Social Media Turning Out To Help Teachers Gain PD

When teachers who use social media were asked to cite their biggest concerns for education, what topped the list were technology in the classroom (cited by 65 percent of teachers) and professional development (specified by 58 percent). While technology is very helpful for student engagement and motivation, where it really shines is in providing professional development and opportunities for teachers to collaborate with colleagues. And social media is turning out to be a powerful tool for those purposes.

Those results and others surfaced in a technology and professional development survey conducted by the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education Master of Arts in Teaching program. The survey was taken by 310 people, 72 percent of whom were teachers; the remainder had other education titles. Potential respondents were culled from two primary sources: educators with very low or no participation in education Twitter chats and those who were actively involved. Four out of five were in the United States.

Because most survey participants were wooed from social media sites, the researchers readily acknowledged sampling bias but still found value in their findings related to technology usage and professional development, particularly as it involved social media. Six out of 10 participants said they were "very likely" and three out of 10 said they were "somewhat likely" to increase the use of social media tools in classrooms in the next year. In other words, the researchers pointed out, social media isn't viewed as a "distraction"; teachers hope to find ways to use it in the classroom. For example, a social studies department supervisor in Illinois commented that a Twitter chat group was useful in helping teachers figure out how to address headline-caliber events with their students, such as the death of Osama bin Laden and the Boston Marathon bombing.

That type of use reflects another truism from the survey: Social media is proving valuable in helping educators stay current on trends in their profession. The use of sites such as Twitter, Facebook and Google+ surpassed education conferences, news articles and academic journals as a go-to resource for respondents. Twitter is turning out to be the most useful for teaching resources; it was cited by 66 percent of participants. Pinterest came in second at 38 percent. LinkedIn, taglined as the "world's largest professional network," is referenced by a mere 11 percent.

The professional development that teachers seek more of falls into non-teaching areas: strategic planning, managing expectations and performance, business administration and budgeting, time management and conflict resolution were the top 5 selections.

Where they're increasingly turning to attain help in those and other areas is education Twitter chats. A Twitter chat is led by a moderator, takes place at a specific time online and uses a distinct hashtag. Sometimes the chat will have a specific theme; other times it's simply a standing engagement for participants to drop in to join the conversation.

The report cited these chats and variations on them as relevant to teachers: #Edchat, #Satchat, #ntchat, #edteach, #psychat, #Nt2t and #sschat. (Sites such as ChatSalad and Tweet Reports help users to identify potential chats and supply information about the time and day when they take place.)

"Twitter is a platform that ensures that each participant's voice is heard. Unlike at a conference or policy hearing or in an academic journal, Twitter can be used in real time and allows communities of people to have conversations while receiving immediate responses and feedback," the authors stated. "By utilizing the hashtag, educators can take charge of their own professional development and reach out to others for resources whenever and wherever."

Even among those respondents who have never participated in an education Twitter chat in the last year, 36 percent are "somewhat likely" to participate in the next 12 months. "This demonstrates that educators who may not be using Twitter as a tool recognize that they may be missing out on an important conversation," the report noted.

Among those who do use Twitter education chats, 86 percent cited the growth of their personal learning network as a benefit. Fifty-eight percent pointed to finding "creative and innovative lesson plans" through the chats, and 59 percent said they benefit from increased social activity.

"Each week I get ideas I can use in my classroom," a teacher trainer in New Orleans informed researchers. "We share best practices and innovative ed tech solutions."

The findings are available on the USC Rossier Online site here.