In this second in the series of responses to potential viva questions, I’m going to take a look at the findings. It’s quite possible the examiners might want to delve more deeply into particular aspects, but it’s also likely that at some stage, whether in the viva or not, I’ll need to concisely summarise my findings. At the end of each of the three ‘findings’ chapters I called ‘Gatherings,’ I offered a summary. I suspect at around 1500 words, they’re going to need distilling in order to answer this question. On the other hand, the couple of sentences in the abstract is hardly likely to be enough, so here I’m looking for some middle ground.
I need to start, as I did in my thesis, by first stating how unsettling it was providing a summary at all. There is an understandable wish to filter, concentrate and distill data when presenting findings; you can’t after all present them all. Obviously I had been selective in which data I drew on to include in my flânographic narrative, but it felt important that I didn’t summarise to the point where the richly complex and messy nature of Twitter PD was lost. That was one of the reasons for the somewhat extensive Gatherings summaries and also for providing two different versions of a summary in the ‘Retracing my steps’ chapter. Perhaps the most efficient and sensible way to respond to this question, should it be asked, is to refer back to my research questions, so taking each in turn …
How are professional learning practices of teachers on Twitter manifest?
Twitter professional development (TPD) is manifest through a range of activity which can be viewed at different scales from simple to complex and which compound together to form diverse, sometimes unique, learning experiences. Some might be comparable with more conventional professional development (e.g. resource development or mentoring), whilst others tread new ground (e.g. EduTweetOz and #NZBTchat). These activities involve exchange and reciprocity, sometimes directly between individuals, but more often by contributing to the common good. They are invariably characterised by flexibility, adaptability and the ease with which they can be personalised. They accommodate choice, enabling participation at different levels and with different intensities. One example might be the way in which they reshape the notion of professional discussion. Exchanges can be brief and fleeting or extended and ongoing, ad hoc or planned, across educational sectors and systems. Importantly, they take place within an (arguably) open space and potentially have considerable reach.
How does the Twitter social media platform support the professional learning practices of teachers?
Twitter’s ‘layered architecture’ (appearance, content, interactivity, connectivity) provides the capacity to participate at different levels. Sometimes a single click to Like a tweet. At others, participating in a time-bound activity managed by a hashtag (#12days), or continuing involvement in group activities like Team English. Connecting is important for both knowledge and relationship building. Profiles, the Follow button, hashtags and other Twitter actors participate in making and maintaining connections. Different ‘communities’ can be assemble in different ways. An individual can seek membership by following a hashtag, an account or by joining a list, or can curate a group with those same actors. Twitter can be accessed through a number of apps, on a variety of devices, and links with a range of other applications. Following, unfollowing, muting, creating lists, adding hashtags and editing your profile all enable customisation and personalisation.
One should also note the downsides, such as the character limitation leading to misunderstanding and shallow discussion, potentially unknowable algorithms controlling what is visible, and recommendations contributing to filter bubbles.
How does professional learning practice extend beyond Twitter into the wider social media ecosystem and the ‘real’ world?
Overcoming character limitations, tweets expand to include images, videos, multiple @mentions, or even another tweet. The layered architecture eases the process of bringing external spaces in (‘windows into classrooms’), whilst simultaneously bridging out through hyperlinks, learning space is extended: blogs, educational press and research, Dropbox, Pinterest etc. Compact, yet expansive. Becoming a member of and moving between multiple groups is eased by the flexible nature (e.g. ‘follow’ @TeamEnglish1, follow the ResearchEd hashtag, and be in a ‘list’ of WomenEd). Increasingly, connections made through Twitter lead into activity in physical space from formal conferences (ResearchEd, PrimaryRocks), unconferences (TeachMeets, Pedagoo) and less formal meetups (#BrewEd, TeamEnglish).
Though rarely mentioned, attending conferences (invariably at the weekend) and participating in Twitter more generally, extends teachers working hours. The beneficiaries of that unpaid labour are hopefully the individuals who are investing that time, together with the pupils they support. So too do the schools which employ them, but which as yet seem to contribute very little in the form of recompense.
In this response, I provided no more than a mention of the different ways I attempted to conceptualise TPD through ‘compound learning, ‘ ‘scales’ and the notion of ‘more than.’ Should I have included more detail, or is it acceptable to leave the door open for further discussion? Perhaps I should just be up front about it and say I briefly mentioned some conceptualisations that I’d be happy to explore in more detail? Any thoughts?