By Kerry Davis, Ed.D, CCC/SLP, Learning 2030 Blog Contributor

Mention professional development (PD) to teachers, and you can almost feel the collective eye-rolling. The value of PD activities that are integrated into the work week is supported by research but only when these activities are collaborative and learner-centred does the self-reflection they inspire lead to improved practice.

We need to rethink educators’ choices in professional development. So much time and money is spent on professional development, and yet, free PD is buzzing around in online social communities. As these communities have grown quickly, the relationship between social network sites and effective professional development is something that is still being explored.

Trending topic : #Edchat
To help fill that gap, I interviewed and analyzed the public tweets of U.S. teachers who participated in weekly #Edchat Twitter discussions. Teachers ranged in age and experience, from new teachers to those nearing retirement. #Edchat, I observed, is more than status updates and sharing links.

“It is knowledge that’s being spread [that] is very collaborative and very applicable rather than here it is just go,”said one teacher. By being a part of #Edchat, teachers felt emotionally supported in their profession. This even included teachers who felt positive about their own workplace, but liked the reprieve of connecting outside their classroom. Teachers felt inspired, “It completely changed me as an educator, with only 5 years left until retirement.”

Challenge, connection and choice
Related to meaningful professional development, 3 themes emerged:

  • exposure to diverse perspectives
  • experiences reflective thinking
  • choice

Teachers used discussions to reflect upon their own teaching, “It’s nice to speak to people who are doing totally different things in totally different circumstances. Here you have to force yourself to think about what you’re doing, because you have to explain it to somebody else.” Teachers valued ability to choose when and how often to participate based upon their own needs, “It’s not like you are forced to sit there and listen to somebody pontificate.”

Teachers also identified certain benefits and drawbacks. Benefits included the flow of information, instant access, concise communication, and ease of use. While the amount of information was valuable, teachers likened #Edchat to “drinking from a firehose.” Many developed their own strategies to mitigate feeling overwhelmed by information, including third party software applications to channel and filter.

The limitations of 140 characters helped teacher think concisely about their message, but the online format sometimes led to misunderstandings, and not feeling heard. Finally, teachers experienced reduced access to Twitter in their homes or schools either as a result of technical disruptions, or from school policy prohibiting use.

Social network sites can balance formal learning through structured discussions, while maintaining the informal learning that occurs through having information available 24/7. Through Twitter and other social networking sites, teachers can choose, filter and share information between colleagues while reflecting upon their own pedagogy; all in 140 characters.

Kerry Davis is a speech-language pathologist in the Boston area. Her areas of interest include working with children with multiple disabilities, inclusion in education and professional development.


Davis, K. (2012). Learning in 140 characters: Teachers’ perceptions of Twitter for professional development. (Doctoral Dissertation).

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