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Sometimes, Twit happens October 20, 2009

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Tools.
Tags: , , , , ,

Following on from my previous post, I thought it was time to broach a subject I’ve been skirting for a while – how powerful social networking tools can be for teachers’ professional development . . . especially those like my colleague, who maybe isolated in small departments or small schools.  So why haven’t I tackled social networking tools earlier?  Well actually I have . . . but it has to be said, not with the greatest success!

My Delicious homepage

My Delicious homepage

My starting point was with a group of departmental reps., one from  each of the curriculum areas.  We meet once a term to open channels of communication and share interesting practice.  I began with Delicious, a social bookmarking tool I’ve found to be incredibly powerful and easy to use.  We all save links thought I, and given how easy it is to share those online, have anytime access no matter what computer you’re working at, this was going to be an easy sell.  Errr, no.  When I followed up a few weeks later to check on how the group was progressing, I had failed to account for one small factor.  Actually most of the folks don’t save links in a systemmatic way – if they find a resource theywant to pass on to a class, they embed the link with the other support materials they’re providing or . . .  and this one really foxed me . . . they just Googled for the resource they were after, in much the same way they did when they first found it!  I’d made the schoolboy error of thinking what was to me a blindingly obvious more efficient and effective way of working, was only so because of the way I work and the way I see things.

Source: Matt Hamm on Flickr

Source: Matt Hamm on Flickr

So I was a bit reticent about getting burn’t again . . . but hey, it goes with the territory, so it was time to dip the toe back in the water.  This time the prompt was to offer possible ways that isolated teachers can access a wider support network using social networking tools i.e. start up their professional learning network.  My weapon of choice – Twitter, another tool which has been a revelation to me and one I’d now find it hard to live without.  Back to the same group of ICT Reps then and slowly, slowly . . . let’s begin by looking at how a carefully chosen community in Twitter can begin to provide a wonderful support network.  With the ‘lack of time’ reaction likely to raise its head as it invariably does, I was careful to explain how this is a stream into which we can dip, as and when we choose.  It’s a bit like Pooh Sticks – you lean over the bridge and watch the flow go by.  Occasionally there’s not much of interest, sometimes a few twigs and sticks and leaves which you just watch float past, but often there are intriguing little paper boats that catch your eye. So you pick one out and check it a little more carefully; it might have an interesting message on – they’re the ‘keepers.’  When you’re a little more comfortable, you might start dropping your boats into the flow for others to find downstream.

OK so that metaphor’s perhaps reached its elastic limit, but it was worth a shot and we’ll see whether folks follow it up.  But sometimes it’s the unexpected that really provides the reward and that came from a colleague in the English department, who wasn’t entirely convinced that Twitter might be able to help, but did spot that it would provide a really interesting opportunity for students to examine the ‘writing for a purpose and specific audience’ element of the curriculum. She’d seen the different ways that Tweeps express themselves through their Tweets, how they’re economical with language, the methods they use to squeeze their messages into the 140 characters and how you have to ‘tune in’ slightly to understand the flow.  If for no other reason than that discovery by one colleague, the session was worth it.


1. Nick P - October 20, 2009

Have faith, Mr Guest. I’m not a teacher but have (had) the same reservations about Twitter as many of your colleagues. But with your wise words and encouragement I stuck with it and now I get it. It’s not yet something I can’t live without but give it a few more weeks and I think I’ll reach adiction level!

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