For educators who have been connected since the early days of social media, it is difficult to understand the reason people would ask, “What is #Edchat?” We must remember that many educators using social media for professional reasons have joined only recently. The idea of using social media for professional reasons is a relatively new concept. One would hope that it is having a positive effect because the Department of Education declared August Connected Educators Month. In our technology-driven culture, sometimes we need to stop where we are and take time to consider how we got here.
#Edchat began on Twitter three years ago. Like dog years, three years in social media time is much longer. Back then, there were far fewer educators exchanging ideas on Twitter. Twitter was only beginning to emerge as a serious method of collaboration for educators. Celebrities dominated the network and got great media coverage about their tweets. Serious use of Twitter by educators for collaboration was never covered by the media. It was not media worthy.
The popularity of Twitter for many is a result of its simplicity: Tweets are limited to 140 characters, so the writer isn’t required to say much. Of course, this was not an attraction for educators, who found the limit constricting and not welcoming for people who often have much to say. The secret that had not yet been exploited was that many tweets strung together focusing on a single topic create a discussion. In Twitter terms, this is a “chat.”
Shelly Terrell (@ShellTerrell), Steven Anderson (@web20classroom) and I (@tomwhitby) created such a chat to focus on topics for educators. We used the hashtag #Edchat to aggregate all of the tweets in one place so people could follow #Edchat-specific tweets and focus on the chat in real time. By isolating all #Edchat tweets in a separate column on TweetDeck, we were also able to follow and archive the entire discussion. #Edchat certainly was not the first “chat,” but its quick acceptance and growth among thousands of educators within weeks ensured its place in Twitter history. We held the original #Edchat at 7 p.m. Eastern on Tuesdays. Tuesdays became known as “Teacher Tuesday,” a day that teachers recommended other teachers to follow on Twitter. Participants used the hashtag #TeacherTuesday or #TT. We quickly learned Twitter’s global reach as European educators requested an earlier #Edchat to accommodate their time zones. We added a noon Eastern #Edchat in response.
The power of the hashtag was still developing in those days. #Edchat, however, began to appear on any tweet that had to do with education. The idea is that if a person on Twitter is connected to 10 educators, every one of his tweets goes to and ends with those 10 followers. This is the basic premise of Twitter. There were many educators who recognized and began to follow the #Edchat hashtag. By tacking #Edchat onto a tweet, the person can extend the range of his tweet beyond his 10 followers to the thousands who follow the hashtag. This potentially increases followers and expands his professional learning network.
There are about 70 education chats working for specific focuses. There are several hundred hashtags used to identify education-specific tweets. #Edchat continues at noon and 7 p.m. Eastern each Tuesday with different topics. The topics are determined by a poll including five topics that is posted each Sunday and remains open until Tuesday. The No. 1 choice becomes the 7 p.m. topic, and the noon #Edchat covers the second-place topic. A team moderates each #Edchat to keep things moving and focused. In addition to those already mentioned, the team consists of Kyle Pace (@kylepace), Mary Beth Hertz (@MBteach), Bernie Wall (@rliberni) and Nancy Blair (@blairteach). You can access the poll. There are hundreds of educators participating globally each week. Jerry Swiatek (@jswiatek) maintains the chats, which are all archived.
These are methods that educators have developed using social media in general, and Twitter specifically, to connect for the purpose of personal and professional development and advancement of the education system. The effect of many #Edchat discussions can be seen in blog-post reflections in the weeks after the original #Edchat discussion. Topics tend to reflect education concerns that have most recently been tweeted or blogged about to maintain relevance. That should be all anyone needs to become part of the #Edchat experience.
Tom Whitby (@tomwhitby) is an adjunct professor of education at St. Joseph’s College in New York. He came to that position after 34 years as a secondary English teacher in the public school system. He was recognized with an Edublog Award for the Most Influential Educational Twitter Series, #Edchat, which he co-founded. Whitby also created The Educator’s PLN and two LinkedIn groups, Technology-Using Professors and Twitter-Using Educators.