I’ve recently decided that one of the technologies on which I will focus for 2011 will be the professional use of Twitter. I say the word “professional,” because all too often, when we talk about Twitter to teachers, eyes glaze over with the belief that it is solely about advertising the fact that Jane is mowing the lawn or that Bob is getting drunk. For reasons that largely boil down to a fear that students’ use of Twitter will be either trivial at best or inappropriate at worst, far too many schools (mine included) block its use. Teacher educators who frequently tweet have, IMHO, a responsibility to at the very least show the other side of this technology: the potential to tap into and participate in a professional learning network unhindered by timeframes, boundaries or the typical Facebook closed network of “friending” (most people who don’t use Twitter are largely unaware of the difference between friending and following – another bugbear to consider…)
So where to start? Convincing school administrators and executives that unblocking a potentially dangerous site (both good “dangerous” as well as the bad) is no easy feat. Personally, I think the starting point is to reflect on my own use of Twitter and how it’s changed the way I think about, access and respond to content on the Internet.
For me, Twitter has become an indispensable resource and tool, allowing me to connect with the many education technology mentors who have shaped my thinking as a teacher, stay up to date with breaking news that is directly relevant to my profession and to share my own readings, bloggings and other online ramblings with the wider world.
To illustrate this, I find it fascinating to draw comparisons between my Twitter-based professional learning network (PLN) and my experiences at seminars, workshops, professional development days and the like. In pretty much every instance, Twitter has effectively enabled me to ‘tap into’ the thinking of my key education mentors in a way that no isolated face-to-face learning experience or tired and boring PowerPoint ever has. Why? because to follow someone’s professional thinking on Twitter goes to the heart of the very process of learning, not the idealised end result.
Similar comparisons can easily be drawn between the individual articles of your favourite foreign correspondent, the artworks (novels, albums, paintings, etc.) of your favourite artist or the machinations of your favourite philosopher. Of course it’s great to simply read the book or view the documentary, but understanding the process behind the thinking by tapping into related articles, thoughts on the creative process and so on add a new layer of meaning. Taking this one step further, when we become participants in the process, sharing our own thinking, reading and resources with the wider world, the result is far more sustained than the isolated learning experience.
I think Twitter deserves much further consideration as an education tool for empowered learning. For my part, I’ll be keen to explore how the teachers I work with can use it to build their own learning networks and participate in the learning of their colleagues.
Postscript: I don’t want to trivialise in any way the online safety issues associated with the use of social networking tools like Twitter. However, I don’t feel that blocking such tools is ultimately the answer to meeting the learning needs of students in the twenty-first century. What are your thoughts?
(image courtesy of http://besttwittermarketingsecrets.com/)