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Teachers take to Twitter: Online chats help educators collaborate, get creative

Rebecca Savelkoul

Rebecca Savelkoul is the technology project lead at Bismarck Public Schools where she leads a chat on Twitter, where local educators weigh in on issues facing schools.

Maggie Townsend and Allison Radermacher have met only once in person, but they consider themselves "library besties."

The two library media specialists talk to each other frequently online, whether it's at a Google Hangout video meetup or via Twitter, where they act as moderators of a biweekly chat known as "#NDlibchat."

Throughout the country and in North Dakota, educators are flocking to Twitter to share ideas. 

"It's kind of like throwing a party," said Townsend, who works at Legacy High School in Bismarck.

Here's how it works: Twice a month on Sunday nights, librarians throughout the state sit in front of their computers. When 9 p.m. rolls around, either Townsend or Radermacher, who works at Ellendale Public School, starts the chat with a tweet like this:

Each chat hits on a different topic. One recent session focused on the new Common Core standards used in math and English classrooms.

Once participants introduce themselves, the moderator poses a question:

Participants then sound off, each sending out tweets using the appropriate hashtag.

Typing #NDlibchat at the end of a tweet flags that post so everyone following the chat sees it.

Other education chats follow a similar style. There's a statewide #NDedchat once a week that attracts teachers and administrators throughout North Dakota. And within Bismarck Public Schools, educators recently began using the #learnBPS hashtag.

Bismarck educators began using that hashtag last spring as a way to promote what is happening within the district.

While teachers still include it in tweets about their work, it's used every other Tuesday night for a districtwide Twitter chat. Technology and curriculum development staff get together beforehand to decide on a topic and questions, said Rebecca Savelkoul, a technology project lead who serves as moderator.

Anywhere from seven to 16 participants chime in during a given chat.

"Lately, we have had teachers and administrators outside of Bismarck join us, which brings a different perspective," Savelkoul said.

Though the chats started as a way for teachers within the district to communicate, anyone with a Twitter account can take part.

"It's allowed them to connect with so many different people," Savelkoul said. "It's opened up our professional network so much."

The #NDlibchat is what prompted Townsend and Radermacher to become such good friends.

Radermacher said other library media specialists have tweeted links to blogs, which have turned into handy resources for sparking new ideas she can implement in Ellendale.

"I don't like to use the same lesson plans from year to year," she said. "I like to recreate them however I can or add something new."

Townsend points to the latest concepts creating buzz among educators, such as "genius hour" and "makerspaces," which she has learned more about from her Twitter network.

During genius hour, students spend time researching and sharing information about a subject they are passionate about. Makerspaces are a designated area — often in a library — where students can go to build creative projects.

"You read about them, but it's nice to know somebody who's doing them," Townsend said of #NDlibchat participants who have implemented these concepts at their schools. "You can pick their brain with questions, and everyone is so willing to share."

Though the Bismarck and statewide librarian chats are new to the Twitter scene, educators in North Dakota have been communicating in weekly Twitter chats since 2013. Larger national chats have gone on for even longer.

Few people joined the first statewide education chats, but that has changed. Now, 20 to 30 people participate in a given week, though sometimes the number is as high as 60.

"More and more people are joining because they see the value of this," said Kelly Rexine, an IT specialist with EduTech, which provides tech services to the state's schools.

Rexine is one of the founders of the #NDedchat.

In addition to the weekly participants, he said he knows there are many "lurkers" who follow the chats as they happen but opt not to weigh in themselves.

He and other moderators use a service called Storify to archive the chats. That way people who miss the live event can view the questions and responses after the fact.

"I think educators are doing great things in classrooms and schools, and I think the #NDedchat is giving them a voice to share that," he said.

Reach Amy R. Sisk at 701-250-8267 or


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