Social Media is having a big impact on modern lives. Twitter updates and comments are trawled over by news organisations who no longer scoop the exclusive updates from around the world, whether it be an earthquake, war stories, or royal babies. Most announcements are exclusively made via social media, and this shift in information consumption is easily accessible to anyone with a smartphone, tablet or computer. Let’s face it, technological developments are not slowing down, and the access to information on social media platforms is now easier than ever.
Teachers have embraced Twitter as a means of gaining professional development, and we previously shared 25 pedagogical tools that colleagues have found during interactions online that have made such a positive impact in the classroom. Interestingly, this engagement in professional development with teachers on Twitter appears to be exclusive to the English speaking world, noted by Graham Newell (@Graham_IRISC) during the #UKEdChat session on ‘Modern Approaches to CPD’ (bit.ly/uked15jun08), who commented that teachers in Europe are aghast at how teachers gain so much by engaging on Twitter here in the UK.
Yet something is amiss. Something is changing with teachers on Twitter that is less collaborative than it used to be. On the surface, in the publicly available social media landscape anyway, there is a feeling of reserved comment, sharing and discussion by teachers. What is happening? Are we approaching a social media eclipse of hidden conversations due to fear?
This feeling was pointed out by Canadian teacher Andrew Campbell who blogged (bit.ly/uked15jun10) that a notable collective of educators has caught up on what is happening on Twitter. Their involvement is causing a behaviour shift with early adopters of the platform. Who are this mysterious group of people who are having an unnerving impact on Social Media usage? School Leaders! Campbell notes, “Tweets that express an unpopular opinion or are critical of the Status Quo, suddenly have a new audience and a new set of consequences. Teachers are now under greater scrutiny for their online activities, and are increasingly asked to ensure their tweets are in line with what their school leaders approve.”
It is evident to see how many teachers protect their tweeted comments, inviting selected followers. Or the sudden ‘disappearance’ of an individual from your timeline as the surveillance upon the comments are increasingly scrutinised by school ‘managers’ who are trying to protect their image and reputations. Campbell shares the story of this pressure now placed upon teachers, “A teacher explained to me that they’d been called into a meeting with supervisory staff and asked to defend a tweet they’d made about a board policy, which was taken out of context.” Context is key here, as ill-perceived comments can quickly be pounced upon and evidenced easily against and individual. Campbell continues, “Whether teacher social media is actively monitored or not, the fact that teachers are worried that they might be monitored, indicates the chilling effect on teacher expression.”
As a result, Andrew Campbell asserts, “In response to this pressure some teacher PLNs have gone “underground”. The PLN is active, and functions in the same way, but instead discussion take place on private messaging networks or though or group DMs. The discussion and sharing continue, but in a private space, where the risk of saying “the wrong thing” is eliminated.” The public communities that were built up are slowly eroding yet evolving into an arena that is considerably safer for individuals. Lurking in conversations and leeching classroom ideas continues – and should be encouraged – but paranoia and fear are holding certain individuals back from the dissemination of practice or sharing experiences. In our 2014 extensive survey (bit.ly/uked15jun11) 16% of respondents claimed they were aware of their school leaders watching their tweets, but we could never know how many people are unaware of any surveillance of their comments.
How can you tell that your school leaders are spying on you? You can’t, but it is happening and a trait of being human and paranoia. You just need to be aware of what you are broadcasting and how comments could be twisted or used against you. Let’s hope we can emerge from this social media eclipse positively, but Campbell warns, “If school leaders want to leverage edutwitter’s culture, they must ensure that they can participate without undermining. They need to be willing to join the discussion as equals and put aside their administrative roles. If they don’t, they may soon find that they are simply talking to each other, and everyone else has left.”