Social Media: Extending the Human Connection in Education

mapsasaThe Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER) is an initiative for knowledge mobilization funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education and in partnership with the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario.The KNAER’s role is to build and advance effective practices for increased knowledge mobilization.  It’s goal is to establish collaborative networks of policy-makers, educators and researchers working to better apply education research to practice

As part of the KNAER-RÉCRAE responsibility as a networking organization, we spread our initiative to include social media, in particular Twitter. In the following blog post, Mark Henshaw and Dr. Patricia Briscoe, KNAER-RÉCRAE team members, share some of their strategies for using social media to disseminate information to educational stakeholders about education news, events, research, professional learning tools or any other education topics that come up.

In The Beginning:

Over the course of two years, KNAER-RÉCRAE increased its social presence on Twitter from 500 to 1800 followers. Undoubtedly, our use of social media (i.e. Twitter) has been instrumental in supporting our values and mission.

Mark’s Experience:

Creating timely and relevant content for the “eduverse” surely involves more misfires than bull’s eyes. I can recall my first experiences trying to tweet. After framing my plans around our mission and the renewed vision of the Ministry of Education, I dove into the digital world of education while connecting with teachers, parents, students and more.

While I knew that Hootsuite (a social media tool among other things, to generate tweet postings) would enable me to pre-set tweetable releases at optimal times, my initial tweets had little engagement. Our messages attracted almost no retweets, and we only gained a few followers, many of whom were not researchers or teachers.

My team members, however, had some better ideas for situating KNAER-RÉCRAÉ within the education communities on Twitter. Dr. Patricia Briscoe, The KNAER network manager, introduced me to education hashtags that are specific to Ontario (#onted, #ontpoli, #tllp, #onedchat) and then beyond the province (i.e. #edchat, #edchatie). The use of hashtags is a must in Twitter because the embedded tag sends your tweet to a specific area rather than to the entire twitter world.

Another team member Shasta Carr-Harris reached out and mentioned @TeachThought and their blog dedicated to imminent issues in education and education technology. Then, the knowledge mobilization specialist Bonnie Zink (@BonnieZink), who hosts #kmbchat (the only twitter chat that focuses on issues and topics related to Knowledge Mobilization) taught me to search for relevant education buzz by searching for popular hashtags in the Twitter search bar. You can actually browse multiple conversations at once by adding these hashtags as “streams” within your Hootsuite accounts. This search method allows you to only sweep through tweets that have that relevant hashtags.

These are just a few strategies to increase your presence on Twitter, and I feel I am only scratching the surface. There are still so many tricks for us to learn.

However, the support, teamwork, and resources I acquired from the team put us on a much better footing to engage with the educational world of Twitter. But as Bonnie Zink always reminds us We need to put the ‘social’ in social media online communications. It is about talking to people not pushing stuff at them”

Patricia’s comments:

tweet2With the “social” aspect in mind, KNAER-RÉCRAE began employing new social media strategies that focused on relationship building in addition to the linear push-pull content. We needed to critically assess how to grow virtual relationships. A simple network building strategy we used was take on a ‘knowledge broker’ role and virtually introduce people to each other who had similar interest.

Another sure way to increase our relationships on Twitter is to participate in some of the numerous Twitter Chats. In the education arena there is #satchat, which takes place on Saturdays all over the world. Each country adds their initial at the end of the chat. For example New Zealand is #satchatNZ. My favourite are #satchat, #sunchat, and #leadwithgiants. I have found Twitter chats to be a unbelievable place to meet new people, and listen to conversations from around the world.

As many of our KNAER-RÉCRAE project leaders have expressed, face-to-face meetings are still the most effective way to build relationships. However, it is possible to use virtual introductions to facilitate face-to-face meetings. For that reason, conference hashtags have become a vital tool to support real-time knowledge mobilization and social connections. Not to mention, they are a great tool for catching up when there are multiple conference sessions and you can only attend one, or you are not even there.

tweetJust recently members of the KNAER-RÉCRAE team attended the Ontario Education Research Symposium. In addition to making real-time connections with the attendees, we used the conference hashtag #OERS15 to post real-time tweets on the content of the conference. It was so great to meet the people we were tweeting about!

From Twitter, the KNAER-RÉCRAE team continues to learn new strategies for linear processes and relationship building. During the #OERS15 conference Chris Conley of @ResearchChat used TAGS Explorer to demonstrate the impact of social media at the #OERS15 conference. It is clear the use of technology and social media amplified the real-time relationships at the conference. A full report of Chris’s work is available on his website at &


While there is no single path to maximizing your time on social media, there are a number of strategies to increase your presence. Social media has been and continues to be a powerful tool in launching the KNAER-RÉCARE in new directions. Most important lesson for us it that Twitter is a social media tool and not to forget that ‘social’ means its about relationships. Tailor your activities on Twitter to do just that: build relationship!. As the Bonnie Zink supports, “people don’t engage with logos, they connect with people” (The Art of Social Media).

Feel free to follow the KNAER-RÉCRAE on Twitter @knaer_recrae or any of the team members: @CarolCampbell4 @DrKatinaPollock @drpbriscoe @MarkHenshaw @ShastaCH @SairaShah44 

Or visit our website.

Patricia Briscow and Mark Henshaw
The Knowledge Network for Applied Education Research (KNAER) is an initiative for knowledge mobilization funded by the Ontario Ministry of Education and in partnership with the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario.

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