Social networking is for children, Skype is good for making free or cheap phone calls and Twitter, a micro-blogging service, is good for, well, twittering. That sentence probably sums up many people's perception of these tools, at least until they have started using them for a while. In fact, many teachers find them a useful part of their continuing professional development (CPD).
The standard model for CPD is that you go on a course, write a ream of notes, have the opportunity to disseminate your new-found wisdom to colleagues - and then file your notes away and forget about them. What's more, few teachers get to go on the courses they'd like as often as they'd like.
Social networking applications expand your CPD horizons in a number of ways. You are not tied down by geography, for example. Recently I took part in conferences in Texas and London, via an instant messaging chat room, and I have had conversations with people from the US, Canada, Portugal and Romania - as well as with someone who happens to live and work about two miles up the road.
Also, you're not limited by time. You can dip in and out of Skype and Twitter throughout the day to see what's going on in the areas that are of interest to you. This sort of CPD is a more personalised experience, something that until now has been applied more to pupils than teachers.
So, how does it all work? Well, in social networking sites, you can have discussions in a forum, leave messages for people, and upload photos, podcasts and videos to share. The nice thing is that you don't have to be online at the same time as others to enjoy the dialogue. Perhaps the best thing about CPD over web 2.0 is that you can "walk out" any time you like, without all heads turning to look at you.
Expanding your web horizons
- A good starting point is Ning, an online service that enables people to set up their own social network: http:ning.com.
- Skype isn't just for cheap phone calls. It can be used as an instant messaging tool for having conversations that would not work too well over the phone, and which would lack immediacy if conducted by email.
Others can come online, turning it into a group discussion where, because the dialogue took place via our keyboards, you have a transcript of the whole thing. You can send files via Skype and converse with anyone.
The basic Skype service is free once you sign up. Once you've done that, you can search for people you know, and request to be in their contact list, and vice-versa (www.skype.com).
Twitter is a cross between blogging and instant messaging. There's a limit per message of just 140 characters, so because you don't have the luxury of wasting precious "real estate" you must choose your words carefully. This is also free. Just go to http:twitter.com, sign up, search for people you know and then "follow" them. Before long, you will have a reasonably-sized network.
Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT consultant and publishes the ictineducation.org site.