Friday, December 9, 2011

For Real, Twitter is Professional Development!

Get ready! I’m going to get serious here as I talk about how amazing Twitter is as professional development. It’s easy to talk about how much fun Twitter is and how great the people are on Twitter but I would like to get serious about how and why Twitter truly is wonderful professional development for teachers.

I said get ready and I meant it…do you remember the sociocognitive theory of learning? The sociocognitive theory, based on ideas from Piaget, Vygotsky and schema theory, explains that social interactions and cognitive development jointly influence learning. In order to learn, people need to interact with others while accessing information at their cognitive level. We expand our own thinking by discussing new information with others and digesting what they have to say. I really believe in this for our students but especially for ourselves as lifelong learners. We should be forever developing professionally as teachers. 

You’ve heard of PLNs or PLCs, right? Professional Learning Networks or Professional Learning Communities? Why exactly are these so important? PLNs and PLCs aren’t just fads or fancy acronyms, they are valid and, I believe, integral to our development as professionals because at their core they epitomize the sociocognitive theory of learning. It’s important to interact with other teachers, librarians, and administrators to be able to expand our thinking and develop new ideas. Our PLNs become our support system for thinking outside the box. Without this personal interaction you easily turn your classroom, library, or office into a literal box where you isolate yourself, your teaching, and your students. If we think of this in terms of sociocognitive development, how can you grow and learn as a professional if you don’t engage with others?

We’ve established the fact that PLNs and PLCs need to be part of our lives as teachers, librarians and administrators. A network or community of professionals who we can talk to, share with, learn from, vent with, grow with is essential. There are various ways to develop such a network or community. I have found that Twitter is the absolutely, hands-down, indisputably, best way for me to develop this network. My PLN on Twitter is the most amazing PD I’ve ever encountered. Here’s why:

#1 – Global PLN
I don’t live far from the town I grew up in. I’m only an hour and a half from where I went to college. Yet everyday I talk to people from not only all over the nation but sometimes around the world. Twitter has helped me connect more closely to my colleagues who do teach near me – in  my district or in Illinois – but I also have peers in Florida, Michigan, California, Texas, Ohio, and that’s just the beginning of my list. Not only are they all over, they are all passionate about their teaching and about learning from others. These people are constantly sharing ideas and interacting in discussions that push me to develop as a professional but stick with me along the way.

#2 - PLN At My Fingertips 24/7
I have a family – a husband and two little kids – that I love to spend time with. Twitter lets me go home and be with them while still being able to interact with my PLN on my own time. I don’t have to be at school or in a meeting to be with my PLN thanks to Twitter. I can be anywhere and still have my PLN right at my fingertips.

When I go to professional development in my district, I usually am away from my teaching for 1 or 2 days. I might engage in great discussions with colleagues but then I go back to my teaching and rarely continue those great conversations. Twitter allows me to have ongoing discussions about teaching. I can go over an idea with my PLN and then go back to them and talk about how it went after I try it. They are there when I need them any time day or night.

#3 – PLN A La Carte
Using Twitter I can cater my professional development to my exact needs. I’m not limited to what is offered in my district or what I can get release time for. If I read a professional book by a certain author, I can (hopefully) go and follow them on Twitter and then follow who they are following on Twitter and end up with great conversations going on about what I want to learn more about. If the author isn't on Twitter, I can usually find people who are talking about his or her work. This is a perfect example of the sociocognitive theory of learning at work in terms of being able to learn at your own cognitive level by interacting with others. I can follow as few or as many people as I want. I can join in on discussions about #kidlitchat, #daily5, #mglitchat, or #yalitchat. If I feel like I want to strengthen a weakness or strengthen a strength, I can focus my learning right there on Twitter.

People on Twitter tweet and share links to great ideas about teaching and books and education in general. I am capable of searching and for ideas and going through sites to gather new ideas or to see what other teachers are doing. With Twitter, I can access what my PLN thinks is valuable and know that when I click on a link I’m probably going to find something worthwhile when the page loads. Beyond this though, my PLN is talking about ideas and posing questions and making changes and thinking and discussing how these ideas might work.

If you weren't convinced that Twitter or other social media can actually be considered professional development, I hope I have changed your mind or at least challenged you to think of Twitter in a new light. When it is so closely linked to sociocognitive theory, I think it is hard to dispute it's relevance as effective professional development in education. For real, Twitter IS professional development! Power to PD!


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