Teaching with Twitter and Social Media

I use Twitter and other social media platforms when teaching in the classroom, adult courses, and even for my TransformEd workshop offerings. 

During my graduate studies at York University, I was fortunate to take a course about digital technology with Professor Ron Owston.  
His assignments were very practical and they encouraged us to take the next step toward integrating technology into our educational context(s).  At the time (dating all the way back to 2010), I had a classroom website and was using Facebook to connect personally with some old friends.  The parents of my students were using this simple website to access our monthly calendars, newsletters, and important links, however, I never really considered other ways of engaging with them online.  Since we were exposed to Twitter and Adobe Connect within the course (among many other useful platforms), I started to think about ways to push myself in our changing world.

I later began this blog in 2011 predominantly for the families of the students that I taught, and also to help me track my Reggio Emilia inspired journey.  The more that I researched about this Italian approach to early childhood education, the more that I felt compelled to share it with anyone who might have been interested in listening.  I enjoyed writing about transforming our classroom environment from one that was a traditional Kindergarten to a Reggio-inspired space, and documenting the emergent curriculum from our inquiry project work. 

The blog eventually took a life of its own, as its numbers and audience grew over the years.  I connected with followers on other social media platforms including Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube, and Facebook, by posting shorter summaries of what they could read in more detail here.  Blog posts were lengthier and more time consuming.  Eventually I blogged a few times each month, and focused on sharing interesting content for early childhood educators and parents on a daily basis within my socials.

Twitter was the perfect platform for the course that I instructed on the topic of Kindergarten (one of York University's additional qualification offerings).  I thought that it complemented our course Moodle well, and allowed us to discuss our readings in the form of a chat.  This chat could take place after class at participant's own time or during a scheduled hour with their professional learning community (PLC).

I remember back to when I was first introduced to Twitter with Professor Owston, and how although I felt quite comfortable with using technology, that there were so many methods of digital communication that I had yet to explore.  Twitter felt a little overwhelming at first!  Therefore, I try my best to ensure that students who take my course feel ready to engage online with several tutorials or trial chats the way that it had been modelled for me.  With this level of support, even the most reluctant users end up leaving the course experience and sharing that Twitter was one of their most valuable takeaways.  Many also voiced that they appreciated being pushed outside of their comfort zones.

As the kindergarten additional qualification (AQ) course moved towards a blended format, meaning that half of our time was in class and half online, I experimented with a course Wiki and eventually landed on a mix between the course Moodle, a Google Doc (private folder with several sub folders, e.g., course resources - space to share assignments, etc.), and Twitter.

Adding Twitter to my AQ courses was one of my best decisions, and I am so thankful to have experienced it first hand as a graduate student!  We organized all of our kindergarten sharing with the hashtag #yorkukaq (which can be accessed at anytime), and each PLC also had their own unique hashtag for their specific chat times.  Later, this inspired a free network that I created for teachers called #CTInquiry: Connected through inquiry - A curious community of learners.  We would meet in person within different classrooms across Ontario and online through - you guessed it - Twitter #CTInquiry!  I like being able to share photos, links, direct quotes from our readings, and any new thinking or learning.  

When I began to offer workshops through my blog, we used the hashtag #TransformEdWorkshop to post on Twitter and Instagram about our hands on learning, making visible all that we were uncovering about the Reggio Emilia philosophy.  I then took the leap to host sessions fully online using Adobe Connect.  I recalled enjoying this method of communication and collaboration from my professor's course in 2010.  Adobe Connect allows you to present a powerpoint, while others can see your slides and hear your voice.  You can share documents and links to important content or pose questions within a chat pod.  Participants had the option to sit back and listen, write comments within the chat pod, or raise their virtual hand to speak.

Adobe Connect lead me to Google Hangouts, which is now what I use for my online offerings.  It is a similar experience, but I find it a little more user friendly to get everyone registered.  All you really need to participate is a google compatible email address!  Over the summer, I invited my York University Kindergarten teachers to their first Google Hangout.  Each PLC presented their key learnings and held a live discussion from the comfort of their own homes.

To make our learning from the course transparent, I tried my best to document our opportunities (creative tasks, field trips, etc.) and post them in the form of Instagram stories.  I know that there must be many more platforms to engage learners in our digital age, and am always willing to experiment with them.  It will be interesting to see where this professional journey will take us and what more we will discover!

For those wondering, I will be starting the free #CTInquiry network in January 2018, and instructing the next #yorkukaq course starting in late March 2018.  Please check the York University's Faculty of Education and professional development website for more information in the new year.

And in the meantime - consider connecting with me over on Instagram (@joannebabalis) and my second page dedicated specifically to @CTInquiry.  There, I have collaborated with another two educators Michelle van Heugten and Jenni Low (one from Canada and the other from New Zealand) to host biweekly Reggio Emilia inspired challenges, which you might also find useful.  

Finally, I would like to close with a couple more video clips that were filmed at York University in Spring 2016 and published in Fall 2017:

I by no means have all of the answers to offer you about blended learning, but feel strongly that it's one of the best methods to engage professionally.  It offers the perfect balance between face-to-face and online interactions and in my opinion is the way of the future!

Thank you to Professor Owston for all that he taught me.  It certainly came in really handy and inspired my academic, professional, and personal journeys online.  I am forever grateful to have connected with educators worldwide and to push myself beyond the four walls of our classroom.  The opportunities to learn and collaborate digitally seem endless!

If we teach today's students

as we taught yesterday's,

we rob them of tomorrow.

-John Dewey

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