Social media as professional development – can it work for you?

Post by Kylie Budge.

Image created via Wordle.

Inger wrote a great introductory post on how to use Twitter in your teaching. She’ll be writing more on this topic soon. Today’s post takes a slightly different angle and looks at what social media can do in terms of professional development for teachers.

I’ve recently discovered how social media works for me as a form of professional development (PD) and wondered if others might also feel like this. A few weeks ago on Twiiter I read a tweet related to this topic and then just this week, again via twitter, I saw a link to a recent paper on this very topic titled ‘The End of Isolation’.  As someone who has run face-to-face sessions on teaching for higher education and vocational education teachers for many years, it really got me thinking. What I’ve noticed is that since using Twitter and blogs for work I’m a lot more across what’s happening in the sector, trends in education, and educational issues generally than I was before I started using social media in this way. Twitter, in particular, works as a great PD tool for me because it offers super-fast bursts of news, information, ideas, and advice.

So in this post I’ll focus on why social media works as a tool for PD for me and why it might also for you. I like to think of it as virtual PD in a social format.

What I love about social media tools such as Twitter and blogs and what they offer in terms of PD is how they align wonderfully with the principles of self-directed learning. As the user you get to decide when you’re going to access the information and in what format. You get to decide what it is you’re going to use; ie. what the focus of your PD will be. You have control and this is very empowering. The added dimension that social media tools offer as avenues for professional development is that you are not alone. On Twitter, for example, people are always showing you useful information and commenting on what they’re reading or finding or doing in their teaching – this generates a lot of energy and enthusiasm. You have a lot of company on your PD journey when you use social media tools.

Let’s look more specifically at Twitter as a PD tool.

I’m a recent convert to Twitter. I’ll admit that before I started using Twitter I was one of those cynics who could not see the point. Now I get it and I’m hooked. Twitter is a micro-blogging platform which means that small snippets of information (140 characters or less) are fed to you through your Twitter timeline by those you follow 24 hours a day. For more information on Twitter basics read Inger’s recent post. In their tweets people often embed links to blog posts or articles in journals or newspaper reports or any other thing that can be hyperlinked. This makes Twitter a very rich source of information that goes a lot deeper than its 140 characters of space. As a Twitter user you get to determine who to follow and for most people this is aligned to their interests. If you like, you can just follow major newspaper and journals. Or only people who talk about teaching or research. You can go as wide or as narrow as you like in terms of the information you gather via your timeline. There are also channels you can follow that start with a #tag that will take you to a zone in Twitter where people are tweeting about that specific area of interest. You can save those channels in your Twitter account and go there any time you like to see what people are tweeting about. For those interested in teaching channels try:

#edchat

#highered

#teaching

#education

#assessment

Further information about #tags teachers are using can be found in this article.

What about blogs? How do they work as a professional development tool?

Like Twitter, blogs are available for people to access whenever they want. In this sense they work as a way of encouraging self-directed PD like Twitter does. Blogs inhabit a more luxurious space on the internet than Twitter can provide. However, they’re shorter and more informal than an academic journal paper but can whet your appetite to read deeper on a topic. And once again, you’re not alone when using blogs for PD. You can read comments by other readers or even leave one yourself. Like Twitter, the social aspects of using blogs as a PD tool means you can network with others interested in the same sorts of topics. Also, blog readers can access specific blog posts of relevance to them at a given time. Another thing I like about blogs is they become a resource that you can dip in and out of. I might skim a blog post about a topic and re-read it more deeply when I need to apply an idea from it at a future date. It’s good to build up a list of blogs you read for PD purposes and subscribe to them so you know when they’ve published a new post. There are many teaching related blogs out there. If you’re looking for some blogs to start with try those listed on the right hand side bar of this blog. At the teaching tom tom we’re slowly building up this list of resources and welcome suggestions for others to include. Bookmark blogs you like and/or subscribe to them. And make sure you subscribe to ours while you’re at it!

The beauty of something like Twitter or blogs when used as a PD tools is that you’re not limited by the resources, knowledge or experiences available in one institution. People feed information in from all over the world. This creates a very rich and diverse range of information you can draw on for professional development purposes. That said, it does take some getting used to. The key is to not feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information available. Be realistic about the amount of time you can spend online for PD and take things at the pace you feel comfortable with. Remember – you have complete control over when, where, how, what and with whom!

I’m keen to know – do social media tools also work for you as a form of professional development?

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