Tiny Bursts of Learning

Despite the fact that I know many teachers who would rank Twitter as the most valuable and powerful networking tool they have access to, there are still many more who simply don’t “get” the value of Twitter. I’ve been to lots of conferences over the last few years where the enormous value of belonging to a Personal Learning Network was being touted, and Twitter is nearly always being suggested as the ideal tool for building that network. At one recent conference I asked for a show of hands for who was not yet on Twitter, and many hands went up… my response was “Why not? What are you waiting for? How many times do you need to hear people say that Twitter is the most valuable tool they have, before you actually try it for yourself?”

I spoke to a group of preservice teachers recently who were basically told by their lecturers that they needed to join Twitter. Despite the fact that it was being promoted to them as a powerful way to learn and network with others, most of them seemed to join up simply because it was part of their assessment requirement.  Because they joined Twitter “under duress”, I don’t expect them to actually buy into it, use it well, or continue to use it past the mandated requirement to use it.  And that’s a bit of a shame.

In contrast to all this is the general sentiment among many teachers that “we need more PD!”, or the always-amusing “How can they expect us to learn new things if all we get is a few PD days a year?”

If you still believe that professional development is what happens on those two or three days each year when you sit in a classroom and have some expert “deliver” it to you, I have bad news. That model is no longer sustainable and the days of PD as something that is done “to you” by “experts” a couple of times a year are over.

Learning needs to be ongoing. The world is changing. There are new tools that can help students learn, new ideas about learning, new brain research, new emerging technologies, new social structures, and so on… to think that you can maintain a professional outlook by attending two or three PD workshops a year is almost laughable. To keep up with new learning, you really need to be plugged in to an ongoing source of professional discourse and resource sharing. It needs to be something that happens regularly, at least several times a week. Like so many other aspects of the 21st Century, some of the “ways we’ve always done things” don’t really cut it anymore.

So how can something at simple as Twitter possibly be used to stay professionally current?

How I use my Twitter PLN to learn

I’ve been keeping an eye on my Twitter stream for the past 10 minutes or so. Using the Twitter app for Mac, it sits in a narrow vertical window on the right side of my screen and as the people I follow add their tweets they flow by in a steady stream that updates every few moments. How fast this flow happens is obviously dependent on how many people you follow… I follow about 2600 people, so it tends to be a pretty steady stream of tweets, but yours might be more or less. Occasionally I glance at this “stream of (networked) consciousness” and spot little gems that look interesting.

For example in the last ten minutes I’ve spotted the following things…

…to name but a few.

In the same 10 minutes worth of tweets, I also responded to a couple of questions from other people that I felt I could help them with, saw a funny story about Moodle, watched an amusing exchange between some people I know, and ended up getting invited into an Elluminate session about developing Moodle courseware.

Just ten minutes. Even just skimming through that list of things would give me more relevant PD than most teachers get exposed to in a whole year. And those of us who use Twitter in this way are able to tap this stream of information any time we like.

(I hope you also noticed that I still don’t know what Ashton Kutcher had for lunch, or what crazy antics Charlie Sheen is up to. I don’t care about that stuff, so I don’t follow those people, so I don’t see those tweets. Twitter works because you get to make choices about who is part of your network.  You create relevance for yourself.)

Now, before you assume that I spend my whole day getting sidetracked by Twitter, let me assure you that’s not the case.  I’m telling you about this 10 minute slice of time to make the point that Twitter, when you build a network of relevant people, is an amazingly rich sources of ideas, inspiration and connections.

I don’t read every tweet. I don’t follow every link. I let most of the tweetstream just flow by me, only dipping into it if I get a moment. If I spot something interesting I hit the star to favorite it and come back to it later. If anything really good turns up in the stream and I miss it, it gets retweeted over and over so the chance of me seeing it is still pretty good.  But mostly it’s just there, flowing by, ready for me to dip into it and pull out a few gems whenever i have a moment. Do that every day and pretty soon you have a substantial body of PD building up.

I understand why people find it hard to get their head around Twitter.  I understand why people are still skeptical when they hear others say things like “Twitter is the best PD you can get!”  It sounds like complete hyperbole… How on earth can a random collection of short messages from strangers possibly compete with professionally organised training and PD sessions?

It competes because it’s more relevant, more timely, ongoing, interactive, daily and personal. Traditional PD just can’t offer all that.

If you’re one of those people who resist Twitter because it just doesn’t seem logical, please just suspend your doubt and give it a go. Don’t just join and do nothing; give it a proper go. Follow a bunch of relevant people – at least 50 or 60 – get a decent Twitter client, and open yourself to the possibilities of what a network offers. You won’t regret it.

CC BY 4.0 Tiny Bursts of Learning by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

47 Replies to “Tiny Bursts of Learning”

  1. I’m a first year student of teaching and I have been using Twitter for approx. 2yrs. The lessons learned from Twitter are invaluable. Twitter is very much a part of my PLN and I’m grateful to those I follow and those who follow me. PD gained from Twitter is easily accessible and costs nothing. Why wouldn’t preservice teachers and teachers join?

  2. Hi, Chris
    I knew I was right to follow you on Twitter! Thanks for this accurate post. I don’t have your Twitter stats (not yet, anyway), but I can attest to the truth of what you have said here. There is always a certain quantity of tweets I’m not interested in, or which are not relevant. But every time I browse it for a few minutes, like you I find a few gems I probably wouldn’t come across without Twitter.

    I find the evolution of Twitter quite fascinating, and wonder what we will be saying about it in 5 or 10 years’ time; will those who don’t get it now have got on board by then?

    Again, great post – thank you!

  3. I like the analogy of dipping your hand into a waterfall- when I first started I went back and read every single tweet. I soon realised that was going to be impossible.

    Now I make lists of tweets according to interest groups and a couple of private lists of people’s tweets that I do not want to miss.

  4. I was told by my lecturer to join Twitter, I did and have gained more knowledge in my time on Twitter than I have from my whole degree. The information, resources and ideas passed round on Twitter are invaluable. I have gained knowledge on amazing ICTs and how to actually use them for authentic learning. Not only has my technology understanding advanced, but I have been in contact with amazing and inspiring teachers who I now share, communicate and collaborate with. No longer are we confined to the teacher’s ideas from our schools or district areas. We now have the ability to connect and learn from inspiring, innovative people from all over the world! Your post is extremely significant, I hope encourages teachers to get on Twitter.

  5. Great post Chris!
    Here in Victoria we have a thing called the VIT (Victorian Institute of Teaching)! This bureaucracy seem to have the power to mandate the amount and nature of PD we mere mortals need to undertake to remain registered as teachers. Unfortunately their model in no way reflects the reality of the digitally connected community which, as you have rightly pointed out, provides value far beyond those long, usually boring, days sitting in school or provider based, one presenter – large audience, formats that the VIT seems to cherish!
    Who can help educate them? I’ve got classes to teach!

  6. Great post Chris, your thoughts on the twitter and its lack of acceptance amongst the wider teaching circles are spot on. I really dont understand teachers who refuse to consider how they can improve their teaching. Twitter allows me to do this so its a clear winner for me.

  7. Great. Just how twitter (or any other stream of information) should be used so as not to feel overwhelmed. Yet no matter how much we try, some will just not get it. Bad luck for them.

  8. Great post! Took me a while to trust twitter was more than just a semi-conscious stream of inane comment about Justin Bieber or Lady Gage – but once someone shows how it can be used for PLN, there’s no stopping you! Thanks for the ongoing encouragement! I’m keeping your post in list of “essential reasons to be online” folder 🙂

  9. Hi Chris,
    It was great having you talk to us over Skype this morning.  I admit that I joined Twitter under duress, but have found some great experienced maths teacher’s tweets and am loving it. Ideas that I would never have thought of including one using GoogleMaps to teach maths!  At the moment I’m just at a retweeting level, but hope that over the years I might have some useful stuff to share too.

    1. Thanks Shirley…  it’s such a short time to try and say anything worthwhile, so I’m glad you found it useful. Glad to hear you’re finding Twitter a useful tool, and don’t be shy about contributing.  Just remember though, Twitter, like all social tools, is a meritocracy… Everyone is equal and welcomed, everyone has something to say, and anyone can add to the stream; you don’t have to “serve an apprenticeship” to be part of it, so just add your thoughts and ideas and links whenever you can. Glad to have you as part of it.

  10. I’m doing a one year B Teach this year, and officially created a teaching Twitter account last week. It’s been a weird experience coming back to uni after 18 years or so and being expected to learn on my own, the things they want me to learn after many years of learning by whim from Twitter and blogs (I’m keeping the two Twitter accts separate at the this stage). That learning has been primarily about social justice and general technology stuff, but my natural instinct was to approach learning to teach the same way. It’s been fun doing a course that’s encouraging us to flit about, popping in here, following a link there – that’s how I’ve been learning for the last 5 or 6 years! 

    And the hypocrisy of me walking into classrooms and doing exactly what I find irritating about uni isn’t lost on me either. If I ever resolve how to meet the requirements of standardised testing while providing a more smorgasbord approach to their learning (HA!) I’ll be sure to tweet it. 🙂

    1. Ahh, but I crossed the streams here – it didn’t ask me which Twitter account to post from! There’s always more to learn about tech!

  11. Being new to the profession, I cannot exactly compare Twitter-aided PD with non-Twitter-aided PD, but the 2-3 hours I’ve already spent this afternoon reading articles and watching videos relating to teaching (and specifically technological frontiers in teaching) show its merits. As long as I’m able to drag myself away from it and allocate my time wisely, I’m sure Twitter is going to be an invaluable resource.

    1. I can relate to you when you say that you may have to drag yourself away from twitter.  That’s my fear exactly! I feel that I will not be able to allocate my time appropriately, and so miss doing some of the essential things I need to do because of my lifestyle.                                                                                  

  12. I am a total twitter convert. I just wish I’d started a few years earlier to have
    kick-started my PD. But, hey, better late than never. I like your advice
    on how to handle the flow – just go with the flow… if you like it,
    star it…. if you miss it, don’t stress it coz if it’s really that
    interesting, it’ll be RT. DLDG2011

  13. Twitter looks the goods as far as keeping abreast of what I need to know as a prospective teacher, and to read the occasional tweet by Stephen Colbert because that guy is funny.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.