Recently, members of the Imagine Learning instructional design and writing teams have started using Twitter to connect with educational communities. In this way we have each developed our own personal learning network (PLN), and we retweet the best of what we discover through our @ImagineLearning account. By doing so we have found a powerful space in which educators can interact with developers. Here we learn about student needs and teacher challenges.

These vital conversations allow developers to build pragmatic tools that can ease teachers’ burden of addressing individual student needs, ultimately translating into more effective learning environments. We’re grateful to you for allowing us to participate in these online communities and are excited about our future involvement and the new discoveries we will find together.

Using Twitter has helped me stay connected to the educational community. Yet I realize the hesitancy some may have about using Twitter. This post’s aim is to help you maximize your Twitter experience and grow your PLN.

Rethinking Twitter

There is a perception out there that Twitter is a time-waster. Perhaps this comes from the juvenile nature of derivative words like twitterific, tweeple, or twitterverse, or the confusing messages we sometimes see from people cre8ivly trying 2 stay under 140 char. I wasn’t always a Twitter fan either. I first started an account in 2007, but I didn’t do much more than that. No one I knew was using it yet, and I wasn’t sure how to find people with relevant interests. So I gave it up.

Still, I heard so many success stories that I tried again this year. I’ve been surprised to find a much more positive experience through my recent engagement. A social network is only as valuable as the people who use it. Now, literally thousands of professional educators use Twitter to share their experiences, techniques, and ideas and to help each other grow. Here are five tips to ensure your Twitter PLN is effective and professional.

1) Connect with quality educators. They’re out there. Look at bios and recent tweets to identify people you can learn from. Let quality be your filter—with followers, quality is more important than quantity. So be discreet about whom you follow. After all, it is your PLN.

2) Follow hashtags. Hashtags are keywords preceded by the hash symbol (#). Educators on Twitter use them to identify relevant tweets. Hashtags I like to follow include #edu, #edtech, #elearning, and #edchat (more information about #edchat below). Also, hashtags gain popularity and organize tweets about educational conferences and events. I learned a lot this June by looking at the hashtag #ISTE. There are a lot more. Please include your favorites in the comments below.

3) Participate in #edchat. Every Tuesday over a thousand educators come together to discuss their views on a specific educational topic. There are two sessions: one at noon and one at 7pm EST. Follow @TomWhitby, @Web20classroom or @ShellTerrell to see the week’s topic. This is a perfect space to interact with quality contacts, stay abreast of timely thought trends, and contribute your thoughts and experiences to the community.

4) Ask for help. It’s nice to have a mentor. The great advantage of connecting with educators is that they are usually willing to teach and be patient with people trying to learn new things. Follow some experienced educators on Twitter. Ask them for advice and ask them to introduce you to their followers. Let us know and we would be more than willing to introduce you to ours (@ImagineLearning). When I first started using Twitter, I was amazed at how willing people were to help me build my PLN. @SueWaters is one educator and social media expert in particular who really helped me get things started. People like her are great resources and can help you get quickly acclimated to Twitter.

5) Don’t overdo it. You will quickly find that so many valuable ideas and links are floating around Twitter that it is impossible to keep up with everything. I could easily spend my whole day on Twitter and I still wouldn’t be able to catch all of it. Set a reasonable amount of time you can afford to spend on Twitter and stick to it. Realize that the best ideas and trends will resurface again without you having to constantly monitor everything that’s going on in the twitterverse.

What are some other tips you use?

The Imagine Learning team on Twitter:

@Imagine Learning

@Lauren_Learning

@LisaLearner

@Stacy_Learning

@Carter_Learning

@RossanaLearning

@Taylor_Learning