What do teachers do on Twitter? Emerging findings.

“Sharing” flickr photo by bengrey https://flickr.com/photos/ben_grey/4582294721 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

When teachers are active on Twitter, they participate in a wide range of practices. From the outset it is important to state how their activity is underpinned by the principle of reciprocity. When one teacher claims that Twitter helps them keep abreast of current educational research, it follows that at some point, someone else must have contributed that information. When teachers describe how they contribute ideas, share experiences and signpost resources, that might not immediately appear to be enhancing their learning. However, when taken in the round, at some point the same teachers will have benefited from others having done the same. Professional practice within this communal space is based on exchange, both giving and receiving.

Educators connect with a wide spectrum of people from different educational settings and distant locations. In pre-internet times, connecting with colleagues (and/or experts) having shared interests often depended on proximity. Twitter now enables those connections to become possible where once it might have been much less common.  Whilst many describe how important it is for those connections to be with like-minded people, some nevertheless feel it is equally important to have their thinking challenged and so provoke reflection. Perhaps because of the capacity to forge connections, being active on Twitter reduces the isolation educators often feel as a result of their role, geography, pedagogical approach or particular interests. Isolation might also be ameliorated when they tap into information streams which keep them abreast of educational news and developments, of research and other published literature, of colleagues’ blog post reflections, and of educational events (both on- and offline). A further way in which people share experiences is by exposing their local practice and by providing a window into their classrooms or schools. They share their successes, or conversely, present the challenges they’ve faced and how they overcame them. In addition to becoming aware of particular educational issues and practices, participants also offer their views and opinions, either to seek affirmation, or to be challenged in discussion and debate.

In addition to the practical, pragmatic elements of participation, people also cite affective benefits like generosity, helpfulness, enthusiasm, inspiration and positivity. Once again, if these are being experienced by some, others, either individually or en masse, must be generating those effects. Some go so far as to describe their participation as ‘fun,’ or as a ‘hobby’ rather than work, whilst others seek to bolster their wellbeing. That might simply be from the ‘positive’ atmosphere that many describe, or participating proactively in initiatives like #teacher5aday.

There are some aspects of practice on Twitter which are not directly related to relationships forged with others. Involvement is variously described as ‘free’ (as in beer, rather than speech), as a time-saver, as democratic (you can exchange views with fellow teachers, but also with headteachers, senior figures on public bodies and even education ministers), but most importantly of all, it is personalisable. Participants choose when and where to get involved, with whom they participate, on what terms and for how long. Having the capacity to participate on your own terms, without being directed your employer, might be the reason why it sometimes is termed ‘PD in my PJs’.

Many of these findings confirm what has emerged elsewhere. Other researchers have found that teachers are involved in sharing knowledge & resources; filtering information, cultivating a sense of belonging; experiencing emotional/social support; encountering diverse perspectives; exerting choice/personalisation; connecting widely; keeping abreast through timely access; reducing isolation; accessing experts; establishing relationships with like-minded peers; benefiting from a levelling effect; and enjoying positivity (see references below). [Note: each of these articles contributed a few activities to the above list, though of course some of the listed activities were apparent in multiple studies]

All of the above findings paint activities and experiences on Twitter in largely in a positive light. There are however some drawbacks and negative experiences, so it is to these that I will turn in the next post.

References

Alderton, E., Brunsell, E., & Bariexca, D. (2011). The end of isolation. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 7(3), 1-16.
Beadle, H. (2014). The tweet smell of success: Perceptions of twitter as a CPD tool. Re-Thinking Models of Professional Learning, Aston University, Birmingham. 16-25.
Carpenter, J. P., & Krutka, D. G. (2015). Learning in 140 characters: English teachers’ educational uses of twitter. International Journal of English and Education, 4(2)
Carpenter, J. P., & Krutka, D. G. (2014). How and why educators use twitter: A survey of the field. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 46(4), 414-434. doi:10.1080/15391523.2014.925701
Cho, V. (2016). Administrators’ professional learning via twitter: The dissonance between beliefs and actions. Journal of Educational Administration, 54(3), 340-356.
Colwell, J., & Hutchison, A. C. (2017). Considering a twitter-based professional learning network in literacy education. Literacy Research and Instruction, , 1-21.
Davis, K. (2015). Teachers’ perceptions of twitter for professional development. Disability and Rehabilitation, 37(17), 1551-1558.
Holmes, K., Preston, G., Shaw, K., & Buchanan, R. (2013). Follow me: Networked professional learning for teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(12), n12.
Skyring, C. (2014). Professional learning in 140 characters. Paper presented at the Conference Proceedings of the Australian Computers in Education Conference 2014, 422-429.
Wright, N. (2010). Twittering in teacher education: Reflecting on practicum experiences. Open Learning, 25(3), 259-265.

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