Twitter, pre-service teachers and their thoughts on use

#visarts13 in action in the teacher education visual arts classroom (N. Lemon, 2013)

#visarts13 in action in the teacher education visual arts classroom (N. Lemon, 2013)

I’m writing a book chapter at the moment that celebrates pre-service teachers use of Twitter while studying visual arts as a part of their teacher education studies.  I thought I would share some of the findings that I will share in the publication to  get your response. I have been exploring the data through Wenger’s (1998, 2000) Community of Practice framework.

The invitation to participate was offered to 155 pre-service teachers  (Males = 17, Female = 138) with 136 aged 18 to 25, 16 aged 26-40 and 3 aged between 45-50) as a way to experience social media for professional use and to make connections to personal experiences with similar media. The pre-service teachers were invited to participate in order to achieve three goals: a) to extend their professional networks; b) to use Twitter as a digital access point to content; and c) to extend their current knowledge of arts education resources, artists, artworks, art organisations, and pedagogical approaches.

The concept of social media for professional use was unfamiliar to many with only three occasionally using Twitter for personal communication with friends. Only 32.5% had considered Twitter as a social media for professional connections and networking and 24.7% had considered Twitter as a social media for accessing content associated to their role as a teacher prior to the use in this study. All pre-service teachers but one participated in use of Twitter. The one pre-service teacher 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.

The notion of community of practice (COP) derives from Wenger who suggests that COPs can be small, highly focused and strictly bounded, or highly fluid and informal. In the case of pre-service teachers using Twitter, the latter is certainly the case. Wenger proposes that groups of people working together as a community of practice are distinguished by:

  •       Meaning – a shared common interest and a way of talking about our (changing) ability to experience meaning making. This research has enabled documenting a domain in which there are overlapping interests, but where pre-service teachers interaction patterns and practices are guided by their lecturer modeling use, peer guidance or teaching and work patterns and practices that develop as a part of studying to become a teacher.
  •       Community – a way of talking about the social configurations including shared activity, joint discussion, sharing information, assisting each other, and seeking advice. The analysis suggests that these are the core activities of pre-service teacher tweeters.
  •       Practice – a way of talking about sharing historical and social resources including a collective repertoire of resources, experiences, narratives, tools, interaction patterns, modes of address which developed over time. The process of constructing a tweet and sharing the content of the tweet lends itself to practices that afford themself to a relatively informal ‘voice’ and that of a developing professional (educator).
  •       Identity – a way of talking about how learning changes and the pre-service teachers interactions with Twitter suggest, form the basis of professional tweeting, reflective practice, and newly formed professional digital practices strongly connected to professional digital identity.

So if we unpack this further communication, connecting to others especially peers, and ability to understand how others were interpreting and exploring visual arts were all ranked highly on the 5 point likert scale evaluation survey.  

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.

Table 3: Items associated to community

Item Agreed and strongly agreed
Twitter Increased interaction with subject teacher and fellow students 68%
Twitter Increased understanding of what peers are doing in class. 89.6%
Twitter Increased understanding of what peers are doing across workshops and campuses 65.2%
Twitter is an effective method of communication between peer and peer 63.5%
 I’m enjoying using social media to facilitate more participation 70.5%
I enjoy the class modeling of Twitter via peer use 82.6%
I enjoy the class modeling of Twitter via teacher use. 77.4%

Practice

Learning as Doing

Pre-service teachers 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, as 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. This is a unique undertaking within the university where this was undertaken.

Table 4: Items associated to practice

Item Agreed and strongly agreed
Twitter integrated into the visual arts subject was a student centered approach to support discussion and sharing subject outcomes and aims 60%
Twitter was real world application of technology in class. 68.7%
Twitter is beneficial as a gallery of our work. 88.7%
I am developing confidence in being able to share content about my own art making 84.8%
I am developing confidence in being able to respond to a wider audience about education or arts education 45.3%
Twitter was supporting my ability to reflect on work being undertaken in class 79.1%

Meaning

Learning as Experience

The use of Twitter for professional engagement was generated in a safe and secure environment where the pre-service teachers 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 pre-service teachers learnt about arts while experiencing theory and practice and they shared these insights and their reflections via Twitter.

Table 5: Items associated to meaning

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

Identity

Learning as Becoming

Pre-service teachers were learning to become a teacher, a generalist primary teacher who needs to be able to integrate arts. Through an establishment of a supportive community the pre-service teachers identities were openly explored with each other and 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.

Table 6:Items associated to identity

Item Agreed and strongly agreed
I have an understanding how I could use twitter to access resources and content. 86.1%
I am developing confidence in using Twitter professionally. 70.5%
I like that I am being introduced to Twitter for professional use. 77.4%

Conclusion remarks

Twitter enabled the pre-service teachers to communicate about their subject work in an online space. They were encouraged, through the maximum 140 character construction of a tweet, to carefully think about the content they could share associated to their learning experiences in arts education and to a lesser extent teacher education. Connecting to course work supported the pre-service teachers sharing process, reflections and insights online.  The class hashtag (#visarts13) allowed the pre-service teachers to trace their classroom interactions through the online while also learning from each other, thus forming a gallery of work, while also learning from each other.

The pre-service teachers constructed their knowledge and understandings of visual arts education based on their semesters’ study. They could link to the weekly course content and the checklist that was constructed for them as a guide to types of topics, questions or work they might wish to share.  Throughout the project, the pre-service teachers were invited and encouraged to articulate their learning, understanding and observations with others via Twitter.  The pre-service teachers accessed new resources, content and information from others, or developed their own; all were shared with followers and #visarts2013 as a way to support the constructive use of Twitter as a professional development tool. Of note was the extension of peer-to-peer contact in this online space across workshops and campuses that traditionally would not have engaged with each other.  This was a model for further extension into the global connections power of this online site.

The pre-service teachers’ in their journey to understand and explore how Twitter can support their engagement to visual arts and professional development have embodied the enactment of Wenger’s notions of domain, community and practice. The collective inquiry, that is invitation and participation as a group enrolled in a core subject, supported notions of a community of practice that both transferred face-to-face and virtually. Twitter enabled the ability for the pre-service teachers to explore creativity in a safe and nurturing place – especially important for those addressing and acknowledging low self-efficacy and human dilemmas associated to creativity and the arts (Craft 2006; Lemon and Garvis 2013).

The strength of Twitter was set in the extension of peer-to-peer interactions, moving beyond friendship and workshop groupings, and the Twitter feed forming an online gallery of work. Reflection, common language, confidence to interact with content and each other as well as global connections were all enacted by the pre-service teachers that inherently supported them to explore creativity as connected to integrating visual arts in the role as primary school teachers. The short text (up to 140 characters) and visual is strength for pre-service teachers in a fast paced environment where reflective practice is highly desirable. Date stamps assist in accurate recording of curation of and generation of content. This timeline documented a semester’s work and offered a space for further reflection, metacognitive thinking, questioning, and inquiry.

References:

Wenger, Etinne. 1998. Communities of practice. Learning, meaning and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger, Etinne. 2000. “Communities of practice and social learning systems”. Organization. Speaking, 7(2): 225–46.

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