Education Opinion

Teaching Teachers to Tweet (Part II)

By Justin Reich — August 13, 2012 3 min read
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Before we teach how to tweet, we must teach why one would tweet at all...

Folks seemed to find my last post about Teaching Teachers to Tweetsomewhat useful (special thanks to Larry Ferlazzo and Eric Sheninger for some early re-tweets), although as I re-read the post over the weekend, I realized that something important was missing. We shouldn’t just teach teachers to tweet; we need to offer them a model of lifelong learning (specifically, Personal Learning Networks) in which learning to use Twitter makes sense.

The theme of Teaching Teachers to Tweet Part I was this: Don’t just teachers teachers to use the functions of Twitter; teach them how to read the language of Twitter and follow community conventions and then give them specific ideas about how to use this tool for meaningful learning.

To some extent, that resonates with the central message of every post on this blog about teacher professional development: don’t just talk about technology; instead, always ensure that technology in the service of learning goals.

But as I looked back on the post, I realized that I hadn’t sufficiently discussed a really important point: we should teach the tool (Twitter) in the context of learning goals (a disposition towards self-directed professional learning) and a pedagogical model (Personal Learning Networks). Teaching any particular technology (which will surely be eclipsed by something else one day) in isolation from learning goals and pedagogical models is just teaching people to click buttons.

I teach about Twitter in a workshop called Personal Learning Networks. The ostensible point of the workshop (often the advertised point of the workshop) is to teach educators how to thoughtfully use social media to craft a network of human and content resources that supports lifelong learning. The subversive goal of the workshop is to get teachers all excited about PLNs as a model for adult learning, and then to ask the question, “If you think this model sounds great for adults, shouldn’t we be helping young people build these networks as well?”

So before talking about Twitter per se, we talk about two kinds of challenges.

First, there is the challenge of the overwhelming amount of information available on the Web. As my colleague Greg Kulowiec says, we can solve this problem by searching people, not the Internet. In order to have people to search, you need to cultivate a network of good thoughtful people and engage them in conversation.

The second challenge is that most teacher professional development is prescribed, top-down, and low-quality. I use two images from Alec Courous to illustrate this problem (which he shared as early as 2008!). The first is a typical teacher network where educators are primarily recipients of information.

The second is a model of a networked teacher, who intentionally organizes human and content resources to foster lifelong learning.

These two challenges lead naturally to goals and models.

If the problem is too much unstructured information and too much over-structured professional development, then the new goal is to encourage educators to develop a disposition to seek out their own professional learning opportunities throughout their career. The model for them to do so is this idea of a Personal Learning Network, the intentional use of social media and peer production tools to create a learning environment that (relatively) easily allows them to act upon that disposition.

Now we’re ready to start clicking buttons on Twitter.

So this framing was the missing piece from the last post. At this point, you can go back to the original Teaching Teachers to Tweet post, and use all the ideas there for teaching how to use Twitter as one specific tool to build a Personal Learning Network. After Twitter, I usually mention a few other resources for building a PLN, like Ning’s, blogging, RSS social bookmarking sites like Diigo, and EdCamps and unconferences. Again, it’s not about any one tool or combination of tools, but supporting a model of lifelong learning.

(I should note that all of the above doesn’t take a long time: 15 minutes of talky-talk or Socratic dialogue maybe. And it is important to get to practices really quickly in a workshop, because ultimately practices drive beliefs. But it’s also important to orient people to the broader goals and models that specific technologies should fit into. Technology should always be in the service of learning.)

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