Can Twitter replace traditional professional development?

Twitter and Facebook might soon replace traditional professional development for teachers. Instead of enduring hours-long workshops a few times a year, teachers could reach out to peers on the Internet in real time for advice on things like planning a lesson (or salvaging a lesson that’s going wrong), overcoming classroom management problems, or helping students with disabilities.

Or, at least, that’s what a group of Internet-savvy educators who convened in New York City this week are hoping.

A presenter at the #140edu conference. (photo courtesy of @mbteach, via Twitter)

“Being connected [through social-networking sites] is an opportunity for growth anytime, anywhere,” said Steve Anderson, director of instructional technology for the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina, speaking yesterday at the second annual #140edu conference, a reference to Twitter’s 140 character limit for tweets. A teacher can go on Twitter, he added, and “learn 10 new things.”

Traditional forms of on-the-job training for teachers have been much-maligned in recent years by experts and by teachers themselves. “Many times professional development is like herding cattle: We’re taking everybody in the same direction. We’re going to learn the same thing,” said Eric Sheninger, principal of New Milford High School in northern New Jersey.

For-profit companies, nonprofits and universities make lots of money providing training to schools, but little research exists on what types of professional development for teachers work best. Increasingly, schools and districts are adopting what experts say are more promising ways of training teachers that involve more coaching and teacher collaboration.

But some educators who attended the #140edu conference want to push the envelope further, to make teacher training even more individualized and self-directed. Among the attendees were teachers and principals who keep blogs documenting their daily travails and successes in the classroom, which work as guideposts for others and forums where they can glean tips. Some have thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends.

Kyle Pace, an instructional technology specialist for the Lee’s Summit School District, near Kansas City, gave an example of how personal networks and crowd-sourcing on the Internet could improve on the old ways of training teachers:

“A teacher could be teaching a lesson on the Civil War. That lesson could bomb. They could go to their network, pose a question, ask for a resource. In the next period they could have new resources, things to try immediately,” he said.

“Traditional professional development can’t offer that immediacy of being a connected educator,” Pace added.

In-person interaction shouldn’t be completely discarded, however, said Sheninger, who says he has revolutionized his school partly through help from people he met via Twitter. “I value my face-to-face connections more than I do my virtual ones,” he said. “Technology flattens our ability to connect with people. It just makes things easier. It’s not the only way I connect with people.”

Indeed, at the conference, a room set aside for in-person mingling and chatting was often more crowded than the auditorium where panelists were giving their talks.

POSTED BY ON August 1, 2012

Comments & Trackbacks (19) | Post a Comment

Stephanie Hirsh

We know that educators benefit when they have access to many resources and tools to reach their goals. No single model of professional learning is sufficient to achieve every goal. Effective professional learning that produces intended changes in educator practice and results for all students is guided by standards for design and implementation. While the introduction of new processes and tools adds to the possibilities for how educators learn, why must current practices that have demonstrated impact be discarded at the same time?

Sarah Garland

Interesting points, thanks Stephanie. One of the sessions at the conference was about teachers who are “connected” (who were referred to as a new species of educator) versus the majority teachers who are not. I think teaching is one of those jobs where one might easily avoid looking at a computer and checking email most of the day, so I wonder how easily these technologies will fit in to most teachers’ daily lives. For some it’s clearly a natural shift, for a lot of others I’m guessing the face-to-face “old” way of doing things will still be predominant.

Justin Baeder

Stephanie, I think you’re right to point out that the obvious answer to the question in the post’s title is “no.” It’s akin to asking if books you find lying around in the teacher’s lounge can replace graduate school.

The velocity of exchange on Twitter is great and useful for many purposes, but it’s not exactly deep learning in most cases. I’ve recently noticed that most of the links and retweets I see on Twitter point to blog posts with titles like “Top 10 iPad apps” and “57 websites for teaching the Civil War.” I get the impression that most of this is just people googling and then compiling barely-annotated, poorly vetted lists.

Effective professional development must be both sound and relevant to your work and needs as a professional. Twitter can certainly help with this (it’s been great for me), and in-person PD can be great. Neither is automatically great, and neither should be ignored.

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Solomon Senrick

Not only can Twitter lead to personalized professional development, but it also ensures that teachers use skills that we want students to be proficient in. For instance, when selecting who to follow, the teachers must think critically about the many tweets they read, in order to follow those people who will add value to their twitter feeds. We want our students to be able to identify the resources that will help them with any task they have. Also, using twitter helps teachers communicate effectively and creatively, thanks to the 140 character limit. Students also need this communication skill to be efficient and effective in the information age. When we as teachers practice such ’21st century skills’, we can better model and teach them to our students.


Greetings from the UK.

I think the previous commenter is right when they say the answer to the headline has to be “no.” But like many others I have found twitter – along with my blog – a great way to extend and assist my cpd. I think of twitter as a vast teachers’ lounge, where any question reaches a wide audience. It’s also a great way to get inspiration when stuck. It’s not so good for explaining big ideas, a challenge we sometimes find on the twitter chat #sciteachjc. This is intended as a way for educators to discuss relevant research in an attempt to better link evidence with practice.

Ashley Simmons

I personally love using Twitter and other online formats for professional development, but there is such a danger in this all or nothing approach to education. Someone gets a great idea and the “old” ways are abandoned as outdated. I look at technology as a tool to enhance what we are already doing and to make professional development more accessible for all teachers, no matter their schedule or location.

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Jeff Carpenter

The answer to the question is “no,” for the reasons mentioned in previous comments. There is no silver bullet that will make teaching easy or learning to teach easy. Twitter can serve the useful purpose of connecting people to people and to answers to their questions, but it’s a somewhat limited medium. It should be one course in a healthy PD diet. Also, the article fails to mention the many regularly scheduled twitter chats that discuss particular topics related to education, such as Tuesday 7 pm EST #edchat.

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Su Nightingale

At some point Twitter will also find itself shelved along with older social networking tools in favour of something intuitive; these are all support tools which mediate the physical distance between participants in the learning process and bridge the gap.

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