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


One Comment, Comment or Ping

  1. I’m very interested in finding ways to make Twitter work for students too — it’s been such a constructive frame for professional conversations and project-building for me, and already for a small but growing group of students I’ve mentored in the China field.

    My classroom applications of it thus far have remained informal and extra-credit (and thus under-utilized by students, unfortunately.) I’d love to hear more about good ways to incorporate it as a graded component.

    I think there’s also something very instructive, too, about a “third space” as a realm for social and intellectual exchange, too, that’s an increasingly rare part of the college experience as class sizes at many institutions grow larger and curriculum is coming under pressure to become less flexible (e.g. via online distribution, other kinds of standardization that looms, etc.)

    The ironic thing about the web — and Twitter is perhaps the iconic representative of this dynamic — is that it’s often taken as superficial (the old “what’d I eat for b’fast cliche”), when actually it’s a very flexible and engaged space for social exchange. And the medium itself is not always the message, but what you make of it. That is, what one makes of the technology itself. (But perhaps that’s old hat to the UMW gang.)

    Getting back to the topic more directly, though, how can we best demonstrate and mobilize students in the value of those online conversations and connections related to academic, creative, and/or professional endeavors?

    Is there a better way to tie it to other kinds of course projects?

    How to connect students to other students beyond the course?

    I did try the latter on one occasion, by connecting some alums for an asynchronous Twitter convo for my History methods course, btw. I invited current Methods students (Hist299) to chat with History alums I’d recruited among my own Twitter followers about the challenges of a particularly difficult assignment (the Literature Review.) The conversation was only among the extra-credit tweeting crew, but it was a start… I’ll see if I can link it below:

    See here for the Twitter convo thread.

    April 15th, 2014

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