Sunday 5 January 2020

Tweetchats, Personal Learning Networks and CPD.

Personal Learning Networks

Last summer Laurie Phipps got us thinking once again in response this time to the tweet from @EdTechPossum below. I started writing this post and then somehow the holidays followed by the autumn semester took over and it remained in draft. Now the start of a new year and just before I return to work, it was my intention to reflect on the past decade. Having re-discovered this draft I thought it was time to finish it.


Lawrie reached out to his connections to ask them what they felt about Tweetchats through Twitter and two Jiscmail lists. For the record a tweetchat is a conversation that takes place on Twitter with a bespoke hashtag. Usually a series of 5-8 questions over the space of an hour are posted with the hashtag to stimulate a discussion around a chosen topic. Participants include the hashtag in their answers. If you search for the tweetchat hashtag you then get to see the conversations taking place. 

True to his word Lawrie did write this up titled 'Inspired by a Possum' and makes it clear that this is just a quick capture and is limited by the sample size and the nature of the collection. It made for an interesting read for different reasons. One was perceptions of what people liked or disliked about tweetchats and the other was around what personal development is considered to be.

Likes and dislikes

Unsurprisingly the respondents included ideas, feedback and opportunity to learn in relation to what they liked about tweetchats. During a tweetchat it is usual for participants to discuss and question, as well as to share links to further related resources. I frequently participate in tweetchats and always come away learning something. 

In answer to what was the main dislike, the responses included people not feeling they had a way in, and people wanting a way of breaking the ice or being introduced. As an introvert I often feel all of these in face to face group conversations. Whereas online I have gained confidence I think through observing how others interact and realised that it's fine to just jump in and contribute to the chat despite not knowing the people taking part. Perhaps more importantly it is also ok to take time to think and then respond as and when you wish to as a dialogue can take place over time. The time lapse to respond may just be a few minutes or it may be longer. You get to choose. 

Taking part in online small group webinars which involves real time conversations however does take me out of comfort zone. In these situations I often have to challenge myself to contribute. Facilitators like Maha Bali in the Virtually Connected online conversations have helped to draw me and many others into conversations and it makes such a difference. I need to think about how we could replicate this in tweetchats, to help people new to the concept find a way in. Asking people to introduce themselves just before the chat starts could be one way. The difference with the tweetchats is that unless you participate even if this is just a like or retweet, no-one knows you are even listening. 

Personal development

One of Lawrie's questions related to the timing of some of the cited tweetchats as these take place in the evening. He asked: Do you take the time “back”? (e.g. if you participate outside of working hours do you try and take some time off in lieu of participation). He specifically wanted to question why a CPD activity took place out of working hours. This surprised me as I have always taken the stand that my own personal development is something I choose to do and that this is different to the CPD training I am required to undertake as requested within my workplace. For example courses like fire awareness and unconscious bias, or as members of the Department Leadership team we all had to take a series of eight management development workshops. These are undertaken during work time. I would expect time in lieu if I was asked to take a work related course in the evening or over the weekend. 

For me my personal development is not always essential for my role, but it is something that continues to help me to grow as an individual. I do strongly believe that my online connections who I may or may not have met in person have contributed to my learning and therefore advocate the term 'personal learning network'. Many of my connections are just that - people I personally choose to connect with, interact with, and learn with. I hope over time I have also been able to contribute to others development in some small way. These conversations and learning opportunities mostly take place through Twitter. Tweetchats are just one example that contribute to my CPD. I frequently use my commute to and from work to catch up on news and through the use of Tweetdeck and the free version of Hootsuite, I can filter tweets by groups or hashtags, allowing me to focus on many different conversations. I choose when and what I want to engage with. 

For a long time now it has become second nature to share things I have found interesting by tweeting a link or retweeting what others have shared. I don't feel I have to engage constantly with others and refer to positive silent engagement (as opposed to the term 'lurking' which for me still has negative connotations) where I can choose to simply 'listen in'. As I have said many times, as children we all learned through listening and observing. It is no different online. 

It saddens me deeply that there are people that use these online spaces to spread hatred and misinformation. I hope in time there will be ways to eradicate this. It should go without saying, but if there are tweets in your stream that offend or upset you, then you can choose to unfollow those responsible, block accounts that you don't want following you, or mute conversation threads. This aside, I do feel it is important however to listen to different viewpoints and make my own decisions. I don't always agree with what others might say and yet I don't feel I have to make that known. 

My network includes people from many different countries and it is fascinating to learn about different cultures and also through shared interests. From a personal development perspective I think we can learn so much from each other through the sharing of our ongoing lifelong learning journeys. As an educator I gain so much from those who reflect on the process of that learning. I need to become a better open reflector and look up to the likes of Maren Deepwell and Sheila MacNeill. So in 2020 I must endeavour to do this and share more of my own learning experiences. 

Image credit: ijmaki from Pixabay free for use

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