Chats: What Are They and Why We Need Them

Edchat wordleEducation chats have become a tremendous source of thought leadership for connected educators. The discussions on Twitter are having profound effects on the development of 21st century education.

Edchats are Twitter discussions that take place at a specific time using a specific hashtag and center on an education-related topic. Beyond learning and conversing about relevant subjects, educators can capitalize on Edchats to make direct connections with participants and enhance their professional learning networks (PLNs).

How Edchats Developed

Four years ago, I was involved on LinkedIn with an active education group called Technology-Using Professors. Because the discussions there often referred to Twitter sources, it wasn’t long before I found myself spending more time on Twitter.

I missed the discussion component that was so prevalent on LinkedIn, so I tried starting discussions on Twitter by asking engaging questions about education. The discussions occurred at random times — whenever the mood struck. A probing question here or a provocative statement there would often strike a chord with a few folks. Yet the conversations were limited to just my followers, which at the time numbered only a few hundred.

I consulted my PLN, which included Shelly Terrell from Germany (@ShellTerrell) and Steve Anderson from North Carolina (@Web20classroom). They helped me set up an education discussion on Twitter. With the creation of a hashtag, a scheduled time on a prescribed day and a poll to determine topics for discussion, #Edchat was launched.

#Edchat has proven consistent and successful, with an unprecedented amount of participation, and is often a trending topic on Twitter when the chats are in progress. We were driven to create an archive page so educators around the world could keep up with the chats, regardless of time zone. We received many requests from educators in Europe to start earlier to accommodate their time zones, so we added a second chat beginning earlier in the day.

The hashtag has taken on a life of its own. Twitter users often add it to any education-related tweet as a way to extend their audience beyond their own followers to the thousands of educators who follow #Edchat.

How to Make the Most of Edchats

There are now several hundred active education chats on Twitter. Entering any of these chats requires some strategy, as it is impossible to follow every tweet in the discussion while staying focused on specific thread — it would be like trying to follow every discussion at a party with a hundred people. It is not something that can be done in the real world, so why would we expect to be able to do it virtually?

CEM logoDecide what you want to learn about the topic. I approach each chat by devising a question about the topic that speaks to my own needs. I then pose the question during the chat, fishing for people to engage. I usually pick up a few people, and we head off on our own discussion.

Respond to other people’s questions. I also monitor the chat for tweets that draw me in, and I engage folks who have their own questions. The best part of the chats is the engagement, but not everyone engages. There are people who follow the chat and take it all in without ever revealing their presence. They are quiet consumers of information — lurkers for learning.

Chats on Twitter have become a staple for gathering ideas and contacts. They can be great sources of relevant information that educators need to promote change and improve their own methodology. Chats are also a wonderful way to connect to educators with proven worth, which adds value to your PLN.

To provide a relevant education, we need relevant educators. Becoming a connected educator who engages in education chats is way to establish this much-needed relevance.

Tom Whitby is a former professor of education, a contributing editor for SmartBlog on Education and host of the “Edchat Radio Show” on the BAM Radio Network. Connect with him on Twitter via @tomwhitby, and check out his blog, My Island View.

October is Connected Educator Month. How do you plan to get connected? Share your plans here or via Twitter @ISTEConnects.

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