As an early adopter of the social networking site Twitter, it has become my most frequently used source of new ideas, inspiration, links to resources and research etc. – in essence, it's a key part of my professional learning network (PLN). This was an unexpected outcome for me, as to be honest, when I first signed up it was more out of novelty value than with any expectation that it might become what it is today – and I honestly expected it might last for a few weeks in my consiousness then fade like a number of other social networking sites I've joined. Now there's barely a day goes by where I'm not introduced to some new ideas or resources from the people I follow, as they share what it is they've been reading or creating in the course of the day.
So it was with interest that I came across this study that has recently been released on the Journal of Online Teaching and Learning (JOLT), titled The End Of Isolation, by Elizabeth Alderton and Eric Brunsell from the University of Wisconsin, with Damian Bariexca fromLawrence Township Public Schools. The study provides new insight into how teachers use social networks such as Twitter, as prof learning networks – the abstract below explains more:
This research study provides new insight into how teachers use social networking sites, such as Twitter, as professional learning networks. The researchers surveyed and analyzed the public Twitter feeds of classroom teachers to determine the specific purposes for which teachers use Twitter. Study participants also completed surveys dealing with social networking. The K-12 educators in this study engaged in true dialogue, where evidence of actual conversation occurred in Twitter over 61% of the time. Additionally, over 82% of the time, the educators in this study chose to follow other educators or content experts related to their field of teaching so they were able to create a personal learning network meaningful to their professional needs. Analysis of data shows that a majority of tweets were educationally focused and were primarily in the categories of practice/philosophy, questions, and sharing of resources. Additional studies looking at how other online learning communities may be used as professional development venues would be beneficial and add to the knowledge base of online learning, professional development, and learning networks.
Although the sample group for the study is very small (10), the general findings and conclusions of the authors open up many of the issues and ideas that need to be discussed and researched further (as they suggest). The key for me was the fact that the educators in this study chose to follow other educators or content experts related to their field of teaching so they were able to create a personal learning network meaningful to their professional needs. Analysis of the data in the study shows that the majority of tweets were educationally focused and were seen in the categories of practice/philosophy, questions, and sharing of resources.
For me this reinforces the understanding that the technology on its own isn't the key, it's how it is used – the intentionality behind its adoption. I get rather tired of people (generally non-users) propogating myths about sites such as Twitter with repeated comments like "I don't want to hear about what people ate for breakfast" – simple remedy – don't follow them! Reserve the space on your twitter feed for those who can offer you professional support, who update you with what they're learning and reading etc. That would appear to me to be a productive use of the technology – it's what I do.