“I Found Myself Retweeting”: Using Twitter Chats to Build Professional Learning Networks

“I Found Myself Retweeting”: Using Twitter Chats to Build Professional Learning Networks

Julie A. Delello (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA) and Annamary L. Consalvo (The University of Texas at Tyler, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7567-2.ch005

Abstract

This chapter describes a mixed-method, multiple case study that examined ways in which synchronous educational Twitter chats were used, first, to enhance graduate and undergraduate university student learning, second, to build professional networks, and third, to provide a loosely regulated means to achieving self-determined professional development goals. Findings suggest that while difficult at the onset, participation in Twitter educational chats was an enhancement to students' overall course learning experience. Specifically, university students' use of chats for educators helped them achieve social presence in this virtual environment, as well as to better understand the connections between positive student-teacher relationships and K12 student learning. Included are recommendations for use of Twitter synchronous educational chats in the college classroom as well as future directions in research.
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Social Media, Teacher Education, And Professional Learning

College students have grown up in a world that is always plugged in and turned on. Anderson and Rainie (2012) used the term “hyperconnected” to refer to those millennials, who are constantly tethered to their devices. Instead of socializing with friends in the same physical space, the new normal is one of increasing interactions with varying social networks (Eagan, Stolzenberg, Ramirez, Aragon, Suchard, & Hurtado, 2014). According to Junco, Heiberger, and Loken (2010), social media platforms are vital to the American college student’s life. In fact, more than 72% of millennial college students have a social media presence and update their network at least once a day (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). Furthermore, research has suggested that more than half of college students are continuously connected to popular social media platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter (Smith & Anderson, 2018). This chapter examines ways in which Twitter chats were used, first, to enhance graduate and undergraduate university student learning; second, to build professional networks; and third, to provide a loosely regulated means to achieving self-determined professional development goals.

In 2010, The U.S. Department of Education released its National Education Technology Plan, Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology, which suggested that educators “leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures” (Office of Educational Technology, p. 4). The New Media Consortium predicted that social media will be used as a platform for continuous sharing of information and collaboration in education over the next five years (Adams Becker et al., 2017). Validating this view of the near future, Delello, McWhorter, and Camp (2015) suggested that the use of social media in higher education may better create a sense of community, engage students in the learning process, and help students form a more personal meaning of the material.

As teacher-educators, the authors of this chapter sought ways relevant to “hyperconnected” college students to build a sense of affiliation with their professional communities early in their careers, specifically during their professional preparation. Research shows that teachers who engage regularly with long-term, authentic, sustaining professional learning such as collaborative groups (Darling-Hammond, Hyler, & Gardner, 2017), professional organizations (Webster-Wright, 2017), and communities that support professional learning (Stoll, Bolam, McMahon, Wallace, & Thomas, 2006), tend to report more satisfaction (Webster-Wright, 2017) and, perhaps unsurprisingly, are better teachers (Roehrig, Dubosarsky, Mason, Carlson, & Murphy, 2011). The authors concur with Webster-Wright’s (2017) observation that while professional learning “cannot be controlled, in that no one can make another person learn, professionals can be supported to continue to learn in their own authentic way while taking into account the expectations of their working contexts” (p. 725). Particularly when working with college students who are newcomers to a profession, who are still, themselves, “betwixt and between” (Cook-Sather, 2006, p. 110) being neither fully a student nor a professional educator, it makes sense to find familiar pathways for them to venture outside school walls and learn from other educators, who are also committed to their own professional learning.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Twitter: A social media platform where people communicate with one another using 280-character tweets, images, videos, and hashtags.

Hashtag (#): The # sign added to a word or phrase.

Asynchronous: Communication that is not occurring in “real-time” such as email and texting.

Microblog: A blog or update, usually posted online, where users share short text messages, images, video, and hyperlinks.

Tweet: A short text message of up to 280 characters shared on the social media platform Twitter.

Professional Learning Network (PLN): A community of individuals who share like interests and learn from one another.

Social media: Online tool or platform that allows users to communicate and share interests with others.

Synchronous: Real-time communication such as instant messaging and video conferencing.

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