Confirmation Q&A – #1

The Confirmation of Candidature process I mentioned in the last post is partly about monitoring your progress and strength of your work, but also about exposing your thoughts to academic scrutiny – another manifestation of the peer review process I guess. After presenting for half an hour, the remainder of the seminar was given over to Q and A and it is through these that you get a better sense of how your work and your ideas hold up. When added to the formal feedback provided  by the rapporteurs, the areas which are robust and those in need of further development become clearer. In this post then, I want to catalogue the feedback people were kind enough to provide through their observations and questions.


As an experiment (there’s nothing like living on the edge!), I gave Google Slides Audience Q&A a try. A URL is posted at the top of your presentation, and when audience members visit it, they have the opportunity to submit questions or make observations. I’m going to open with these first, since there wasn’t really time to address them in the ‘live’ Q&A:

Am wondering about the differences/similarities between professional learning and current discussion of formal/informal/non-formal learning in/out the classroom/school.

This is an area which I addressed later, though all too briefly. The slide where I discussed this in more detail didn’t make the final cut, but is a topic of great interest to me. I also acknowledged the fact that I have perhaps concentrated my reading (and therefore my interpretations?) too heavily o the more formal aspects of professional development … so far!

Do Twitter educators constitute a community?

Now that’s a loaded question if ever there was one. I’d argue it’s a question deserving of an ‘it depends’ reply, because how you define community matters. Is it prescribed by place? Or by interests? Is it somehow people drawn together through shared values, norms and beliefs? Is the community defined by those who are in it, or by those who aren’t … and what are the criteria for being in or out? On top of that, does the notion of being online add an extra layer of complexity? Are virtual communities (Rheingold, 2000) possible, and are they inherently different from offline ones? I suspect I could make both cases; for Twitter being or not being a community, but I suspect that’s not going to be a thread I pull.

You said that ANT is not a theory and one reason it is not a theory is that it does not allow you to explain things? What do you mean by explain here? And if it doesn’t explain – what’s the point?

A good point, although what I think I said was that the proponents of ANT don’t claim it be a theory. I did say however it doesn’t have explanatory power, and by that I mean it doesn’t allow you to take observations (like the behaviour of a gas) and explain it using theoretical concepts (like kinetic theory) (Or using symbolic interactionism to explain people’s behaviour). The point, I think, is that ANT provides descriptive power by asking researchers to attend closely to details that other approaches might miss, or deliberately ignore. They are then able to tell the stories of the messy associations and interactions between social and material actors as their practice unfolds (Law, 2009).

What is it about Twitter specifically?  Or is it about twitter specifically?

If the question is why is it Twitter that I’m studying, rather than other social media, then the answer is that that is where teachers are … mostly. It’s rare for teachers to make claims with professional learning and Facebook (or SnapChat or Pinterest) in the same breath. If the question was more about what is it that attracts teachers to twitter specifically (rather than other social media), then that’s one of the questions I’d like my participants to answer. I did ask that in one particular exchange, but received a rather unsatisfactory answer, which I wasn’t sufficiently skilled to tease out further.

Is ‘the field’ the same thing as the text (the tweets)?  The question arises wrt you taking us to the field and then going back in time? Were you really taking us back in time or back into the archive? To put it another way is the ethnographic gaze on the users or the textual traces they leave?

This is a really helpful question when put alongside one I was asked in the post-presentation questions – ‘what is your ethnography an ethnography of?’ Let me start first though by attempting to address what ‘the field’ means to me. It’s the setting where people are engaged in the practices and activities which are of interest for the study. So for me the field (usually) begins with Twitter – the place where teachers claim their professional learning is (mostly) occurring. In another sense however, that might only be the point of entry and in order to ‘follow the actors’, visits to other online settings are warranted. The tweets are in one sense a manifestation of the activity taking place and having taken place – they provide the visible traces. In another sense however, they are also the mediators and intermediaries which initiate and prolong further associations. I suspect I’m going to need to untangle that much more in the coming months.

Perhaps my comment about being able to go back in time was somewhat flippant (Note to self – be wary of making off-the-cuff comments), but that’s what it feels like, rather than simply accessing an archive. As you roll back a twitterstream, you see the action as it had happened, but more crucially, unlike an archive, you have the capacity to rejoin past action and bring it (pause, whilst you wait for the inevitable…) back to the future. By replying to a tweet made earlier, you breathe life back into that earlier event in a way you would never have the opportunity to do in an offline setting, where physicists have yet to find a way to jump back to earlier in the timeline.

On the final point, I’m not sure that is an either/or answer, so much as a both. Dissociating the user from their textual traces is not so easy when each tweet is accompanied by their avatar, which for me links them intimately with it. I think what I need to do here is to imagine what my answers would be were I conducting a traditional, offline ethnography – a further post devoted solely to this issue perhaps needed?

Interested in the distinction between professional development and ‘personal’ use of twitter by others… can you / do you make this distinction, in the way you did about your own twitter use at the beginning?

I’m going to first make an assumption that ‘personal’ means social, since professional development on Twitter is arguably inseparable from the personal. My answer then becomes yes and no. If someone is using Twitter solely for social use, then they wouldn’t be of interest in the context of the study, since this isn’t about Twitter alone; it’s Twitter and professional learning. However if social interactions are an important element within professional learning, then they are not to be ignored.

What impact is PD from Twitter having in the classroom of those engaged?

I’m not sure I’m in a position to answer this yet; the early data is far from conclusive and classroom impact isn’t strictly the focus of my research questions. However, from the literature (and tentatively from my pilot study), teachers are claiming they find resources, inspiration and new ideas they can use in their classrooms. That they do so is sometimes evidenced by the photos they subsequently post. The ‘impact’ then is arguably that new resources, new practice, new pedagogy have been implemented where they might not have been otherwise. If the impact you’re looking for is change in pupil outcomes however, that is a different matter and one where I (as yet) have no evidence.

The likeminded talking to the likeminded?……Trumpism  for teachers?

Absolutely. The echo chamber effect is a valid point to make and undoubtedly does happen; one of my participants even remarked on it. They were aware that it was prevalent, confessed to being susceptible to its effects, but having that awareness also meant they took steps to mitigate them. Perhaps we should ask though, what is the significance of the echo chamber and is it always a negative thing?

These questions raised through the Slides Audience Q&A tool raised several issues that I need to address more fully in my research. In the next post, I’ll reflect on the questions which were asked verbally.

Law, J. (2009). Actor network theory and material semiotics. The new Blackwell companion to social theory, 3, 141-158.

Rheingold, H. (2000). The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier. MIT press.

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