Category Archives: Twitter

Basic Functions of a Social Media Tool

Most education technologists will argue that our work is not about the tools, but about what the tools will allow educators and learners to do. Social media tools in particular, are so versatile they can be used for almost any purpose, from sharing your PhD experiences to learning about Maths or hearing a Nobel Peace prize winner speak.

However, very often it is the tool that becomes the obstacle. Yet another account to set up. Yet more functions to figure out. And there’s always more tools after that…It can be discouraging.

But there’s a cheat. You don’t always have to start from scratch. Most social media tools have some basic functions in common, that you are already familiar with and can always look for. Knowing those basic functions, and identifying them quickly, can speed up your ability to assess a social media tool for your practice. Once you’ve isolated the basic functions of a new tool, you can focus on exploring its special functions.

Providing cheat sheets is an essential part of  my work with academic staff (see the Moodle Tool Guide evidence) ;-). I like to make learning easier, for educators and learners. I created a diagram a few years ago on those basic functions, to aid me and  I’ve updated it now with examples from Facebook and Twitter, and posted it on Flickr. I hope you find it useful too.

Basic Functions of a Social Media Tool

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One way to grow a networked teacher, is to grow a networked learner #pln

In my new role as Lecturer in Blended Learning, a part of my role is staff development. Staff development has always been a part of my roles, both in how do you do staff development in a networked world?

It was one of the big questions at the national AITD conference on training and development where I was invited to be a keynote. Much of the discussion in the keynotes and sessions where how traditional trainers/developers could adapt their traditional approaches capitalise on working and training in a networked world and in networked organisations.

Some issues overheard:

  • Traditional training is unpopular. Staff don’t want to give up time/other activities.
  • Traditional training lacks the ability to customize, not personal, not just-in-time
  • Not every trainer is an expert in every aspect of the company’s operations
  • How do you measure networked staff development?
  • How do you measure your contribution to organisation, if you can’t tick off training sessions, coaching interventions, resources created…
  • Senior management need convincing on the power of networked organisations
  • There will never be enough IT trainers to help everyone

And even though I wouldn’t call most higher education institutions networked organisations just yet, there are nascent networks inside them. These will become more important as the impact of the networked, information abundant world on this sector grows (as it has with the music, publishing and newspaper industries). Networked organisations are more flexible and adaptable. And so we as academic developers can look through the lense of the T&D professionals and see that we struggle with the same issues.

A networked professional has a Personal Learning Network

I’ve long thought that it is impossible to truly assess the potential of networked technologies for learning, when you only learn about them in a 2 hour workshop.

I’ve done many a Twitter, LMS (Moodle, Blackboard, etc), Facebook workshop and the traction is… Continue reading

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The magic of #pencilchat (a pointed conversation)

pencil ends - slightly cropped Jetlag is wreaking havoc on my sleep patterns. So on the phone to people downunder at 5.30am, I got a tweet from my mate Steve to check out #pencilchat.

And promptly lost the next hour of my life to a highly entertaining conversation that can only happen when you mix experienced education technologists, the risk-averse environment they work in and Twitter. At one point I had tears running down my cheeks. Here are a few gems, but please, do go check the stream for yourself. Continue reading

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Tweeting it up in the Hawke’s Bay – #hbtweetup

Twitter Bird(This post is a cross-post from

If you’ve never been to a Hawke’s Bay Tweetup, you have another chance this Friday 1 April. Advintage Wines (@advintagewines) have kindly agreed to host (free wine, free tapas). It looks set to be the biggest #hbtweetup so far… (thanks to @dhtbrowne for taking over the organisation on this one :-)).

Not a Twitterer? Into social media but not sure why you should come? Here’s my story…

The Professional Social Network

Twitter has been a fixture in my life since late 2007. It has without doubt been the social media tool most instrumental in growing my professional network, my professional skills and my personal learning. More than my blog, more than my Flickr account, more than my Facebook account, more than any formal training or conferencing I’ve done.

Through Twitter I am connected to hundreds of professionals in my education technology field who in an ongoing streamed conversation around the clock:

  • provide collegial support,
  • help me reflect on the changes in education in this digital age,
  • discuss benefits and disadvantages of online, blended and other education approaches,
  • offer differing view points/ approaches / experiences in their organisations,
  • act as an instant helpline.

As someone once described it: “Twitter is like constantly sitting next to the smartest kid in the class.”

IRL = In Real Life

I quickly found that Twitter interactions perhaps weren’t  so professional (read: businesslike) all the time. People on Twitter were funny. They traded offhand remarks that frequently had me snorting in a most unladylike manner at my screen. Many Twitter colleagues were neat people, and some of the online connections became more than online colleagues: frolleagues (friends + colleagues).

And this meant that increasingly if I was near a Twitter friend (or they stopped in Napier) I’d try to meet up IRL (In Real Life). When Twitterers meet up like that, it’s called a Tweetup. Increasingly the Tweetup phenomenon grew and these days a Tweetup is often a recurring, geographically based event. Take a look at the Mellers Tweetup or Wellington Tweetup. Even NASA organised a Tweetup. Often Twitterers at a conference will also organise a little unofficial tweetup.

Having visited the Melbourne Tweetup (a great way of meeting locals when visiting a city) and being part of the Educause educational conference tweetup in late  2009, the idea occurred to me that we should have a Hawke’s Bay tweetup. They are fun, energising events with people who have a lot of things in common. How nice would it be to catch up with people in the Hawke’s Bay who are also discovering that social media can be a great leveller. That through this medium we can live in one of the most beautiful but also remote places in the world, but still be part of the action. Snag? I didn’t know any Hawke’s Bay tweeps (Twitter people or peeps). At the time, Twitter didn’t have a good tool for finding people in the same geographical location. I was only connected to a few colleagues at EIT on Twitter, and I saw them every morning for coffee…


And then the first big Christchurch earthquake in September 2010 happened. The NZ Twitter community quickly adopted the hashtag #eqnz and hundreds of kiwi Twitter users began sharing information, resources, tips, experiences and support in a Twitterstream that continued through the aftermath, and hasn’t stopped since. Suddenly I found myself connected to a lot more kiwi Twitter users. And some of them in the Hawke’s Bay. And so the idea of the #hbtweetup began to stir again.

I sent out the first tweet using the tag #hbtweetup in the week after the earthquake, inviting everyone to come together at the Guffle Bar (Ian is a most gracious host. Free food will placate any geek ;-)). Quickly@brenasmith and @krometech took up the call – you can see the #hbtweetup archive here. We began asking attendees to register in a wiki but quickly progressed to a free tweetup tool linked to Twitter, Twtvite, to collect RSVPs. And the Hawke’s Bay Tweetup was born. And as we all met at the Guffle, the conversation flowed freely, mainly about how we’re all using technology, digital and social media here in the Bay, the good, the bad and the ugly. And we discuss idle and not-so-idle plans on how we can make a difference in that area. And we laughed. A lot. The best thing is probably that that conversation hasn’t stopped yet. It carries on in the Twitterverse when we’re not all at the #hbtweetup.

This Friday will be the 4th Hawke’s Bay Tweetup. And it looks to be the biggest yet, even bigger than some of the Auckland tweetups. You are all kindly invited. RSVPs via Twtvite.

Who should come to a Tweetup?

Anyone interested in or curious about:

  • Twitter (for business, for government, for news, for learning, for…)
  • Other social media tools (blogs, Facebook,…)
  • Life and work in the digital age and the opportunities that offers
  • Mobile devices (smartphones,digital camera’s, iPhones,  iPads,  other…)
  • Fill in your own geeky stuff
Twitter Apps

Twitter Apps

Preparing yourself – tools  & apps for a tweetup:

  • RSVP – Use our Twtvite page to let us know you are coming
  • Begin following the other HB Tweeps – Feel free to use my #hbtweetup Twitter list to begin following the tweeps you may meet on Friday
  • Twitter archive – Scan the archive of all of our #hbtweetup tweets at  Twapperkeeper to get an idea about who you’re getting involved with and what they talk about
  • Bring a smartphone – Whether it’s a Blackberry, iPhone or Android, don’t forget your mobile device so you can share pictures, quickly look up websites that crop up in the conversation, upload pictures from the event, tweet, Facebook or live blog the event, show off your Angry Birds score, have light saber fights,…
  • Be ready to meet people with Bump – Install  and set up Bump before you head over to the venue. Bump is an app that lets you share your contact information with people you meet, simply by physically bumping your devices together.
  • Check in via Foursquare – Install and use Foursquare to check in. There’s always a race on to see who gets the first check-in at the #hbtweetup venue. And of course, who has that most coveted mayorship.
  • Check in via Facebook (Places) – Instead of Foursquare, you may choose to use Facebook Places for checking in.
  • Select and install your Twitter client of choice on your mobile device – You’ll need to be able to tweet from the event. Tweetdeck,  Twitter or Twitteriffic are all popular clients for the Smartphone.
  • Camera – Twitter / Social media geeks tend to be “trigger happy” when it comes to the camera’s on their Smartphones. Make sure you’ve got enough memory left to snap all those pics.
  • Video streaming – At the first #hbtweetup, someone even video streamed the event using Ustream, the free broadcasting app. It may be time to do so again.
  • If you can suggest other essential preparations or apps for a tweetup, please do add them in the comments.

Twitter BadgeAnd finally – tag yourself!!

And one final non-digital thing: tag yourself! People need to know that YOU the person are linked to YOU the Twitter account. So create/print/macramé a badge (use plastic, paper, papier mache, macaroni, crayon…) with your name AND your Twitter username, and wear it with pride – and a slight blush…

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Social media use in a crisis – #eqnz – help us learn

The social media response to the 2010 Canterbury Earthquake has been fascinating. I’d like to know more so I’m appealing for people to help with their experiences of social media, its usefulness, how informative it was (or not) etc, during this event. What can we learn?

If you are willing to help, please fill out the form at Thank you!

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Social media use in a crisis – #eqnz – findable, usable & shareable

The New Zealand twitterverse is still abuzz, as people share information about the 2010 Canterbury Earthquake and its consequences.  Now, 3 days in, these tweets are increasingly about services being restored, relief offers and businesses and organisations exchanging information & aid.

Here I want to make a special mention of the University of Canterbury which has set up a special Twitter account for news about its recovery.

Also interesting to watch organisations like ASB Bank & the NZ Red Cross supporting each other through Twitter.


Most people and official news outlets are now using the hashtag #eqnz, thus consolidating the information flow. As of this afternoon it had been used 18199 times on Tuesday at 6.30pm (updated Tue 07-09-2010).

I’ve been following the use of social media in this event and reported a little about two of the hashtags that were in use in an earlier post. I’ve been RTing useful tweets with the now prevailing #eqnz tag so they get a better spread.

In this process I’ve also received a few nasty tweets and comments about what some are calling “the hashtag war”. One person commenting:

“I don’t want to extend the #eqnz vs #christchurchquake war. I think it is the most stupid bit of fussing when the world is literally falling down around us.”

When the world is falling down around you, you need a few things: water, food, shelter and…information

If you are not a regular social media user, you may well agree. However, when the world is falling down around you, you need a few things: water, food, shelter and…information.  In the early hours, many grabbed their mobile phones (closer to their beds than the battery-powered radios in their survival kits) and went to Twitter, because Twitter is all about sharing information. But to do this effectively, the information must be A. findable, B. usable and C. shareable.

A. Findable

The information that you broadcast through Twitter is publicly available on your Twitter profile page (here’s mine). However very few people will go and visit this page. Instead they will access their own home page, which displays a steady stream of the latest tweets of all the people that they are ‘following’. This stream is updated almost-live, every minute or so.

Twitter search being updated - #eqnz

So now you find yourself in a major event, and you want your information to be findable beyond the 143 odd people that follow you.  You also want to find information from other sources than just the 156 odd people that you follow. Saturday morning at 4.35 they may not have been awake yet. Well, this is where Twitter search but more importantly, hashtags come in. By using a common hashtag (a keyword preceded by the hash symbol) and then doing a search for that hashtag, Twitter users can have a shared conversation beyond the boundaries of their usual Twitter network.

In the case of an event like this, it is impossible to  have a pre-agreed hashtag as people do for eg conferences (see ULearn10 in Christchurch this week). So instead you monitor the wider Twitter stream for a while, doing several searches, until you find common hashtags. In the initial stages you may use 2 or more hashtags, but once a dominant hashtag emerges, it is essential that you use this. If you are the provider of crucial information, eg NZ Civil Defence or a news channel, using the common hashtag is how your tweets will be findable.

B. Usable

The information you broadcast, your tweets, must be usable.  The 140 character limit of a tweet is its strength but also its weakness. For your tweet to be usable in a crisis, it must be immediately informative in those few characters. If you want to share more, then link to a place where the rest of the information can be found. Links can become quite long (not desirable in a tweet) so you use a ‘url shortener‘ to make them an acceptable length (abt 20 characters). Most Twitter applications will do this automatically. If you do make use of links, then also make sure your tweet is an accurate description of what people will find when they click on that link. In a crisis, you don’t want to be wasting anyone’s time.

Informative #eqnz tweet by @siobhanbulfin:

Example of a usable #eqnz tweet

One of the less usable tweets coming from the NZ Civil Defence Twitter account:

A typical #eqnz tweet by NZ Civil Defence
C. Shareable

In the case of a major event the information needs to flow, it needs to spread. So you design your tweets to be easily shared. How do you do this?

  • Don’t take up too much space with Twitter functionality such as your username. Of course during the event it’s too late to change your name, but if you are about to open a twitter account then consider this: @minedunz would have been 5 characters shorter than @mineducationnz.
  • Use the shorter hashtag. Of course you will be driven by the prevailing hashtag, but if you get in early, then encourage the use of the shorter option.
  • Use short sentences. It helps to write in the active voice, leaving out definite articles (such as ‘the’) and prefaces eg ‘Cracks in windows.’ rather than ‘There are cracks appearing in the windows”.
  • Aim to make your tweet a re-tweetable length when the hashtag is included. The formula for this is: 140 characters – your twittername characters – 4. How does that work? Well 140 characters is standard length for a tweet, but when it’s retweeted, it will include the following: RT @twittername. So that would be 14 characters. However you may want to make it shorter yet to give retweeters some room to add their comments. Often done by adding eg “<- important!” or “<- wow!”. 100 characters is probably a very good length for a tweet in a crisis event to keep it shareable.

So that’s what we can keep in mind for the next earthquake or volcanic eruption, whichever comes first here in New Zealand: we should try to keep our information on Twitter findable, usable & shareable.

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Social media use in a crisis – #eqnz – how do you monitor so much information?

With the earthquake in Christchurch yesterday morning, Twitter has become an important source of information, aid, support & humour. And its not just pointless babble (as an aside: the qualification of pointless babble was refuted by the excellent Danah Boyd). Here’s some of  the things people are sharing through their tweets:

  • pictures of damage
  • videos of the quakes and of damage
  • checking in with friends, family & whanau
  • reactions & commiseration on the aftershocks, the loss of electricity, the loss of property, the cold
  • information on safety eg turn off your gas & power mains
  • links to information from the seismic drums at Geonet
  • links to news articles (both New Zealand and around the world)
  • information about road closures and the curfew last night
  • links to public information, eg how to claim for damages with the Earth Quake Commision or which schools are closed on Monday

And the twitterstream is not just being fed by people living in the region, but from across New Zealand and beyond. With all this it can become quite hard to track all this earthquake information or get an overview of it.

So here’s a short demonstration of how I’ve been monitoring the earthquake twitterstream. Hope you find it useful.

Note: most Twitter clients have a version available for smart phones. It’s much easier than tweeting by txting.

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Social media use in a crisis – #eqnz – which hashtag prevails?

This morning at 4.35am I woke up, not quite sure why. But I was wide awake, so I picked up my iPhone and immediately saw a tweet from @kalena: Earthquake!!! So that was what had woken me up. This in itself is not surprising in NZ where we have over 1400 earthquakes a year, about 150 felt by people. But being an immigrant to this country, I get excited about these things and so I went to check the Geonet site. And then I saw the magnitude: 7.4 and not in Wellington or here in the Hawke’s Bay, where we are used to regular earthquakes with magnitude 3-4, and so possibly prepared. But in Christchurch. This was big…

Seismic Drum near Christchurch

Picture from the Geonet Science site

I returned to the Twitterstream which had now exploded with tweets mentioning “new zealand”, “earthquake” and “christchurch”. Continue reading

Tour de Moodle

Last week Friday I started a fun little Twitter event called Tour de Moodle. Interested in seeing other people’s Moodle setups, layouts and themes, I asked people to share a link to their Moodle homepage.

Tour de Moodle tweetout

Tour de Moodle tweetout

I thought it would be a perfect end-of-year activity, but last weekend was embarrasingly quiet (cue: tumbleweeds). However, after a week the Tour de Moodle now seems to be getting a little traction (thanks to @adzebill, @moodleman, @moodlerific, @dafyddhumphreys and @joseph_thibault).

You can see the stops the Tour de Moodle has made so far at What the Hashtag (my favourite twitter archiver at the moment):

Participating is easy, just send out a tweet including:

  • a link to your organisation’s Moodle homepage
  • the hashtag #tourdemoodle
  • the hashtag #moodle
  • optional: “Pls share yr Moodle too”

Looking forward to watching your Moodles race by! Currently the yellow jersey holder is @kineoopensource.

Tour de Moodle

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WPTouch – who’s a clever little plugin then?

I love serendipitous learning. This week I followed the ASCILITE Conference held in Auckland on Twitter (am still kicking myself for not being there). There’s many thoughts, links & ideas I need to follow up on with regards to education technology in higher education. But what I love about  the powered up information exchange between people who share a passion that builds around an event like this, is the accidental or perhaps offhand tips that get shared that otherwise you’d never find out about.

An example of this today was a Twitter exchange between James Clay & Mark Smithers. Although they were discussing the role of IT departments in higher education, in passing James suggested that Mark install WPTouch for WordPress so his blog would render better on an iPhone.


I hadn’t optimised my blog yet so decided to install WPTouch as well. It took me about 5 seconds to install and it makes my site look just shiny on the iPhone. Thanks James!



Over the next few months I will be testing an iPhone for work. They’ve asked me to make a project out of it, so I’ll blog about issues & opportunities I encounter in iPhone use here. This is now my first post for this project – check!

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