Is social media PD?

Many educators indicate they use social media primarily for professional development. For example, Jim Asher, a principal in Albemarle County Public Schools (where this author did work on one point), says in his blog, Making the Case for Social Media in Schools, that he uses Twitter and other social media for PD, and encourages his teachers to do the same. The specific examples he provides are using Twitter to “build relationships and share ideas and materials.” This certainly is a useful resource for teachers, and a great way to use Twitter and other social media resources. Whether or not it is professional development, however, is another issue.

Learning Forward has created new Standards for Professional Learning, which they state on their website “…make explicit that the purpose of professional learning is for educators to develop the knowledge, skills, practices, and dispositions they need to help students perform at higher levels.”

Twitter is a great way to get ideas and resources to use in the classroom with students. Its value in terms of true professional learning, however, maybe gets overstated. Does sharing ideas and materials increase a person’s knowledge and skills, or just reinforce existing knowledge and skills? Will using Twitter to communicate with other educators change a person’s dispositions? Are we more likely to gravitate towards people and resources that are consistent with the dispositions we already have, rather than challenging them? Can valuable PD be delivered in 140 characters? I think if social media is actually able to provide resources that meet this definition of professional learning, those of us who deliver professional development really need to think about the quality of what we provide. If what we are delivering in multiple hours over several days over the course of the school year is not as valuable to educators as what they are getting on Twitter, we need to re-evaluate our content and methods. We need to set a higher bar for what professional learning is and what the outcomes should be, such that we expect (and deliver) more than social media can realistically provide.