Twitter in Education – Barriers and possible solutions?

After a wry commentary on the ‘10 Stages of Twitter‘ many educators have commented on the barriers that exist to twitter use. As a proposed channel of communication for iPad use in school, it is important to investigate these barriers and address them for staff.

  • ACCESS – It is all very well popping onto twitter if you have a smartphone that allows you access with one tap of an icon. It is a very different experience if you are logging in via the website just to scroll through a timeline you don’t engage with
  • UNDERSTANDING – Twitter fans have countless tales to tell about colleagues who ‘don’t get twitter’. It is a difficult medium to explain sometimes, even though its simplicity is its strength. A virtual chat with people you have never met is alien to some, particularly those who use Facebook as a measuring tool. Friends on Facebook have a link that suggests a reason for communication. The most positive experiences on twitter can come from people who merely share a common interest
  • STIGMA aka ‘GET A LIFE’ – Why waste time on twitter when you should be living your life? There is a balance to be found with social media but in order to witness the benefits of twitter, a little time needs to be invested. The resistance to ‘new’ social media is easily supported by a flippant rejection citing the ‘youth of today’. This stigma needs to be removed as the positives far outweigh the negatives
  • TIME – Adding to the burden of paperwork and information isn’t an option for most colleagues and immediately creates an issue. ‘Converts’ appreciate that twitter can actually save time but this doesn’t help any new observer. In terms of time spent, developing a Personal Learning Network is front-loaded. This can prove daunting and lead to a dismissal of worth
  • PUBLIC OPINION – The spectre of judgement by a public audience is of great concern to many. The fact that tweets are in the public domain,or unsuitable, has been demonised by many commentators. The rule that ‘if you wouldn’t say it to your grandmother, don’t tweet it’ isn’t enough of an explanation.

A number of solutions have been suggested to remove these barriers and are proving fruitful alongside our iPad trial:

  • Allow time for twitter professional development with any presentation immediately followed up with individual trouble-shooting and support
  • Create a ‘ring-fenced‘ twitter trial zone. In reality this is a number of protected twitter accounts that follow each other with no fear of external input
  • Provide staff with a mobile device with easy access to twitter
  • Publish case studies and evidence of twitter enhancing learning for students. Staffroom information gleaned from a twitter source is particularly useful
  • Interact with any new colleague on twitter to encourage repetition of ‘good practice’. Simply conducting a twitter chat can illustrate how easy the process can be
  • Encourage the following of hashtags to illustrate the variety of language used by members of the twitter community

The desire of twitter educators to introduce the medium to colleagues is fuelled by the very reason they are so keen on the medium. The collaborative nature of the twitter community directly complements the sharing of good practice within an establishment.

If I’m honest I hope we are successful in introducing as many colleagues as possible to twitter. Professional development doesn’t get much better?

About Daniel Edwards
Director of Innovation & Learning at the Stephen Perse Foundation schools, Cambridge, UK (stephenperse.com). Interested in global connectivity for all and risk taking in education. Keen to discuss all aspects of learning and digital strategy. Also @syded06 on twitter.

24 Responses to Twitter in Education – Barriers and possible solutions?

  1. @DrHuxTM says:

    Love this!

    Have you considered the barriers to student-teacher interactions via twitter? The above quite rightly seems to discuss twitter use by staff as a first step. What after that?

  2. @DrHuxTM says:

    Just myself in the department tweeting at the moment, but half a dozen or so staff (out of approx 100) across the school – but it is at an early stage. Keen on using twitter as a communication tool for classes. Will let you know how I go on. There must be a blog in this!

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  5. Twitter as CPD for teachers – a 3 min video to share with non-believers ;) bit.ly/Kb5UDZ

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  9. Kirsten Thompson | @KirstenT says:

    Interesting post, thanks :) some other points that are important to consider: institutional policies relating to the use of social media and cloud computing; educating colleagues and students regarding data protection and e-safety; creating accounts on a space which is hosted outside of the EU (the implications of this for personal data protection) – Twitter is signed up to the US-EU and US-Swiss Safe Harbor Frameworks which is an attempt to bridge the gap between EU and US data protection laws – how many institutions have guidance on supporting the use of Twitter and other social media and cloud computing services? JISC Legal produced a very helpful guide last year ‘Facing up to Facebook’ (sorry, I don’t have the link to hand) and the guidance in this booklet is relevant to other social media platforms, in the context of education – recommended reading :-)

  10. Kirsten Thompson | @KirstenT says:

    Not one of the most exciting challenges to consider, but one which may cause educators/institutions one of the biggest headaches if we don’t address it…

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  12. James Michie says:

    I believe that social networks are one of the best ways to engage learners in an extended, meaningful dialogue about their learning.

    I’d advocate teachers and schools to focus on pedagogy first. To ban Twitter from the outset is pedagogically inept, in that it speaks to a significantly poor understanding of learning. Scientists learn through testing and experimentation. With technologies and their use in the classroom, I believe it is the same. Therefore, don’t be afraid of Twitter but try it out… look at the ideas Daniel has shared above for a start. And there are many more educators using Twitter, developing best practices and sharing them online. The advice and guidance is evolving and available. Try it out, find out how it works, give it a chance.

    I should probably therefore, provide my own experience and ideas:

    As a teacher my personal learning network (PLN) has become an invaluable resource. It has helped me to grow as a teacher, find support with ideas, classroom practice, finding articles to support my M.Ed studies and so on. The benefits have almost become too many to mention. What I would say is, I am better at what I do, not because of Twitter, but because of the connections I have made. The dialogue is key. Not least during weekly events such as #ukedchat on Thursday evenings. Every Thursday a dynamic group of educators get together and intensely discuss a topic that has been voted on. It is very engaging and has provided both food for thought as well as many new ways of approaching learning and teaching.

    It is probably clear by now that I am a fan and my use has gone beyond professional development, becoming part of my classroom practice.

    One way I used Twitter this year was to share useful tips and links with my students prior to exams in English and Media at GCSE and A-Level. I used hash tags to allow students to find/follow the tips, these included #a2media, #omamtips, #poemtips and so on. The response from students was overwhelmingly positive. The hash tag was re-tweeted a lot as were many of the individual tips spreading them across Twitter, picked up by students from other schools.

    Moreover, a number of students replied to me, asking specific questions which I was happy to answer. I think it is here, that for some teachers, the ethical questions begin: “Should I be interacting with students online”? My response to this is simple: “Why not?” For me the arguments against such interactions are usually born out of ignorance. There is a lack of understanding about how Twitter works, as well as a stigma that has been created with regard to adults interacting with young people beyond the four walls of school.

    In response to this I think it is worth considering the following points:

    – If a student asked questions in class you would answer them. How is this any different?
    – If a students asked these questions on a forum, on the school VLE, you would answer them. How is this any different?
    – Young people interact with adults outside of school regularly. How is this any different?

    And finally, we are professionals, we must behave like professionals. My decision to engage with my students outside the confines of the ‘walled-garden’ is one based on an understanding that learning does not happen in a SILO; that school does not begin and end when the bell rings.

    A final thought:

    Catherine Cronin talks about three tenets at HE study: “openness, social media, student voice/choice”. I believe that we should be embracing those values at KS4-5 as well. Twitter is one way that we can do that.

    • syded says:

      Thank you so much for this James. By coincidence I have a meeting a little later on and would like to use this to guide part of the discussion.

      • James Michie says:

        You’re welcome Daniel. I’ve been meeting to put down on (digital) paper at least some of what I have been doing with Twitter for a while. After reading your post I thought it would be an ideal time to share. :-)

  13. rpwillan says:

    I’ve been using twitter with GCSE students for about a year. Started by tweeting links etc but then moved on to more interactive ideas. Tried a twitter revision lesson one evening. It was hectic but students even started helping each other! One benefit (which will concern some) is that experts from revision sites even tweeted in some answers! Last years cohort (now doing A levels) still tweet me asking for help…and have joined in to help this new cohort…

    One other point. IF you are going to communicate online, then the public nature of twitter provides protection for the staff member, kind of like not holding private discussions with students behind closed doors. Also I can be easily checked up on. Admittedly there is some caution required but surely students are more likely to receive unwanted attention from discussions they have on twitter about parties, drinking and sex than about discussions about chemistry and ionic bonding…

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  16. neilatkin63 says:

    Has anyone else found that for many school leaders twitter is seen as the same as Facebook and so should be banned?. I like your point Daniel about how the culture of twitter facilitates learning and communicating with strangers in a way that is unthinkable on Facebook.

  17. Colleen Lee says:

    You sum up a lot of the ‘objections’ that I hear to Twitter from educators. Wrote about ways to ‘get better at twitter’ on my own blog as well (http://bit.ly/1994Pcc) …As for the ‘stream’ – it’s the reason I am so big on teaching new Twitter users to use ‘lists’ – for me its like creating ‘channels’ that make an endless stream of tweets more meaningful!

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