Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Taming Twitter for Time-strapped Teachers and Techies

If you are an educator, and you are not using Twitter, you need to be. It is a powerful way to connect with other educators around the world to share your ideas, learn from others, discover resources, build relationships, and be inspired to transform your teaching and your students’ learning.

However, if you are an educator and you are using Twitter, it can still be quite a challenge to use it well. Twitter has over 300 million active users (and many more inactive) sending over 500 million tweets per day (about 6,000 tweets per second). Trying to get useful information from Twitter has often be compared to trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose.

For many years, I found myself in just that situation. I was a Twitter user but didn’t feel like I was making the best use of it. Just like any educator, the one thing I don’t have is spare time. I was miserably failing to keep up with the flood of tweets, or to pull out useful information from it. Watching the Twitter site felt like staring at the computer screen in the Matrix movie, trying to process the constant flow of cryptic symbols.

Recently though, that all changed. Using a simple collection of tools and processes, I was able to tame Twitter. For me this meant:

  • Finding my Flock - following the appropriate people
  • Crowdsourcing the Content - discovering relevant and valuable posts
  • Listening at my Leisure - consuming it in a manner that fits my crazy life

See below for a detailed description of the tools and steps that have worked for me. These include Tweetdeck, hashtags, Twitter chats, Nuzzel, Pocket, and more. You may be familiar with some of these tools, but hopefully you will discover some new resources and see some options for putting them together to help you make the most out of Twitter.

Step #1 - Find your Flock

The first step in getting the most out of Twitter is to follow the right people. You need to build up a large collection of people who share your interests and passions, and who share valuable and relevant content. So how do you find these people? Certainly there are many good methods, but below are a few options that have worked well for me.


Most likely you are already familiar with hashtags, but if not, a hashtag is simply a word with the # symbol at the start, which is used to categorize a tweet so people can find the tweet more easily. For example, if I were to share a tweet about some creative use of Google Apps, I might end the tweet with #googleedu or #gafechat or both.

What you need to do is figure out the hashtags that apply to your areas of interest, find Tweets with those hashtags, and then potentially follow the people who posted those tweets.

A great way to find the hashtags for your subject, position, or educational interest, is to read through Jerry Blumengarten’s massive list of educational hashtags at:
There you will find hashtags related to subject areas, grade levels, teachers, techies, admins, and much more. Once you have identified some hashtags of interest, you now need to find tweets that include them.

For this I use Tweetdeck at https://tweetdeck.twitter.com. Tweetdeck is a web app that allows you to create custom columns, where each column pulls in tweets based on criteria you set. For example, if you love Dave Burgess’ book “Teach Like a Pirate” you can create a Tweetdeck column that only shows tweets with the hashtag #tlap.

To create hashtag columns, do the following:
  1. Launch Tweetdeck at https://tweetdeck.twitter.com (and sign in if not already)
  2. Click in the “Search” box in the top left corner and type in your search term such as #edtech or #ohedchat
  3. In the pop-up search result window, click on the hashtag you entered.
  4. This will give you a preview of the most recent tweets using that hashtag.
  5. At the bottom of the preview window, click the “Add Column” button.
  6. You will now have a column in Tweetdeck that will auto-update with any new tweets that use that hashtag.
  7. Repeat this for other hashtags of interest.

Now when you open Tweetdeck you can see tweets that should be relevant to your interests, as well as see the people who are posting those tweets. If you find someone who seems to be posting lots of useful content, simply click on their name in one of their posts and click the “Follow” button to follow them. This will help you to build your collection of people.

Twitter Chats

Another great way to find people to follow is to participate in Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is an event scheduled for a specific time (usually an hour long) on a particular subject (like favorite Chrome extensions for students) using a designated hashtag (such as #gafechat). Usually there is a moderator who will ask questions of the group over the course of the chat, and anyone participating can answer the questions and share their ideas by tweeting with the chat’s hashtag.

Twitter chats move VERY fast with lots of people posting, so it is helpful to set up a Tweetdeck column for the chat’s hashtag. Most chats also get archived and all recorded comments can be viewed later on a specified website as indicated by the moderator.

There are educational Twitter chats going on all the time, covering every topic imaginable. You can view a comprehensive list of chats with their dates and times at the Education Chat website at:
Because Twitter chats focus on a topic, and pull together like-minded people who are excited to share ideas, this is another great way to find people to follow.

Curated Lists

A final way to build your flock is to look for pre-made lists of recommended people. A simple Google search for “educators to follow on twitter” (or some variation of that) will provide you with many folks to begin with.

If you are specifically interest in educational technology, a recent article listed the “2016 Top 200 EdTech and eLearning Influencers and Brands” on Twitter. Although no list is perfect, and many great people are certainly left off, this is a useful place to find some excellent users to follow. I was surprise and honored to find out I was listed as #88 on the list!

You can access the article at:
Once in the article, you will have to fill out a brief form to download the full list of 200 people and 200 brands.

By the way, if you would like to follow me on Twitter, I try to share several posts each day on creative ways to use technology for teaching and learning, often with a focus on Google tools, as well as online EdTech articles I have read and found to be valuable. You can follow me at:

Step #2 - Crowdsource the Content

OK, so now you found your flock and are following hundreds (thousands?) of people who share your educational interests. Of course as you follow more and more people (which is good) you now end up with more and more tweets your Twitter stream (which can cause a problem). This is back to the issue of trying to take a sip of water from a fire hose. Now that you have all these amazing educators sharing awesome posts, resources, and ideas, you need to find a way to identify the best tweets.

Now I am sure there are several ways to go about this, and I would love to hear ideas from other users on how you pull out the most useful content. For me what has worked best is Nuzzel.

Nuzzel is a free service that curates content from the people you follow on Twitter. When you sign up for Nuzzel, you give it permission to see who you follow, so Nuzzel can read all of the tweets they post. Then Nuzzel looks to see which blog posts, websites, and other links are being tweeted and re-tweeted the most by the people you follow.

Although it is certainly possible that a diamond in the rough may get missed, chances are the most impactful content will most likely get shared more often. If you have built a good list of people to follow, the most popular content should be something you care about.

For me Nuzzel has been a lifesaver. When I check the site or mobile app, I quickly see what posts are trending with the people I follow, and I always find valuable resources and articles to read.

You can access Nuzzel in several ways:

Steps #3 - Listen at your Leisure

And now we get to the final step. We have found our flock and are following loads of awesome people. We have crowdsourced the content by letting Nuzzel curate the most popular tweets. Even though we have taken the firehose and narrowed it down to a manageable trickle, we still may struggle to find the time to read the awesome articles and blog posts we have found.

This is where I use the last tool in my system, which is Pocket.

Pocket is a free service that lets you save interesting articles and blog posts for later, so you can read them when you have time. The best thing about Pocket however, is that the mobile app has text to speech built in. So that means, Pocket can read all my saved articles to me when I am driving to work, mowing the yard, going for a jog, and such.

Here are my steps for using Pocket:

First I need to add content to Pocket. I try to check Nuzzel a few times per day to see what new content I want to consume. When I find an article or blog post that looks interesting, I save it to Pocket for later.

If I am using my desktop or laptop at the time, then I use the Pocket Chrome web extension. I simply open the article from Nuzzel, and then click on the “Save to Pocket” extension. The article will now be saved and will be accessible later through the Pocket mobile app.

If I am using the Nuzzel mobile app, which is often the case, I simply click the share button and select “Add to Pocket”. To get this option you will need to have the Pocket mobile app installed on your Android or iOS mobile device. You can install those through the links below:

Later in the day when I have some time driving, waiting in line, exercising, or doing housework, I can open Pocket on my phone and have it read the saved articles to me.
  • Simply click on an article in Pocket to open it.
  • Next click the menu button (in Android that is the three dots in the top right corner) and choose “Listen (TTS)” from the drop down menu.
  • Pocket will now read the saved post or article aloud.

When done listening to the article I can decide to delete it if it turned out not to be valuable or relevant. But if it was useful, I can:
  • Tweet it out right from the Pocket app.
  • Add tags to the article in Pocket to keep it organized for later use.
  • Archive it in Pocket to remove it from my main screen.


Using these tools I finally feel that I am able to use Twitter in a valuable way. Every day I am finding useful and relevant content, curated from the hundreds of educators that I follow from all over the world. I am able to listen to the articles and posts in a way that fits into my busy life. The educational technology content inspires me, informs me, and helps me grow deeper in my profession. Hopefully it also helps the thousands of people who follow me as I reshare the most powerful content I find.

And now you can do the same! Please feel free to use any or all of these tools and ideas to grow your PLN, find the best resources, and consume the content in a way that works for you. If you have other ideas and suggestions, please feel free to share in the comments below. I am always excited to learn something new.

Post by Eric Curts. Connect with Eric on Twitter at twitter.com/ericcurts and on Google+ at plus.google.com/+EricCurts1


  1. I just started using twitters and found your article very useful. I created an account on twitter,Twitterdeck and nuzzle and fully understand their usability. My question is which one should I use on daily basis? Since all of them are interconnected and nuzzel is providing me the filtered content of twitter, so if I am accessing nuzzel, do I no longer needs to go to twitter.com?

  2. Hi Eric.
    I’m conducting PhD research into teacher professional learning using Twitter. I’d be really interested in your opinions. Would you be able to answer a few questions here on your blog? There’s more information about my study here https://cpdin140.wordpress.com/about/participant-information-for-bloggers/ together with contact details should you have any questions.

  3. This post is really helpful to me to use twitter smoothly to reach my students. I learn some tools and step from this post. I can use Tweetdeck, hashtags, Twitter chats, Nuzzel and Pocket nicely.

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