Shelly Terrell Defines #EdChat

Shelly Terrell describes how Twitter’s #Edchat is helping teachers interact, reflect, and improve educational systems worldwide.

Written by Tara Benwell for TEFL.net

Shelly Terrell

ELL teacher, blogger, and social media consultant, Shelly Terrell is behind a new movement on Twitter known as #Edchat. #Edchat recently won the Edublog Award for Most influential tweet series. Hundreds of tweeters take part in the series by following the hashtag #Edchat every #teachertuesday.

Tara: A website called ‘What the hashtag’ defined #Edchat as a “weekly chat about technology and education”. It seems like so much more than that to me. Can you expand on that definition?

Shelly: #Edchat is a collaboration of educators, parents, students, and other stakeholders finding solutions to the challenges facing every educational system worldwide. We discuss the issue, provide resources, and offer our experiences. Sometimes we disagree on the solutions, which helps us reflect. This interaction has spurred many to collaborate and improve their schools.

Tara: Here’s a challenge for you. Can you describe where the idea of #Edchat came from in the space of a single tweet?

Shelly:@TomWhitby asked me in DM how to include all educators in Twitter conversations about edu. I suggested a hashtag. We argeed on #edchat then asked @web20classroom to join us.

Tara: I took part in my first #Edchat on behalf of @TEFL last week and wasn’t prepared for so much action! I got a little better at it this week but I still found it difficult to follow. Do you have any advice for how to keep up with the conversation?

Shelly: I create a column with #Edchat on Tweetdeck. I have written a post on how to follow Edchat conversations using Tweetdeck. However, some use Tweetgrid or other browsers. I suggest responding to a few and engaging in conversations with a few. @Jswiatek archives every #Edchat discussion on our wiki. Therefore, people can review what they missed from the transcript. Additionally, you can read summaries of the #Edchat posts written by @ShellTerrell, @Rliberni, and @Web20classroom.

Tara: I understand that the #Edchat topics are put to a vote each week. Who comes up with the selection of topics and is this all orchestrated through Twitter as well?

Shelly: Anyone is able to suggest topics for our Twtpoll. We (@TomWhitby @Web20classroom and @ShellTerrell) agree on the 5 questions that will go in the poll. Usually, we use those questions that have been suggested on the #Edchat group on the Edu PLN Ning, which is free for anyone to join. The over 600 participants that are familiar with the process retweet the poll which @Web20Classroom creates every Sunday. Anyone can vote on the topic, even those who have never participated on an #Edchat.

Tara: The #Edchat topics chosen for the last two Tuesdays seemed relevant to all teachers, including those who teach ELL like you. On the other hand, I noticed that some potential topics were geared towards public school teachers. Is it true that a few edchatters are considering an #Eltchat?

Shelly: Yes! This was originally suggested by Jason Renshaw, @Englishraven. We are hoping to start this in a slightly different format in late February or early March 2010.

Tara: Instead of the shaking heads and heated arguments that you might see in a real staff room (or even on a teacher blog), I noticed a lot of retweets and thank yous during the #Edchat conversations. Why do you think teachers are so pleasant on Twitter? Or have you had a different experience?

Shelly: Definitely, we do not all agree on every issue. However, we all are grateful for the effort and passion of all stakeholders to find a solution collaboratively! We have realized that reflection is often one of the greatest tools for improving our schools. Every discussion brings this and I believe that is why we are each grateful. We also share a common vision, to improve learning worldwide. We aren’t happy with the current system and we are working towards change.

Tara: Is there any sort of #Edchat etiquette teachers should know about before taking part? For example, I shared a link that was on topic, but then had second thoughts after I sent it. It’s hard enough to keep up with the conversation without reading an article at the same time.

Shelly: Some have suggested #Edchat protocols, however, Twitter is an open game. However, if we get people sharing links during the conversation it only takes a second to favorite the link to view later. We also greatly appreciate when we do not get spammers.

Tara: I read a tweet today by a teacher who said the popular bookmarking site “delicious” was blocked at his school, and I’m sure Twitter likely is at many schools as well. What can teachers do to promote the #Edchat in their schools and convince administrators that this type of professional development is worth the time?

Shelly: Many educators are promoting #Edchat by sharing archived transcripts. Most administrators and parents see educators seeking professional development on their own time as a positive thing. They are really excited by this exchange.

Tara: It was encouraging to see a well-known publisher of education materials participating in the last #Edchat. Is this something you think most #edchat participants want, or do you think most teachers consider this a form of self-promotion? You can’t help but wonder if future Twitter series will be sponsored by commercial advertisers.

Shelly: I think that it is great to get all educational stakeholders involved. Publishers pick authors and perhaps by their participation they will find some authors that are progressive educators. Perhaps, they will publish books with more effective instructional materials and methodologies that are relevant to today’s learners. I think many educators on #Edchat want more to join the conversation and keep these discussions open to all educational stakeholders.

Tara: Often times after a staff meeting teachers walk away wondering if anything is going to come of a discussion. When the #Edchat hour was coming to a close I feared I might have the same experience until I learned about the Educator’s PLN. Can you explain what happens “after the show”?

Shelly: That’s a great question! We are about action! Many of the participants blog about the topics and how they have applied what they took from the discussion to creating change in their schools. After the show, we collaborate on the Educator’s PLN ning. Many have already created groups and have started projects at their schools. Some teachers even have their students participate on #Edchat. We have moved #Edchat into the mainstream by presenting at conferences like the #140Conference. We share resources, encourage each other, and help with action research projects.

Tara: Can you offer any tips for a teacher who is going to participate in his or her first edchat next Tuesday?

Shelly: Follow along, chime in with your thoughts or experiences, have fun, and remember all you really have to do is remember to add “#edchat” at the end of your tweets! If you have any problems, feel free to ask your moderators for help. These are your moderators for the 12pm EST #Edchat @ShellTerrell and @Rliberni. For the 7pm EST Edchat your moderators are @MBTeach, @KylePace, and @TomWhitby.

Tara: Thank you Shelly for doing your part to give teachers the tools and confidence required to educate today’s digital learners. (For any new English teacher on Twitter, I highly recommend following @ShellTerrell.) See you at the next #Edchat and possibly at an upcoming #ELTchat!

Important #Edchat links

Edchat: Join the Conversation (Video)
How to use Tweetdeck and other browsers to follow #Edchat
The Educator’s PLN ning: Edchat wiki with Edchat archives

Written by Tara Benwell for TEFL.net
January 2010 | Filed under Interviews
Tara Benwell is a Canadian freelance writer and editor who specializes in materials for the ELT industry.