In preparation for a discussion some of us are going to have at NCTM, I conducted a totally unscientific poll of the #MTBoS and others in the general math edu constellation. I wanted to get a snapshot of how math educators engaged with others through social media so I could feel more confident sharing my impressions with the wider world.
I asked three questions.
How often do you engage with educators on twitter?
Which of the following ways do you engage with other teachers online?
Please describe the most useful learning experience you have had online. You can provide links to specific posts or tweets.
Question 1 revealed how totally unrandom my sample was. I would say it characterized my sample (n =52) as highly involved in social media. Most respondents tweet almost every day.
This means that the casual users, the lurkers, the toe-dippers are not well represented in this poll. That’s fine. This gives us a good picture of why people would feel like engaging heavily in social media. It’s a good group to hear from.
For Question 2, I let folks select as many answers as they needed. I didn’t ask for “top three ways” or anything, so some categories were frequently selected.
Tweeting, reading blogs, and writing blogs were the most frequently selected uses of social media. Less than half of our heavy users reported participating in real-time exchanges like #edu chats or the Global Math Department. Slightly more (but still less than half) talked about collaborating on specific projects using google docs or other collaborative environments.
Question 3, what was the most useful learning experience you have had, let me get my qualitative analysis game on. Aside from the frequent response of that it was hard to pick one, people pointed to the following kinds of learning via social media:
- Idea exchange: This was one of the most frequent responses. Twitter was especially praised for the access it provides to others’ ideas: “I post a question. People come along and make me smarter.” Reading and writing blogs and tweeting let people share ideas and comment on others’ ideas about their math teaching. As one respondent described, “Whenever I’m interested in a new approach to teaching something, I can read many different implementations and see how it actually looks in the classroom. Helps make my abstract ideas more concrete.” A number of teachers pointed to the rich resources as providing more opportunities for personal development, as new ideas become more immediately accessible: “Being able to find lesson ideas, extension materials, and intriguing pics and videos has brought a whole new dimension to my classroom.”
- Sharing resources: Teachers have to plan lessons everyday. Social media is a great way for sharing resources. By turning to an online community, teachers know something of the values and practices of their sources. As one teacher described, “The idea/lesson exchange is better than a huge google death for activities.” Sometimes folks get new preps or new groups of students who require different kinds of materials, or sometimes teachers realize that their old lessons aren’t quite doing all they could. “A few years ago I was informed I was teaching a brand new AP course three weeks before school started. I was scrambling for resources so I took to twitter. The amount of support and resources I gathered from teacher on twitter was a life saver.” Teachers will often document their new work as they build new classes, only adding to the accumulation of resources in the community.
- Connecting with like-minded educators: A number of responses indicated that many educators who develop professional learning networks online do so to break the isolation they feel in their own schools or departments. “Just the several years I’ve had building my PLN (and making friends!) has been invaluable. I’m not sure I could point to anything specific. It changed my career.”
- Constructing resources together: Question 2 shows that this is not as common of a practice, but those who have done it have reported its value to their professional learning.”I think the biggest learning experiences for me have been the times when I’ve constructed a resource with others online and we’ve learned as we’ve gone through the act of co-creating.” One example of a collaboratively developed resource is Nix the Tricks, whose curator Tina Cardone explained, “There’s no way I would ever have taken on this project without the crowd sourcing and the encouragement that the MTBoS provides.”
- Developing shared critiques of educational tools and practices: Teachers, especially those committed to developing student understanding, are facing challenges on numerous professional fronts. A few teachers mentioned the support they find for particular visions of teaching. Additionally, the online community has developed numerous critiques of popular teaching tools like Khan Academy. “The mtt2k (Mystery Teacher Theatre) initiative [see an example here] encouraged me to learn more about Khan as well as doing my own video editing, plus sparked new connections.” There is a lot to keep up on the educational landscape. As one teacher described, “Twitter is my education newsfeed!!”
- Getting emotional and moral support: Especially when teachers are working against the institutional grain, pursuing more ambitious forms of instruction can get discouraging at times. A number of teachers mentioned the emotional support they get from colleagues online. “The most valuable past of this for me is knowing there are other teachers out there that are working towards the same goals as me. That there are other teachers that will support me in my journey to those goals.” Teachers also talked about getting more specific images of the kinds of classrooms they aspired to and having people to vent with on hard days.
- Learning about a specific practice, tool, or idea: A number of responses pointed to teachers who developed specific interests and pursued them in online communities. Some examples were practices like standards based grading, tools like desmos or GeoGebra, or unexpected insights into mathematical topics.
How did our enthusiasts do in capturing the learning potential of online professional communities? How did our friendly neighborhood educational researcher do in summarizing the responses? Is there anything that particularly resonates or that you think I left out?
Please share! I am going to be telling the world –– okay, at least the people coming to our session –– what this whole thing is about, and I am committed to getting it as right as possible.