Earlier today, I read a post on the importance of the language we use when we talk about education. It made me think about some of the listening I have done this year when I ask educators why they are not using social media for their professional learning.
At the OPC/CPCO/ADFO Symposium in November, many school leaders at my table told me that they had not really found any value in using Twitter until they heard George Couros talk about it.
In December, I was honoured to be asked to spend a few hours with the Lakehead Public Schools Inspire Program, leading a session for educators on the use of social media in the classroom. While I loved working with teachers, I still felt I was not really hitting the mark in demonstrating the value of Twitter for professional learning.
Just before Christmas, I was asked to work with another group of educators who needed to learn more about how to use Twitter. This time, I really thought about the language I was going to use. I knew from my earlier experiences that I needed to demonstrate value in order to get my point across and have the educators own the learning.
I wondered if the words “Twitter” and “social media” had so many other connotations that it was turning people off the idea of using them professionally. Language is deeply connected to attitudes and beliefs. If social media is considered to be “unprofessional” or Twitter is known as a “waste of time”, it’s challenging to reverse that way of thinking
I happened to read a post by George Couros that compared You Tube to a library.
Just like in a library, we need the skills to find what we are looking for.
If we think of Twitter as just a huge stream of information being sent out from people all over the world all the time, the value comes in understanding how to search Twitter to find what you are looking for.
Since I had only a few minutes to try to demonstrate how Twitter could be of value, I focused on thinking of Twitter as a library that is available to everyone 24/7. I demonstrated how to use Twitter without creating a personal account. I did this to save time, but also to address many fears associated with social media and digital footprints. We were using Twitter while remaining completely anonymous.
We used the Twitter search page, and we learned the difference between searching for any topic (such as “Thunder Bay”, and searching using a hashtag (such as #TBay).
I compared using hashtags to learning to use the card catalog in a library. You need to learn specific skills to find the information you need, and learning what hashtags to search is a valuable way to find out what is happening.
We learned a number of different hashtags that would be helpful in their work in Ontario education, such as:
Using language associated with something that is valued (“library”) instead of feared (“social media”), and focusing on using Twitter as an open resource (rather than moving directly to connected, participatory learning) allowed me to quickly demonstrate that social media had value to educators.
While I am committed to the importance of connected learning and sharing, we do have to meet learners where they are right now. The strategy of comparing Twitter to something that was already valued and understood (a library) helped several educators see that social media can indeed be a valuable resource for professional learning.