Twitter could hold the secret to #CPD
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 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."
A headteacher added: "It has completely changed my outlook and knowledge base like no other medium I've encountered."
Dr Daniel Krutka, of the 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.lyTwitterCPD).
Any time, anywhere
Many of the teachers surveyed praised the convenience and accessibility of Twitter-based development. "It's 247 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 on Twitter. "It's nice to know I'm not alone," one first-year teacher said.
The academics conclude that local authorities should consider ways to use, and learn from, teacher activity online. Use of Twitter, they suggest, could even 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.
Fourth-year primary teaching student Greg Steer said he used Twitter to gain an international perspective on domestic issues, such as the "getting it right for every child" Scottish government policy for ensuring children's well-being.
He added that the University of Strathclyde's pro-Twitter approach had also exposed him to issues beyond Scotland's borders, such as the Westminster reforms.
Mr Steer suggested that Twitter's easy access to educational research could even contribute towards teachers meeting the requirements of the new professional update system, through which all teachers in Scotland must demonstrate that they are adding to their knowledge, skills and practice.
For more on Twitter CPD, see letter on page 14
Fearghal Kelly, an East Lothian biology teacher and co-founder of the grass-roots learning community Pedagoo, is a firm advocate of Twitter. The networking site allows professional exchanges with teachers that "you could never previously have dreamed of", he says.
For example, the #PedagooFriday hashtag encourages teachers to share their favourite moment of the week. An associated blog then offers more in-depth exploration of the issues, and Pedagoo also organises physical events.
However, Mr Kelly urges caution in how you conduct your tweeting. "Anyone who's dared to tweet something critical of someone else online will have experienced how quickly this can go wrong," he warns.