Twitter as a professional development tool. Love it or hate it?

This week I attended a conference about professional development in Scotland.  The participants were Community Learning and Development workers (CLD). I was there to show how the various ways in which a SMARTboard could be used for teaching, training and groupwork. There was also a focus on the use of ‘social media’ as a professional development tool and a way of engaging with individuals.

What struck me most forcefully is the way in which ‘social media’ (mostly defined as Facebook and Twitter), polarised the audience, with strong emotions on both sides. Many were strongly in favour of these engagements, but others felt ‘social media’ is more of a force for harm than good. Many of the debates were about using social media to connect with young and vulnerable people, a topic which does require sensitivity, and which is not the focus of this blog post. Instead I choose to focus on social media as a tool of professional development, an aspect which I think the conference neglected.

During the debate, I chatted to a participant who said: ‘you don’t do that twitter, do you?’  I felt a bit like the man who was asked ‘when did you stop beating your wife?’.  The question felt very leading, and the questioner was fully expecting me to confirm that whilst ‘cruelty to animals’, ‘being a Jedward fan’ and ‘parking in disabled spaces’ were all little vices of mine I was happy to admit to, I would not be caught dead sending a tweet. Awkward.  I shrugged and admitted that I did go on a twitter ‘a little bit’, which got me a very disappointed look.

But I can totally understand hostility to twitter, especially when its use is brought up within the context of a professional community with a vague but palpable notion lurking in the background that people should really get an account and start tweeting.

Twitter is opaque in the extreme to the outsider; a welter of unfathomable terms and a clique of weird rituals.  Evoking religious metaphors is not completely out of place here.  Just as believers wrap themselves in a cloak of flim-flammery which makes it hard for neophytes to penetrate, so twitter users appear as a ‘cult of the initiated’ in which newcomers are bound to make fools of themselves.  And twitter is very like Marmite, most people have a sufficient taste of it and declare themselves to love it or hate it.  Paradoxically for the social network which appears the most ephemeral (140 characters shot out into the ether), twitter requires hard-work and a strange dedication for it to work, and this contributes to the ‘love it, or hate it’ vibe.

Twitter can be a fantastic professional development tool though. I can think of no other way to find people working in your own area so quickly and have such a direct contact with them. They will tweet links and articles and thoughts which will be immediately useful to you. It’s like duplicating yourself many times over. The slight time penalty of checking your timeline should be more than paid off with your enhanced view of what is happening in your area right now. And the paradox is that you can do this without ever sending a single tweet. Simply follow people who tweet about stuff you are interested in and these benefits will accrue immediately.  Some will follow you back, some won’t.  But you get to earwig the conversation like a bystander at a cocktail party. Once you start to tweet, your following should increase quickly and you’ll be drawn into the virtuous circle of sharing, debating and conversation which is twitter at its best.

But explaining the power of twitter to those who have not tweeted is a little like forcing toast and marmite into the mouths of your breakfast companions whilst shouting: ‘taste this you bastard, it’s bloody gorgeous!’

In other words, not the done thing.

17 thoughts on “Twitter as a professional development tool. Love it or hate it?

  1. Excellent blog Matt!! Thank you! Only joined twitter a few days ago- was v dubious before I joined, and am total convert now. If I hadn’t tried it I would NOT have believed how amazingly useful it is and how you can connect with exactly the kind of people you want to connect with- and lots of them- it’s amazing! Unlike marmite, I think most people who try it will love it- it’s the trying it out without being convinced that’s the hurdle. I go on about it now to anyone and everyone and I can tell they don’t know what I’m talking about, saying things like ‘I’m very happy for you,but it’s not for me”. To which I can only say: First, read this blog, and second, join twitter and see for yourself!!

  2. Love this! My favorite part is, “I can think of no other way to find people working in your own area so quickly and have such a direct contact with them.” I had never thought of Twitter as a force for evil–this is an important perspective to respect when talking about Twitter with other teachers. Being a twittervangelist (to steal your religious metaphors), I appreciate this point of view. Thanks.

  3. I agree that twitter is an awesome way to reach a lot of people and effectively engage them in meaningful reflection of what is current in education.

  4. “But explaining the power of twitter to those who have not tweeted is a little like forcing toast and marmite into the mouths of your breakfast companions whilst shouting: ‘taste this you bastard, it’s bloody gorgeous!’”

    I know exactly how you feel. You can practically hear the rift in the audience when the topic of Twitter is brought up. When people have their own preconceived notions about a subject, it’s pretty difficult to get them to see it from a different perspective. People think that the way that the “common person” uses Twitter is how it’s defined, but the fact of the matter is that Twitter is what you make of it, and that’s what I typically use in my Twittevangelism.

  5. Love the last line. Made me laugh out loud. I’ve been on twitter only a few months but Amloving the PD I am getting by following other educators on Twitter. Also the discussion generated among those I work with.

  6. I have yet to adopt Twitter even though I have an account. Once, presenting about lecture capture at a conference, I requested that people do not tweet as I found it distracting and others had complained after earlier sesions. Of course the ‘offenders; could have been e-mailing or anything else. The point I am making is that Twitter divided opinions and I well remember the coffeee break discussion. At the time I proposed that a vowel needed changing in the title.
    Several years on I still don’t use it but have to concede that I should make an effort, especially as professionaly I should keep up with susch things.
    However I am starting to get communication overload with e-mail, blogs, Facebook, Twitter etc. not to mention mobile phone calls, texts and land line. It is a wonder I have time to achieve anything.
    Anyway Matt, your blog will act as a catalyst for me to at least try Twitter and see how I get on.

  7. Literally logged on to Twitter for the first time this morning as I have a new literacy role in the school I work in and want to know more about ideas on how it could enhance this aspect of learning?
    All very exciting!

  8. Nicely done Matt! My professional development and profile has been greatly enhanced by participating and engaging with my peers and others since I joined Twitter two years ago. It can be hit and miss, of course, and I remember well our exchange last year over AW and the Norwegian atrocity – a huge learning point for me about showing up outside of my professional arena and entering the twitterverse of real life. I firmly believe there is room for a presence in both, but one needs to be as careful about one’s opinions and how one shares them ‘in the wild’ as one tries to do in the professional. I always find your tweets valuable and continue to follow with interest.

    • thanks for commenting, I do remember the Amy Winehouse and Norway exchange… a learning curve for me too (I can be a bit too definite in my opinions sometimes). Twitter is quickfire and immediate, so at its best it gives you a real chance to interact online and get a real sense of how dialogue can work online….

  9. Hi Matt,
    Pretty intense post! I really enjoyed reading it (especially the part about Twitter questioning bit and how you compared Twitter to Marmite). Personally I might fall into the middle group – neither loving nor hating it. There are times when I love Twitter and days when I just can’t be bothered. I’m more of an off line person and sometimes I simply forget there’s such a thing as Facebook or Twitter. Social media fanatics would probably condemn me and call me ‘sinful’ for saying that.
    I agree that Twitter is a great sharing tool. I can see its usefulness if it comes to professional development. I often use it for work and I know some of my colleagues use it too. Social media are the place to stumble upon breaking news, interesting facts – which you might not have discovered otherwise. (Look at me, I actually found your post because someone I follow on Twitter retweetted it!). But there are also some downfalls of social networking tools and learning leaders need to know where and when to draw a line.
    Your post inspired me to write something as well: http://bit.ly/NK9X03

  10. Great post, Twitter only came alive for me when I found I could follow like minded (and not so like minded) people working in my field and start to have a conversation with them. I lurked to begin with and got lots of value from that but once the conversations started I didn’t look back. Thanks to the #ConnectingHR community for making me welcome.

  11. Pingback: Can Social Media Help Overcome The Problems We Face In Gifted Education?: Part Two « Gifted Phoenix's Blog

  12. Pingback: What does Twitter have to do with Marmite and learning? | Commelius learning blog

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