Social Media and the Professional Learning Community – Networks, Collaboration & Communication

The research has been clear and consistent for over 30 years—collaborative cultures in which teachers focus on improving their teaching practice, learn from each other, and are well led and supported by school principals result in better learning for students. Fullan, M. (n.d.). Learning is the Work. Retrieved from http://www.michaelfullan.ca/

As life grows more complex, so too does education. The role of the teacher, once essentially an autonomous, well defined position, is now vast and continually changing. It is now impossible for a teacher to be engaging in best practice unless they are part of a supportive, informed and well developed network.

Whereas in the past this network, if it existed at all, was limited by time and space, the previous blog posts in this series on Social Media and Schools as Professional Learning Communities have shown that with the advent of tools such as Twitter, this need no longer be the case.

Despite the overwhelming evidence that collaborative cultures in schools improve student learning, and the presence of tools that allow these cultures to be developed in new and expansive ways, there continues to be reluctance to embrace the potential of online environments and social media. Richardson and Mancabelli suggest that this could be because this move challenges the structures in education that have been in place for as long as we can remember; letting go of our current notions of schooling to be open and interactive like never before may seem overwhelming.

This third and final blog post offers suggestions as to how to use a range of social media to enhance not only teachers’ learning networks, but also how schools may consider using social media to model constructive and positive communication within and beyond their immediate community.

Moving beyond the Twitterverse; Multiple Modes, Multiple Messages

Twitter is an excellent avenue for discovering new ideas, participating in online asynchronous dialogue and hearing about the latest educational trends and keynotes. It is, however, not the only tool that educators can use to broaden their personal learning network.

Linked In is growing in prominence as a networking tool for professionals. While it began as a place for business people to share a virtual summary of career highlights with potential employees, it is moving beyond this, to provide online discussion spaces for groups of like-minded educators, on topics such as 21st Century Education, Educational Leadership, Teacher Training and Curriculum Development. A search reveals 4,779 groups to choose from; and membership is drawn from around the world.

Diigo has been written about before on this blog, however it would be remiss not to mention it as a very active online learning community for educators. Not only a place to organise and store web links, Diigo provides spaces for collaboration, groups and the opportunity to discover new web links via email digests of the most recently saved websites.

Blogs are another tremendous source of up to date educational information. The drawback to them is that accessing each blog is time-consuming and blog authors post at irregular intervals. Time poor teachers are better off subscribing to a selection of blogs using an RSS Feedreader. The concept of RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is actually really simple! Basically subscribing to blogs using RSS means each time a new post is uploaded, it will be sent to a central place, such as your Google Reader, so that they can be read from one location instead of going to each individual blog site. This video explains further.

Using Social Media to communicate as a school

Mark Sparvell, executive consultant in ICT capability and innovation at Principals Australia suggests that an entry point for schools who are keen to use Twitter or other social media is to begin by using it as a tool to connect the school with the wider community. He suggests looking at social media as a virtual school noticeboard, which communicates messages including staff and student achievements, reminders about special events, requests for assistance and updates on school sport scores.

Using social media allows the school to actively engage with the community in real time; updates are easy and quick to produce, making them ideal not only for distributing information, but for responding to questions and issues if and when they arise.

Ferriter, Ramsden and Sheninger suggest that schools look to how businesses have positioned themselves within the social media context, and to explore how this channel of communication may allow for more authentic representations of the school’s ‘brand’; by removing the formality of newsletters and opening up a two way mode that emphasises the shared aims of the school and its community.

They also suggest that schools ‘start small’. Twitter allows users the option to lock their accounts, so that only those who are ‘followers’ may see the posts made. This useful feature also means that the school can control who follows them – each request must be moderated and approved before they can be included. Steps on how to protect your Tweets in this way may be found on the Twitter help centre page.

Modelling positive use of social media in this way not only demonstrates the school’s willingness to communicate with its stakeholders, it also shows an openness to learn and interact within the online world – a world within which an increasing number of students operate daily.

Thanks to Langwitches; http://www.flickr.com/photos/langwitches/3458534773/sizes/z/in/photostream/ AttributionNoncommercialShare Alike Some rights reserved

Education in the form that we have today was developed when knowledge was scarce, and communication channels limited. When learning could only occur in the presence of an individual who held all knowledge, it made sense to create institutions where a fixed curriculum could be delivered to age-grouped classes, and to measure ‘mastery’ via tests of content knowledge.

Today, knowledge is not scarce, and individuals have access to multiple communication channels. This has significant implications for education. Not only does it mean that the role of teachers must change, it also means that for schools to be considered professional learning communities, they must orient themselves within the wider world beyond the classroom walls.

“Increasingly, those who use technology in ways that expand their global connections are more likely to advance, while those who do not will find themselves on the sidelines. With the growing availability of tools to connect learners and scholars all over the world — online collaborative workspaces, social networking tools, mobiles, voice-over-IP, and more — teaching and scholarship are transcending traditional borders more and more all the time.”

2009 Horizon Report

References:

Ferriter, W. M., Ramsden, J. T., & Sheninger, E. C. (2011). Communicating and connecting with social media. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.

Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: using the power of connections to transform education. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.

2009 Horizon Report .  Retrieved October 23, 2011, from http://wp.nmc.org/horizon2009/

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/

cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo shared by Creative Tools
Look for a Twitter symbol on blog posts to follow educators online…
BCE Twitterers include @BenVanTrier and @KayC28

 

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!