When you mention social media you may create several images in your mind. Perhaps it is that of Facebook or the infamous Twitter bird. Perhaps that is a bit too strong of an adjective for that little bird that stands for Tweets. Tweets–a trivial and undeniably silly sounding word. Don’t be so quick to dismiss social media. In fact, I argue that social media is in fact an innovation that is and will change the face of professional collaboration. Think about it–it changes how we keep in touch with out childhood friends, the long lost bunk mate from Summer Camp ’89, and let’s you take a peak at how your ex fared after your breakup all those years ago. Social Media is good at its job. What I argue is that we have underestimated this as an innovation for educators.
Hash tag communities are sprouting up all over Twitter. Marketers seem to understand their value in building a collective presence. These communities offer opportunities for professional collaboration. Collaboration is a key element of successful academic growth, planning, and best practices. Think of the money that big speakers–the Marzanos, Ruby Paynes, and Fountas get paid to fly in and tell you what they think about teaching. Social media is the equalizer. It levels the playing field and flattens the world. For educators tasks with constantly shifting challenges–this is critical. I may teach in Atlanta, but an educator in South Philly may have the answer to my classroom management problem. Social media let’s me walk right into her world and learn from her. It, as Thomas Freidman so effectively said, flattens the world ( Friedman, 2004).
The ideal social system for the use of social media (Twitter-specifically) through these Hash Tag communities is to educate and collaborate extends from most appropriately middle school through higher education. Social systems that focus on the training of adults outside of higher education also have the potential to be impacted. The social system that is often overlooked, that I think has the most to gain, is that of the educator. Educators are regularly engaged in professional collaboration. Social media as a tool for collaboration extends the potential for this collaboration beyond the four walls of a school or university. The potential for expansive collaboration is infinite and offers educators an opportunity to move beyond the limits of their geographic confines.
Attributes of the Innovation
So what makes this an innovation? Just exactly what is Social Media in the contact of collaboration? Webster’s explains that social media is “simply the different forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos)”. While this definition is overly simplistic, I want to focus on the latter half:
…users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content …
This captures the attributes of Hash Tag Social Media communities as a collaboration innovation. Before you write this off as a reference to email or a message you send your favorite list serve, reflect on what a community is. A community has a sense of purpose, belonging, and shared set of interests. The attributes of Social Media that define and categorize Hash Tag communities as relevant to my argument must adhere to this set of standards. A community must exist. So Twitter, in itself, is a loose community, but not the specific enough to meet the demands of this innovation that I propose. Groups dictated by hash tags, however, are. The differences? Twitter is a broad stroke that engulfs random people under the umbrella of a community. The members or readers of a hash tag community are intentional, specific, and guided by a unifying set of principles. Let’s look at an example.
On Twitter, I consider myself a part of the #fycchat group. This group has a designated weekly time where everyone will be online and “tweet”. Each time we tweet a message we include the #fycchat hash tag. The result? A live time dialogue among educators with the same interests. Our community is public, archived for free, and has the potential to catch the eye of other readers. The community grows by invitation, by key word searches, and subgroups have emerged. We exchange ideas and communicate about things that we all care about professionally. The reach however is so far beyond the brick and mortar of our own schools, that it can only be described as global. So, why is K-12 still a bit slow to adopt this? It would seems like this type of innovation in collaboration would be adopted instantly. Well, let’s think a bit about what impediments might influence adoption among K-12 teachers.
What prevents some teachers from getting involved??
Because Twitter requires an interest in social media, many people who are still in the Late Adoption or Laggard group are unaware and really have no interest in Twitter. This impacts the adoption because membership on Twitter is an initial criteria.
Secondly, this group has a bit of an unspoken secret membership. Hash tags vary wildly. Someone must inform you of what the hash tags are that have groups you are interested in. Of course, you can take guesses and try different combinations, but a direct pathway is always a much easier and epidemic building pathway. Malcolm Gladwell, explains that any innovation cannot take place if you do not have access to a Maven–someone that has the information–to initially share with you.
As a change agent, I am actively working to show my peers what it is and how it works. It will not become widespread until the outcomes of such collaboration and the globalization of its reach is known. “Get on Twitter, so you can learn” is not going to be the battle cry that diffuses the innovation across the educational platform. Results and outcomes will.
Where is this now?
Those” in the know” are taking advantage of this. As Rogers, a diffusion research expert, explains, these are the risk takers who can sense a new trend before it becomes mainstream. This is where the innovation is beginning to get legs and starting to spread. Interestingly enough, the diffusion process seems to be further along outside of America. People in different collaborative groups frequently taut foreign schools and countries as their homes. So, what’s next? Share a hash tag, open up your community to one or two others, or better yet, read a bit about the process and join the Innovators who are expanding this process. The potential for collaboration is promising and may just change how educators communicate, plan, and impact student achievement. Ready to share? Here is a quick and dirty PowerPoint that tells the quick benefits and diffusion process of Hash Tag Communities.