Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Follow Hashtags to Learn

by Tara Seale
Twitter is one of my mainstays for communicating and learning from teachers around the world. I may not know their cell phone, their email, converse with them on a regular basis, or even live in the same country, but Twitter connects me to educators who are willing to share and connect using technology. When I first started tweeting, the constant stream of communication made me feel guilty and overwhelmed. First, I worried about my responsibility in responding to anyone who tweeted me or replied to one of my tweets, so I continually checked my twitter account to see if I needed to respond, which later led to an overwhelmed feeling, making me want to give up on Twitter. I realized that I needed a new perspective about how to use this social networking tool without becoming so overwhelmed.
Now, I see Twitter as a large flowing river with many twists, turns, and side streams which, unfortunately, I do not have time to explore, but because of the potential, when I can, I jump in and swim around immersing myself in a depth of discoveries. Hashtags assist me in my swim so that I narrow my exploration instead of dog paddling without direction.
What are hashtags? The first hashtag I want to introduce is #engchat. I am hosting an #engchat Twitter discussion on Monday, November 14, 2011. A hashtag is proceeded by, of course, a hashtag, plus an acronym or abbreviated topic. This allows Twitter followers to zone in on their area of interest and follow the conversation and add to it. In regards to the conversation on Monday, Twitter users need to log in to Twitter and follow the conversation that is marked with #engchat. It is helpful to use an app to follow a hashtag; I use tweetdeck so that I can see the posts related to the hashtag in one column, but Meenoo Rami, founder of #engchat, advises that followers of the Monday night #engchat conversations use Tweetchat. Regardless of which app you use, hashtags are instrumental in connecting tweeters with topics they want to understand and know more about.
As you can probably discern, followers of the #engchat hashtag are English teachers, and I would like to direct you to a great video and description about how #engchat began at the Digital Is National Writing Project Blog. I encourage you to read the blog post, but also view the Bud Hunt video.
Besides #engchat, there are other hashtags that also help to connect educators. The best list is probably compiled at the Cybrary Man Blog. In addition, the Edudemic blog claims to have the full list (nearly) of educational hashtags.
Although hashtags are great for connecting teachers on a daily basis, they are also dynamic in convention settings. Take for example the NCTE Convention. If you were at last year's NCTE in Orlando and followed the convention hashtag of #NCTE1o you would have learned about potential tweetups - when people who have the same interests and follow the same hashtags meet F2F (face to face). For example, #ecning tweeters - English Companion Ning followers and contributors - were able to meet face to face and get to know each other beyond the cyberworld, which I believe everyone enjoyed. Additionally, those who followed ncte10 last year were able to learn about excellent presentations by following the hashtag ncte10 even if they were unable to attend those presentations. Therefore, I encourage you to follow #ncte11 so that you can keep up with NCTE convention happenings on Twitter.
This post has highlighted only a few of the potential connections that hashtags create in the 21st century. I plan to introduce and discuss more on Monday, November 14th at #engchat, so if you have never participated in a Twitter hashtag discussion, I encourage you to join in on Monday to see what it is all about.