Pre-service teachers tweeting to explore arts education: new professional networks

Introduction

twitter-listsVirtual learning environments, multimedia and social networking tools are giving people unprecedented opportunity to download resources, discuss their ideas[i] and record their learning. Twitter is one such social media that allows a combination of personal publishing and communication with a new type of real-time publishing, allowing opportunities for immediate and anytime anywhere feedback[ii]. Subsequently, Twitter is revolutionizing the way arts educators, artists and art organizations communicate. We have the possibility when engaging in this online community to promote agency; participation in more approachable and responsive conversations; access to programs and people; and distribute knowledge, advocacy, research and expertise to a wider audience[iii].

In the context of Teacher Education this social media has been underutilized by institutions and academics as a way to support ongoing discussions about ideas, dialogue about what is possible, and inquiring into learning and teaching, connecting with others, preparing teachers for the profession, and sharing resources and pedagogical approaches. Currently, it would be common for some pre-service teachers to engage with Twitter on a personal level, but most report they don’t know what to do, with little or no idea of how to use this platform for professional engagement and development[iv].

 This post shares a study undertaken in the core subject of Visual Arts across the Bachelor of Education programs at two Melbourne based campuses of a university, where Year 2 students were beginning to identify and build their Personal Learning Network (PLN). The pre-service teachers (PSTs) were invited to extend their professional networks and to consider social media for professional use and thus access to global ideas, opportunities, and networks, associated to arts education in the role as a generalist primary teacher.

Method

This research project is a case study that utilizes mixed methods of a pre-survey (pre, mid and post), reflective notes and mind maps (pre and post), field notes and observations of activity on Twitter through contributions to the class stream coded as #visarts2013 (ongoing).

There were 150 students across six workshop groups invited to participate in this study in parallel to their core subject undertaking of visual arts. All PSTs but one participated in use of Twitter. The one student who did not felt anxious about her digital identity and at the stage of the study preferred to observe from a far rather than in the online space itself. Twitter was integrated throughout the 10-week semester in all three-hour face-to-face workshops, while on a 15-day placement, and outside of classroom hours. As their teacher, I engaged with and modeled use of Twitter professionally with the students. I invited the PSTs to engage with my professionally in the online space as a way to introduce them to social media for professional use and as a way to scaffold their professional digital identity.

Live tweeting during class was encouraged and was scaffolded through the practical activities and pedagogical understandings that were being explored. Modeling moved from being teacher centered to student centered with peer teaching and support highly encouraged. BYODs were engaged with and the twitter wall was displayed during all classes to allow for teaching moment in time such as exhibiting of art works in process, questions, conversations with external tweeps, or connecting to another Tweep to discover their resources in arts education. We also engaged with tweeps who are pre-service teachers or art and primary teachers to learn about professional identity and mutual respect in engaging in this online community.

Findings

In relation to the framework of Wenger’s communities of practice I will share some the post-quantitative data that emerged from the study.

Community: Learning as Belonging

A sense of belonging amongst the cohort enrolled in the subject shifted with Twitter being a space whereby friendship groups were extended to communication within a workshop itself, across workshops and across the two campuses. This was a significant disruption to usual ways of working where pre-service teachers would work in friendship groups with minimal communication with each other.

68% agreed and strongly agreed Twitter Increased interaction with course teacher and fellow students

42.6% agreed and 47% strongly agreed Twitter Increased understanding of what peers are doing in class.

65.2% agreed and strongly agreed Twitter Increased understanding of what peers are doing across workshops and campuses

63.5% agreed and strongly agreed Twitter is an effective method of communication between peer and peer 

70.5% agreed and strongly agreed I’m enjoying using social media to facilitate more participation

82.6% agreed and strongly agreed I enjoy the class modeling of Twitter via peer use

77.4% agreed and strongly agreed I enjoy the class modeling of Twitter via teacher use.

Practice: Learning as Doing

PSTs were active participants with Twitter embedded in class and assessment and their tweets became a shared history of their learning and a shared repertoire of doing things. They learnt as doing, in action if you like, all were trying Twitter for the first time in the teacher education context and they were participating in a united positioning in a new discourse of social media being a digital access point to information and resources as professional development.

60% agreed and strongly agreed that being a student centered approach to discussion and sharing course outcomes and aims

68.7% agreed and strongly agreed that Twitter was Real world application of technology in class.

88.7% agreed and strongly agreed that Twitter is beneficial as a gallery of our work.

84.8% agreed and strongly agreed I am developing confidence in being able to share content about my own art making

45.3% agreed and strongly agreed I am developing confidence in being able to respond to a wider audience about education or arts education

79.1% agreed and strongly agreed Twitter was supporting my ability to reflect on work being undertaken in class

Meaning: Learning as Experience

The use of Twitter for professional engagement was generated in a safe a secure environment where the PSTs could all support one another with use and learning how to engage in this online community professionally. They developed a common language, way of operating, habits for use in and out of class, as well as a way to talk about their experiences in becoming a primary school teacher. The PSTS learnt about arts while experiencing theory and practice and they shared these insights and their reflections via Twitter.

87% agreed and strongly agreed Twitter was supporting my communication and ability to express, learn and share work, ideas and experiences. 

Identity: Learning as Becoming

PSTs were learning to become a teacher, a generalist primary teach who needs to be able t o integrate arts. Through an establishment of a supportive community the PSTs identities were openly explored with each other a global Tweeps. The twitter feed for the class hashtag became a gallery of work and supported ways to connect with each other and others who engage with arts education. The personal natural fears and trepidations personally experienced were shifted from being internal worries to public discussions and supportive problem solving to shift towards positive outcomes and building of confidence.

 86.1% agreed and strongly agreed I have an understanding how I could use twitter to access resources and content.

70.5% agreed and strongly agreed I am developing confidence in using Twitter professionally.

77.4% agreed and strongly agreed I like that I am being introduced to Twitter for professional use.


[i] Hillier, Y. (2009). Innovation in teaching and learning in vocational education and training: International perspectives, NCVER, Adelaide.

[ii] Lemon, N. (in press/ 2014).  Confidence to Tweet: Pre-Service Teachers engaging with Twitter as a Professional Online Learning Environment. In Wright , R. (Ed.). Student-Teacher Interaction in Online Learning Environments. Hershey, Pennsylvania, USA: IGI Global.; Dunlap, J.C., and Lowenthal, P.R. (2009). Tweeting the Night Away: Using Twitter to Enhance Social Presence. Journal of Information Systems Education, 20 (2); Sinnappan, S. & Zutshi, S. (2011). Using Microblogging to facilitate Community of Inquiry: An Australian tertiary experience. Paper presented at the meeting of the Asclite, Hobart, Tasmania, Australia. Retrieved January 22, 2012 from http://www.leishman-associates.com.au/ascilite2011/ downloads/papers/Sinnappan-full.pdf; Rodens, M. (2011). What the tweet? Twitter as a Useful Educational and Professional Development Tool. Communicating For Learners, Spring #2.

[iii] The Australia Council for the Arts. (2012). Social media policy. Accessed November 14, 2012 from http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/about/strategies-policies/social-media-policy

[iv] Lemon, N., Thorneycroft, S., Jones, D., & Forner, L. (2012). Project #pstn: engaging pre-service teachers in the Twitterverse. Refereed paper for PLE Conference (#PLEConf) (simultaneously in Aveiro, Portugal and Melbourne, Australia), Deakin University, July 11 – 13.

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