The Educator's PLN

The personal learning network for educators

May 12, 2011 

Twitter’s biggest obstacle to being the number one tool of Professional Development for educators is Twitter. It is a simple tool, based on a simple idea, which is complicated by its simplicity. To use twitter is to get it. To explain Twitter is a losing proposition. Twitter’s reputation as an application is its worst enemy. It has been the brunt of comedians’ jokes since it began. Members of the Hollywood crowd embraced it for the purpose of engaging their fans with a majority of mindless tweets to build a following. Many have a following in the millions. The concept most accepted by the public is that Twitter is used by individuals to broadcast to people the meaningless actions and events in their day-to-day existence. How could this ever be taken seriously, not to even mention being used as a tool for Professional Development for educators?

Social learning is common to all. We learn through social encounters. We pass along information in social settings. We collaborate with others in our social engagements. A committee is simply a gathering of individuals for social interaction for the purpose of learning and creating. This all occurs in our face to face world. This all takes place with people who can assemble in close proximity at predetermined location and a pre-determined, in-common, time period. Our face to face learning has the boundaries of time and space, but when those boundaries are accounted for, meaningful learning may take place.

With the advancement of technology, and its integration with the internet, the ability to make social contact with individuals is enhanced because the internet takes us beyond boundaries of space and time. We can contact individuals around the globe. Our thoughts and ideas can be suspended in time until retrieved by others. We can exchange ideas or information in the form of: text, audio files, photos, videos, Blog posts, articles, URL’s (links), charts, data, and live interaction. All of this is made possible with Social Media.

Twitter is a social media application. It enables people to use it as a conduit for information to other individuals. That is the simple part. Now let us consider the complications that come from trying to keep Twitter simple. First, the Tweet, or the message, can only be 140 characters in length. Many find this too limiting. I expect those individuals might be long-winded in a face to face setting as well.

A huge problem with Twitter for some is understanding who is getting the message. Remember Twitter is Social Media and is based on social interaction. If you walked into an auditorium full of people and started talking without engaging someone first, no one would be listening. You would be talking out loud to yourself.  If you introduced yourself to someone and then began a conversation you now have someone listening and interacting. You would then do the same with a second, third, and fourth person. You have connected with those people and selected them as persons you may interact with, and they have selected you as well, based on your intelligent contributions to the discussion. As that works in life, so it works in Twitter.

Simply stated, the only people who get your tweets are those who follow you, your “followers”. The only Tweets that will come to you are those from people you choose to follow. They are called “Following” If you follow family members, you may expect Tweets about family matters would monopolize your tweets. If the idea is to use Twitter as a professional Development tool, then the people you should follow would be educators. You will build a personal, professional learning Network by limiting the people you follow to educators. In addition, if your Tweets are educationally topical, those who follow you will also be educators, or people interested in topics of education.

All Tweets are public and will be seen by all who follow you. A Direct Message is private. A” DM” can only be sent to a person you follow and he, or she must be following you as well. You cannot “DM someone who does not follow you.

Educators tweet educational things including: text, audio files, photos, videos, Blog posts, articles, URL’s (links), Charts, data, and live interaction. These could be a lesson specific tweet, or a topic involving methods of education. Personal experiences from educators globally. It could be a question from an educator seeking an answer. Having information and collaborating on ideas creates an environment for Professional Development. It can be used at any time without regard to boundaries that impede face to face socialization. The number of participants is not limited to a school, district, city, state, or country. There is no isolation of Elementary, Secondary, or Higher Ed educators.

Not knowing how to find educators to follow may have been a problem in the past, but it is being made easier all of the time. Educational Blogs may have a “Follow Me on Twitter” Icon. Click and follow. Always check out the profile of a perspective person to follow. You will be able to see that person’s last tweets as well as their profile. Additionally, you can view icons of who they follow. Click on any of those icons and you are transported to that person’s profile. Repeat the process as long as needed, or return to the original profile to start a new path of follow research. Profiles may also contain lists of followers. A twitter list may contain a large number of educators. One click will follow every member of the list. There are several educational chats ongoing weekly. Educators from around the world are involved. If you find interesting participants in the chat, follow them on Twitter.

Twitter is only one component of a comprehensive PLN. There are many Social Media applications that serve educators well for communication, collaboration, and creation. All of these applications are constantly evolving or disappearing, to be replaced by new applications. We need to buy into the method and not the tool. Tools change, but learning continues. To be better educators we need to be better learners.

Those of us who successfully use Twitter as a tool for Professional Development need to act as ambassadors of information. We need to share that which we glean from our Personal Learning Networks and not be shy about telling other educators where it came from. It was not Ashton Kutcher,  Linsay Lohan, or Paris Hilton who shared that information, but collaborative educators.

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Comment by Brian Bailey on June 24, 2011 at 2:45pm
Bang on. I was not a fan of twitter until I was forced to sign-up as part of my MA. After using it I am completely sold on it as a way of developing a professional learning network and accessing a stream of useful resources. Now when I try to sell other educators on its usefullness I am often initially met with blank looks but I persevere - I just keep mentioning how I connected with so and so via twitter and now we're doing a presentation together...or read a great article forwarded to me on twitter, etc. I've won a few converts by wearing their resistance down and increasing their feeling of missing out until they cave and sign up...and then they're sold on it and I get to say...I told you so!
Comment by Chris Francik on May 15, 2011 at 9:02am
I completely agree.  I have been on Twitter for about 2 months thanks to a sectional presentation I went to at an education conference in March.  Before seeing Twitter in action and hearing about its use from a fellow educator, I had written off Twitter mostly because I didn't understand its potential.  I feel more connected to the world of education and what other educators are thinking and grappling with than any other time in my career.  I look forward to continuing to grow and learn from my Twitter PLN.

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