I recently posted an article on Social Media on Twitter, but wanted to share it here as well. It was originally published in CTEBVI JOURNAL, Winter 2013/2014, Vol. 55, No. 3.
Often times, connecting with other professionals in our field is a special treat that happens occasionally at best. Many of us teach independently, and those who are lucky enough to work in a district with a cadre of TVIs and O&M instructors carry out instruction alone. At every organized event in our field, I see my own joy in meeting other colleagues reflected in the demeanor of everyone else.
Given this precious face-to-face time, the idea of a Twitter luncheon at last year’s CTEBVI conference was very confusing to me. Why would people want to hold a conversation over the internet when we could simply talk to each other in person? Why introduce a technology instrument and barrier rather than moderating a discussion with the human capita already present? Despite these doubts, I was curious about the event and had unwittingly promised the luncheon organizer I would attend. It was too late to turn back.
As I look back and reflect on all the professional resources I came across last year, I realize how much social media has changed my teaching toolkit since the initial introduction at this luncheon. I have since connected with numerous other colleagues in education and employment, discovered websites with activity ideas for challenging students, and come to understand the larger landscape of technology and what our students must be prepared for. Networking with other professionals online has helped bridge the gaps between face-to-face meet ups, but more importantly, it has helped me stay current in the field with minimal effort.
“This all sounds good, but I can barely keep up with my email”
So what exactly is social media, and why is it worth investing in? Many of us use Facebook to connect with family and friends. It’s a great way to stay in touch, and a quick scroll through the “News Feed” is an efficient way of catching up on personal stories, events, and sharing humor. Needless to say, nothing can replace an actual conversation or sharing a cup of coffee, but at least between visits, one can easily sustain the familiarity it takes to maintain a relationship.
Use of social media professionally is very similar. Instead of connecting over personal relationships, it can be used to connect with colleagues whose expertise you respect, and organizations that disseminate services and information that benefit your students. The “News Feed” delivers tips and tools from these colleagues, and provides a forum for exchanging questions and resources. Ultimately, if a specific challenge arises that requires more in depth support, an entire pool of experts are on hand to contact more personally. This type of networking serves as a community of practice that most of us lack in our daily teaching environments.
The language of social media
Fear of the unknown was the root of my initial hesitation in attending the Twitter luncheon at last year’s CTEBVI conference. I didn’t understand how Twitter was different from Facebook, and had no idea what people meant when there were hashtags (#) and @ signs in a sentence. I thought it was something for teenagers and celebrities, not me!
When I arrived at the luncheon, I quickly learned I had to set up a Twitter account in order to participate. I signed up with my email address, a password I would hopefully remember, and finally a username. This username is also referred to as one’s “Twitter handle”, and appears preceded by an @ sign. I chose the handle “@TVI_ting”. Similar to how one can call attention to a friend on Facebook by typing that person’s name into a post, Twitter allows people to mention others by their Twitter handle. This approach keeps the platform more professional, and focuses instead on the aspect of connecting with another person regardless of the level of personal affiliation.
Next, the luncheon moderator requested people use the CTEBVI hashtag to participate in the virtual conversation (this seemed silly, since I could clearly just turn to the person next to me and have a physical conversation). In good faith, I located the search box at the top of the screen, and typed in #CTEBVI. Aha! The hashtag is simply the modern kids’ way of saying “pound sign”. More importantly, the hashtag is used as a keyword that finds all posts with the same hashtag.
At the luncheon, searching for #CTEBVI turned up results listing every post of anyone who included #CTEBVI in their post, and refreshing the search allowed me to follow the questions posed by the moderator and responses from colleagues. Out of curiosity, I returned to the search box and typed “#braille”. Wow! The results returned hundreds of posts about braille literacy, technology that supported braille, and organizations around the world focused on braille. As I clicked on different Twitter handles and viewed people’s profiles, I learned which people posted information I cared about, and clicked the “Follow” button on their profile page.
Clicking on the “home” link now brings me to my new Twitter feed, which lists posts from everyone I follow. A quick scroll through this feed brings me immediately up to date on topics such as new accessible iPad apps, student scholarship and camp programs, and how UEB implementation will affect me. The character limit on Twitter also means that information is disseminated in 140 characters, with links to full articles. This helps me quickly skim each post, and determines which articles I want to invest further time reading. For the busy professional on the go, this works a lot better than having to comb through articles, emails, and blog posts in order to find what I really want to spend my time reading about.
Despite my initial confusion about last year’s Twitter luncheon, I realize it was the ideal “training wheels” I needed in order to understand Twitter. It has become a powerful tool that connects me with professionals and resources around the world. Now, I scroll through my Twitter feed whenever I have a few minutes to procrastinate and feel more current that ever about my teacher toolkit. When there is a conference I wish I could have attended, I attend virtually by searching for the conference hashtag, and read posts from people who are “live tweeting” the event. Conversely, when I attend a conference or workshop, I might tweet something exciting I learn (a.k.a. live tweet) so that others may know a resource exists.
Finally, I’d like to extend a special thank you to @RyanKHoney and @CTEBVI (see what I did there?) for introducing me to the power of Twitter and social media. I hope this article may inspire some of you to experiment with these tools and live tweet this year’s conference by including #CTEBVI2014 in your posts. I will be attending virtually from across the country, and will rely on you all to share what you learn – thank you in advance, and see you online!
Ting Siu, TVI