22 Tweeting to Build Practice and Curriculum

Melissa Cooper

misankh10@gmail.com

Twitter: @LOL1librarian

Osaka International School

Abstract

Twitter is a powerful social media tool for educators. As more educators contribute, the stronger this community becomes since the users will build a nest of a thriving community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991 as cited by Xing & Gao, 2018). As connectivists (Siemens, 2004), educators can find ways to support knowledge construction (Steward, 2015) and create a social culture of collaboration  (Xing & Gao, 2018) that will support their development of a stronger curriculum to establish a students acquisition of 21st-century skills. A willingness to find the time and acknowledge the validity of the resources and information available is critical to using Twitter successfully. Reputable tweeters have given sound advice in order to curate resources. Although further study needs to be completed, there is evidence that the resources teachers find on Twitter can support professional and curriculum development.

Keywords: professional development, professional learning, Twitter, social media, community of practice, 21st-century learning, connectivism

Introduction

Social media is becoming more pervasive in our society and it has the potential to play a positive role in educators professional and curriculum development. Through Twitters’ connections, an educator can construct knowledge and be engaged in a culture of collaboration in order to build a community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991 as cited by Xing & Gao, 2018). This community requires an active presence to be beneficial and educators need to learn how to avoid some pitfall. Educators need to be flexible and try to find time in their schedule in order to engage meaningfully since Twitter requires careful curation and participation. There’s a range of resources available, including ‘just in time’ resources (Greenhalgh & Koehler, 2017) that can support educators during a time of tragedy. Twitter can offer not only resources but provide educators a platform to share their epistemology. As a result of this supportive community of practice, educators can further develop their curriculum. Curriculum enhancement through a combination of an educator’s media savvy, critical thinking skills and technology tools is needed to support 21st-century learning. However, using social media to improve a user’s professional learning and development comes with some words of caution; due to the volume and the lack of neutrality in the information provided. By striking a solid balance, the power of tweeting will be revealed.

Background: Twitter and your Gray Matter

Professionals are seeking ways to further develop their practice. Moving along the avenue of ‘knowledge construction’ (Stewart, 2015), Twitter provides educators a couple of different paths to follow. Establishing your tribe on Twitter will allow a user to develop a ‘culture of collaboration’. Social media is here to stay so why not make those connections or connectivism (Siemens, 2004) work for you?

Connectivism

At the heart of the realm of Twitter is a sense of connection, and Siemens work on connectivism in 2004 highlights how the knowledge is connected, and how it cycles around the network. Twitter does require one to curate followers and to follow others in order to maintain connections and for a learner to be self-directed. The quality of what can be learned on Twitter depends on the diversity of the people you are following as well as the hashtags you explore. Does the realm of Twitter prove that learning can reside in non-human machines?

Knowledge Construction

How in the world is it possible to construct knowledge within such a limited number of characters? People utilize this brevity quite well since you can ask questions, state opinions, have a flurry of ideas exchanged, share resources and pump up your colleagues by acknowledging content they have shared (Prestridge, 2019). All critical thinking skills can be utilized and critical thinking skills are an essential component of a robust curriculum. It’s been found by Lupton (2014, as cited by Stewart, 2015) that 90% out of 711 academics use Twitter for professional purposes like networking, promoting, developing research and offering support.  For some there can be an element of competitiveness, if you allow yourself to be sucked into the vortex of the number following you and your followers.  Balance can be struck in different ways such as only following people you met in the real physical world (Xing & Gao, 2018) or by reviewing profiles and their associated blogs (Stewart, 2015).  Within a limited space you can find construct knowledge with your fluttering followers. With input from fellow tweeters, educators can further develop their curriculum to include a wider range of skills and resources. All you need to build your tribe is a healthy sense of curiosity!

Culture of Collaboration

In terms of user-friendly space, most professional Twitter hashtags and tweeters participate positively and build a wonderful collective intelligence that will add to a teacher’s sense of self-efficacy (Prestridge, 2019). Through these language-based social interactions, which build upon each other, you can modify interpretation and eventually your understanding will change (Xing & Gao, 2018). As one continues to tweet and interact, your sense of capacity grows exponentially as you realize that you are able to positively contribute to a global conversation (Stewart, 2015).  Hopefully, over time this professional learning will evolve into professional development where you can see a change in practice.

Applications: Tweeting to Learn and Develop Curriculum

Twitter has been around for over a decade and how the platform has been utilized on a professional level is continually evolving. In order to ascertain educators views of social media on their professional learning a survey was conducted using a Google form and shared via Facebook groups (International School Teachers, Int’l School Library Connection and Future Ready Librarians), Twitter (#EDUC5303G, #inTLchat, #educhat, #digitalcitizen), Google Group forum (Singapore’s International School Library Network) and email (Canadian International School email). There’s some diversity in responses, of the 129 participants there are 24 different countries represented; although the majority are Singapore or Canada based. Unfortunately, the majority of the participants responded via social media which makes generalizations more challenging but there are a few trends in responses.

Flexibility and Accessibility

At this point in Twitters decade plus lifetime, it seems that educators are still getting on board. Considering educators views on flexibility and accessibility through the lens of Davis’ (1989) Technology Acceptance Model (TAM) is helpful since two major factors seem to be perceived ease of use in terms of time to work on the platform and the perceptions of its usefulness.

According to Prestige (2019), since Twitter is available anytime and anywhere it should suit everyone. Slowly many educators and other professionals viewpoints are changing and they are acknowledging that the ideas on Twitter do have value in comparison to concepts taught in the more traditional professional development workshop model. Since many workshops are dictated by an administration, many people like Twitter since it is self-directed. According to this survey, 63% of educators find it challenging to find the time to sit down and build a community. There is a disconnect between the perceived ease of use in order to sift through information to find a nugget of worth (Davis, 1989).

Community of Practice

A Twitter tribe is built by the user to suit their own needs, it is an individually curated community of practice (Lave & Wenger 1991 as cited by Xing & Gao, 2018). As pointed out by Xing and Gao (2018), users will not benefit from the community if they leave it so users need to be active participants who engage in cognitive and interactive ways in order to learn. In terms of time, they recommend checking in a couple of times a week to search for new ideas, ask questions and react to others. Figure 1 shows that many people who read posts will attempt to implement some ideas.  Twitter’s community of educators is growing and more and more users are not just trolling for information but cognitively interact with the community as seen in Figure 2. As educators, modeling 21st-century skills and collaborating with colleagues in the Tweetosphere will support the development of an innovative curriculum. Educators who apply these skills are more likely to see their value and importance in a strong technology skill-based curriculum. Basically, if you interact at a deeper cognitive level and conscientiously use critical thinking skills then the more you will get out of the experience.

Scale indicates 4 as a strong agreement and 1 is a strong disagreement that users implement ideas and resources found on social media platforms.
Figure 1. Scale indicates 4 as a strong agreement and 1 is a strong disagreement that users implement ideas and resources found on social media platforms.
Scale indicates 4 as a strong agreement and 1 is a strong disagreement that users actively and interactively participate on social media platforms.
Figure 2. Scale indicates 4 as a strong agreement and 1 is a strong disagreement that users actively and interactively participate on social media platforms.

A study of academics who use Twitter for their professional learning done by Stewart (2015) had a number of useful tips. If you do not want to end up overwhelmed by useless news in your feed you should have a set of criteria to use when selecting people to follow: look at their blog link and see if their epistemology aligns with your own, scan the quality of tweets they have posted and review the hashtags they use. To continue to build your following, you can look at who they follow and Twitter will post recommendation based on hashtags or people you have in common. Twitter, as a platform, is working to be a smart user-friendly platform that supports a community of practice.

Through this ‘self-generating professional learning’ (Prestridge, 2019) teachers engage in authentic learning that leads to professional and curriculum development. In turn, this professional development can then be shared with a user’s real-world academic community and update their curriculum to include more technology-based skills.

In this survey, 70% of participants felt that social media played a role in developing their practice. An interesting aspect is that Twitter offers what Greenhalgh and Koehler (2017) call ‘just in time’ professional development. Tragedies are broadcast quickly and can have a great impact on our students, equators grapple to find information that is age-level appropriate and interesting in order to facilitate discussions. In their study, they examined the quality of the tweets used by educators following a hashtag that was created just after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015. What they found was that educators were sharing rich and relevant resources and building a dialogue of support. The concept of ‘just in time’ resources for professional development is new and it will be interesting to watch its evolution.

Further Study & Conclusion

Will the use of social media platforms for professional learning become the norm? Many teachers are still very cautionary in the role of social media in their professional lives, as can be seen in the comments from the survey in Appendix A.  People are justifiably concerned about the volume of information and its validity.

Robson (2016) is critical of what is found on social media. He questions many components: how information is linked to profiles, the lack of neutrality in the technology itself and the power of dominant discourse.  Since information and resources are shared via profile, he expresses the concern the only reason why people share is to stroke their own ego, rather than positively contributing to a community. Although there are some valid concerns in the nest of dominance interaction, but this happens in the physical world as well where it is the nature of some individuals to lead the discussion and others will be hesitant to join in a debate or critic colleagues contributions. Instead of viewing this as a fault of social media, is it not a fault of human nature?

Twitter can be a powerful tool to support educators in developing a community of practice that will support their professional learning and curriculum development. Viewing the use of Twitter through the lens of connectivism (Siemens, 2004) and a community of practice realms (Lave & Wenger, 1991 as cited by Xing & Gao, 2018) educators can socialize and engage in a manner that will promote the use of critical thinking skills and improve their curriculum. There are some words of caution, time needs to be taken to curate as well as actively participate in order for an educator to truly benefit from Twitter. Educators should embrace social media and leap into the Twitter nest!

References

Davis, F. (1989). Perceived usefulness, perceived ease of use, and user acceptance of information technology. MIS Quarterly, 13(3), 319-339.

Greenhalgh, S. P., & Koehler, M. J. (2017). 28 Days Later: Twitter Hashtags as “Just in Time” Teacher Professional Development. TechTrends: Linking Research and Practice to Improve Learning, 61(3), 273–281. http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspxdirect=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1138470&site=ehost-live  

Prestridge, S. (2019). Categorising teachers’ use of social media for their professional learning: A self-generating professional learning paradigm. Computers & Education, 129, 143-158. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2018.11.003

Robson, James (2016). Engagement in structured social space: an investigation of teachers’ online peer-to-peer interaction. Learning, Media and Technology, 41(1), 119-139, DOI: 10.1080/17439884.2015.1102743

Rosell-Aguilar, F. 2018. Twitter: A Professional Development and Community of Practice Tool for Teachers. Journal of Interactive Media in Education, 2018, 1(6), 1–12. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=eric&AN=EJ1180366&site=ehost-live

Siemens, George. (2004). Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. International Journal of Instructional Technology and Distance Learning, 2,  3-10. Retrieved from http://elearnspace.org/Articles/connectivism.htm

Stewart, B. (2015). Open to influence: What counts as academic influence in scholarly networked Twitter participation. Learning, Media and Technology, 40(3), 287-309. doi:10.1080/17439884.2015.1015547

Xing, W., & Gao, F. (2018). Exploring the relationship between online discourse and commitment in Twitter professional learning communities. Computers & Education, 126, 388-398. doi:10.1016/j.compedu.2018.08.010

Appendix A: Comments on Social Media and Professional Learning

The survey conducted included a comment box in order to provide educators the opportunity to share their opinions on social media and their professional learning.

Listed below are the unedited comments recorded by participants.

Love the wealth of ideas that flow but I do try to be mindful of making time to deep dive the research rather than always wading in the more shallow, practical end.

Wanted or not we do live in a platform society. Social media is where connection, collaboration, learning and sharing happens. If you are not part of this society yet, be a risk taker, join online PLN’s and enjoy the benefits. You might like it. Don’t forget, social media is also the place where our users are. That is another reason to be there.

I’m active (read: I use a lot of ideas from others’ posts but don’t post so much myself) on Facebook groups. I don’t use Twitter or instagram.

A great way of developing as an educator – finding new ideas and connecting with others!

I am active on Facebook and am learning online, but have yet to embrace Twitter or instagram

Social media sharing is becoming just as useful as our state library email listserv.

Depends on the source:

Twitter–superficial conversations, folks trying to develop their personal branding, lack of nuance.

Facebook: I may be in the wrong groups, but I have noted folks asking questions that could be answered with a Google search. I rarely see folks sharing stuff of import. It happens though. It is just that there is SO MUCH of the other stuff. And you can’t tag for quality. It is discovered based on luck.

Ultimately, I’m bothered by the lack of research-based practices bandied about.

I learn more from collaborating with local people than I do from social media.

Disseminating this through social media channels isn’t ironic. It is a threat to validity.

I use Twitter for my PLN and FB for private connections on Insta I have both a personal and professional account

Using social media platforms has allowed me to connect better with teachers in my own school, my country and around the world!!

I don’t use Instragam, just Twitter and Facebook

I wish I had more time in the day to absorb and choose what to implement. I can’t keep up with my amazing PLN. I also feel some responsibility to share and offer ideas to others, and this is another area where I’m having trouble keeping up!

As well as professional learning, I buy many books for the school libraries that I find out about on social media

It’s hard to keep up with the multitude of ideas and resources. Picking and choosing what is useful takes a lot of time.

Using social media for professional learning allows me to connect with people all over the world. It gives me the chance to see what other educators are doing, and hear other perspectives that I wouldn’t otherwise encounter in my daily life. Social media allows you to find your ‘tribe’.

I am have such limited time with classes that many of the wonderful ideas won’t work or would take resources I don’t have. I still value the insights and ideas shared by others.

Very tricky in China with all the blocking

Useful, practical, current, and of varying quality. There’s too much, like everything else on social media, but so worth it and you can pick and choose. It’s some of the best, cheapest and quickest PD I get. It’s an example of how social media can make a positive impact.

Twitter is one of my favourite social media platforms to use for sharing educational resources. It’s a plus that people are generally supportive.

The only downside is the GDPR which is making it increasingly difficult in Europe

LinkedIn is the only relevant or useful social platform as far as I’m concerned. I have no use for any of the others, which I find a) juvenile and b) a complete waste of time, both professionally and personally.

Sometimes it’s a lot of information and links people are posting to rise up in Admin and get noticed, not necessarily something they practice/believe

While social media is a good platform to reach out to friends, family members and also to the public, it is not always ideal and it’s not vetted for reliable use in education.

I find Twitter is one of the best PLC platforms.

It’s all about sharing ideas globally to build the educational community.

I mostly use Pinterest for ideas.

Some of the best PD for me happens this way!

I would like to use Twitter more frequently for teaching

I don’t find Twitter user friendly

Mostly Twitter for me.

Twitter tends to be more thought provoking and professional than other platforms, especially if you follow the right people. I also find that the character limit makes people really think about what they will say and how they will say it.

It is helpful but too time consuming.

Used to be much more engaged online, especially Twitter. However now find time is limited (kids! haha)

I know many of my colleagues use social media especially Pinterest very often! I believe it’s an excellent source for professional learning.

I wish I had more time to use social media — I have so many ideas, but not much time to curate my own platforms or to really look deeply at those of others.

If we make better use of social media then I feel every educator can upgrade their knowledge and can stay connected as one IB education

I don’t know where I would be without it.

Follow various librarians (and others) on Twitter and re-post using hashtags such as #tlchat and #iamalibrarian. Follow about six groups on FB, one of which is an international school librarians group. Everyone is so open in their sharing and supportive in their responses. It does take time and I go in waves insofar and being on and being active but the good thing is you can always go back and catch up on posts.

Easy to look and adapt ideas for my students/country/culture but I must admit I never put my ideas up – I should ! If I had the time!

Many people have tried to get me to use SM but repeatedly all I find are inanities.

I think sometimes its a great way to share practice and ideas with each other.

Great tool to explore during subject-specific PD

It’s quick and easy. I can learn something new everyday without it be a saga. Most importantly it’s relevant.

Sometimes I find social media intrusive on my life, but there are so many wonderful librarians happy to connect when I leap in.

I love the connectedness of social media. It really helps me feel less isolated and more part of a peer group.

I find that apart from resources it is a great way to hear other trends / ways to approach similar issues I encounter in my work.

I am not very interested to be honest. I rarely only use Facebook, mainly to ask friends to sign petitions

I am concerned about the amount of time people (and I) spend on social media. Added to this there are so many well-made, professional resources on the internet that I have never felt the need to use social media for work purposes.

If the answer to “Do you read and use ideas and resources from social media platforms?” is never, then rest don’t make sense.

Social media is the most convenient way to keep updated – it just takes a while to see who is good to follow (scoopit/Twitter/goodreads) and what pages (fb) I want notifications from or how often I should scan posts.

I think social media is excellent in closed groups. I really like using interacting with other professionals (i.e. librarians in a librarian group).

I often follow but don’t post. However I find it really useful to know what other librarians are doing.

I wish I had more time to engage in professional uses of social media

There are a lot of great resources and sharing out there but there are only so many hours in the day! For a single teacher who doesn’t have a family I can see they have the time to interact with social media a lot more than me. I worry that ‘the post’ becomes more important than the lesson and teachers might prioritise catching things on camera rather than truly engaging with students. Of course this is at the extreme end, and I do think there is a definite value in sharing and celebrating what happens in the classroom.

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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2019 by Melissa Cooper is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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