One of my new favorite activities on Twitter are joining in on some of the smaller Twitter chats that take place each week. I am good friends with Steven Anderson and Mary Beth Hertz, two of the founders of the granddaddy of all educational chats, #edchat. I was lucky enough to spend a few days with them and other members of my PLN in Estes Park before ISTE last summer. They showed me first hand how a chat happens on Twitter. (Correction: #edchat was founded by Shelly Terrell, Tom Whitby, and Steve. Mary Beth, who actively participates, was not a founder of #edchat . Thank you CybraryMan1 for helping me get the facts straight.)
First of all the organizers must decide on a hashtag. A hashtag is the # sign that is used in front of some letters (#edchat). Then they decide on what day of the week and hour of the day they what the chat to occur (#edchat occurs on Tuesdays at 7:00 pm EST in the US). By the way chats are usually scheduled to last an hour, but you don't have to arrive on time or stay the entire time.
The organizers will usually set up a poll listing four or five topics for the upcoming chat. They tweet out the poll information and interested people on Twitter can cast a vote for the topic of their choice. When the poll closes the winning topic is the one that the #edchat (or other chats) will focus on that week. Everyone who wants to be a part of the chat must put that hashtag somewhere in their update. There are usually several moderators for each chat who help keep everyone on track by stating the topic at the beginning of the hour, asking guiding questions during the chat, and generally keeping the conversation flowing.
Okay, now what? Well if you use a Twitter client like TweetDeck or TweetGrid you can set up a column which will search the Twitter stream for the hashtag you are following and put all those tweets in the column for you. It makes it easier to follow the discussion. Well, that's what Steve and MaryBeth told me and I tried it, but I was definitely overwhelmed. There can be tweets coming in from over 1,000 people during #edchat and I find it difficult to keep up.
That is why I like the smaller educational chats that are popping up. Two of my favorites are #elemchat and #4thchat. #elemchat occurs on Saturdays at 5:00 EST for elementary educators or interested parties, and #4thchat occurs on Mondays at 8:00 EST for primarily 4th grade teachers, but all are welcome. Again the moderators usually put out a poll to determine the topic for the upcoming week. I am one of the moderators for #4thchat along with Jeanne McQueen (the founder of #4thchat), Nancy Carroll, and Justin Stortz. Jeanne launched #4thchat on March 21, 2011 with the topic Brain Breaks. Archives of the chats can be found on the 4thchat wiki.