What is social media and how can it be useful for teachers?
Social media for educators is a world of new ideas and resources. Teacher and social media guru Meridith Ebbs has compiled a handy guide for those trying to navigate their way in the social media world.
Social media is everywhere. You can follow the news anchor on Twitter, you ‘friend’ morning shows Sunrise or Today on Facebook and the feeds are displayed in a ticket tape along the bottom of the screen. Advertising screams follow us. Marketing and business has discovered the power of social media yet many teachers have not. Social media for educators is a world of new ideas and resources – it makes people accessible and it is possible to ‘tweet’ a person you admire and get a response.
What is the fascination with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and so on? Social media definitely has its critics but it also has its place. It is a way to connect with people you don’t see any more and with like-minded strangers. The key factor for social media being useful is balance – balancing time online, time away from family and privacy. It is important not to over share. Followers are not so interested in 50 snaps of your little treasures and personal friends are not interested in the events of your day-to-day work life. One way to overcome this problem is to divide your social media into two domains. An example may be to use Facebook for your private social media account and Twitter for your public but professional account.
Social media is a valuable tool for teachers as it offers a way to connect with like-minded professionals and share resources and ideas. It also offers an opportunity for debate and sharing ideas that challenge and improve your professional practice.
If you choose to be online, you need to check your ‘feed’ and tweet or post regularly. You need to monitor your profile as an abandoned online profile is more of a security risk to you if it is not used. People are more likely to follow and interact with an active account.
Many teachers have started Twitter accounts for their classroom. The teacher is the account owner, preferably with their school email. It is then possible to for students as young as Kindergarten to compose the tweet that is to be posted. This may include pictures of artwork or activities in the classroom. To overcome privacy issues, parents should be required to give permission to allow the use of student images. If you are still concerned, take photos of a student’s shoulder or of hands while working, this will reduce the number of faces posted online. Never post an image with a full name as this compromises student privacy.
This article is about the professional development of teachers through social media and its personal use. This article does not investigate or discuss the benefits of using social media in the classroom, and the benefits of digital citizenship for students.
What the twitter is that?
Twitter is a social media website. Twitter has a reputation for being used by celebrities ‘tweeting’ events and photos. Twitter is a tool that can be used by teachers to interact with other professionals, locate resources and answer questions, and it is also used for microblogging. A tweet consists of 140 characters and spaces and therefore is a quick way to share information. Due to the length of characters people often use abbreviations and shorten URLs by using tools that are discussed later in the article.
Professional Learning Networks (PLN)
A professional learning network is sometimes referred to as a PLN. PLNs can be people you work with or know personally, offline contacts or they may be people you haven’t met and only contact virtually through a mail list or social media. A PLN may consist of current or past colleagues, acquaintances from other schools in a similar role to you, or people you have connected with online.
The benefit of a PLN is it gives an extended international network of people who are willing to help and assist you. PLNs provide resources, links and ideas that can be used immediately or stored for another time.
When attending conferences and inter-school events PLNs go offline. Meeting an online contact at a conference is an opportunity to further develop relationships that go beyond the classroom.
How to get ‘followers’
To get followers you need to be active on Twitter and tweet regularly. Twitter teachers are very generous and will often recommend users to follow and will often follow back.
To get the most out of twitter you need to:
• Update your profile;
• Change your profile picture from an egg (to show you didn’t just hatch);
• Interact with other users;
• Retweet things you like with acknowledgement;
• Blog and share a link;
• Tweet regularly;
• Share photos and memes;
• Share tips and tricks to get organised or complete a task; and,
• Share a link to a useful site.
If you think other users will be interested in your tweet you can add a photo and tag them. People who are tagged are likely to retweet or quote your tweet. This will in turn share your tweet with their followers.
I don’t have time
The main reason often cited for not joining social media is, “I don’t have time”. Everyone has the same amount of time and it comes down to priorities. To fit Twitter into a busy schedule you could check your Twitter feed while:
• Waiting… for transport, in a queue or for a late friend;
• 10 mins at lunch break; or,
• Get up 10 mins earlier.
The benefit of Twitter is that you don’t have to read every item in your twitter feed. You can skim through your feed for tweets that catch your eye by simply:
• Checking the feed of your favourite tweeter;
• Checking your favourite ‘hashtag’ or ‘channel’ – e.g.: #aussieED; or by,
• Creating a list of favourite people.
When tweeting, to increase the number of people who see your tweets you can add hashtags. Hashtags are sometimes referred to as channels and they are used at large events, by organisations and by groups with the same interests, online. Hashtags are also used on Twitter for ‘tweet meets’ or chats. These are events that are held at regular times on Twitter and usually go for an hour. A moderator will post a series of questions at regular intervals during the hour-long chat. The questions stimulate discussion on the topic, which leads to pictures, links, resources, stories and more questions. Some popular chats on education are listed below. There are many more lists for specialty areas in English, History, PD/H and languages. To find more chats you can ask fellow tweeters or do a Google search.
Popular education chats can be found on all key learning areas (KLAs) and areas of education:
Sunday 7:30 AEST #includEDau
Sunday 8:30pm AEST #aussieED AussieED
Friday 9:00am AEST #whatisschool Craig Kemp and Laura Hill @MrKempnz and @candylandcaper
Tuesday 2nd Tuesday each month at 8pm AEDT #ozcschat Phillip Cooke @sailpip
Saturday 9-10:30 AEST #satchatoc Andrea Stringer @stringer_andrea
A slow chat is one that goes over several hours, days or a week:
@EduTweetOz #edutweetoz Corinne Campbell, Cameron Malcher @corisel, @Capitan_Typo
People you must follow – just to get you started:
Meridith Ebbs (Australia) Teacher, eLearning, Speaker Education, pedagogy, innovative teaching practice @iMerinet
Kim Sutton Teacher, co-moderator #aussieED Education @TeachMissSutton
Nick Brierley (Australia) Teacher, co-moderator #aussieED Education, innovative practice @mythisizer
Zeina Chalich (Australia) Teacher, co-moderator #aussieED Education, innovative practice @zeinachalich
Eric Sheninger (USA) Past Principal, Speaker Leadership, management styles @E_Sheninger
Jackie Child (Australia) Librarian Makerspace, library, digital literacy @jackie_child
Ian Jukes (Canada) Education Evangelist @ijukes
Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (Australia) Resources for implementing curriculum @aitsl
Teachers Education Review Podcast (Australia) Australian podcast discussing issues in education. Issues in education from the perspective of classroom teachers. @TERpodcast
EduTweetOZ (Australia) New host each week Varies depending on the hosts interests @Edutweetoz
Super-Awesome Sylvia (USA) Started her own YouTube channel at 8yo Maker Movement @MakerSylvia
Sylvia Martinez (USA) Speaker, education evangelist Maker Movement, Education @smartinez
Tips and tricks
Twitter has a limit of 140 characters and spaces. This makes posting long URLs difficult. To overcome the character limit URL shorteners are used such as http://bit.ly/1Lpmhxm to link to websites.
To create the shortened link above:
• Go to bitly.com;
• Paste the web address (URL) for the original site, to be shortened into the box at the top of the page;
• A screen will appear on the right side of the page and click on Copy; and,
• Paste the bit.ly link into your tweet.
It is possible to customise the end of the link. It is also possible to download shorteners like bit.ly as apps to iPads and mobile phones. This allows you to shorten URLs while using a mobile device.
Fitting it in
To fit long messages into 140 characters use the following acronyms:
• f2f – face to face
• brb – be right back
• Ts – teachers
• Ss – students
• Use + for and
Meridith Ebbs is a teacher St Columba Anglican School, Port Macquarie, New South Wales. She has a blended role, teaching classes from years 2-10 and working as an eLearning integrator to support the eLearning programs and teacher professional development within the school.
Meridith is a key staff member of the Professional Excellence and Innovation Centre, Port Macquarie. She develops and facilitates conferences and workshops. Meridith acts as a consultant in digital citizenship, the use of technology to enhance 21st century pedagogies and social media. Meridith is a moderator of a MOOC for Adelaide University and speaks at conferences on coding, technology and pedagogy.
Meridith is interested in computational thinking, coding and the maker movement. She is working on increasing the participation of girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) at all levels.
Meridith blogs regularly and can be followed on Twitter and Google Plus. She also curates resources on computational thinking and coding.