD students to find each other and share information. Every now and then the list convenor organises a real time chat with a topic.

I hope this post has given you some ideas on the way that Twitter can be used in your teaching practice. In the next post I will talk some more about the content of Tweets and how to craft more informative and compelling ones.