1 Educators Perceptions and Reported Behaviors Associated With the Use of Social Media for Informal Professional Learning by Debbie Fucoloro Few comprehensive, descriptive studies regarding educator use of social media for informal professional learning have been conducted. The purpose of this study was to examine educators perceptions and reported behaviors associated with participation in informal, online professional development networks and how they differed based on current assignment, years in education, and age. This baseline descriptive study was motivated by the need to promote effective and engaging use of education technology, and it expands our understanding of how to better support all educators with technology integration. The study explored adult learning theories and the notion of connectivism. Combining these with an understanding of social media s role in the development of Personal Learning Networks (PLNs), the researcher advocates for a new paradigm of professional development that is self-directed, differentiated, job embedded, and social. Introduction The theoretical framework for this study was guided by two complex questions: How do we encourage and support educators to incorporate best practices in technology integration when designing learning experiences? and, Can educators use of social media for informal, online professional development increase technology integration? These two questions will ultimately be addressed in future studies informed by this baseline, descriptive study. The overall purpose of this study was to determine educators perceptions and reported behaviors associated with
2 participation in informal, online professional development networks and how they differ based on current assignment, years in education, and age. To accomplish this, a description of the educators and their self-reported perceptions and behaviors was ascertained using descriptive statistics. In order to determine if there was a variance among demographic groups current assignment, years in education, age the researcher used comparative statistics. Review of Literature Popular opinion views social media, in general, as self-indulgent, trivial, and narcissistic; however, when used to build a personal learning network (PLN), social media can foster community, a sense of belonging, and connections with anyone around the world who share the same passions or interests (Richardson & Mancabelli, 2011, pp. 2-3). The foundation of this framework is the work of social reconstructionist Paulo Freire, who stressed that learning is social and that dialogue is the heart of education. Though Freire s work predates social media technologies, given that informal learning is dialogical rather than a curricular form, it s not hard to imagine that Freire would have encouraged the use of social media as a communication platform for educators to utilize in order to engage in discussions that encourage reflection and inspire action and reform, thereby improving and transforming their practice, student learning, and the educational system. This study was informed by experts in the following areas: adult learning theory, transformative learning theory, informal learning, personal learning networks and connectivism, communities of practice, social learning, professional development, and hidden curriculum. In addition, the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) provides technology integration standards for students, teachers, administrators, and technology coaches, which, when
3 combined with the areas of study listed above and their respective experts, provided a comprehensive and solid foundation for analysis and reflection. The study explored adult learning theory, which stresses the learner s need for control, flexibility, feedback, and self-direction; transformative learning theory, which emphasizes the learners need for dialogue, voice, belongingness, and a feeling of safety; situated learning theory and communities of practice, which underscore the learner s need to improve practice through community or social interaction with others who share their passion; and connectivism, a theoretical construct for learning in the digital age that includes the development of a participation in a PLN, prompting the researcher to propose that the friends educating each other (Yeaxlee, 1925) model of adult learning has been revived as PLNs, with the aid of social media. This foundation of interwoven theories should assist the reader in understanding the justification for the informal learning opportunities offered by participation in informal, online professional development networks. Informal learning, though not new, has taken on a new importance with regard to professional development. Cross (2007) asserts that the new learning means having great connections: sources that know, advice that helps, alerts to what s important, and ready answers to questions (p. 5). Research Questions 1. What are educators perceptions and reported behaviors associated with participation in informal, online professional development networks? 1.a. What motivates educators to participate in informal professional development networks? 1.b. What types of informal professional development networks do educators report they use to connect with other educators to enhance their practice?
4 1.c. What specific informal professional development networks do educators report they find most useful in order to improve their practice? 2. Do educators perceptions and reported behaviors associated with informal professional development networks differ based on current assignment, years in education, or age? Methodology This descriptive study included a survey instrument with both quantitative and qualitative components that was administered to educators via Twitter, Educators PLN, and ISTE Community Ning. The researcher administered the survey through an online third-party vendor. The survey included closed-ended items using a Likert scale, as well as open-ended items to gather rich, qualitative data in respondents own voices. Two research questions were formulated to determine educators perceptions and reported behaviors associated with participation in informal, online professional development networks. Research Question 1 and its three subquestions provided descriptive data, and Research Question 2 provided comparative data. The survey consisted of three sections. The first section provided demographic data that was used to answer Research Question 2 in the comparative section. The following demographic data were collected from the respondents: current assignment including grade level, position, subject area, and school setting. Grade level categories included pre-k higher education. Current assignment included position. Subject area included specific discipline, and school setting included the choices of urban, suburban, and rural. Years in education and age were also collected and analyzed. The second section of the survey focused on traditional professional development and technology integration. The last section of the survey focused on the use of social media and networks to meet professional development needs. What follows is a summary highlighting the results.
5 Findings Out of the overall results of the research study, several key findings emerged. One was that not only did educators use Twitter, a microblogging platform, significantly more than most other social networking or content-sharing tools, Twitter was also designated by the educators as their favorite social media application to use for informal, online professional development. The second key descriptive finding was that educators reported they were undecided regarding the effectiveness of professional development provided by their employers, and most educators believed they should take personal responsibility for continued professional growth and improvement. They indicated that they learn how to make effective use of educational technology for instruction through informal, independent learning: on my own. This is consistent with the findings that all of the educators agreed that social media had increased their access to information, and that most educators believed that participating in informal, online professional development networks using social media had helped them become better educators. In contrast, very few reported that they receive continuing education credit from their employers for the time spent participating in informal, online professional development. Regressions and between-subjects ANOVAs produced two key comparative findings regarding traditional professional development and technology integration. The first finding revealed an apparent disconnect between administrator and classroom teacher perceptions regarding methods used to support the integration of technology into instruction. Administrators perceived that employers used significantly more methods to support the integration of technology into instruction than classroom teachers did. In a related finding, educators were generally divided regarding the effectiveness of employer-provided professional development for technology integration. However, administrators expressed a significantly more positive
6 perception than did classroom teachers. Another comparative finding revealed that rural educators, more than suburban educators, believed that social media had significantly increased their access to information. The following is a summary of the key findings of this study: Descriptive Findings 1. Educators used Twitter significantly more than Facebook, social bookmarking, wikis, blogs, RSS, and Nings and marginally more than cloud storage and sharing. 2. Twitter was also designated by respondents as their favorite social media application to use for informal professional development. 3. Educators (99%) believed they should take personal responsibility for continued professional growth and improvement. 4. Most educators (96%) believed they learned how to make effective use of educational technology for instruction through informal/independent learning on my own than through undergraduate teacher education programs, graduate teacher educations programs, professional development activities (workshops, courses, etc.), or training provided by staff responsible for technology support and/or integration at their school, district, or campus. 5. All (100%) agreed that social media had increased their access to information. 6. Most educators (97%) believed participating in informal professional development networks using social media had helped them become better educators. Comparative Findings
7 1. Regarding current assignment primary assignment, administrators and classroom teachers had differing views concerning traditional professional development and technology integration. First, administrators perceived that employers used more methods to support the integration of technology into instruction than classroom teachers did. In a related finding, administrators had a more positive view of the effectiveness of professional development in educational technology provided by their school, district, or campus than classroom teachers. 2. Years in education also provided an interesting comparative finding. Educators who had been teaching for 21 or more years found the topic of relationships with students (motivation, discipline, etc.) significantly more engaging in social media than educators who had been teaching 1 10 years. Similarly, as age increased, reporting that the topic of relationships with students was engaging also increased. 3. Two interconnected comparative findings were related to age. First, as age increased, level of confidence using educational technology for instructional purposes decreased. Next, as age increased, professional development activities made respondents feel more prepared to make effective use of educational technology for instruction. 4. As age increased, use of social media for informal professional development decreased. In addition, during analysis of open-ended responses, the researcher found two important, closely related qualitative themes community and informal learning that echoed the adult learning theory theme of friends educating each other and the teachings of Freire that dialogue is
8 at the heart of education and that learning is social. Analysis of open-ended responses further explained or validated the quantitative findings. Recommendations for Future Research and Implications for Practice According to Glesne (2006), True research does not end, it points the way for yet another search (p. 220). This study took a broad, descriptive look at educators perceptions and reported behaviors associated with participation in informal, online professional development networks and how they differ based on current assignment, years in education, and age. Furthermore, these results contribute to the limited literature and research on educators use of such networks. Since the use of social media for professional development is relatively new, additional research would be valuable in expanding our understanding of these dynamic learning communities. A comprehensive review of the data and an analysis and synthesis of findings suggest several courses of action for further research and practice that will be useful to those responsible for planning professional development sessions/programs. These have been broken down into three categories: recommendations to researchers, implications for educational leaders, and implications for teachers. Recommendations for Future Research Examine successful programs that are currently supporting the use of, giving credit to, and recognizing educators for participation in informal, online professional development networks. Is a correlation between participation in informal, online professional development networks and: - improved practice
9 - increased student learning - increased technology integration - increased confidence in technology integration and lesson planning - increased feeling of belongingness less isolation, greater sense of community - increased satisfaction with personal professional development Conduct research on each of the above by demographic group: current assignment (grade level, position, subject area, school setting), years in education, and age. Conduct longitudinal studies to investigate the quality of teacher education programs and employer-provided professional development programs on the integration of technology for instruction. Implications for Educational Leaders Make technology integration a priority. Focus on sound pedagogy and lesson planning rather than just tools and application use. Allow educators input regarding professional development by offering PD that is differentiated and allows for self-direction similar to unconference or edcamp models. Provide professional development that is ongoing and job embedded. Encourage (don t demand) educator participation in informal, online professional development networks, and support them as they develop PLNs. Explore ways that would support, honor, and give credit for the time spent in informal, online professional development in order to improve practice and student learning and engagement. Teacher education programs should focus on teaching the pedagogical aspects of effective technology integration and preparing their students to use education technology for instruction more effectively, leading by example and modeling best practices in technology
10 integration, thereby graduating students who are confident in their ability to design technology-enhanced lessons. Administrators need to lead by example by modeling effective use of technology for example, in communicating with students, parents, and staff. Implications for Educators Participate in informal, online professional learning by starting your own personal learning network (PLN) built on your own needs and passions start small, find mentors, be patient. Take responsibility for your own professional growth and improvement. Advocate for the legitimacy and recognition of time spent participating in informal, online professional development networks. Advocate for professional development that is self-directed, differentiated, ongoing, and job embedded. Be bold and share what you learn in these environments and encourage others to join in the conversation. Model lifelong learning by staying as up to date as possible regarding technology integration. Conclusion The review of the literature, analysis of the data, and open-ended responses suggest that a new paradigm of professional development should be implemented and that it be self-directed, differentiated, ongoing, and job embedded. In addition, it should be motivating, flexible, and encourage self-analysis and personal reflection. This sets the stage for informal, online professional development via social media and the development of personal learning networks to be validated as a powerful professional development component. These goals may be attained through a blend of traditional and emerging, formal and informal, professional development.
11 References Cross, J. (2007). Informal learning: Rediscovering the natural pathways that inspire innovation and performance. San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer. Glesne, C. (2006). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction (3rd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc. Richardson, W., & Mancabelli, R. (2011). Personal learning networks: Using the power of connections to transform education. Bloomington, IL: Solution Tree. Yeaxlee, B. A. (1925). Spiritual values in adult education: A study of a neglected aspect. London, England: Oxford University Press. Deborah Fucoloro, Ph.D., Technology Coordinator, The Educators Café (blog) Presented at the Research-to Practice Conference in Adult and Higher Education, Lindenwood University, St.Charles, MO, September 20-21, 2013.