Over the past five years, I have immersed myself in a variety of social media channels, from Facebook and Twitter to Posterous and Plurk. I delved into LinkedIn and Google+ and more recently Instagram and Pinterest, as they became known to me. And while each has had its affordances and benefits, there are six I currently use regularly that are popular and consistent in their worth to me as an educator.
Reflecting on my social media experience thus far, I retraced my first eight steps for Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest and Twitter. Did I start by posting comments? Meeting people? Finding valued content? And from that point, how did I become more involved as a proficient and engaged user? Each platform was a different sequence of eight concrete steps to success.
But it’s not enough to just arrive in social media communities. One needs to contribute and thrive and grow. Am I successful on some channels more than others, based on my personality, abilities and interests? Yes, I believe so. But what are constants I can measure across all six social media environments that can help me compare the worth of each for me professionally?
I identified four measures: value, level of interaction, scale of impact, and depth. As I review the table above with you, rating each of these four measures on a scale of 0 (non-existent) to 10 (excellent), my subjective assignment of number values shows a wide range of worth for each. Some excel at interaction and impact, while others correlate impact to depth. Rarely is there disparity between interaction and depth. After all, these are social communities. Impact is the coin of the realm. And depth is the most difficult measure to ascertain at high levels.
In my experience, Twitter offers the most depth. But even there, the score is only a seven. Why is depth so difficult to achieve on social media? To examine this question, consider the use of Twitter, the platform I rated highest for depth, and its use by educators as a means of professional development.
What is professional development on Twitter? Is it flocking as birds of a feather to other educators of similar mind and interests? Yes, of course. Is it the acquisition of new content that augments my existing skill set and experience? Absolutely. What about validation for accomplishments and contributions to my professional learning network (PLN)? And how about elaboration of existing understandings and applications of knowledge? Yes to both. But what then of dissonance, the challenge of assumptions and practices? Dissonance is a deeper level of discussion and engagement, where members of a PLN critically explore topics in a safe, supportive and stimulating collegial environment. You know, the way we experience high quality professional development when we work over time with a school district cohort, or when we take a graduate level course in our area of interest and expertise, or when we advance to a new job role and step up to learn and demonstrate the new skills required of us? I want to experience this more through my social media channels. There is no growth without rigorously pursuing the construction of new professional capital together.
With dissonance comes the serious vetting of issues and ideas, as PLN members hammer out new understanding of theory, data, and degrees of proficiency and effectiveness. Social media is at its best not proffering base knowledge and surface understandings, but in offering opportunities to problem solve and the new value, new capacity, and new professional capital that are produced as a result.
This dissonance can occur randomly, as different member’s experience and expertise contribute to the rigorous vetting of topics. But dissonance can also occur deliberately, as PLN members thoughtfully and purposefully prompt and prod one another to question attitudes, beliefs and values of colleagues, helping everyone involved rise to new, elevated levels of professional efficacy. Creating and working through dissonance is key in using social media as a form of professional development.
(click above image to enlarge)
By grappling with dissonance, I reach what I term vet depth: the level of rigorous questioning and vetting of professional practice that creates the conditions for professional development. By taking deep dives down to the vet depth, I work through the messy and difficult questions facing education today. Where I had suddenly felt concern and uncertainty, I now emerge with new skills and understandings. Equilibrium is restored, and true professional development takes root that transforms my professional practice.
Having thought through my own social media experience, and considering the valid levels through which we all engage professionally on social media, I encourage everyone in education to push themselves to not only enjoy the validating, rewarding birds-of-a-feather conversations that come so easily, but to ask the hard questions, take risks, push thinking, and have the critical conversations that help us to become stronger, more thoughtful, more reflective, more effective models of learning, teaching and leading. Social media already provides us the tools. We simply need to make the most of them. Commit yourself to deep dives all the way down to vet depth, where we can advance one another’s professional development.