A Social Media Journey

Article by Gary Henderson.

Back in 2011, I was working in the Middle East when a colleague introduced me to Twitter as a tool for professional development and connecting with fellow educators. Prior to this, I was aware of Facebook and Twitter, however, I considered both as being about nothing more than apps for sharing cute cat videos and status updates. I had a Twitter account for years, however, hadn’t thought about how it might be a powerful tool to help me become a better educator and provide me with a wealth of new ideas and resources to which I previously had not had access. I had barely used the account beyond the initial setup.

Following my colleague’s comments and demonstration as to the value of Twitter, I logged back into my then dormant account and started following educators. To start with my involvement on Twitter was just as a consumer. I followed people and got ideas and resources. I contributed little. I very quickly came to see the benefits of Twitter and other social media platforms as I gained access to new ideas and resources which I could then make use of. I quickly found myself encouraging others to make use of Twitter. Some specific resources which I found in my early days on Twitter, which jump to mind, include the 5 Minute Lesson Plan and also the blooms taxonomy of iPad apps.

The main benefit I found from using Twitter was the short nature of each tweet. Previously, I had been using RSS feeds from the blogs of a small number of educators. However, seldom did I read the posts as they were long and would require the devotion of time in order to fully read. Given the possibility that the article would prove to be of little interest, I was unwilling to devote the time. Using Twitter meant I could dip in whenever I had time, reviewing the short 140 character tweet and any associated image. I could spend 5 minutes over breakfast, at lunch and at the end of the day and could review hundreds of posts. Often, tweets would link to bigger articles or blog posts, however, based on the initial tweet I could then decide to either read further or discard the tweet.

The number of educators that Twitter provides you access to was another major benefit. Suddenly rather than just having a hundred or so colleagues, you have access to tens of thousands and educators from all over the world. The sheer number of educators allows for many different ideas and resources to be shared. Events such as #appsharelive are perfect examples as is a search for educational resources on Pinterest.com.

Another key benefit to using Twitter is that of context and perspective. Previously, I only had access to the views of the teachers in my school or on occasions at a CPD event to a wider group of teachers. However, a common reason for being at such events and also a large common geographic region from which they came, meant the viewpoints and ideas shared by individuals were often very similar in nature due to the commonalities of the context within which they worked. This led to a kind of groupthink where the common ideas came to strengthen as they were large without challenge. Twitter opened me up to the viewpoints and perspectives of educators from across the world operating in diversely different contexts. This in turn led to some challenging viewpoints. Take for example a discussion of resources; as soon as a teacher engaged in teaching English in refugee camps contributed ideas this changed the context of the discussion and allowed everyone to re-frame the issue at hand.

It was around this time that I hit my first two problems. One was that I was identifying articles from tweets which I wanted to read but didn’t have the time immediately available. I was often unable to locate the specific article when, at a later stage, I had some time free. The solution to this was quickly found in Evernote.com and I started pushing all articles which I wanted to read later into Evernote where I could then pick them up and read them at a later date. It also meant I had a record to look back to when looking to cite a particular article or post.

The second problem at this time was the Twitter 2001 follows limit. At this point, I was still just a consumer so I had few followers which meant Twitter limited the number of people I could follow. I wanted to follow more ‘tweachers’, but couldn’t without unfollowing some. My initial solution to this issue was unfollowers.com which is now statusbrew.com. This allowed me to identify the people I followed who had been idle and not posted for a while or who didn’t follow me back, therefore allowing me to identify those individuals I could afford to unfollow without losing out on lots of educational ideas. This was a good solution, but not perfect.

It was around this time that I realised that I was a consumer and that if I and every other teacher just consumed content then there would be no content to consume. I became aware that the online educational community relied on teachers contributing, posting and tweeting. So at this point, I started regularly posting and my followers grew and the follow limit was lifted. It was around this time that I started to get involved regularly in educational Twitter chats.

My contributions to Twitter eventually needed a platform to allow for longer posts and discussions and so in 2013, I started my blog. Together, Twitter and my blog allowed me to share my thoughts and ideas with others. It also allowed me to store for future my thoughts and ideas at a given point in time. Our memory often does not hold a true picture of what has happened in the past, instead of being influenced by bias or recent events. By committing ideas to a blog a more accurate log of reality and the truth is retained. This has proved invaluable in looking back at my thoughts and ideas and how and why they have developed over time.

Since then I have tried to regularly contribute to the online educational community. Since Feb 2016 I had been blogging a minimum of once per week. I have also started to use bufferapp.com to allow me to prepare my tweets in one go, and then schedule when they will be sent throughout the week. This has allowed me more time to contribute to Twitter chats effectively allowing me to better manage my online activity.

Through using social media, Twitter, Pinterest and a blog, I now have access to lots of new ideas, perspectives, thoughts and resources. I have access to the combined wisdom of teachers operating across many different contexts. I have access to more educators than I could ever hope to encounter in person as a teacher. For those not engaged in using Twitter, I highly recommend it and look forward to sharing ideas with you. To those already engaged, keep sharing. I love using Twitter and I love blogging!

This article originally appeared in the December 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine

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