Before using social media as a learning tool, my perceptions of websites such as Facebook (www.facebook.com) and Twitter (www.twitter.com) consisted of an virtual channel for communicating with friends and family members, to share memories (photos, videos etc.) and to peer into the world of celebrity culture and stay current with news stories.
Interestingly, I have developed my use of both websites to cater for different needs; Facebook focuses on staying in touch with close friends and family members, in a seemingly private space. Whereas my twitter profile is accessible by all and allows me to directly respond to friends, celebrities and news stories in a more public arena.
I have always considered both websites to be beneficial to my personal life and had not considered the use of Facebook or Twitter as a learning tool.
Since engaging with Facebook and Twitter, my attitudes towards social media as a learning tool has changed - I now follow various educational professionals, engage with regular hashtag chats (such as #ukedchat, #asechat) and stay up to date with new developments in the education industry. Twitter, for me, is the dominant social media learning tool and has enabled me to stay in touch with many students from the university and reach students through managing the Teachers in Training Society twitter account too (@UoGTITs).
My first experience of using Facebook as more than a social tool, began when I started my degree programme in September 2010, when myself and others in my class decided to create a closed group on Facebook – this group allows us to discuss matters concerning the programme with each other outside of Avery Hill campus. Predominantly, this group provides an online community and allows us to ask questions of each other and share interesting articles and findings (Siilius et al 2011). However, this is only a closed community and often restricted the amount of conversation due to the limited number of students engaging in the group (often less than 10).
Conversely, when the Primary Science department introduced their ‘GREat Primary Science Page’ on Facebook, I was able to use this page to engage with other students across both the primary education programme and PGCE students, therefore providing a wider community beyond my classmates to communicate with. Additionally, it provided me with an additional platform to connect with the Primary Science team outside of the more formal university routes (Casey & Evans 2011). In my opinion, the use of Facebook pages is more beneficial than the use of Moodle in engaging students, simply because I am always signed in to Facebook – either through my smart phone or laptop. This ‘always-on’ culture means information from the primary science department is integrated with my social feed. While this is beneficial because I do not have to log on to the university’s website and remind myself to check for new information or updates via Moodle, I believe that if there was too much information, I could perceive this an intrusion of my personal profile on Facebook, and could dis-engage with the page.
While I have always followed certain websites and newsfeeds on Twitter (such as Department for Education, Times Educational Supplement (TES) and BBC Education), my first experience of using Twitter as a learning tool at university was during our Education and Professional Studies (EPS) theme week. Here, all students were encouraged to actively use twitter to engage with #EPS2UOGThemeWeek during lectures and seminars. By using a hashtag, the platform is open to everyone on Twitter; at first, engagement was with a few students across the cohort. However, discussion in seminars and lectures allowed a natural and organic growth in the number of students using twitter to actively engage in lectures and seminars. Personally, I would quote the keynote speakers, or find web articles to corroborate what was being said. This gave me a purpose in engaging with the hashtag and ensured I was able to connect with my peers and lecturers (Casey & Evans 2011).
Reflecting on this, Twitter became a parallel virtual classroom (Silius et al 2011), where further reading was being engaged with and we were able to develop our knowledge and understanding of subject matter by challenging each other during and after formal lessons (Chen & Byrer 2012). Furthermore, due to the nature and diversity of students on the programme, where most of which need to leave at the end of taught sessions, the ability to continue discussions in the evenings was of great benefit as it created peer based conversations, extending the formal learning (ibid.). By using the hashtag, I was able to search and find only tweets that included #EPS2UOGThemeWeek and pick up on any conversations I have missed, due to work and personal commitments. If these discussions only happened during the traditional seminars, I would have missed these opportunities to engage with other students. Therefore, by using Twitter, more students across the cohort were able to engage with lectures and seminars at a time that is convenient for them.
Finally, because of the interaction with other student teachers through Twitter, I have been able to forge relationships with my peers that are not in the same classes as me, therefore widening my professional network of student teachers. Many of whom I have seen around campus but have never conversed with. Crucially, due to the nature of the programme, the use of the hashtag during EPS, has improved social interaction across the cohort at a time where we are all mixing more when choosing our strand and option choices (Casey & Evans 2011).
Social Media for Teachers in Training Society
As the co-founder of the University of Greenwich Teachers in Training Society (UoGTITS), being able to use Facebook and Twitter provides the society with an online presence and a way to communicate with students across the programme (BA in Primary Education). This has enabled us to create an online community across all cohorts at the university where student teachers can support each other and build professional relationships with their peers (Silius et al 2011). From engaging with EPS Theme Week, UoGTITS has tried to re-create this student engagement by sharing content that can improve the student experience at university, enabling students to have virtual discussions. As a mature student, I believe this is a great advantage as I am often all unable to stay on campus for extended hours due to personal commitments. Therefore, by having an online community through Facebook and Twitter, I still feel part of the community. The aim for UoGTITS this year, is to extend this community (Casey & Evans 2011: Silius et al 2011) when students are on school experience and ensure that learning can be extended and discussed further.
Casey, G., & Evans, T. (2011). Designing for Learning: Online Social Networks as a Classroom Environment. International Review Of Research In Open & Distance Learning, 12(7), 1-26.
Chen, B., & Bryer, T. (2012). Investigating Instructional Strategies for Using Social Media in Formal and Informal Learning. International Review Of Research In Open & Distance Learning, 13(1), 87-104.
Silius, K. K., Kailanto, M. M., & Tervakari, A. M. (2011). Evaluating the Quality of Social Media in an Educational Context. International Journal Of Emerging Technologies In Learning, 6(3), 21-27.