Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Twitter - Suggestions for Using Academically

I have already written a post about how to use Twitter to create a “learning network”.  This post will be more helpful if you are brand new to Twitter.

Twitter is a social media tool.  You “follow” people, and the things they “tweet” appear in your timeline.  You can access Twitter from any computer with an internet connection and a web browser.

To get started on Twitter, first create your Twitter account.  Think of a Twitter handle.  Some people do Twitter totally anonymously, others use real names.  Because your handle appears in the tweet when people reply to you, you will want to keep it fairly short.  As with email addresses, if you expect peers or professors to see this, try to make it professional. 

Next: start following people.  It is easy to follow and unfollow people.  In the beginning, I followed tons of people.  Then when I found myself skipping over their tweets in my timeline, I realized that I wasn’t that interested in what they had to say.  As you use Twitter, you can edit the people you follow so that your timeline is filled with things that are interesting to read.  Where to get ideas of who to follow?  Twitter will make suggestions of people similar to who are already in your timeline.  Some of these are more accurate suggestions than others.  One source of good people to follow is to see who other people follow.  If you have come across someone interesting, see who the other people are who follow them, or see the list of people they follow.

Eventually, you figure out hashtags.  These are ways of marking tweets with a subject tag.  For example, I suggest that when you ask questions about lecture content, you mark your question tweets with the hashtag #BIO139.  Then it will be easy for me to search for the tweets that have that hashtag in them, to make sure that I haven’t missed any.  Hashtags start with the pound sign (#) and can’t contain spaces.  So sometimes you see hashtags like #thingsthatareboring

You can "star" a tweet, or mark it as a favorite.  Some people use that function similar to a "like" on Facebook.  I use it to bookmark tweets that have links that I want to come back later and read (see later paragraph on sending those tweets to Read It Later/Pocket).

To be perfectly honest, I find the actual Twitter website to be my least favorite way to access Twitter.  Instead, I use a program called TweetDeck.  Using Tweetdeck, I can manage both my personal and my professional Twitter accounts.  I can view tweets from the #BIO139 hashtag, or “@ replies” directed toward me, or tweets related to other searches.  Tweetdeck displays tweets in columns, so you can see different types of tweets at once.  TweetDeck also has an app for a smart phone, so you can view and send tweets from your phone.

And while I am talking about apps, here is one really cool way that I manage information that I find on Twitter.  By using a website called "If This Then That" and an app called Pocket (used to be Read It Later) you can more easily track and read the articles and links that are in your timeline.  Basically you tell the If This Then That website your Twitter logon information and your Pocket/Read It Later logon information.  That links the two accounts.  The next time you "star" a tweet in your timeline that contains a link, that link will be sent to Read It Later/Pocket.  So when you have some time (waiting in line, etc) you can open Pocket/Read It Later and catch up on the article and links that you have starred.

One aspect of Twitter that I am getting ready to experiment with is the function called Lists.  Lists are a way to organize the various types of people that you follow on Twitter.  For example, I follow a number of higher education organizations.  Perhaps grouping those into a list might be a better way to follow what those organizations are doing.  If I get the lists to work, I might write that into a new post.

So what about you, dear readers?  What questions do you have, or what ways do you use Twitter that you find to be helpful?

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