By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)–Successful teachers are patient listeners, systematic managers, coherent communicators, stable leaders.
They can also pivot: adapt rapidly to changing circumstances while maintaining instruction and meeting learning outcomes.
This spring, they have been pivoting a lot.
To learn more about how social media might assist teachers in pivoting, a group of teacher educators including Dr. Sumreen Asim, assistant professor of elementary science and technology education, designed a unique research project during the recent coronavirus shutdowns.
That study will be published in a special book published by the Journal of Technology and Teacher Education called Teaching, technology and teacher education during the COVID-19 pandemic: Stories from the field.
As schools began closing this spring, Asim and her colleagues, Dr. Samantha Fecich of Grove City College and Dr. Susan Poyo of Franciscan University of Steubenville, had been at work on a study into the use of Twitter to help teacher candidates build life-long professional relationships.
That project involved a Twitter Challenge that began with building fundamental proficiency in the Twitter platform, as candidates learned to set up an account, connect and post, generate questions, participate in chats, contribute resources and build a network of professional colleagues.
This “scaffolding” period was followed by a week-long structured social media engagement.
The authors chose Twitter because of its ability to afford timely ideas, responsive feedback specific to remote teaching, strategic guidance, connections to practicing educators, administrators, peers, and other higher education faculty.
When schools shut down, the researchers noticed that the activity on Twitter did not.
“Seeing teacher candidates still using the Twitter platform despite its use not being required or tied to an assignment anymore sparked our curiosity,” Asim said.
They thematically analyzed a random sample of 50 Tweets from March 15, 2020 to May 15, 2020, to better understand the knowledge built through the use of Twitter both before and after school closures due to COVID-19.
They quickly found that familiarity with Twitter translated into expanded use.
“As people were grappling with social closures, there was significant activity on social media platforms,” Asim said. “The people engaging in Twitter had a sense of belonging to a community beyond the classroom walls, campus grounds and schools.”
Was all that activity merely social? Or did it amount to something in professional terms? Did it benefit only the morale of the instructors? Or did it benefit students?
The team found that teachers were in fact, using Twitter for self-directed learning. They shared pedagogical knowledge, built on ideas from one another, shared resources and asked questions for support.
In the end, the exercise demonstrated that teachers had adopted Twitter as a tool not only for professional support but also for instruction.
For Asim, the study has important implications for higher education faculty, especially for those in teacher education programs.
It has been known for some time that technology will be changing the classroom, as it has changed other aspects of life. This has presented challenges to teacher educators and candidates, who will be expected to create content for the online space, learn new delivery tools, understand online pedagogy, engage parents, address student mental health issues, and attempt various pedagogical strategies to address both synchronous and asynchronous teaching and learning, according to Asim.
During the coronavirus-related closures, things got real, in a hurry.
Teachers and teacher candidates suddenly had to stand and deliver, and Twitter appears to have facilitated this process.
“As a teacher educator, I desire to provide continuous support and mentoring to teacher candidates as they confront unique situations during clinical experiences, student teaching and post-graduation” Asim said. “Through leveraging social media, I, and fellow teacher-educators, experts and fellow teachers around the world, are able to do this in real time.”