One of the most frequently mentioned activities when teachers discuss their use of Twitter is ‘connecting,’ and the purpose of connecting is in order to learn. Principally, they’re seeking connections with other people, but also in order to link between different spaces, for example between Twitter and blog posts. Some of the most important connections they’re seeking to make are with other teachers, especially those who share similar interests, passions, and are of a ‘like-mind.’

Whilst connecting with specific individuals can lead to strong and trusting relationships forming and reforming, there’s a recognition that by doing so, you’re also connecting with the whole network of other connections that person benefits from; it’s a cumulative or even exponential process. Knowing the importance of making and maintaining connections, some act as brokers in bringing together people and things they think would interest or assist one another.

…or seeing someone tweeting about some subject and you think, well you need to speak to this person; those sorts of connections I think are incredibly important and that’s not really to do with the technology, it’s just about being a nice person …
(J Dale)

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Connections, connections

flickr photo by GotCredit shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Catching up on a few podcasts today, I came across an edition of the Teachers’ Education Review in which an old online buddy and highly reflective educator, Aaron Davis was musing on Twitter. (You can listen in to Aaron’s piece by following the link and sliding forward to 24:11)

Aaron opened by noting that he often heard educators claim that ‘Every teacher needs to be on Twitter,’ but he questioned whether Twitter was the right answer? Is it really the best option for online professional development?

Although Twitter provided the opening for which seeded his personal learning network, it soon outlived its usefulness and he found other tools which better provided for his needs. Feedly in particular automatically aggregates content from multiple sources, allowing it to be easily skimmed and categorised for future reference. Diigo, a social bookmarking tool, provides another powerful way of curating information which can be shared amongst others and forge a developing resource upon which you can later draw. Several other tools were also mentioned, but Aaron observed that in the end, it came down to personal preference.

Another criticism leveled at Twitter, that Aaron echoed, is that it imposes limitations on the depth of dialogue possible. An alternative which provides greater freedom of expression is Voxer which, since it involves sharing audio, conveys a greater sense of humanity. Aaron also questioned a report “‘Follow’ Me: Networked Professional Learning for Teachers” (Holmes et al, 2013), wondering why it focused solely on Twitter, and ignored other platforms. What might prove more illuminating he argued is research into the impact of being connected, however that might be facilitated.

It’s interesting that although Twitter provided the point of entry, it’s shortcomings quickly became apparent for Aaron. Other tools afforded better ways to enable the learning opportunities and make the connections he was seeking.

There are a number of things that struck me in what Aaron had to say:

The limitations of Twitter as a medium for dialogue. This is a criticism I’ve heard many make and an interesting point I will need to interrogate further. What is a constriction for some in some ways is celebrated by others as a useful affordance.

The importance of connections and how different tools allow them to be made in different ways. This forefronts the  sociomateriality of the professional learning he undertakes and perhaps provides encouragement for me choosing actor-network theory as a methodological framework. It will allow me to ‘follow the actors’ Aaron references in the podcast and build up a picture of the extent of those assemblages and the part they play in professional learning.

It’s clear that although Twitter might be an entry point (both for individuals looking to learn professionally and for me commencing an ethnography), the boundaries of the ‘site’ are likely to be incredibly fluid and potentially elusive. Earlier today, I started Christine Hine’s new book ‘Ethnography for the Internet’ (2015) in which she proposes (p24) the idea:

…that ethnography can be focused on following connections, rather than being focused on a specific place.

It seems that both Aaron and Christine are guiding me in a particular direction.

Final thought. At around 08:30 I was reading the quote in the book, which had been written by Christine Hine months earlier presumably. An hour or so later I was listening to Aaron Davis from Australia on my mp3 player whilst I was out running alongside the Chesterfield canal (which can be checked on my gps tracking application). After a little mental processing, here I am committing thoughts to (digital) paper a few hours later. From there … where … when … who … how?

I wonder what an actor-network theory analysis would make of all that?

Hine, C. (2015). Ethnography for the Internet: Embedded, Embodied and Everyday. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Holmes, K., Preston, G., Shaw, K., & Buchanan, R. (2013). ‘Follow’ Me: Networked Professional Learning for Teachers. Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 38(12).