Critically discuss the use of social online networks in teaching and professional development.
In a world influenced by technology and becoming increasingly connected, it is important for a teacher to interact with social media. Elana Leoni (Office of Ed Teach, 2013) states “… it’s like the number one necessary thing to be a 21st Century educator, be connected.”
One area of social media that has contributed greatly to my ongoing professional development has been joining Twitter. Steve Dembo (Office of Ed Tech, 2013) talks about how most people have built a personal learning network have done so organically and realised that it is transformative once they started broadening and developing it. This was the case for me.
While working in a different field for an environmental and leadership organisation, I gained the knowledge to grasp the workings of Twitter to communicate information.
Once returning to teaching I utilised this knowledge to start communicating learning and ideas through appropriate educational hashtags. I met people and organisations that were interested in my professional inquiries and I began building an online community. Looking at how others were communicating their professional development, I attempted this myself, e.g. creating an e-portfolio and blog. Through my personal exploration into this, it helped to introduce and teach these tools to my students to enhance and develop soft skills like self regulation. Timperley (2008) states “To engage in professional inquiry that makes a difference for students, teachers need to learn how to identify the pedagogical content knowledge and skills they need to assist their students to achieve the valued outcomes” (p.13).
Through my Twitter community I was invited to present at a TeachMeetNZ with the focus on science. Interacting with scientists and science educators via Google Hangouts helped me to bridge concepts between secondary and tertiary sectors, grow professional relationships, and reflect on my practice. Later, the invitation was extended to me to become part of the #SciChatNZ team which involves organising educational chats in science education via Twitter. This challenged me to develop my online identity, leadership and technical skills. Melhuish (2013) states “… the value of networking with educators beyond their own environment was considered a vital condition for experiencing divergent thinking…” (p.41).
As my online identity grows professionally through Twitter, I am concerned about the potential exposure this brings. Interacting in various professional learning networks means I open myself up for all to view. It is difficult/impossible to control how certain parties perceive my online identity and how the content I publish can be used. I have to be conscious around my own safety online and a certain amount of trust and faith is applied with each tweet/post. Melhuish (2013) states “There is a balance to be struck between total anonymity and the benefits of opening up one’s identity and sharing data as part of contributing to the network’s social capital” (p.47).
One incident involving work I published online was used to further another blogger’s agenda, taking what I had written out of context and shining a negative light on my identity. At the time, it was disheartening and I went into a process of reflection around the incident questioning my online presence, the professional danger involved, and considered withdrawing from social media. I confided in a colleague who was blogging about Teacherpreneurs. His feedback was not to withdraw as my voice was necessary in providing a balance of views and shifting mindsets around education. He writes “…they (Teacherpreneurs) take a risk that their ideas might fall flat. This may be… Teachers who speak up. Who are not comfortable with business as usual – who have a gentle ‘uneasiness’ that they can and should be trying to innovate…” (Ives, 2016). He was right, but every online step I take involves added caution now and this learning has been transferred to the students via cybersafety.
Teachers have to be bold and confident when engaging in social media, taking professional risks with sharing their learning online. If we are not prepared to interact online as educators and role model this, walking our talk, how do we expect students to?
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Ives, M. (2016). Zeroing in on the Essence: The Teacherpreneur. Retrieved from http://mattivesonline.com/2016/05/
Melhuish, K. (2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato. Retrieved from http://researchcommons.waikato.ac.nz/bitstream/handle/10289/8482/thesis.pdf?sequence=3&isAllowed=y
Office of Ed Tech. (2013, Sep 18). Connected Educators. . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=216&v=K4Vd4JP_DB8
Timperley, H. (2008). Teacher Professional Learning and Development Educational Practices Series-18. Belley, France: Imprimerie Nouvelle Gonnet. Retrieved from chrome-extension://ecnphlgnajanjnkcmbpancdjoidceilk/content/web/viewer.html?source=extension_pdfhandler&file=http%3A%2F%2Fedu.aru.ac.th%2Fchildedu%2Fimages%2FPDF%2Fbenjamaporn%2FEdPractices_18.pdf