Sunday, 23 October 2016

Using Social Online Networks in Teaching and Professional Development

I have been a long time user of social online networks both for my own professional development and as a means of connecting my learners with others beyond the four walls of our classroom.

Early Years

My earliest forays into the world of social media began as far back as 1998, when I became a member of a US based teachers List Serve, an online forum, which I also was able to receive in digest format through my email.  It was through my membership in this forum that I became aware of different teaching methodologies such as Four Blocks Guided Reading, and my first introduction to Habits of Mind. I also enjoyed the interaction with other like-minded educators, as they fulfilled a need that wasn't being met by my peers within my school community. This aligns with Karen Melhuish's observations when she noted that "...this ability to share and leverage previously invisible or unreachable networks has brought a new dimension to what it means to be a lifelong professional learner." (2013, p181).
I was also able to see the potential advantages for my children and signed up my Y2/3 class (with permission from the boss and their parents) to participate in a Key Pals project with a class in New Jersey. In those days I had one computer in my classroom and it was not linked to the Internet, so I would have the children write their emails in their draft books and then take them all home to type up and send via my own computer. It was a valuable experience, with my Levin based students learning about how they were the same and different from children across the other side of the world.
From there, this morphed into a variety of online projects with other classes over the years including: hosting and sending several travel buddies, involvement in postcard exchanges, moving on into a Monster Exchange, and in more recent years, maintaining class blogs, Quadblogging and Pass the Blog activities, among many, many others.  The biggest benefits to my children have been in having real life opportunities to develop and perfect their Literacy skills - which aligns with findings by McDowell, (2010) whose research identified
"... that there are a number of affordances of ICTs and effective e-Learning environments that may help teachers provide the conditions needed for literacy learning to occur". (p61)
Social media also gave the children an awareness of the lives of others both nationally and internationally, and of course, improved digital citizenship as I was careful to ensure that the children's interactions online were grounded in key ideas of netiquette and digital safety.

The above is a link to one of my ULearn presentations exploring the different ways I've used social media to connect my learners.

Social Media and My Professional Growth

Professionally, it would appear that 2007 would be the next defining year in my social media journey. October 2007 was the year I attended ULearn in Auckland. Ewan McIntosh was the keynote and he kept talking about Twitter and Bloggers Cafe.  Intrigued I set out to find out more about these, and from there my teaching career was transformed! Literally overnight, I set up a Twitter account, set up this blog as a professional reflection blog, followed my first few kiwi tweeps - many of whom are still good friends of mine today, and I was off on my new path as a connected educator.  The biggest thing for me was discovering that there were others like me and that they were in New Zealand as well as overseas. I was always wanting to do things that were out of step with where my school was at in terms of pedagogy and digital literacy, and it was nice to know I wasn't the only maverick out there (or what Danielle Myberg describes as a lone nut).

 My Twitter feed

As a result of my online participation in these forums I have gone on to present several times at ULearn and other conferences, I have taken my online PD into face to face settings such as EduCamps, I have been exposed to new ideas, grown exponentially as a teacher and as an individual, I have met some amazing educators in person and have learnt from them, and most importantly, the children that have been in my classes have benefitted from my online participation.

For me, social media is a vital part of my professional development tool kit and one I would hate to be without.


McDowall, S., & Team, C. E. (2010). Literacy teaching and learning in e-learning contexts. Wellington: Ministry of Education.

Melhuish, K.(2013). Online social networking and its impact on New Zealand educators’ professional learning. Master Thesis. The University of Waikato.

1 comment:

  1. I loved reading your blog post Kirstin. I have been looking into spreading our wings when it comes to global collaboration and communication and will check out your other blogs and U-learn presentation. Hearing about the success others are having with this really encourages me to jump in and give it a go, I can see the possibilities it opens up for the students in my class and school. Thank you for being another motivator for me!