Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Social media in teaching and professional development

This blogpost is part of a MindLab assignment, looking into the use of social media within teaching and professional development in education.

My initial view of social media as it pertained to teaching and professional development (as of when I started my secondary teaching career, just on 5 years ago now) was that social media was just that - social, and I didn't originally see the possibilities and opportunities.

Since that time, my use of twitter, blogger and facebook groups has grown extensively; and including categories mentioned by the NZ education council (shown below in the image) - I have also used social media for collaboration (edmodo, prezi, google drive), networking (facebook, linkedin, google+), image sharing (pintrest), video sharing (youtube), micro-blogging (twitter) and blogging (blogger).


The platforms that I find I use most often are:

Google drive: partly because HPSS uses this as its primary, ubiquitous platform for both teachers and students, but also because I now don't know how I could survive not having access to a plethora of documents from all aspects of my teaching, and others teaching, as well as admin documentation, all at the end of the internet.

Twitter: a great way to connect with other educators within NZ and overseas - in particular the regular 'chats' such as #edchatnz and #scichatnz provide a great way of connecting to other educators as well as a platform to be challenged on issues within education that may not come up from our usual professional circles.

Facebook - private groups: in particular the 'science teachers of NZ' group, amongst others. This also provides a (more private than twitter) way of connecting with a larger circle of educators, who come from a variety of backgrounds.

The education council states: "social media can be an effective tool for engaging with learners and communicating with parents, whanau and communities. Teachers who model good social media use will grow learners who apply positive, respectful values in their interactions on social media platforms."

Supporting this, there are many 'how to' guides out there for teachers, pointing out both positive and negative aspects of social media:

My perspective:

Overall, I feel that these are the positives associated with social media use. 

  • Collaboration: both between teachers, and with students - platforms such as edmodo, google+ and twitter provide instant feedback in both directions between students and teachers, and can allow students to contribute their own resources to a class etc.
  • You don't know what you don't know: exposure to ideas, strategies and people outside of my usual teaching bubble - allowing me to expand the way I teach. This has mostly happened through use of twitter and private facebook groups.
  • Modelling social media: letting students see explicitly how social media can be used responsibly, and trying to get them to do the same.(This does take time and multiple exposures to it, however!)

The potential negatives or pitfalls:

  • Over-connectedness: Making sure that teachers do in fact get some down time away from their careers. This is especially important as teachers already take plenty of work home with them - it's important to make sure they are not connected to these social networks all the time, as this can contribute to burn-out.
  • Risk of sharing: being careful about what is shared in public forms by both teachers and students; making it very clear what is and isn't acceptable.
  • Echo-chamber: sometimes, after prolonged use of the same social media platforms, such as twitter, it becomes apparent that the same ideas are circulating over and over, just with new people attached to the ideas. It is important to remember that there is a very select group of people (who self-select to use twitter, and therefore often share fairly similar points of view).

How to balance these?

I believe that balance itself is the answer - using these platforms and tools in a sensible way, where teachers feel that they are gaining benefit from using social media, but don't feel obligated to be constantly using it. In other words, making social media work for the teacher and students, rather than feeling like you are putting more effort into social media. The use of it should fall out naturally from practice, not be something forced (although obviously for teachers less experienced in social media use, this will take effort and time to achieve!)

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