Twittershare: Using Twitter to improve education (Part 1)

We held a brainstorming session on Thursday with a view to exploring how we could maximise the potential of Twitter for teachers, learners, parents and other stakeholders. The initial thoughts we explored on Twitter – see #twittershare

What follows is a thought-piece (Part 1) on suggestions which emerged during the course of the meeting with a view to helping us establish an implementation strategy.

It’s important to stress from the outset that Twitter is only one tool in the box, and as such, regardless of it’s potential benefits, should always be seen as part of a wider systems based approach to educational improvement.

1. Give Twitter A focus; don’t make Twitter THE focus.

Ironically when attempting to promote the use of Twitter there is a tendency to focus upon the tool itself – as opposed to what the tool can do help us achieve our educational objectives. These objectives could be: improving student learning; creating a network of collaborative professionals; promoting partnership and understanding between parents and schools; involving stakeholders in creating new policy; sharing valuable experiences, ideas and sources with others; etc. The list of objectives is only limited by our imagination but the basic point remains the same – “Don’t make Twitter THE focus, but give Twitter A focus.”

2. Look beyond early adopters or willing volunteers

If you look at the profiles of many Educational Tweeters they often profess to have an interest in technology. That’s probably to be expected and yet to base a strategy on people’s passion for technology is to alienate a huge swathe of the population. I’m sure there are lessons to be learned here from the likes of Steve Jobs who tried to focus on making his tools align with the needs of the user – even if the user wan’t initially aware of their needs.

The second element of this principle is that so many educational initiatives across the globe have foundered on the forlorn belief that we can create change by growing beyond a band of willing volunteers. It was Professor Richard Elmore who most eloquently identified this fundamental flaw in the majority of educational change strategies. For the reality is that such change models rarely extend beyond that self selecting group leaving the majority of professionals to continue with their practice relatively unscathed. The unspoken philosophy adopted by such individuals can be captured by the phrase “I won’t get on this one as there be another one coming along soon”, i.e. if they keep their heads down their practice will go unchallenged.

3. Help leaders to lead by example

This is an imperative for changing the practice of the profession yet all too often we (leaders) expect and even encourage others to adopt practices when our own continues to conform to what we know – “don’t do as I do, do as I say”. It’s difficult to work out exactly why this is the case and it must be something to do with the fear that we may be perceived by our employees to be wasting our time on something which perhaps appears to be peripheral to the “serious” business of management.

The second obstacle is the legitimate concern that many leaders just don’t feel they have the time available to engage in anything new and possibly tangential to their central function. This concern will only be overcome if leaders are able to see that the tool can actually allow them to achieve their goals in an even more effective and time efficient manner than their current practice – if it doesn’t, then it shouldn’t be used.

4. Overcome the fear factor

We must never underestimate the fear that people have for exposing themselves to the public on an open network. Most professionals have been brought up within a highly hierarchical system where communication is decidedly up-down in nature and just as frequently controlled by others. This is not necessarily a bad thing as teachers, and even managers, can be protected from themselves, and others, in such a controlled environment.

The idea of sharing one’s thoughts, or being immediately accessible to young people or parents can be enough to put off even the most intrepid professional.

That’s why training must accompany any attempt to encourage teachers and leaders to use Twitter. That training should be aligned with the focus (see point 1) and should happen in conjunction – as opposed to the “here’s a Twitter course”.

5. Hand over the training process to our students

Teachers and school leaders are used to the traditional top down, cascade model of training which has been the dominant training approach for the last fifty years. However, by encouraging our students to become the teachers we achieve two things. Firstly, we model to students that we are also learners and that no single group has a monopoly on knowledge. Secondly, the training we would receive could be collaborative and once again model the kind of learning and teaching approach we would hope to promote in our classrooms.

6. Seek out the Ryan Giggs effect

It’s a sad fact that Twitter use exploded in the UK when people wanted to find out information about the mystery footballer at the centre of a news scandal. Not that I’m suggesting that we mirror Mr Giggs’ behaviour but that we look for events, news and possibly personalities that people can only get access to through the medium of Twitter.

7. Create the tipping point though lots of tiny steps

Promoting Twitter use will never be achieved through the traditional single BIG project approach. The approach we should be taking is to build its application into everything we do to the extent that it eventually permeates everyone’s practice. By seeking to achieve that tipping point, the group of “late” or even “never” adopters – as described in Point 2 – are much more likely to begin to make of use of the tool and, in so doing, achieve the more important underlying objective of improving educational practice.

2 thoughts on “Twittershare: Using Twitter to improve education (Part 1)

  1. Indeed, it would appear our early adopters were so keen they told their friends and I have been invited to demonstrate to two different groups at our school.

    It is pleasing to see the faculty and the group concerned want to see twitter in use because the demonstration of how it will improve their learning and teaching. The actual “twitter thing” has not excited them, what twitter can do for them has, in some cases, astounded them.

    Indeed, older teachers seeing twitter as a ploy to get their seniors to help them help the teacher move forward. A point you made yourself.

    Once I take up the offer to demonstrate to my colleagues booked already, I expect to have demonstrated the benefits to over half the teaching staff. If I get half of them on twitter, I’ll be a happy man.

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