Get your hashtags ready: Twitter is a far more effective source of CPD than more traditional approaches, research has found. Indeed, teachers believe they derive more from the 140 characters of a tweet than they do from several hours of seminars or lectures.
Academics from two US universities surveyed 755 members of school staff about Twitter. They found that the most popular use of the social media website was for CPD, with many praising Twitter’s advantages over more traditional methods.
Twitter, many teachers told researchers, allowed them to create a virtual staffroom, filled entirely with their own choice of colleagues. Indeed, a middle school English teacher explained: “I have learned so much from other teachers. It has transformed my teaching. And this is my 18th year [in the profession].”
Another English teacher said: “I have [got] more useful professional development in the past year of using Twitter than I have in the entire previous decade of district-provided CPD.”
And a headteacher added: “It has completely changed my outlook and knowledge base like no other medium I have encountered.”
Dr Daniel Krutka, of Texas Woman’s University, spoke about the use of Twitter for CPD at the American Educational Research Association annual conference, held in Chicago last month. His paper, written with Dr Jeffrey Carpenter of Elon University in North Carolina, was published in the Journal of Research on Technology in Education (bit.ly/TwitterCPD).
Many of the surveyed teachers praised the convenience and -accessibility of Twitter-based development. “It’s 24/7 CPD which I can do from home, school, public transport – anywhere,” a primary teacher said.
Others added that Twitter could easily be personalised to suit their own needs. By contrast, they complained that traditional CPD tended to take a one-size-fits-all approach – or, as one -science teacher said, it “seems to be tailored for the lowest common denominator”.
The potential for collaboration was particularly appreciated by teachers in rural areas, who could often feel isolated. One rural teacher said that all 13 teachers in her school had been in the profession for fewer than three years. So Twitter offered vital access to experienced teachers’ opinions.
Teachers of niche subjects, such as psychology or Classics, told the researchers that they valued the opportunity to build up a virtual subject community. Headteachers and new teachers also welcomed the emotional support provided by Twitter contacts. “It is nice to know I’m not alone,” one first-year -teacher said.
This sentiment is echoed by Sarah Simons, who runs the further education Twitter group #UKFEchat (read about the #UKFEchat manifesto for change on pages 46-47).
“You can be in a department with 20 other people, but you can be the only one doing as much learning as you can, and feeling like the only weirdo in the group,” Ms Simons said. “Going on Twitter, you find all the other weirdos, who are just as interested in learning as you are.”
The surveyed teachers appreciated the ability to exchange resources online, as well as to point one another towards useful articles or blogs. And several mentioned using social media to crowdsource lesson plans. Online chats were also popular.
In addition, social media allows teachers access to experts in their fields. “We’ve talked to several authors on Twitter,” one primary teacher said.
Ms Simons has seen this, too. “Something that’s really powerful is the hierarchy-free element of Twitter,” she said. “You have conversations based on what you’re interested in, what you know and who you get on with. To have communication where all the guff is taken out the middle – it’s very empowering to all involved.”
The academics conclude that local authorities should consider ways in which they can use, and learn from, teacher activity online. Use of Twitter, they suggest, could potentially count as official CPD.
“School leaders might also…embrace the qualities of Twitter CPD that our respondents valued, such as immediacy, personalisation, differentiation, community and positivity,” they write.
‘Let people take control of their learning’
US teacher Tom Whitby (pictured), one of the founders of twice-weekly Twitter group #edchat, believes that Twitter has highlighted a key failing in conventional CPD.
“There’s a big difference between adult learning and child learning,” says Mr Whitby, who has nearly 60,000 Twitter followers. “Adults want to learn something one day and use it the next.
“But, for decades, professional development has involved teaching adults like children: you put them in rows and you lecture them. People are looking for something else and Twitter is filling that void.
“Twitter fits into the model of adult learning much better than previous forms of professional development. People like taking control of their own learning.”
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