How to Introduce a Young Scholar to Twitter

[Maha Bali is Associate Professor of Practice at the Center for Learning and Teaching at the American University in Cairo, Egypt. Her primary role is a faculty developer but she also teaches educational game design to undergrads and ed tech to in-service teachers. She is a co-facilitator of and columnist at Hybrid Pedagogy. She blogs at and tweets @bali_maha--@JBJ]

I’ve learned from years of trying that nobody “gets” Twitter when you talk to them about it, and that part of the power of it is in the capacity to make global connections to knowledgeable others. You can’t tell someone about this second hand – you need to immerse them and let them experience it, and hope for the best.

In this spirit, I recently tried a spontaneous experiment. A PhD student asked me a question via email, I asked if she was on Twitter, and, discovering she had an account but never used it, decided to immerse her in the power Twitter can unleash. Here are some guidelines if you’re a Twitter fan and want to do the same.

  1. Let her know to keep her privacy settings open. Many first-time users are cautious with their privacy settings at first, protecting tweets, not allowing anyone to follow them without their approval – they think they are on facebook. Twitter does not work well unless it is public. They just need to recognize that, being public, you need to be careful and professional about what you do on Twitter, if you’re going to use it professionally.
  2. If she has a question, suggest to her to tweet the question to some hashtags that you think are suitable. If it is general PhD advice, #PhDforum, #PhDchat OR #acwri can help; if it relates to educational technology, try #edtech and #digped, and so on. Or even a less known hashtag that you know your followers check regularly, like for a currently running MOOC on a relevant topic.
  3. Since she probably doesn’t have many followers, you need to amplify her voice. Retweet it to the same hashtags, or retweet it, tagging some people you know who might be able (and willing) to help. I am in Egypt and this happening in my morning, so I selected people from my PLN (Personal Learning Network) who were in UK and Australia timezones. If it had happened at night I would have selected more people from my US/Canada-based PLN.
  4. Let your PLN know she’s new to Twitter – some people will pay more attention and be more willing to help if they know this.
  5. Let Twitter’s magic happen as people start responding, and other people notice it and jump in.
  6. Check in with the young scholar to see if they’re finding it helpful or overwhelming. Hopefully they’ve figured out how to favorite and reply (without you instructing them on how to do that) because they want to thank others.

I tried that this morning, and not only did the young scholar figure these things out, she also managed to share a new resource with others that got favorited by some people.

In the space of two hours, she learned about hashtags, PLN, the power of asking questions, and the power of sharing on Twitter. All without me teaching her anything directly.

Do you have a process when introducing someone to Twitter? Please share in comments!

Photo “The Introduction” by Flickr user Julie Falk / Creative Commons licensed BY-NC-2.0

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