The Twitter Experience: Addicted to Learning

The Twitter Experience: Addicted to Learning

by Miguel Guhlin

"I have learned more about what people are discovering from Tweets," shares Porter Palmer, an educator in a university Master's course, "than any single blog could bring me. I especially like it when my edublogger friends’ Tweets begin with, 'just blogged this…' I don’t have to guess when they might have updated. I can just click over and read their blog!" Twitter is a powerful Web 2.0 tool to facilitate communication and collaboration--globally. It enables us to get in contact with educators from around the world. Many 21st century teachers are out there. Find them and create a Twitternetwork that can be a support group, provide inspiring projects, and keep you in touch with like-minded people.

What a joy it is to learn something completely unexpected while standing in line at the grocery store, waiting for dinner to arrive at a restaurant, a few moments after waking up via my professional learning network (PLN). As this blog entry,GarROTE Learning, points out...
Our brains get more efficient as we do things. Our brain function improves as we learn something, then move onto the next. If we dwell on the same activity--say, how to use an online system like Moodle, Edmodo, Schoology, an iPad app--then our cortical energy decreases as our brain gets more efficient (Source: 5 Ways to Maximize Your Cognitive Potential). 
Social media certainly enables us to get a mental stimulation from sharing and learning something new. We're all social media junkies...that is to say, we're addicted to learning new things.

Although I'm long past the excitement that is generated from "Social media will save your life! Twitter...PLN tool of choice for millions can satisfy all your PD needs!" type presentations, I am glad that I've taken the steps to make my learning transparent.

As you might imagine, there are zillions of folks on various social media networks, sharing and engaging with others about what they are learning as they are learning it. 

I can’t begin to share the excitement I felt on September 19, 2000, while participating in a TeachMeet 7 taking place in Scotland. How did I find out about it? Obviously, I was not in Scotland. I was sitting at my desk working on work projects, when a “tweet” came in from Paul Harrington, an educator in Wales. As a result of his sharing via twitter, I was able to participate in the conference via my web browser and listen to speakers like Ewan McIntosh and others share what they are doing in schools in Scotland. Do you think that might have impacted my perspective about the power of global learning opportunities? How might participating in a dialogue with educators from around the world have impacted your perspective?

When I introduced my supervisor to Twitter--as a way to stay in communication since we were both in Austin, Tx but at different events--I had her download and install Tweetdeck ( ). This enabled us to not only stay in communication, but also be in communication with other Texas educators attending the events and find out what was being discussed. One of the fascinating "back-channel" conversations was one had at NECC Conferences, where "tweets" were shared about key presentations. There have also been numerous problems or questions I have had that a global community of tweeting educators has helped me solve.

In my current position, I helped a campus move to create a campus-wide professional learning network using social media. 
Image Source:
Why settle for one star when you're fortunate enough to have 3?

Since I'm working over the several weeks with a campus team on building a Professional Learning Network (PLN), one of the fun aspects is watching them get better at joining the flow of a global learning conversation. . .in many ways, it reminds me of how a young driver learns to merge onto the traffic on a busy road or highway. That's why I was thrilled to see campus staff put their focus on Professional Teaching and Learning Cycle (PTLC) (the link will take you to the PDF of the document shared).
Diagram of the PTLC process. An outercircl shows that the leadership roles: Build Capacity, Communicate Clear Expectations, and Monitor and Review surround an inner circle of PTLC activities: Study, Select, Plan, Implement, Analyze, and Adjust.
Image Source: SEDL developed the PTLC in partnership with the Charles A. Dana Center at the University of Texas at Austin. The process reflects the research on best practices in professional development and school improvement.
I see some real connections between using Twitter to accelerate professional learning for teachers, freeing them from their dependence on traditional F2F workshops, conferences and print magazines:
One of the key strengths of PTLC is its design as a job-embedded professional learning process that is ongoing and results driven. According to multiple correlation studies on teacher quality (DarlingHammond, 2000; Darling-Hammond, Hightower, Husbands, LaFors, Young, & Christopher, 2003), higher levels of student achievement are associated with educators who participate in sustained professional development grounded in content-specific pedagogy. Continuous professional learning that improves teacher outcomes, in turn, impacts student outcomes. Studies indicate that when teachers improve their instructional practice,student achievement also improves(Fishman, Marx, Best,&Tal, 2003;Guskey, 2000; Kamil, 2003).
Social media (e.g. Twitter) can be used in this way to initiate and sustain professional development; the wide variety of rich ideas, or even "little" ideas that aren't as earth-shattering but appear in great quantity, are powerful.
"For a long time, we went into our rooms and we went into private practice," Hammel notes. "We never shared what we knew. Now we're allowing teachers to look at it all and talk about strategies they're going to use together. If I'm a new teacher or a teacher who has difficulty with particular content, this gives me an open door with my colleagues so I can get some ideas."Source: SEDL

Continuous learning happens, whether we're working with big ideas or little ones:
“Every teacher needs to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better.” Dylan Wiliam via Can Coaching Help Transform Teacher Quality?
Here's how members of a campus team--including but not limited to Shelley (@dyslexiadepot) and Christina (@ccmorenotweets)--approached introducing a group of principals to PTLC and the role Twitter could play in 5 Acts:

Act 1 - "Sharing the Journey as we develop a system for learning together, how we developed our team and our structure."
This was a brief presentation and I think the idea of developing a technology-enhanced system of collaborative learning is incredibly powerful and praise-worthy. It may be so because we often engage in "parallel play," not unlike toddlers. Learning collaboratively can be powerful for adults who often go to far in respecting each other's autonomy and independence.
...we need to ensure that we at least ‘embed’ improvements in practice. This is paramount because we know that despite the complex array of factors that influence student attainment, teacher quality trumps everything else. We also know that teacher impact plateaus after a couple of years (see my article here on reaching the ‘OK Plateau‘) and that we must make professional development genuinely continuous and continuously effective. Source: Can Coaching Help Transform Teacher Quality?

Act 2 - Analyzing the PTLC Article. Participants were asked to analyze the PTLC and create a visual representation. Here are some of the products:

There was one more image, a series of 3 interlinked circles in a series but the photo was too blurry.

Act 3 - Watch The Dive Deep videos (read companion blog post) and fill out a window sheet.
The cycle demonstrated in the videos can be used in anything. Here are my imperfect notes on this portion of their engaging presentation:
What we've the beginning, we talked about how we have ever-changing best practices, standards...change is inevitable in education process. How do we build capacity for teachers to be successful in the classroom? It's constantly changing and my ILT can't be the deliverer. How are we going to develop capacity? We talked about instructional coaching and PLNs...connecting with experts outside of ourselves to build capacity. 
One of the ways to connect to experts is through Twitter. I am not a techno-person. Our goal is to introduce you to Twitter. If you have an account, we encourage you to use it.
When we come to the table to discuss a topic, we have content to refer to that we've learned about through Twitter. We're going to rotate around 3 different stations to show you about Twitter, PLN and building capacity. PLNs can help with that study. We, the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT), worked on this for the last few months. 
Literacy, instructional coaching, leadership and math are initiatives I try to find people talking about on Twitter. 
Act 4 - Discussion of the Mechanics of Twitter and PLN
Participants divide up into 3 groups and walk around to listen to different presenters. The topics included 1) Twitter and hashtags, 2) Flipboard and creating flipboard magazines others can follow, and 3) using Pocket to keep track of information and easily share it with others.

Key Points from the presentation included:
  • Connect to other people around a topic using hashtags like #edtechchat , #leadfromwithin
  • You connect with people and they can send things out, and you can adopt their ideas for your own.
  • Twitter chats involve searching on a hashtag, and the moderator posts 10 questions throughout the hour and people respond and share what they are doing.
  • This is fast, such as 175 tweets per minute. You take things that speak to you (favorite them).
  • This was the scariest thing for me so I lurked for the first Twitter chat and just read along.
  • Creation of a hashtag for our campus
Christina and Shelley both shared more about Read It Later's Pocket and Flipboard for content curation, respectively.

Act 5 - Making Connection between PTLC and PLNs
Here are my notes on Shannon's presentation:
Go back to PTLC...Twitter supports it in multiple ways:
It's how we engage in personal learning for our study piece. We can get content about it, as well as connect with people who have actually done it. It also helps us push information...makes it easier for us to share with each other via our hashtag. Twitter can support our entire process.
As I reflect on the presentation by 3 team members, the following points come to mind:
  1. Grounded Use - What a wonderful opportunity for a campus instructional leadership team to model how to ground their use of social media in research and practice. I loved the fact that this presentation was given by people who only a few months ago had not begun to use Twitter as a PLN, even though they had been on Twitter for as much as 3 years prior. What/who enabled them to get to the next level? The answer appears obvious (e.g. Instructional Technology staff facilitating learning), but I honestly think it was their desire to find ways to connect, learn and share with others in ways that their current approaches weren't achieving. Without that desire, no amount of technical support would have helped them achieve this.
  2. Relationships - As one principal put it during the meeting, it's all about relationships. Relationships DO matter and they must be built. These members of the instructional leadership team spent serious time, investing in their relationships with each other, individually and as a team. This made the difference when it came time to learn together, failing together.
  3. Fail faster, succeed sooner. The campus team's leadership can't be underestimated. Without the conscious application of concepts that were powerful in and of themselves to educational settings, innovative leaps that put the group at risk of failure (in front of a roomful of principals...right? opportunity rife with chances to fail), we wouldn't have seen this.
The final question is, was the presentation delivered as well as it could have been? Of course not. It was their first attempt at a complex subject, delivering a multi-level, nuanced approach. While I don't mean to say or imply this occurred among those present, this reflection is a bit more general to educators and others:

It would be easy for some to dismiss the ideas at each level. For example, Twitter is frivolous and just a distraction from the real work. Connecting with people doesn't require a tech-enhanced PLN..."In my day, we just talked to each other." Or, "I don't have time to spend on this; I have real work to be about."

Learning is our FIRST priority as educators, and sharing that learning is our second priority. All else--including leadership--finds expression in how we model learning and sharing that learning as it happens. For these leaders, it was clear that a first step needed to involve accepting that they weren't the experts, the know-it-alls with all the answers.
"Once a leader accepts he doesn't have all the answers, he is free to ask bigger, more provocative, more interesting questions." Source: Twitter
Are you free to ask more provocative questions? It's clear to me that this leadership team is working to ask those questions and they want their campus team to have that freedom as well. I really appreciate that this presentation ended with an invitation to principals to join the session highlights the power of this image below when people ask, "So what's Twitter going to do for me?"

Twitter facilitates communication and collaboration with other educators. As you explore Twitter, remember that you have control over who you connect with and how much you will learn.