More than 140 Characters: New Trends in Teacher DIY Professional Development

In recent years, social media has increasingly become a necessary resource for educators in need of professional development. While in-person professional development is invaluable, social media provides an ongoing, easily accessible outlet for educators to grow and learn between in-service trainings, conferences, and EdCamps during the school year.

Educators are using social media to find daily support, share and discover tools and resources, and facilitate passionate conversations with others in the profession. Twitter is the go-to social media tool for educators, but there are other resources, platforms, and apps to grow and connect with others beyond the (soon to be eliminated? ) 140-character limit. Here are a handful of social media tools and apps that educators are already using to grow professionally every day.

Voxer

Voxer is a mobile (iOS , Android, Windows) and desktop app that turns a device into a walkie-talkie. Sending short audio clips to individuals or a group seems and feels a bit odd at first, but with dozens of Voxer groups available, there’s no doubt you’ll find a welcoming group of educators to connect with. With Voxer, educators can connect without having to share personal information, but they can still maintain and build close connections through verbal communication and text messaging.

Joe Mazza, a longtime educator and the Leadership Innovation Manager at UPenn, describes Voxer as a way to build a personalized podcast for professional development. For example, in group chats, conversation audio snippets can grow quickly — instead of trying to keep up with each clip as it comes in, let them accrue, and absorb the conversation several at a time. Then chime in with your own contribution.

Slack

Many up-and-coming startups sing the praises of Slack as a way to eliminate email and better facilitate discussions in real time through technology. As always, teachers are finding new ways to use technologies intended for other purposes to improve their professional development, and Slack is no different.

Slack is a desktop app that looks and feels similar to an online chat room, where users share text, gifs, images, links and more. Within each Slack community, users can communicate via rooms based on different topics (called “channels” in Slack lingo). For example, there could be a “General” channel for ongoing edu-banter, “Collaborations” to connect with other educators, or “Introductions,” where newbies can go to say hello. It also allows for one-on-one messages with others in the chat group.

Slack is a great way to connect, discuss and share with others ad hoc, as opposed to the fast-paced, more regulated Twitter chats. For those familiar with “slow chats” on Twitter, Slack facilitates a similar type of dialogue, and in more than 140 characters. EdTechBridge and EduMatch both have Slack channels to get you started (more about that later), and you can keep multiple Slack communities tabbed within the application — similar to browser tabs in Chrome or Safari. The learning curve is low, and opportunities for connecting high.

Google+ Communities

Remember back in 2011 when Google Plus launched, signaling that Facebook’s inevitable demise was quickly approaching? Despite this obviously inaccurate narrative, Google Plus is still a bustling place for educators.

In addition to the standard news feed with posts from colleagues or friends, Google Plus Communities allow educators to congregate on specific topics. There are global communities, with hundreds of thousands of members from around the world, and more localized ones, such as the regional Google Educator Groups.

If an educator is new to social media and wants to consume first before participating, Google Plus Communities are a great platform for this. Once there’s something to share, it only takes a few clicks to add articles, videos, images, links, events or even polls to a community.

For the larger communities that have hundreds of thousands of members, it may seem like finding valuable content would be impossible, due to the sheer volume of content. Google Plus addresses this by adding filters on the left side of the community page, so educators can refine content by topic.

Google Plus can serve as a professional social media network that works, in some ways, just like Facebook — but without running the risk of professional peers finding that embarrassing photo from the holiday party seven years ago. Educators have made this once seemingly dying platform into an active option for professional development.


Resources to Get You Started

Talking about all of these resources is one thing, diving in and using these platforms is another. Let's get to it:

  • EduMatch, coordinated by Sarah Thomas , has a Slack channel, Twitter hashtag chat, Voxer group and more.
  • EduVoxer, coordinated by Mazza, has resources for joining educator-related Voxer channels and tutorials for using the app, including video tutorials.
  • EdTechBridge, which started as a Twitter chat, also has a Slack channel — contact teacher Steve Isaacs to gain access to the channel.
  • SlackEDU, an open Slack channel for educators, created by Tim Monreal .
  • A how-to guide on finding and joining Google Plus communities, from Google.