How Social Media can Enhance Schools as Professional Learning Communities


The field of social media is a burgeoning area of communication, and one that educators cannot ignore. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Diigo, GooglePlus – these platforms for communication are not going to go away; and while there is a great deal of negative media surrounding their use, they can be harnessed to create myriad possibilities for schools as learning communities. Current research only proves the dominance of Social Media as a modern communication medium: http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/social/

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This is the first of a series of posts planned in the area of social media and schools as learning communities. It is too big a topic to cover adequately in one post, and the value of social media tools as resources for learning is too great not to be addressed.

This post will consider what the term ‘social media’ connotes, and ways in which it may be used to overcome some of the obstacles schools face when attempting to develop a professional learning culture. The second post will focus specifically on a first step for teachers wishing to explore social media in a professional sense; building a Personal Learning Network using Twitter.

The third post planned will take readers a step beyond the Twitterverse, and introduce the idea of using multiple social media tools to enhance not only one’s Personal Learning Network, but also the possibility of bringing networked learning to the classroom and beyond.

If you are interested in following these posts and haven’t done so already, subscribe to our blog by entering your email address in the Subscribe box on the right hand side of this blog…and please feel free to leave your thoughts, suggestions or  criticisms in the comments box below!

Social Media – what do you need to know?

In the 21st century, learning networks are richer than ever before. Social media, including tools such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn allow connections with professionals to be developed in offline and online worlds in new and exciting ways. No longer are we limited geographically. Social media allows us to connect not only to those we know, but also to those who we don’t know, but who share our passions, our interests and our profession. Despite never having met in the physical sense, it is now possible to share links, comment on educational research, debate, collaborate and create new knowledge with individuals no matter where they are working.

The number of tools that create these opportunities may seem overwhelming. Each has their strengths and weaknesses. A fully rounded PLN may consist of a number of accounts that serve a number of different purposes.

So….Social Media and Professional Learning Communities? What is the connection?

A school which is a professional learning community focuses upon removing the walls between classrooms (metaphorically, in all cases, physically in some!), encouraging collaboration, dialogue, ready access to colleagues and an openness to challenge understandings and current ‘accepted’ knowledge.

Teachers model ongoing learning as they view themselves as lifelong learners also. Time is provided not only for professional development in the traditional sense of in-service days, but also for collegial discussion and reflection. As the walls between the classrooms are no longer there, teachers feel free to engage in co-teaching, team teaching, mentoring, and peer observation.

A professional learning community is based upon respect, responsibility and collaboration. It reflects the need for all members of the community to view themselves as learners. This creates flexibility, openness to change and adaptability, which are definitely requirements for successfully managing the fast paced, continually changing context education exists within.

How can social media help bring this about? Roberts and Pruitt, in their book Schools as Professional Learning Communities (p3, 2009) quote research that suggests that the major obstacle for schools who wish to develop as learning communities is the provision of resources such as time to collaborate, leadership support, information and ready access to colleagues. Social Media is not the total answer; but in schools where money and time are in short demand (and which school isn’t in this situation?), they can go part of the way in meeting these needs.

Here’s how:

1. Social media providing time to collaborate

Social media does not strictly speaking provide time – nothing will replace relief from face to face teaching to allow teachers to focus on their professional learning – however by embracing the asynchronous nature of social media, collaboration can occur at a time that suits each individual. It is almost impossible to co-ordinate meeting times with the variety of competing demands teachers respond to each day. Social media allows each teacher to add their thoughts, comments and input to a conversation that can continue through the working day. Using blogging software, twitter hash tags and discussion forums allows the discussion to flow and new knowledge to be created despite geographical location.

2. Social media providing leadership support

There is usually only one Principal in a school. The ratio of leaders to staff does not have to determine the amount of support a leadership team can provide if social media is used as a way of communicating. Meetings that a leadership representative cannot physically attend can be shared online, or the input collected and reflected upon by leadership at a later date. Members of a leadership team can ‘check in’ with staff by posting a tweet, posting a discussion starter or asking for input using a variety of channels. Of course nothing replaces face to face meetings and the presence of leadership representatives at various events, but if it is just not possible to be there, there are ways support can still be provided.

 3. Social media providing information

This is a key role of social media when used in a professional context. Questions can be posted online for response from a global audience (you can use preferences to manage whether your question goes out to specific individuals or the whole world in general). The development of  a PLN in Twitter or LinkedIn provides ready access to experts in the educational field who more often than not are willing to share. Social bookmarking services such as Diigo are brilliant for discovering new websites and sources of information – join one of the many groups for educators, and digests of useful links will be sent automatically to your email inbox on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. Social media truly comes into its own when searching for targeted, reliable information sources.

 4. Social media providing ready access to colleagues

This directly links to Number 1. If colleagues have a Social Media account, they are just a few keystrokes away. This might sound like a recipe for disaster, however in terms of networking with colleagues from across the country and globally, or even for setting meeting times with fellow staff members, making contact with colleagues has never been easier.

Stay tuned for our next post which will introduce you to how Twitter may be a powerful tool for initiating and maintaining a Personal Learning Network.

Comments as always are welcome!

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48 thoughts on “How Social Media can Enhance Schools as Professional Learning Communities

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  6. This is such as resource blog as we face higher expectations with fewer resources. I’ve shared this with my staff this week as a way to further our use of social media to grow professionally as a school and individually. Thanks for sharing and I look forward to the next piece.

    Be Great,

    Dwight

  7. Thanks for taking the time to write about the benefits of social media in schools. Yesterday, I did a post related to the restrictions many schools and other institutions put on social media. I also get into how Google Plus is defying those restrictions because it is much more difficult to be blocked (because of losing the ability to use other Google apps) like Facebook or Twitter.

    http://matthewdhudson.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/how-google-plus-defying-social-media-restrictions-schools-institutions/

    • Thanks for your comments, I will definitely checkout your post. It is a fine line to walk between safety and open-ness, but I agree it is difficult to educate students about social media when all access to it is blocked.

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  9. Thanks for the nice post on extending PLCs into the virtual world. Really, as you said, it is about breaking down the classroom walls, creating structures that are conducive the multiple modalities of learning. I use Twitter and Facebook often to collaborate and share my learnings with colleagues.

    Recently, a colleague and I wrote a brief research paper on PLCs and their impact on student achievement. In other words, is all this time and effort really making a difference? Below you can find a link to the synthesis of multiple studies.

    http://wisefoundations.wordpress.com/2011/09/25/plcs-their-impact-on-student-achievement/

    What do you think?
    Thanks!
    Perry

  10. Nice topic…you may be interested to know about Social India Conference 2011 in Bangalore,India which is organized by Akshay Patra Foundation to raise funds for a non-profit cause. The event brings together world’s well known social media speakers at the event…visit
    socialindiaconference.in for more details.

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  12. We started a Virtual Faculty Room on Facebook since we had so many faculty already using it. It has been great so far. I am in a PK-12 school, and this has already promoted a lot of cross-divisional conversation. People have been putting out their questions and getting the collective wisdom of the group in response. We are sharing articles, ideas and dilemmas. It has only been a week, and it is already paying off. It is a really exciting prospect. I love learning from people through Twitter, but there is a lot I can learn from the folks in the same school as me.

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  15. Reblogged this on Heather's Weblog and commented:
    In a world full of opportunities to collaborate and connect with people anywhere in the world, it is a crime not to take full advantage of these opportunities as professionals. It is even a greater injustice not to provide avenues through social media for our students. However, for many educators, the key is getting comfortable first. Read this article about how teachers can use social media as PLCs, learn their way around, and then hopefully bring what they have learned into the classroom to provide more opportunities for students.

  16. Pingback: How Social Media can Enhance Schools as Professional Learning Communities | Heather's Weblog

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  22. As an educator, I believe it is very important to teach material, such as social media, that is important for the future of the students. When inventing my math and memory system Brainetics (http://www.brainetics.com), I wanted to focus on new subjects and innovative methods to teach. By teaching subjects like social media for the 21st century, students will be more prepared in the future. It seems like so many aspects of today’s society centers around the digital environment and teaching should ultimately be altered to adapt.

    Great article,

    Mike Byster

    http://www.mikebyster.com

    Inventor of Brainetics, Educator, Author of Genius, Mathematician

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