(Link to study documentation and survey)
This is a question that seems to get posted at least once during the education chats I participate in each week. After having discovered how easily one can connect with and learn from passionate educators, and give back as well, it is one I have asked myself. I remember how lonely I felt when I started teaching physics at my high school. At the time none of the other science teachers had taught the subject and I had to figure things out on my own. Knowing about the education community on Twitter would have greatly benefited both me and my students.
Fast forward to today, where I now teach preservice teachers. I was excited to introduce my students to the group of connected educators I have come to know and whose input has been invaluable to my teaching. I did not want any of them to experience the isolation I had felt so I implemented Twitter as part of my curriculum. The first two semesters Twitter was met with enthusiasm; a few of my students, some of whom were currently teaching, were amazed at the community they found and at the help they had received.
However, not all of my classes greeted Twitter with enthusiasm. Last semester I had thought to conduct a study involving students in my course about their experience with Twitter. Given that the majority of the students were not happy using Twitter, those plans quickly changed. I also found that some in the research community were not particularly sure of the value of Twitter as a teacher professional development tool. This road block presented itself during one of my graduate educational technology courses (one I take, not teach). A guest speaker, one held in high regard in the educational technology community, commented she found it odd that some teachers mentioned Twitter as an important part of their personal learning network. That is when I realized the focus of my research on Twitter had to change. I had gotten ahead of myself by deciding to focus on the results of using Twitter. Instead it seemed there needed to be a study which demonstrated WHY an educator might consider using Twitter in the first place.
Thus my current study was born. The primary objective is to identify characteristics of those educators who currently use Twitter – is there something special about those who participate in educational Twitter chats or can it appeal to all types of educators? Do those who use Twitter now find it useful? Plan to continue? These are the questions I hope to answer with the first phase of my study. For the second phase I will delve into past Twitter chats and look for evidence of learning and communities of practice. Based on my own experience, I do believe this evidence exists. Ultimately I hope to provide reasons for those who are currently hesitant about Twitter’s value as a professional development tool for all educators, as well as bring awareness of its use to those in various areas of the field. Of course to do so requires the help of current educators who do use Twitter. If you would like to help advance the cause, click on this link: bit.ly/RHwley Your time and input will be greatly appreciated.