Nina Glassen and Virginia Reischl
If you have a page on Facebook or if you keep a blog on Tumblr, you are already participating in social media recreationally. What if you could harness the same technologies to stay up to date on the latest news in your field, or ask questions of educators with a few more years of experience? That is called a professional learning network (PLN) and it is the heart of using social media for professional learning.
This chapter explores the use of social media tools and strategies that effectively support the teachers’ online professional learning through using interactive, engaging, and collaborative learning methods. After the review, this chapter shares the experiences of a practicing teacher who benefits professionally from using social media.
A Commitment to Growth
The California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP) encompasses six interdependent spheres of practice designed to guide teachers as they develop and extend their praxes. Using social media for professional learning is particularly relevant to the sixth standard, “developing as a professional educator” (Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 2009). Successful teachers are committed to the growth of their knowledge, skills, and performance throughout their professional careers. Opportunities for professional networking present themselves continuously when online platforms are utilized on a regular basis. Teachers benefit from the immediate access, flexibility and ease of communication when they participate in a professional learning network.
Per the CSTP Standards (2009), teachers should be:
…collaborating with colleagues and the broader professional community to support teacher and student learning (Standard 6.3), working with families to support student learning (6.4), and engaging local communities in support of the instructional program (6.5) can all be sustained by an environment of collegial support provided through social media” (Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 2009, p. 16).
These standards encompass the idea teachers must collaborate and join a professional community of educators to develop and grow professionally. Therefore, educators are encouraged to engage in active participation with a professional social network of educators because there are conversations and opportunities to extend and expand learning around digital tools and integrating technology into daily practices and classrooms (Lightle, 2010). Educators have the ability to receive ongoing, relevant professional learning that meets their immediate needs when they participate in a social media network. Professional learning needs are targeted and meaningful when educators have the ability to chose when and where they would like to receive the latest tools and resources related to a specific topic.
How Social Media Supports and Enhances Learning
Using social media for professional learning is essential for developing and maintaining effective teaching. In the past, educators engaged in conversations that used to happen in the hallways or teacher lounges or at conferences. Now, conversations have shifted to digital spaces. Therefore, since more conversations are taking place online, there are more opportunities for teacher to build capacity as an educator and explore and develop specific professional interests (Lightle, 2010; Long, 2009). Educators receive immediate, relevant information as opposed to signing up for conferences or workshops that often lack the convenience of web-based learning environments.
A key technology for keeping up to date with online resources is Really Simple Syndication (RSS), which is used to publish updated content like blogs and podcasts. But for live and near-real-time platforms, it is the ubiquity of smartphones that expands a teacher’s access to resources and makes collaboration on-demand, which is essential in meeting the ever-changing demands and expectations from students, parents, and administrations. “The idea of seeing what good instruction looks like is taking on a whole new meaning” (Baxter, 2014, p. 36). With just a Wi-Fi connection, a teacher can obtain the needed services, ideas, or content by asking for contributions from your professional social network and from the greater online community.
Professional Development Resources
When it comes to social media, there are two broad categories of online communication: resource portals and social networks. Resource portals provide curated content and are largely one-way communication. Examples of resource portals include corporate websites, wikis, and podcasts. Social networks are designed for multi-directional interactions and examples include micro-blogs, photo and video sharing, and live chat platforms such as Skype, Google+, and various webinar platforms.
The two broad categories can also overlap, so we will consider them together in this section. Below are comparisons of specific resource portals and social networks.
Success at the Core
One notable resource portal is Success at the Core. It was developed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan Partners technology investment firm, in partnership with Education Development Center (a nonprofit leader in developing instructional programs and materials for school leaders). The resource utilizes video as a primary tool to inform teachers and leaders of best practices. Success at the Core has over 47 films available on The Teaching Channel, featuring real teachers and leadership teams in action.
Each of the films within this online library is connected to content supporting ISTE Standards to promote instructional improvement and build leadership capacity. The curriculum in the films includes seven leadership development modules (Aligning Curriculum, Common Formative Assessments, Implementing New Programs, Instructional Expertise, Leadership Teams & Quality Instruction, Professional Development, and Using Data Effectively), each with multi-media presentations, video of leadership teams in action, facilitator’s guide, and handouts. Therefore, Success at the Core is a great resource for teachers and school leaders to explore, develop, and refine their skills.
Ning is an online community that provides users the opportunity to create their own professional learning networks with the ability to edit its appearance and determine its functionality. It can be used as either a public or private site depending on the needs of the user. Ning provides the ability to upload and browse photos and videos. In addition, it lists the network’s members, events, network groups, forums, and blogs. Members can participate through “latest activity” links, and can set up special group features (such as integrating technology in specific content areas, ESL).
Wikis are resource portals where users can upload their own resources, content, experiences, and suggestions, along with learning from what others have already contributed. One advantage of Wikis is that content is provided on the internet with little or no development costs. The pages are editable by users who are encouraged to add to the content posted on each Wiki. In addition, pages can be linked to educational journals and publications to provide up-to-date research and information.
Twitter is a useful social media outlet that can be used as a microblogging platform for following blogs, sharing links to resources, or for live chats. Recently studied live Twitter chats with preservice teachers revealed the perceived value and benefit of chats as positive.
“When asked to reflect in their blog posts whether they intended to participate in professional Twitter live chats in the future, 61% of participants responded positively, 16% were undecided, and 23% indicated no intention of future participation. Some students shared a high level of enthusiasm for the professional potential of Twitter live chats” (Luo et al., 2017, p. 8).
There is a great deal of potential in the future of microblogging in real time with live platforms available on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.
Twitter has events called “Twitter Live Chats,” which are live Twitter events focused on a specific topic and moderated by a group or person associated with the topic. Hashtags are used by users to tag information that they post to be used within the same live conversation. Ultimately, the users can share information and collaborate amongst each other to gain new insights on a specific topic over the course of the Twitter Live Chat.
Benefits of Online Communities
Even dated studies about online collaborations, during a time when participants still felt skepticism about the reliability and validity of online communication, show advantages for the participants of TAPPED IN™, an online community for the professional development of teachers (Fusco, Gehlbach, & Schlager, 2000). Online teacher professional development created an increased sense of ownership. Furthermore, participation had a positive effect on the teachers’ practices. Their content and pedagogical knowledge increased the more time they spent in Tapped In.
Online communities help to build relationships and enhance teacher’s ability to navigate school procedures and policies, while refreshing more experienced teachers which can increase teacher retention (Webb et al., 2009). For example, teachers can join a free, online social media network related to a subject of interest and connect with other teachers who experience similar successes and challenges. A teacher on special assignment (TOSA) has the opportunity to connect with others when she signs up for a Tosa Chat on Twitter at a given time. Moderators post topics and questions during an advertised time frame and participating teachers communicate with each other, ask and answer questions while providing resources within the professional network.
The most significant benefit of using social media and online communities of practice is that it offers teachers time to reflect. Analytical reflection is arguably the most important CSTP standard, which is exemplified in standard 6.1: “reflecting on teaching practice in support of student learning”(Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 2009, p. 15). Thus, when teachers take the time to participate in learning communities as well as time to reflect on their current practices, they can refine their current practices and develop new ideas and beliefs to utilize in the future. In this next section, we will hear from Virginia Reischl about her experiences using social media to contribute to her own growth and development.
Using Social Media for professional learning
To tweet or not to tweet – this was my question just a couple of years ago. Yes, I had an Instagram account (of course, in my dog’s name). And yes, I had a Facebook account (of course, in order to post food and vacation pictures). However, besides LinkedIn, I did not have a social media account for my professional life. Until…
Three years ago, I went from classroom teacher to district curriculum specialist. My position supports all the secondary English language arts departments: 12 middle school and seven high schools. With this new position, I needed to find an efficient platform that could help me find current resources, research, and strategies and allow me to communicate to our community all the amazing learning opportunities happening in our classrooms across the district. This is when I heard the call of the little blue bird. I knew that Twitter was a cache of information, but didn’t realize how easy it was to customize the influx. Here are a few tips on how to maximize your Twitter account and keep it simple:
Follow, follow, follow – I know, you’re always told to be a leader, but in this case, you need to surround yourself with like-minded people. When you subscribe to their accounts you will see them pop up on your Twitter feed when you log in. Use Twitter’s search feature to find people/groups/ organizations. You can search terms like “writers” or “teachers.” Once you discover your interests, follow them, and they may follow you in return. Our schools in the district have their own Twitter accounts, as well as our superintendents and principals. I follow them, but I also follow authors, news organizations, and libraries. When I check Twitter, I have current articles, events, and highlights on my feed. And it’s only from accounts I follow.
Hashtags – any Twitter user can create a hashtag simply by adding it to their own tweet. Creating hashtags will help you organize your tweets by topic. Topics can lead to communities and communities can lead to people! They are a valuable way to build a PLN. In addition, what I like about hashtags is how they curate highlights. The curriculum specialist for history and social science and I created a hashtag: #CapoHumanities, and we use it when we find interesting articles and/or websites that support our departments. But we mostly use the hashtag when we want to share with the community what’s happening in our classrooms.
Keep your tweets short and sweet – Although the character count has increased from 140 characters to 280, it’s important to keep your tweet concise. This is helpful, too, when going through your feed and curating what is interesting to you. Even in the short posting – there may be a link to additional current information.
Though Twitter is a vast universe of information, one must be careful when venturing into its domain. It is in your best interest be cognizant of your audience. Protect your personal and professional connections by double checking what your tweet and what you re-tweet. Even if your account it set to private – your followers are not prevented from re-tweeting your ‘tweet’s to their followers.
Once I got involved with Twitter, I grew as an educator and learner. I have been able to gather research for papers and lessons from my professional learning network (PLN). I have been able to share tips and get advice on things like best practices, professional development opportunities, and assessments. Twitter has expanded my PLN across the globe – but allows me to keep it in the palm of my hand. Follow me @ReischlVirginia #CapoHumanities
Utilizing social media is a critical step to developing as a new educator in our digital age. Developing a professional social network by joining an online educational community will provide you with many resources to continue your learning as an educator. In addition, through the development of your social network, you will be able to meet educators who are encountering or may have already experienced the challenges you may be working through as a new teacher. Therefore, take the opportunity to reach out and ask for resources as well as ask questions regarding what you may be facing in your classroom or at your school-site. You may be surprised with how eager educators you meet within your social network are willing to help out.