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Engaging in a conversation

Exchanges with educators beyond their immediate group were noted as an important contributor to professional learning, with the global nature of the connections being valuable. Some educators reported that they regularly search Twitter for other educators with whom to exchange ideas and collaborate, and once these connections have been made, the group of educators involved may move to another online platform in which they collaborate. Others keep the conversation on Twitter and nd that the 140-character limit results in concise discussions. These conversations are particularly important for educators who are geographically remote and who may feel disconnected. Twitter allows them to be part of a larger community.

PROFESSIONAL LEARNING CAROL SKYRING

TWITTER AS A PROFESSIONAL LEARNING TOOL


Carol Skyring researches and consults on the use of digital technologies in education. Here she shares some of the ndings from her doctoral research on how educators are using Twitter, and why.
IF YOUR experience of Twitter amounts to little more than watching the tweets run across the bottom of your screen during a television program, you may perceive Twitter as a trivial waste of time. However, Twitter can be an incredibly powerful professional learning tool that provides tailored information at the time you need it. It is used by thousands of educators around the world to exchange information and ideas and plays an important role in their professional learning. Building a PLN requires that you not only seek to learn from others, but also that you help others in the network to learn. In recent years, enabled by digital technologies and social media tools such as Twitter, educators have started building their own PLNs to cater for their individual professional development needs, linking with peers and experts from around the world. With its 140-character limit, Twitter has proved an ideal way for educators to quickly exchange information and ideas.

Using hashtags
A common convention on Twitter is to post on topics of relevance to a particular group of educators by using a specic hashtag, for example #tesol or #principal. This then becomes a collection of ideas and resources that can be accessed by searching for the specied hashtag. Hashtags are often used to organise synchronous chats, often referred to as meetups, where educators come together at a pre-determined time to discuss a pre-determined topic by posting with a pre-dened hashtag included in their tweet, for example #edchat. Another common use for hashtags on Twitter is when people tweet the ideas being presented at conferences. This is a two-fold activity as it acts as a summary of important points for the person tweeting, and shares ideas and resources with educators who were unable to attend the conference. Most conferences now have an ofcial hashtag to be used in this way.

Professional learning networks


Professional learning networks (PLNs) have been variously described as:

A collection of people and resources


that guide learning, point one to learning opportunities, answer questions, and give one the benet of their knowledge and experience (Nielsen 2008)

How educators are using Twitter


The tables set out some ndings from my recent research on how educators use Twitter as part of their PLN and the value that they place on Twitter as a professional learning tool. The study included teachers, teacher educators, Principals, university lecturers and technology support ofcers from around the world. Three activities were noted as particularly useful in contributing to professional learning:

A system of interpersonal connections


and resources that support informal learning (Trust 2012)

A technology-supported community
of people who help each other better understand certain events and concepts in work or life (Koper 2009).

Asking for a resource


Educators nd the immediacy of Twitter ideal for just in time answers as there is always somebody awake

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PROFESSIONAL LEARNING
in their global network and available to answer their questions. Whether they are seeking a teaching resource or something for their own learning, Twitter has become a search tool for educators. Instead of sorting through a million Google responses, educators merely ask their trusted PLN for recommendations to quickly compose a list of qualied resources. to navigate and operate effectively. Participation in Twitter also requires a knowledge and understanding of conventions, and building a network can be daunting for newcomers. Twitter offers schools a stream of professional learning for staff that is free, available 24/7 and which can be personalised to specic needs. It represents tremendous value to schools. To ensure its effectiveness as a professional learning tool, I recommend that teachers are supported into Twitter and introduced to networks of educators.
Carol Skyring has just completed her doctoral research on the use of Twitter as a professional learning tool. To explore Carols technology in education resources and blog, visit www.learntel.com.au or follow her on Twitter @carolskyring.

REFERENCES
Koper, R. (2009) Learning network services for professional development. Dordrecht, Germany: Springer. Nielsen, L. (2008) Developing mentors from your personal learning network. The Innovative Educator. Retrieved from http:// theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2008/05/ developing-mentors-from-your-personal.html. Trust, T. (2012) Professional learning networks designed for teacher learning. Australian Educational Computing, 27(1), 34-38.

Challenges
A major challenge in the use of Twitter is managing information. In order to make the most of the resources that are shared, you need an efcient way of saving them for later use. The most common and successful way of doing this is to use a web-based bookmarking tool like Diigo or Delicious, allied with a good system of tagging so that it is easy to retrieve information at a later date. This can be done on a school-wide basis, so that all teachers have access to the many resources collected. A second challenge is managing time spent tweeting. Most educators nd the constant stream of great ideas and resources coming at them through Twitter somewhat irresistible. It takes some effort to develop a system of spending only a limited time per day feeding your professional learning with tweets.

TOP 10 REASONS EDUCATORS USE TWITTER FOR PROFESSIONAL LEARNING

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

To access timely information To make diverse and global connections To access valuable resources, advice and support To access key learnings from conferences, workshops or seminars without having to attend To engage in conversations and discussions To access experts To keep up with current trends To extend professional networks beyond their local area Reciprocity

10 Learning

School support
For those educators regularly using Twitter, it is a highly valued tool; many nd that they learn more via Twitter than any other means. There is every reason for schools to support their teachers use of Twitter for professional learning; however some care is warranted. Obviously there would need to be policies around social media use during work time but, most important, teachers will need direct support if they are new to Twitter. With the limit of 140 characters per post and a seemingly limitless network of users tweeting by the second, Twitter can be a difcult tool for new members
TOP 10 PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES OF EDUCATORS ON TWITTER

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Sharing or on-sharing (re-tweeting) a resource eg website, book, video Following a link tweeted by someone in their network Reading activity updates of others in their network Saving a resource tweeted by someone in their network Acting on something they have read in a tweet Engaging in a conversation with someone in their network Going back to a saved resource tweeted by someone in their network Using hashtags (#) to share information on a specic topic or from a conference, workshop or seminar Searching for content

10 Asking for a resource on a specic topic

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