Does Social Media Offer PD Or Something More?

#Edchat, as well as about 50 other educational twitterchats, Digital Personal Learning Networks, Online Discussion Groups, Twitter, LinkedIn and a number of other Web 2.0 social media applications are often attributed by educators for offering professional development, or PD. Social Media is also credited with helping the emergence of Edcamps and Teachmeets, as well as online conferences like #140edu Conference and the Reform Symposium Conference. These are all considered by many to be PD.

I recently came across a very informative, somewhat scholarly post from Education Week which was first published in August 2004 and updated, June 29, 2011, Professional Development http://www.edweek.org/ew/issues/professional-development/. My take-away from the research referenced in the post was that it is difficult to connect the teacher’s professional development to an increase in their students’ success or at the very least improvement in student performance. Of course after teaching for many years, I ask myself, “Did the PD courses these teachers took have anything to do with what it was that they taught?

Many states require that teachers be provided or otherwise obtain PD. Often this comes in the form of workshops or even an expert or consultant coming into a school to work with staff in small groups. Other PD may be in the form of mini-classes offered by professional organizations or institutions of higher learning. Most schools have procedures to approve requests for PD since it is often a requirement for maintaining a license or obtaining a pay increase. Consequently, a wide array of subjects for educators may be deemed acceptable. Some schools even have committees to approve PD requests for credit.

This does leave open the possibility that a class approved for PD may not align with what a teacher teaches. A Phys Ed teacher may be getting his or her required PD in reading. That fulfills the requirement, but it may have little impact on their students since Physical Education requires little in the way of reading. An English teacher taking a cinematography or video course makes sense, unless the curriculum for what they teach does not allow the opportunity for cinematography or videography. There are many opportunities in the existing system for teachers to take approved PD courses that will not impact the performance of their students directly. It would seem even if the teacher takes a PD course directly related to what will be taught in his or her class, quantifying the results of the impact on learning would have its problems.

Now let us consider Social Media as a conduit for PD.I hear from educators almost daily how their Social Media involvement, Twitter/#Edchat is the best PD they have ever experienced. That is where I think I part ways. I do not see social media as the PD, but as a portal to the PD. It comes from educators engaging other educators in discussions and exchanging ideas that lead to the best sources in order to access the specific PD. It is this self-determined direction which is what involves learners in a deeper more meaningful understanding of a subject. This is regardless of extra pay or outside approval from the school district.

Now the question arises, is this PD resulting in an improvement in the students’ learning? I have often said, "To be better teachers, we must first be better learners". It would seem to me educators who are seeking Professional Development to meet their specific needs as an educator, would certainly be a first step to better learning. The astonishment on the part of so many may not be in what they are learning, but rather how they are learning. They are being rejuvenated in many ways. This is having a very positive effect on individual educators. They are being energized by their learning. Many are being listened to by appreciative digital colleagues. It is bolstering many who have wavered under the constant attack on education and educators. Relevant discussions of content and pedagogy on an ongoing basis, 24/7, goes a long way in improving self-image, confidence, and understanding of one’s profession.

Social Media, in any of its many forms, enables educators to tap into a vast number of sources in the form of people and content. It enables educators to direct their learning to meet their needs. It enables educators to feel good about learning and continue down that path. Whenever a person can be picked up dusted off and respected for what they do, it must have a positive impact. If that happens to an educator, it must in some way impact their students in a positive way. I need not get caught up in the paralyzing analyzing, because I know it works that way for me. I can only hope it works that way for others.

An even more important point is that, if we view this as a positive form of learning for educators, why would it not apply to students as well? We are all learners. Social Media should be yet another tool in an arsenal of tools used by educators to enable kids to become better learners. They need to continue to learn long after their contact with teachers has ended. Most of my teachers are now gone, yet I continue learning. That is a lesson we all must keep in mind.

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