As educators, our role is to facilitate a learning experience that is interesting, current, flexible, challenging, collaborative, adaptive - and fun! But that’s why we chose this profession isn’t it? To have a stimulating job in a subject we are passionate about? To never have two days alike? And to be rewarded with making positive differences to others’ lives?
However, getting it right every day, every lesson, and for every learner is tough. With further duties to juggle like lesson planning, meetings and giving feedback, there appears to be a diminishing amount of time left for our own continuous professional development (CPD).
In my role as head of e-learning at Blackburn College I have been working with our internal teams to promote the use of Twitter and social media, both in the classroom and for CPD. My colleagues are committed to maintaining their professional standards, and supporting the college to sustain its current Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ and QAA 'Meets UK expectations’ awards, which means a fine balancing act of staying ahead of the game without losing our sanity.
Twitter is a great enabler. I know that many of you reading this will already be using Twitter for your own CPD, but I also know some people are still new to it or only dipping a toe in. If you’re not yet engaged with Twitter, here are my top five reasons to embrace it as a career development tool.
1. Twitter saves time
Pressed for time? Twitter enables you to quickly browse chronologically through tweets (each in themselves containing less than 140 characters) so you can intermittently dip in and out of conversations and grab snippets of information. If now isn't the right time to absorb content, you can revisit it at anytime when it is convenient for you, through Twitter's powerful search function.
2. You choose your path
I’ve heard people say, “What can I possibly learn from 140 characters?” It's your choice; the quality and content of tweets you receive is dependent on who you ‘follow’. You are in control of the information you receive and – crucially - the people you choose to collaborate with.
There are currently 302 million active users to talk to and learn from, so be wise in your choices. Some of my favourite thinkers on Twitter are:
- @SirKenRobinson - an education and business leader who tweets about the value of creativity in education
- @Marthalanefox – Martha is a digital champion working to bring technology issues to the heart of public policy
- @JohnTomsett - John is a headteacher at Huntington School in York and a member of the @HeadsRoundTable
- @TeacherToolkit - tweets from Ross Morrison McGill, a deputy headteacher who writes an influential blog on education; he was recently nominated for 'The Sunday Times #Debretts500 Most Influential People in the UK 2015'
- @Suebecks - educational developer with a research interest in the use of social media in education
- @thinkloudclub - a group of learning technology evangelists discussing how they use it.
3. Follow your own interests and discover others
Hashtags (eg, #edtech, #education) pull users together by topic. Just type the hashtag into your search box and the tagged tweets will appear. If you want your own tweets to have the most visibility, using a hashtag makes them more obvious to people interested in the topic you’re talking about, so you have the opportunity to start even more wide-ranging conversations.
Consider this to be a symbol of affection; it means that you don’t need to spend hours searching for relevant content. Some great hashtags to follow include:
- #digitalstudent discusses digital literacy in students and how to best support them
- #elearning and #edtech are both great for ideas on online delivery
- #educhat is a more general hashtag for issues related to education
- #vitalcpd is populated by people talking about teacher upskilling
4. Meet and talk to other educators
Some of the hashtags used on Twitter include a time and date for debate, allowing for a synchronous meeting of minds, usually out of traditional teaching hours. The easiest way to participate in a Twitter chat is by using a social media aggregator like TweetDeck or Hootsuite, which allows you to monitor different accounts and hashtags in real time.
Two to try are #ukedchat every Thursday between 8-9pm, for education news, resources and content from @UKEdSch with @UKEdMag, and #TeachMeet, an informal meeting for teachers to share good practice, innovation and personal insights in teaching with technology.
5. Keep up to date with sector bodies
It may sound obvious but if you’re not following the awarding and monitoring bodies for our sector you could be missing out on key updates and useful resources. It’s also a great way to engage informally and directly with these organisations. Examples include:
- @QAAtweets - the independent body entrusted with monitoring and advising on standards and quality in UK higher education
- @Ofstednews – keep up to date on the latest Ofsted standards
- @sqanews – news from the Scottish Qualifications Authority
- @Apprenticeships - the official Government page for apprenticeship info
- @cityandguilds – providers of UK vocational qualifications; are you following the exam boards your students are using?
I have become convinced of the power of Twitter to expand my own CPD and that of my colleagues, and we've been using to great success at Blackburn College by following these five steps and using learning wheels - which you can hear all about in my podcast.