For the last couple of years that I have been on Twitter, I have seen the value of using a hashtag to connect and share ideas between educators all around the world. This shared learning has made my Twitter stream a lot easier to filter so I can find stuff that is more applicable to some of the work I am doing. I am never limited to that “stream”, but it is something that I go to often. For administrators, I have used #cpchat to share and find learning shared by and for school and division administrators. For our own school division, the hashtag #psd70 has been a great way to share articles amongst our own school division, while also connecting an area that is pretty large geographically. As the year progresses, we are seeing more educators in our division use this hashtag as a way to share their work while also using it as a “bat signal” to ask for help. For my own learning, these are two main hastags that I have used on a consistent basis.
For conferences, the first thing that I do either before the conference or when I arrive in the building is look for the hashtag (hint; if you have a technology conference or say something about innovation in your title, and don’t have a hashtag for the event, there can be a disconnect). Throughout the conference, this provides a great opportunity to get some of the “big ideas” and key learning shared by people either in the same room, or at sessions that you aren’t currently in. I feel that my learning has been accelerated using these hashtags because I am tapping into the thinking of others, not just my own.
So watching what my brother does with his own courses, and how I use hashtags in my own learning, it would seem logical that we start this within our own schools to leverage some of the power of this learning. Before you do this, I would not make kids signing up for Twitter compulsory; they can follow the hashtag without joining Twitter. It is important that families are always comfortable with students signing up for social networks so I never push the issue. Also, if you are using this with students, they should be old enough to meet the Twitter Terms of Service.
Here are some steps that you will have to do to start a hashtag for your class:
- Think of something easy and as short as possible. For example, for our PSD70 “Learning Leader Project” , I will use the hashtag #psd70LLP. This is just a build of our school division hashtag with 3 simple initials to add on to differentiate it from the regular #Psd70 hashtag making it simple and easy to remember.
- Do a search of the hashtag that you want to use. This is really important as you want to establish a presence using this hashtag so that there is no mixup with another group that is using the same thing. For example, many people use the #AbEd hashtag for Alberta Education, but there is also a small group of people that use #Abed for the character Abed in the show “Community”. There is such a small group of people that use this hashtag that it is barely noticed, but you do not want to be in the minority if you are using this for a class.
- Figure out a hashtag that can be used for the same subject area across your school. If you are going to use a hashtag for something like Grade 10 Chemistry, create it with all of the teachers in your school that teach that same subject. This knocks down the physical walls as well as time barriers of classes. You can easily share the learning between the same course that is delivered at different time using this hashtag. Once it is figured it out, share it with the school, teachers, and parents.
- Using a hashtag helps to create community learning. If there is an identified hashtag for a course, when you have any “lectures” (they still have some use in the classroom), students can write their notes “publicly” and share their learning with each other and be more active participants in their learning. This way students can not only share big ideas during the class, but they can also ask each other questions and be more active participants in that process. It is much more powerful when we are able to connect our learning. Teachers (and students) can also go back and look at the hashtag and see if students understood the concepts or ideas being shared. This helps them to assess their own teaching practice. Not only that, if you are using this between several teachers for a course, it can really emphasize those ideas between courses. This is of great benefit to both teachers and students.
- Hashtags can help tap into the wisdom of your entire class. I know that many teachers have their students email them if they are struggling with questions, and the teacher may be able to answer it, but this learning is private and may not address the same question asked from a different student. If you encourage students to use a hashtag to help, any help can be shared publicly and perhaps addressing the learning of several people at a time. Not only that, the teacher might not be the one that is actually having to answer to the question. This is a great way for students to share their learning with one another and see each other as valuable resources in the course. We are much better off and will actually spend less time if we tap into the wisdom of our students.
- Share learning with your community. One of the biggest factors in student success is if parents reinforce the learning that is happening in school. This also can start some great conversations at home so we can jump over the question, “What did you learn today?”, but actually can get into some deeper conversations about the course that benefit both the learning of the student and the parent.
- You are never limited to the learning of your classroom. Even if mostly students and the teacher(s) are following the hashtag, since Twitter is public, you never know who may jump in on the conversation. If this process becomes the norm, you may have former students helping current students in the program. You may also get questions from students that could be better answered by another educator from others in such a global network. What I have learned is that there are so many passionate educators out there that will help any student, not just those that they teach directly.
- You are helping kids create a positive digital footprint while also showing how social media can be used for learning. I have asked many students if they see Twitter or Facebook as a tool for learning and they see no connection. Educators have made good use of Twitter as a professional development tool, and we have to learn how to leverage this in our classroom with students. The other “benefit” of this is as you are using this with students is that they are building a positive digital footprint and showing themselves as learners. I would have had no idea how to use Twitter for learning until someone sat down and showed me; educators should start doing the same for our students.