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


Hello Pandora (In More Ways than One)

I have been thinking about having (but probably not making) my students use Twitter.  This releases a Pandora’s (more on her later, sort of) Box of questions: will they resent it?  Will they use it for the purpose I intend? Will it oversimplify their research?  Will it put them at risk if they are uncomfortable using their real name (that one’s kind of easy: don’t).  I see this blog as a good way of capturing how I have used Twitter over time, and I can also see having them read this to understand more about my motivation for encouraging them to use it.


One of the amazing things about Twitter is that you can see articles and images that are relevant to your interests but that you may never have seen otherwise, such as this photo essay about teenage train hitchhikers that I saw today.  It is just like a visual and literary (and two-way) Pandora station.  A friend once said that he can ask a trade-related question and get instant responses from experts all over the world.  It is super great, folks.


After looking at the photos from the link above, I read many of the comments, which on YouTube can make me fear for the future of humanity.  But here, people commented with their Facebook profiles, which are generally people’s real names and it generally means that people won’t sound like evil, bigoted jerks.  The responses to the images were fascinating:  some people saw a free, romantic life without bills and trips to the grocery store.  They saw the excitement of youth and juxtaposed that with the drudgery of their lives as adults.  Others saw grimy , endangered teens who were running from some unnamed (but imaginable) terror.  Some even directly addressed others to try to “correct” their view of the images, perhaps thinking about the effect these (often well-written) comments might have in swaying others.


This is what Twitter brought me with this one link, in the space of about ten minutes: good images provoke intense reactions; they make us wonder and worry about what we see.  There are so many narratives, many of them competing–and some people want to try to change (or at least the impact) the narrative of others.  Maybe we should do that more.  Where is line between “bossy” and confrontational and reasoned debate?  How does this relate to teaching?  Do some teachers teach that out of students?  Do the best thinkers and debaters do something more “important” with their time and $200,000 scho0ling than educating students?  That’s a narrative, too.  A recent student even just shared (through a message, but I should make it a post) this article about avoiding teaching at “elite” universities.  And there is all of this noise about MOOCs out there too, and I stumbled across this blog post by  Susan Amussen and UMW professor Allyson Poska on MOOCs and feminism and power–which is something I’ve been thinking about too.  All of these things–the power and effects of images and narratives–are true of school and of our content areas, whether it’s history or math or English or art or whatever.  I see it as our job to acknowledge these narratives, question them, and help people develop and share them.  There is a lot of noise that gets in the way.  Good teachers will tune that out.


How does this relate to students conducting action research?  Let’s imagine you, a math teacher, notice that your students are doing poorly on their assessments.  You look on Twitter and search hashtags and find this article on interventions to combat stereotype threat.  It’s not the same as a research article, but it leads the reader to some true research studies that might help form a new and related study.  Publications, writers, and organizations share articles quickly and briefly on Twitter that you MAY NOT FIND ACCESS TO IN OTHER WAYS.  Sure, the library has subscriptions to journals.  But certainly not all of them.  And by following a broad swath of people and organizations that are related to your interests, you will see far more articles, images, blogs, and conversations, spaced out over the day or whenever you are able to “dip into” the feed (props to the great Martha Burtis for that phrase!)


At the end of the day, will I give students a choice about whether to use Twitter?  Sure.  Because how could I teach them about differentiation without doing it myself?  But I do hope that Twitter helps deepen their understanding and interest in the same way it has for me.




Graphic Organizers and You

This is for my students in 351 and anyone else who is interested (looking at you, future 580 students…)


The task was to read an article (“Eight Things Skilled Teachers Think, Say, and Do”) and construct a graphic organizer to illustrate how they think about and do (or don’t do, or don’t agree with) the things described in the article.  Nonlinguistic Representations and Identifying Similarities and Differences are actually two strategies in one class text, Classroom Instruction that Works.  This assignment occurred to me when I was reading the same reading assignment that the students read, which is a chapter that ties together nine research-based strategies for student achievement.  The photo I’m adding below is actually  my notes in the margin of that book, because as I read the content, it reminded me that I also need to make some super strides in my domain for the Domain of One’s Own initiative if I have any hope of competing.  So the content of the organizer is different from the students’ task, but the process of creating it is the same.


Wish you were here

“I’ve always been suspicious of a doctorate in Education,” he said.  By some fabulous twist of fate and luck, I sat at a high table in Cambridge for dinner, and a begowned old gentleman was saying these words to me.  How to reply….oh, so many choices…I settled on explaining my work as couched within social psychology and the interactions between people and environments (with schools as a particularly rich environment), and he seemed to be okay with that, and moved on to explaining the various pieces of silver on the table before it was time for the secret cheese course and the Latin.  “You must be here for the Harry Potter experience,” said another, this one a lovely young female, also begowned, as she pushed peas onto the back of her fork.  Well…it was very much like that, yes, but the personae being enacted in the room were almost deafening, and that is what I will remember for life.  The contrast to American college life was stark, to put it mildly.

Blogs are Dangerous or We Are the New Media

One of the kinds of research I am into is narrative inquiry, which is basically analyzing the stories that participants tell to determine how they construct meaning in their lives.  I am starting to see nearly everything as a series of stories that we tell.  This can seem cynical at times; as one faculty member from another institution was talking about how her workplace was like a dream world where everyone got along and worked toward common goals, I kind of dismissed it in my mind as the story she had chosen to tell.  This wasn’t out of nowhere, she had described another faculty member who “chose not to get involved” and I wondered about that other person whom I will never know.  Did she really choose that?  How did she feel?  She would tell a different story, I’m sure.

The Super Bowl, online persona, and…you?

Probably just like millions of other people last night, I watched the Super Bowl with my laptop going at the same time–I looked at online discussions for my courses, I sent emails to my student teachers, and I read lessons and wrote some too, all while also watching the Super Bowl.  I like football, but more than that I like to stay up on current events, and I am definitely glad I didn’t miss it, because it was eye opening for many reasons…


I have just begun exploring the wide world of Twitter, and have been following the Getty Museum in LA because I a) have been there twice and love it, and b) am interested in Museum Studies and children’s museums as they relate to my experience in Curriculum and Instruction.  Last night, I learned more about how hashtags work (beyond my sister-in-law’s sister giving me the pop culture breakdown, including the phrase and accompanying gesture “air hashtag”) when I noticed that the Getty was tweeting last night with #MuseumSuperBowl.  They were posting images of “super bowls” in their collections, and cracking hilarious jokes about art pieces that related in some way to the events of the game (Here’s a recent one: Victory to @Ravens #MuseumSuperBowl! Raven from English manuscript about 1250-60  The Air and Space Museum, where I had actually been earlier in the day, responded instantly to the power outage on #MuseumSuperBowl and posted about how being in the dark reminded them of those on the Apollo 12 launch must have felt during THEIR power outage.  Museums were talking to each other and to everyone!  And it was creating a great juxtaposition of priorities, showing that people can be into watching the game and talking about the commercials, and ALSO be into art and cheer artists on in much the same way that people cheer on football players.


What does this have to do with persona, you say?  Well, on my LONG drive in to school today I was thinking about the changing landscape for professional entities such as corporations and  people (and no, corporations are not people).  And places like the Getty are taking these new technologies and turning them into yet another way to connect with people.  I heard (but didn’t see) that Oreo put up something about how you can “dunk in the dark” when the power was out.  Qualities I value in people, such as innovation, intelligence, creativity, and wittiness, can now be evident in corporations or organizations like the Getty.  Somewhere, someone who works for and represents the Getty was probably at home or maybe at a party if they have a more interesting life than I do (and I’m pretty sure they do) doing just what I was doing–surfing the web and watching the game, and thinking about their collections, which made me think about their collections and see them in new ways.  Museums can be written off as stuffy or boring, but this was completely the opposite.  Compare that to the old slap-up-a-website mode of digital communication from just a few years ago.


I’ve seen what Twitter can do, and I’m pretty sure I like it.  Next time I will share the flip side of this, which is that this kind of digital scholarship seems as if it can easily take over one’s life.