Reflections of a Prairie Teacher

It's better to burn out than it is to rust ~ Neil Young

Evolving Twitter

I didn’t grow up with social media.  I was well into my late twenties before this really took off as a thing.  I was NOT an “early adopter” of Myspace or Facebook, and only begrudgingly joined Facebook because of peer-pressure.   After a couple years of very sporadic usage, I removed myself from this platform after reflecting that I was introvert-leaning, not particularly empathetic, and certainly not social.

So why did I start using Twitter at all?  It started stereotypically, I was getting older and wanted to be relevant to my students – of course at this time (7 years ago) Twitter was still newish and Facebook was already on the way to transitioning towards older adults and away from students.  I understood the general usage of Twitter by my students consisted of such riveting tweets as   – “Just had an awesome burger! #goodeats #smashedit” – and it was beyond my comprehension.  I didn’t live a life worth advertising to the world and why would anyone be interested in my son’s first poop on the potty?  But, I was interested in providing another avenue to communicate with my students in an transparent and relevant way, so I began.  I followed only a couple news sites and refused to follow students.  This was my first Twitter iteration – class announcements (or if you like a good portmanteau – my first “Twiteration” version T1.0).

Connection to reading: In one of our readings by  DeGroot et al. (2015) on student perceptions of an instructor’s Twitter use, it is mentioned that “Violating classroom and time expectations” and “Breaching the student–instructor boundary” were two reasons students and teachers may be  hesitant to use social media.  I found this comforting considering it mirrored my own thoughts at the time I started this journey  The authors also mention that despite these concerns, some students appreciated the option of Twitter, as one student explained “Everyone checks their social media sites everyday, so tweeting a professor may be easier than emailing and getting a response.”  This again perfectly mirrored my thought at the time.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that ALL news is accessible through Twitter, and that digesting news in this way is quite appealing – scrolling through the headlines of many sites quickly, only reading those that really need a deeper dive.  I started following, almost too many, reputable science sites and began to tweet less about class specifics and did more retweeting of current science news that reinforced content in my courses – I just wanted my students to read and appreciate real, emerging science.  I still refused follow students, or colleagues for that matter, and I stopped communicating with my student – only a fraction of my students follow me anyway, so it never reached a critical mass necessary to be useful as a class news site. 

This became Twiteration 2.0 – science news re-tweeter.

Connection to reading: DeGroot et al. also mention something that confirmed my experiences and conversion away from using Twitter as a class announcement source.  While the authors mention that Twitter use can positively influence student’s perception of the instructor and student motivation, it was noted that:  “(I)n one study, only half of students surveyed had ever talked to their instructor outside of class.” This also has been my experience as mentioned above (although I acknowledge that other factors were/are at play here).

As I waded further in, it was explained to me that following people – and having them follow you – was a component of building social capital (and the acceptable or “nice” practice).  Willing to accept this premise, I followed some colleagues and over time noticed trends in my friends retweeting habits.  When some of these re-tweets resonated, I would scroll through the Twitter history of the new person and decide to follow that individual or not.  Over this year, I have realized that I am reading science news less and pedagogy more.  I started to reach out and connect to educators who tweeted something interesting or relevant to my interests.  I have discussed philosophy, curriculum and assessment with educators way outside my geographical potential.  Twitter has come to represent daily professional development.  A source of community and dialogue that expands what I currently experience in the halls of my school.  A tool for reaching out to experts in any field for advice or connecting and finding solutions with other educators who share your passions. 

This has become my third Twiteration (T3.0) – professional learning network.

Connection to reading: DeGroot et al. states that previous research argued that “it is important for students to learn how to build social media networks that include personal and professional connections. Instructors should show students how to build networks using social media by “being active on social media networks, both professionally and personally” and “model[ing] effective online reputation management.”

And lastly, DeGroot et al. finishes with the important statement:  “The instructor’s profile that featured posts about education and professional resources was perceived to be the most credible.

So, I guess Twiteration 3.0 wins.  But it is the statement on modelling that is most important as a new point for me.  As I explore more open-education resources and began to fully appreciate the potential of this tool as a learning platform – in addition to my interest in promoting reflective practices in students – I recognize that scaffolding my students in building the necessary social skills and appropriate use and control of open-ed tools, in any context, is a vital component of the process.  This is made even more complex a task as we evaluate some of the issues around the virtual identity people are forming on social media, as mentioned in a thought-provoking piece by Dr. Alec Couros.  How can I expose my students to the potential of Twitter as a learning network, and help you do so in a responsible and safe manner?

I do not know any of these educators on a personal level, yet even through these brief interactions we have shared ideas and found another level of connectivity.  And, it happened organically (for me anyway).  I didn’t read David Truss‘s e-book on educational Twitter.  I didn’t know or think to look for educational hashtag listings to follow, like Cybrary Man has curated.  It happened because I felt the need to reach out and connect with teachers all over the world, and I stumbled upon this medium as the method for doing so.  I want this for my students.

I have found many worthwhile educators to follow, who routinely provide me with insight, information and resources to expand my practice – here are three that I have found to be engaging: 

Alec Couros @courosa

Jennifer Gonzalez @cultofpedagogy

Alfie Kohn @alfiekohn

And as a bonus for your readership, allow me to give you a second engaging Couros FREE!    George Couros @gcouros

 

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