Twitter for teaching: 1. Getting started

Twitter for teaching: 1. Getting started

In this series, we’ll give practical examples of how you can use Twitter in your teaching to support learning.  We’ll start at the beginning: Getting started with Twitter.


What is Twitter?

It’s a bit like CB radio for the 21st Century, or a staffroom full of experts on every conceivable subject, available 24 hours a day.  Twitter makes it easy to ask questions of a wide audience, receive the latest news on topics that really interest you, and connect to people with similar interests.

How does it work?

Twitter members post short messages, a bit like posting sticky notes on a huge wall.  Messages are known as tweets and can be a maximum of 140 characters, so information comes in convenient concise chunks, and they can be read by anyone.  Tweets can be about anything, for example what you are doing, resources you have found, information you want to share, questions you want answering.  Once you’ve created a Twitter account (it’s free) you can curate your own personalised stream of information by following people and organisations you are interested in.  It can soon develop into an extremely powerful professional learning network.

But isn’t Twitter full of trivia and gossip?

Like any social space, you’ll find people talking about all kinds of topics.  But it’s not all gossip.  Many professionals and organisations have a serious presence on Twitter and they’re sharing genuinely useful stuff!

Tweet from Prof Phil Race, sharing advice on feedback

Tweet from Prof Phil Race sharing advice on feedback.  Notice the link to futher information?

Some accounts you might be interested in following include:

@NTUDigital Us! NTU’s Digital Practice Team
@RacePhil Prof Phil Race, author on assessment, feedback, teaching and learning in HE
@timeshighered Times Higher Education
@NTUNews NTU Press Office
@JISC The UK’s expert on digital technologies for education and research.
@HEAEducation The Higher Education Academy


How can Twitter help me in my professional practice?

Twitter word cloud

Learn: Connect with professional bodies and subject experts to receive news on their developments. Ask questions of communities and get answers from all over the world.

Share:  Build your professional presence online by tweeting news articles, links, new research, advertise events.

How do I get started?

1. Go to and sign up for an account: it’s free! 

Think about whether you’ll be using this account for professional or personal interests; you may want to create several.  If you’re creating an account to use with students, consider including NTU in the username.  For example, we used NTUDigital.

2. Let people know who you are

Complete your biography with information about yourself.  This is where you tell the Twitter community about your interests and expertise, and they’ll use this information to help decide whether to connect with you.  If you’re stuck for what to write, have a look at some other Twitter accounts to get an idea of what to include or have a read of How to write a Twitter Bio.

3. Find people with similar interests and ‘follow’ them

Building your own list of good quality sources takes some time, but it’s worth getting right.  Start by searching for subject experts in your discipline, professional bodies, colleagues.  For more ideas, have a look at who they’re following.  To follow someone, click on the Follow button on their Twitter page.

4. Start contributing

People new to Twitter often ‘lurk’ for a bit, reading tweets before they are ready to post anything to the world.  Luckily, when you’re first starting out, you’re unlikely to have many followers.  As you become more comfortable with tweeting your followers will grow. What to write about? 7 Effective ways to engage on Twitter.

5. Use hashtags

Add hastags to your messages; it helps other people find them.  Search for tweets containing specific hashtags to tune in to conversations. The top five educational hashtags are #education #edchat #edtech #college #highered  What’s a hashtag and how do I use one?

6.  Read the news!

In 2013 over 400 million tweets were posted, per day.  When you start following people, your personalised stream of updates can get quite busy and may feel overwhelming, so don’t try to read everything; dip in and out at times convenient to you.  You won’t miss anything; if something is important, it’ll come up again soon.  We’ll look more approaches for at managing Twitter, here, in later posts.


Further information

7 Things you should know about Twitter

The beginners guide to hashtags


Next time: Using Twitter in your NOW learning room


Lego Twitter whale image shared under a CC-BY-NC-SA 2.0 licence by tveskov

About the author

I'm interested in the ways that technology can enhance teaching and make learning more engaging and accessible to everyone. I work with colleagues to develop their digital literacies and to integrate technology into every day learning and teaching practice. I provide a range of professional development activities through face-to-face, blended and online methods. I'm a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Certified Member of the Association for Learning Technology.

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