The End of Isolation Elizabeth Alderton University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Oshkosh, WI 54901 USA email@example.com Eric Brunsell University of Wisconsin Oshkosh Oshkosh, WI 54901 USA firstname.lastname@example.org Damian Bariexca Lawrence Township Public Schools Lawrenceville, NJ 08648 USA email@example.com
This research study provides new insight into how teachers use social networking sites, such as Twitter, as professional learning networks.
The K-12 educators in this study engaged in true dialogue, where evidence of actual conversation occurred in Twitter over 61% of the time. Additionally, over 82% of the time, the educators in this study chose to follow other educators or content experts related to their field of teaching so they were able to create a personal learning network meaningful to their professional needs. Analysis of data shows that a majority of tweets were educationally focused and were primarily in the categories of practice/philosophy, questions, and sharing of resources.
As professionals collaborate and construct knowledge together, communities of practice are formed (Wenger, 1991, 1998: Wenger, White, Smith, & Rowe, 2005), which is viewed as a valuable practice that supports professional learning and development. Teachers need to be able to engage in dialogue with others who can give support and advice so they can try new and different techniques. These experiences in turn allow for knowledge growth and for a person’s cognitive schema to assimilate and change. There have been significant benefits found in relation to the power of continual collaborative professional development (Musanti & Pence, 2010).
No longer is it necessary for collaboration and learning to take place in face-to-face settings, or even within the same building, city, state or country.
Instead, interactions may take place in various online settings such as Twitter (in the form of short 140 character interactions) as members ask questions, formulate responses, or make statements, which instantaneously allows for the end of isolation, even as a teacher sits alone in a classroom.
the concept of social network sites (SNSs) has emerged and such sites are now seen as a venue for collaboration to transpire. Boyd and Ellison (2007) have defined a social network site as a place on the Internet where people are able to: construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system.
SNSs offer the opportunity for people to find “significant others that can help them in their personal development” (Harrison & Thomas, 2009, p. 121).
Others have found that SNSs such as Twitter are a way to give a group or network a sense of itself (Thompson, 2007) as people are in contact with each other.
There is also a growing body of research to show that the use of backchannels has positive results for students, including increased engagement, empowerment, increased collaborative interactions, and enhanced learning (Toledo & Peters, 2010). Additionally, Reinhardt et al. found that conference attendees could communicate, share resources and be active participants in the conference along with the ability to view and learn from streams occurring in other sectionals (2009). These positive backchannel results have prompted the need to look at individual teachers and their personal use of Twitter rather than just during a professional development opportunity.
“I think that about 90% of those I network with are related to my job in some way. I really don’t use Twitter for my personal life. I follow many teachers who are science/ biology/marine science teachers, educators, or other sources of such information because it pertains for my job.”
In the survey, participants were asked how using Twitter has benefited them professionally. Four unique themes emerged from their responses: Access to resources Supportive relationships Increased leadership capacity Development of a professional vision
“I have been able to implement ideas from others in my own classroom, and share my own ideas which people have helped me improve.”
“It’s great to be able to connect with people who are useful resources. They can point me to activities, lessons, etc. that will directly impact my students.” Participant 1 describes the importance of this type of networking in the face of decreasing school budgets:
“I am the only biology teacher at my school. Collaboration is a bit difficult when others don’t know the subject or don’t understand the content because of the level that I teach…Twitter has provided me the means to connect with others and help me find answers that I would have trouble obtaining otherwise.“
Little (1993) claims that “the test of teachers’ professional development is its capacity to equip teachers individually and collectively to act as shapers, promoters, and well-informed critics of reform” (p. 130).
Additionally, Richardson (1997) suggests that the main objective of professional development should be to foster changes in teachers’ knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes because these components of teacher cognition are closely tied to teaching practice.
The K-12 educators in this study engaged in true dialogue, where evidence of actual conversation occurred in Twitter over 61% of the time. Additionally, over 82% of the time, the educators in this study chose to follow other educators or content experts related to their field of teaching so they were able to create a personal learning network meaningful to their professional needs.
Darling-Hammond and McLaughlin (1995) state that teachers need professional development that extends far beyond the one-shot workshop. They need opportunities to learn how to question, analyze and change instruction to teach challenging content.
Loucks-Horsley and colleagues (Loucks-Horsley, Love, Stiles, Mundry, & Hewson, 2003) argue that effective professional development should: provide opportunities for teachers to build content and pedagogical content knowledge; be research based and engages teachers in the learning approaches they will use with their students; provide opportunities for teachers to collaborate; supports teachers to serve in leadership roles, links with other parts of the education system and; is based on student data and is continuously evaluated.
Professional learning networks created through social networking, like Twitter, can provide these opportunities. However, collaborative conversations alone are often not enough to promote teacher learning and change.
Teachers must try complex innovations in their classroom and reflect upon these implementations in order to extract from experience the knowledge that leads to improved teaching (Ladewski, Krakcik, & Harvey, 1994).