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Lessons Learned from a Large Twitter Chat

posted: 2.12.13 by Traci Gardner

February 6 was Digital Learning Day, a day that “seeks to promote the use of technology to support teachers in public schools for grades K-12.” As part of the events, The Verizon Foundation organized a Twitter Chat around the hashtag #EdTechChat

You may have seen one of the invitations to join the discussion that I posted online before the event, and if you were one of the 200 people who participated I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did (I was participating as @RWTnow). It was, indeed, a very interesting event, and I was reminded of quite an important lesson about digital technologies: what works with thirty people may not work as well when you have seven or eight times that many.

I realize that is an obvious lesson, but until I found myself preparing for and participating in the #EdTechChat discussion I hadn’t really thought about it. The Twitter Chats that I participated in before Digital Learning Day generally had no more than 30 people involved. The #EdTechChat on February 6 had over 200 participants and over 1000 Tweets. It’s quite a significant difference. Screens full of Tweets were whizzing by every 10 seconds in TweetChat, and at times, it was difficult to follow conversation threads. The TweetChat page has some pausing built in and you can slow down the refresh rate, but I didn’t want to get behind.

The experience left me with three pieces of advice I want to share with anyone organizing a Twitter Chat, regardless of the number of participants:

  1. Gather any links or information that you anticipate you will need in advance. Examples could be the current writing assignment, the course website, online handbooks or OWL pages, Writing Center details, and reference page from the library. Have the information in a word processor window so you can paste it in as needed. Doing so makes it much easier to keep up with the conversation.
  2. Schedule some Tweets for the Twitter Chat in advance using a Twitter client (that is outside TweetChat). The client Hootsuite, for instance, lets schedule updates. You can schedule the general guidelines for the session at the beginning and any follow up reminders at the end. Automating that work leaves you free to engage with the questions and issues that arise organically.
  3. Talk about the etiquette of Retweets (RTs) and Modified Tweets (MTs) with students before the session if you have a large group. With smaller groups, I haven’t noticed a problem, but in this very large and very busy Twitter Chat, there were times when the entire window was filled with Retweets. No one was saying anything new. If it becomes overwhelming with students, you might suggest that they use the Favorite option instead, or that they repeat only part of the original comment and add something new.

So those are the lessons I learned last week. I also mention found a reminder of one of the practices I always stress about working with technology. I’m always a fan of having multiples ways to do what you want so that you have a backup in case something doesn’t work. When I was making archives of the Twitter Chat, I found that one of my favorite tools, Tweet Archivist, is no longer a free site. It is still a very slick tool, but at $14.99/month, it is probably out of the price range for most of us.

Have you tried a Twitter Chat? Do you have any tips or suggestions to pass along? Please leave me a comment below or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+ and share your thoughts.


[Photo: poser by fluffisch, on Flickr]

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