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Why use online CPD?

Until recently only tech savvy teachers used social media to connect to those brave pioneers who ignored the teasing or worries of their peers to make contact.  Word of their successes gradually began to filter through to teachers who were less confident with technology but who wanted to better their practice in the classroom.  Now many teachers speak openly of online CPD and of using their ‘personal learning network’; such is the change in attitudes over recent months.

So why would you want to communicate with like-minded teachers?  I joined the social network Twitter and like many others I didn’t immediately see the potential. I found the Twitter id of a high profile teacher and started to follow him, and by watching who he was talking to I was able to build up a network of teachers with an interest in teaching and technology.  At first much of the talk was about the technology (we were the early adopters or geeks using common terminology) but talk soon moved on to pedagogy and how to improve practice in the classroom.  Teachers began to share lesson plans (and outcomes), resources and bounce ideas off each other.

As Twitter began to reach critical mass more and more teachers joined up.   Not all teachers use their real identities, and those who choose to be anonymous are not treated any differently.  Everyone is equal and judged by the quality of what they say.  To make Twitter more manageable I decided to narrow my focus to teachers from my own subject area and phase.  For me Twitter then became a much more useful tool with a large base of science teachers to talk to.  I could ask for ideas for a topic, ask about demonstrations, ask for resources or bounce ideas off my virtual peers.  I even found other teachers who fit my niche (special education science), which meant I was no longer isolated at work.

Every week I join in the ASEchat on Twitter, which is a free readily accessible form of CPD.  I can do it from home on the sofa in front of the TV, and I can stop to get a drink or answer the phone!  We’ve discussed assessment, misconceptions in science, demonstrations, teaching forces and many other topics.  I can also see the teachers who are joining in the discussion and add them to my rapidly expanding personal network of science teachers.

Twitter is not the only social network used by teachers, but it is certainly the easiest to use safely and has the largest number of teachers actively using it for CPD purposes. Twitter is also the only one of the large social networks to let you hide your real identity.  It is possible to use Facebook and Google+ in a similar way but any social network is only as good as the people who use it, and for now most teachers are choosing Twitter. Those who like to share more detailed or elaborate ideas may like to investigate blogging but I’d recommend Twitter as a starting point.

So where to start?

  • Create a Twitter account and make sure you write a bio about yourself (perhaps saying your phase and subject) and upload an avatar (it doesn’t have to be a photo of yourself!).

  • Find some teachers to follow - I have a list of UK science teachers (other people on the Internet maintain similar lists).  You could also join in a Twitter discussion like #ukedchat (general teaching issues) or a specific one like ASEchat and look for people who say things you like.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions or to volunteer advice.  Remember every time you see an avatar, the person writing is a fellow teacher, a human being who probably wondered the same thing as you at some point!

Rob Butler

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