Social Media and Professional Engagement

I have loved Facebook since four years ago, when I arrived at The University of Michigan for my PhD program. I would post to FB before then, and joined in 2006, but I didn’t really love FB until I had PhD friends who could lament and otherwise narrate the PhD experience with me on the book of faces.

I have loved Twitter since sometime last week. I hated it before then. I couldn’t interact with my F2F friends on Twitter, bc none of them liked to tweet. And I didn’t have followers, and I didn’t know how to get them. The impetus for figuring out Twitter? A job in k12 #edtech that starts in two weeks. I know Twitter increasingly matters in the lives of teachers and teacher leaders, who create professional learning networks via social media and who share ideas and resources in organized Twitter chats and less organized RTs and MTs. Not learning to love Twitter was not an option (which is okay, because it wasn’t long before I was hooked).

This has raised new questions for me about how exactly we engage — learn, question, think, interact — professionally in social media. For me, social media has always been a site of professional connection. Connections with people I know f2f or who are interested in the same issues as me. Connection with individuals who share my professional passions — but also a few of my personal ones (I’m not ashamed to tweet about my dog, for example, or the fact that my morning run must immediately be followed by a giant vat of steaming hot coffee).

Sidenote: Some people divide these spaces — personal and professional — using Facebook as a primarily social-personal space and Twitter as primarily professional. While I understand the distinction and separation, it’s just not me. I have “more” and “less” “professional” or “personal” social medias — on FB, I’m more likely to post personal stuff, and on Twitter, I’m more likely to post stuff related to ed tech or teaching. But neither space is exclusively dedicated to one or the other; I gain and share professional resources and experiences on FB all the time, and cultivate that space as though anyone from my professional world might see it.

So how do we “learn” within spaces like this? What does this sort of quick-paced, rapid-fire sharing of links and infographics and images grant professionals as they seek to learn from one another and build professional networks (and here I’m thinking mostly about Twitter)? Because I’m new on the scene, I haven’t quite developed a system for archiving the many things I find on Twitter (suggestions welcome), but I know I have come across more potential resources and interesting articles that have challenged my thinking (and caused me to challenge the thinking of others) in the past week than I probably had in the month that preceded it. I’m not sure how much of this I have retained or thoroughly absorbed. I don’t think much. And I can’t decide if I think that’s a good thing, a bad thing, or just… a thing. Maybe it’s okay that I have only deeply engaged with a few tweets and a few conversations on Twitter. Something tells me that’s sort of what Twitter is all about — mining, archiving, storing those things that actually matter for later, and letting the noise of the rest of it pass you by.

But what does this mean for teachers who use spaces like this as sites for professional learning, engagement, and development? How do we develop “PLNs,” or professional learning networks, within spaces like this… and are those networks robust? By which I mean, are those networks lasting, or fleeting? Do we want them to be fleeting? If not, is there a way to make them more lasting, more robust? A way to take the power of a space like Twitter, which connects so many people so quickly in social networks so vast, and to combine it with the power of a space like a professional learning community of just a few teachers taking the time, in a quiet classroom, to ask difficult questions about pedagogy? Or are there online spaces that allow for some combination of these attributes, inspiring and providing space for both deep discussion and quickfire resources and soundbites?

I have no answers, obviously. The entire paragraph above consists of questions. And for that, I do apologize. But I wonder if any of you have thoughts… if you do, tweet me 😉 @lizhoman