Social Media as Third Space for Teacher Education

This is my post for the Digital Scholars Institute.  I feel honored and inspired to be a part of it, and I’ve enjoyed hearing about the digital projects that people have been exploring across UMW.  My project has to do with using Twitter for student communication and collaboration, and with the ways that professional identities (including my own) are formed through networks of scholars and teachers on Twitter.


I started Tweeting last year for the Domain of One’s Own initiative.  I loved many aspects of the project, from meeting people from across Mary Washington, to exploring blogging, to building a digital identity, to tweeting for professional/teaching purposes (okay, occasionally personal too–but all of it is related, you see–it’s all a way of presenting personae and constructing identities.  Blurring lines and such).  I even made had my students Tweet: it was an experiment that revealed some limited success and a lot of challenges.  The main challenge seems to be that without a grade, students seem very unlikely to tweet for class; of course, there have been a few exceptions.  But when it worked and was graded, students were sharing sources and interacting with alumni and discussing topics outside of the standard class time.  I linked to research that related to their interests (I still do this for the ones who still have accounts).  It became a new place for conversation, with different rules for who “got” to speak.


Some research I have been reading/citing is developing into a useful framework, and that the idea of a “third space”–a hybrid space where participants are on more equal footing.  This idea is relevant to various aspects of teacher education, such as when students do service learning outside of a school, or when supervisors or mentors interact with students outside of practicum sites and university coursework.  I view social networking sites such as Twitter as a third space where interactions can be extended or take on different qualities from the “official” spaces of interaction.  You know, it’s a third space for faculty, too, to interact outside of work settings.  Basically, I really like Twitter.  People who think it’s silly probably just don’t get how it can be used effectively.  Don’t get me started on the finding for one study that some people see it as “self-promotion.”  I almost just got started, but I won’t.  Next time.


This project is developing, but I want to look at the frequency and possible motivators for teacher education students’ participation in professional networks on social media as part of a longer-term, more formal, mixed methods study of these factors.  I want to ask students both inside and outside of our context and learn from best practices in other settings–an example might be professional chats (described here in an article by colleagues); I have never done these and want to learn about how teachers and preservice teachers (PST) use these kinds of tools.  They are free and loosely moderated and I’m sure that scares some people. A related but secondary focus of the study will be how and why connections on social media develop among scholars at professional conferences.


A tweet that sums it up:

an amazing opportunity for #AERA14: sharing the hashtags/tweeting to my PST students to show what scholars in the field do

— Janine Davis (@JanineSDavis) April 7, 2014


And Now February Is Snowing Acronyms

I tweeted recently that I began working on two different digital scholarship initiatives lately, and so I did.  After a long blogging hiatus and plenty of lessons learned, I am back.  It’s BLOG 2: THE RECKONING.  Or maybe: THE ACRONYM-ING.  This is actually very exciting because I have missed blogging.  Plenty of people hate it when asked to do it as part of a project/class, but I am not one of those people.  I think I was actually just looking for an excuse to start doing it again.


DMCI is the Digital Media Commons Initiative.  Andy Rush explains it super well here; basically a student and I are working on a project to make the work of our students more visible to the university community and the public in general as a transition into the opening of our giant amazing tech wonderland Convergence Center in the fall.  We will make a product to share, but also document our process.  Sometimes you start projects like these and have a nebulous idea of what the end product will look like, but that is decidedly not the case for me.  I can see the final product very clearly even though we haven’t even really begun.  Have you seen the Office intro?  The one with the awesome and catchy tune?  I see a video like that with lots of clips of our preservice teachers planning and teaching lessons.  (The project actually dovetails nicely with one that my Teaching of English class is doing, where they will record oral histories of local teachers–that piece shows the other side of the story, and the story needs to be told by the teachers, because lately others have been attempting to craft that narrative for them.)  I will update this blog with our progress during the semester, but for now, I have a question for you: The Office…the song and video work so well, but is there an underlying message there that I should avoid?  You know–Michael Scott and his bumbling nature…Will YOU be the one to crush my dream idea?  If so, do it now before we really get moving on this.  In defense of the plan, the Office may seem like a disorganized and unprofessional place on the surface, but actually, there is real LIFE and THINGS happening there and it is MESSY but it WORKS.  I’ll….keep working on that defense, but anyway–please weigh in, if you are picking up what I’m putting down.


DSI, or the Digital Scholars Institute, is a group of faculty who are working on digital scholarship projects organized by the fabulous Mary Kayler and my group is led by the wonderful Sue Fernsebner.  Have I mentioned that I LOVE interacting with people across the university? Because I REALLY do.  It is so awesome to learn about what other people are doing; an interdisciplinary approach is so essential to seeing our own and others’ work in a new light. I was feeling sad about how Domain of One’s Own ended last year, but then this came along and made it all better.  Already we had an excellent discussion about how exactly we define digital scholarship and where we will direct our focus this semester.  I got into using Twitter in my classes last semester and made it a small part of students’ grades–many of them had great interactions outside of class.  I would estimate that about 75% of the students tweeted at least twice.  Some didn’t love it, but I felt good about it.  And this semester I made it optional.  Aaaaaand….crickets.  Maybe three?  four? students are there and interacting, but most are definitely not.  With the snow days, to have everyone on there would have been amazing.  Canvas is one thing, but it didn’t have the same kind of community feeling that Twitter does and that I love.  So I am going to look into student engagement and thoughts about using  Twitter for classes and possibly even programs as well.  Serving as a social media correspondent at a conference in the fall (NCTE) also revealed a kind of weird vortex where I was more focused on interacting with people in the Twitterverse than I was with actual living humans in the room.  I will definitely write more about that another time, but that’s a part of it too–how do we decide where to focus our interactions, and why?  What drives students to comment/interact in this “third space”?


See you next time!