Twitter and the Personal Learning Network

Chances are that you have heard of Twitter and have some impressions of it, positive or negative. Some of you may already be Twitter users, that’s great. But if not, you will begin here and I hope you stay with it long after the course is over. Twitter can be a powerful tool if used well. One advantage of Twitter is that it can provide the potential for you to connect with a much larger and professionally relevant audience. In this way, it could be (again, if used well) a valuable pathway to the creation of your Personal Learning Network (PLN). Being able to engage in conversations with the wider public can enrich your experience, and you may even find that ‘experts’ in some of the areas that you are learning about will read your tweets and respond to them – very exciting!  You do not have to make ‘friends’ on twitter, just follow whoever you want. Twitter is used by many professionals to stay connected to their colleagues all over the world. Through twitter, you can become a part of this professional community, not just be a student. So as you connect here, think about the connections that may be part of your personal learning network, and that can help to shape your professional identity and career searching process. Please read these posts by KSC student Haley Zanga: Twitter, and  PSU student, Brianna Groleau: What is a Personal Learning Network and How does it Help us? 

Setting up an account and creating a handle

Setting up a (free) Twitter account is easy, just go to Twitter, use your email and make up a password. You will also create a twitter ‘handle’ which can be your name or something more creative. It will begin with an @ sign – my twitter handle is @karencang which is part of my name. Some people use handles that are more fun or interesting. But remember that you may keep this handle long beyond your time as an undergraduate- so think long term when setting up your twitter handle, and don’t make it too lengthy or use too many odd characters that make it hard for others to type or recognize.

Twitter may seem like an unorganized mess at first. In your home feed you will receive tweets from people or organizations that you follow. So start following people or groups. Follow your classmates. Then, run a search on twitter for any topic and you will likely see that people are tweeting about it. Let’s say you are interested in nutrition. If you search twitter, you will find groups and people talking about all aspects of nutrition. You can follow some of these people, especially if you are interested in what they are saying. If you click on someone’s profile, they may list the institutions, businesses or organizations with which they are affiliated and their role within them. You can easily unfollow them later if you don’t want to read their posts anymore. Think about following people that are in a field of your interest, and also about professionals that may help you understand the material you are reading about for this class. Follow any person or organization that you think will be useful or interesting to you.

Again, your twitter account is to help you develop a Personal Learning Network that can include professionals in your field as well as peers; they can become part of a group of people that you connect with and rely on in the future for professional advice, help and support.  Don’t expect this to happen overnight. Twitter is only a tool. You have to learn, practice and keep working with  it on a regular basis for it to be valuable to you.


Conversations on a similar topic involve hashtags. Hashtags can be created by anyone. A hashtag begins with a # sign. Somewhere within a tweet, the hashtag is used so that others following the conversation can search for that hashtag. For example, I might follow the hashtag #SciComm to read tweets about science and education and communicating scientific ideas. If I search that hashtag, all tweets where someone used it will come up and I can read about what people are saying about science.  The hashtags that I have used for my courses are #InvertZoo, #KSCMarineBio, #KSCAnimBehav, #EvolHumBehav.  When tweeting for a particular course, you will need to remember to use the hashtag in your tweets (and to read the tweets that use this hashtag sent by others).


You can write up to 280 characters in your tweets. If you want someone in particular to notice or read your tweet, put their twitter handle in the tweet. You can put as many handles and hashtags in your tweet that you want but they will use up some of your character space. In your tweets, you can put the URL for your blog posts, or for any website that you want your followers to look at. You can also post photos.

An example tweet might be:

Red Tide occurs when the algae from algal blooms becomes so numerous that it discolors the water  @karencang. #KSCMarineBio

(if you click on that link- you’ll see that I took the first sentence of the article to write the tweet.  I could have used a different one to say something about that post).

Replies vs. Tweets

If you begin a tweet with someone’s twitter handle, it will only show up in their home feed and in the feed of others that follow them. It is common to just reply to a tweet during a conversation. But if the hashtag is used, the tweets will be seen by anyone searching that hashtag. All tweets (other than direct messages) are public, so they can be searched for by username as well.


There are several ways to access twitter aside from If using a phone or tablet, there are twitter apps that you can use. But I recommend using on your laptop. Here you can save separate columns for searches on particular hashtags, or for a particular user. You can also have a notifications column- if someone ‘retweets’ your tweet or ‘likes’ a tweet or uses your handle in a tweet (mentions), it will show up here.

Below is a screenshot from my tweetdeck on Aug 12, 2017:


Website widget

Post your twitter feed on your website by using a widget. See wordpress help for how to do this or let me know if you need more help. You may need to use a plugin.

To do the first week:

  • Post your first tweet. ‘Mention’ my twitter handle, @karencang and the correct course hashtag. Say anything else that you want.
  • Follow others in the class and send them tweets where you mention them.
  • Follow at least 5 people related to your academic and professional interests (any areas that you are interested in professionally). You can search twitter, and click on someone’s twitter handle to access the profile of someone to find out what they do.
  • Retweet at least four tweets- at least two should be quoted, at least two should be simple retweets
  • ‘Like’ some tweets that you think are interesting
  • Reply to at least one tweet.
  • Tweet to our course hashtag with something related to the course subject at least once.
  • Update your profile by uploading a picture and writing a short bio (these can be edited later). Your tweets might not show up if you seem like a robot.
  • Set time aside each day to do a little tweeting, this is how you build your twitter identity. (Even if you only tweet once a day, it is good to get into practice). Get some followers and keep tweeting to make sure your tweets will be visible.
  • Read this for additional information: GET TWEETING

To keep building your PLN on twitter you should focus on:

(Below copied with modification from Dr. Robin DeRosa’s IDS course at Plymouth State).

  • Following 1-10 new academic and/or professional accounts per day
  • A minimum of 1 simple academic/professional retweet a day
  • A minimum of 1 quoted retweet a day
  • A minimum of 1 reply a day
  • A minimum of 1 academic/professional tweet of your own per day
  • 1-10 favorites (likes) per day
  • Active use of the course hashtag
  • Active use of academic professional hashtags (e.g. #primates, #cognition, #Inverts, #Lepidoptera, #animalwelfare, #ethology, #coralreefs, etc.)
  • 5 days a week (minimum) of this tweeting. 10 minutes a day or so.