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.
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.”
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/
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