I was recently approached by Corinne Campbell to guest host the EduTweetOz twitter account in 2014. My initial response was a combination of gentle nervousness and extreme terror as I questioned my ability to continue the incredibly high standard of information sharing achieved by my predecessors in this role. After my immediate fears subsided I started reflecting on what prompted me to begin blogging and tweeting, and on what I perceive to be the benefits of these activities for teachers. When I first started writing Matthitude around six months ago, my primary aim was to improve my writing (practise makes perfect!) as I worked on my postgraduate research degree. In addition, I hoped to connect to other educators online and widen the scope of my professional reading. Upon reflection, however, I’ve come to realise that there are far more benefits of blogging and teaching to educators. Here are six of my favourite benefits to connecting with the online education community:
1. Connecting with other educators. Though this is slightly obvious, it bears a mention.Through blogging and tweeting I’ve dramatically widened the scope of educators I’ve connected to beyond anything I could have anticipated. Doing so has allowed me to see things in new ways, consider alternative approaches to education, and really broaden my field of understanding. Twitter exposes me to fresh thinking and totally new ideas and has invigorated my own teaching practice: it is hard not to feel enthusiastic about teaching when regularly connecting to passionate and inspiring educators. Furthermore, through blogging and tweeting teachers can develop online communities which offer support and rapport: something that is particularly important for educators in rural or remote regions.
2. Reflection. It’s no secret that reflection is significant element of my academic research. I’ve written on reflection for this blog several times before (here; here; and here) to highlight the invaluable nature of reflection in the classroom. The benefits of reflection aren’t restricted to students: they apply to all individuals in all industries, and even in our personal lives (including relationships and hobbies). John Dewey, who many consider to be the first real proponent of reflection, summarised the benefits of reflection thus:
“What [an individual] has learned in the way of knowledge and skill in one situation becomes an instrument of understanding and dealing effectively with situations which follow. The process goes on as life and learning continue” (1938, p. 44).
It is through reflection that we make latent thought processes explicit. It is through reflection that we acknowledge our successes (and shortcomings). It is through reflection that we learn from our experiences in order to become better educators. Tweeting and blogging serves to be a prompt to increase the frequency of self-reflection. I realised I’ve started a number of blog posts lately with “this prompted me to reflect…” When engaging with other educators on twitter I am compelled to consider how their experiences apply to my life.
3. Blogging helps to crystalise thinking. Following from the above point on reflection, blogging has caused me to examine my own teaching practice and clarify my position on a number of issues. Writing serves to transform these thoughts and ideas from being abstract to concrete. The process of editing causes me to really hone in and refine my thinking on a variety of issues, so I can clearly articulate my own perspective.
4. Feedback. Feedback is critical for growth and development. Without reflection and feedback we stagnate: and feedback is equally as important for beginning teachers as it is for my more experienced colleagues. As with reflection, feedback is a time to acknowledge successes (and note areas for improvement) and develop necessary strategies required for progress. I love receiving comments on my articles. A positive comment or “I agree” warms the cockles of my heart. A critique, or alternate perspective provides me with food for thought, often prompting me to consider a different angle or acknowledge shortcomings in my thinking. In addition, feedback via blogs and twitter can provide affirmation of one’s experiences: ideas, victories, successes can easily be dismissed in isolation, but when they are acknowledge by another individual they become more ‘real.’ In particular, as a beginning teacher, (with less than five years experience) I have been critical of what I can contribute to discussions on education. However, through feedback and discussions with other educators, I can know acknowledge that I bring my own, unique, and valuable perspective to the table.
5. Generation of personal momentum. Connecting with others via twitter and wordpress has generated huge levels of motivation for me: feeding into both my work as a teacher, and as a researcher. Blogging causes me to lift my game: when I hit ‘publish’ I know that my article or tweet is out on the web for all to see. Including future employers. I want to be the best teacher and researcher I can be, to ensure that the image I present online is authentic.
6. Professional Development. The professional development that is brought about through online engagements is some of the best I’ve experienced. The research that I do for my articles has broadened my understanding of a diverse range of educational issues, including some which would not have crossed my radar without online engagement with other educators. This research is consolidated through educational ‘debates’ on twitter and writing of articles for Matthitude. It’s also one of the cheapest (if not THE) cheapest forms of professional development. Forums such as EduTweetOz and Learning Frontiers provide daily avenues for collaboration amongst educators and sharing of ideas, and are accessible for educators right across the country. Living in a rural area it can be difficult to access professional development: PD generally requires an (expensive) trip to the nearest capital city. Twitter and WordPress brings these educators into my living room (and technically bedroom too, but lets not get weird). This is in addition to the professional development that occurs via points one to five above.
Undoubtedly there are innumerable reasons for educators to get engaged online. The enormous growth that has occurred over the past few years will only continue as more and more educators see the benefits of logging in. For beginning teachers, or those new to Twitter or WordPress, I really encourage you to become involved. For some hints on where to start, check out this informative image of some of the most used (education-relevant) hashtags on twitter, (via Travis Lyon).
Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New YorK; Collier Books, Macmillan.