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An #Edchat with Tom Whitby


In the past I have written that educators should be joining Twitter. It's not because I get some kickback from the social networking organization. Twitter was something I didn't know very much about until a few months ago. There was a time that I thought it was more fluff than substance. I'm far removed from the celebrities who Tweet where they are going to dinner or who they are with on any particular evening. However, the benefits that I have received from Twitter are far greater than just collecting friends and finding out who is more popular.

Twitter has given me, and millions of other educators, a window into the world of global education (Professional Development). As a professional learning community, we can read about the issues that our colleagues face in classrooms far away or in the next county. There is something about education that is special and sacred. As much as we may feel that we have lost some of the pride of being educators because of mandates, high stakes testing and budget cuts, Twitter provides us with a venue to talk with colleagues who respect education as much as we do. I guess it's our way of circling the wagons.

Make no mistake though, many of the conversations are not about accepting the status quo; quite the opposite actually. The conversations focus on helping build student engagement and changing education for the better. There are millions of organizations, writers, educators and administrators who want to make our present system much better.

In addition to the back and forth educators have with one another on the social networking tool, they can also find unique perspectives through blogs and videos that are being Tweeted out by colleagues near and far. If educators really want to kick it up a notch they can join some chat groups. My two personal favorites are #elemchat which is a discussion about elementary topics on Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. Eastern and #edchat which meets on Tuesdays at 12:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Eastern time.

#edchat covers a variety of subjects in education and it was founded by Tom Whitby. The chats involve numerous educators from around the world. Every chat focuses on one educational topic such as high stakes testing, school climate, the role of technology in the classroom and countless other topics. Educators get to vote on what topic they want to discuss out of about five possible topics. The polls are open for two days before the chat begins.

What a better way to engage learners than allowing them to choose the discussion! Tom knows these things, because he has been an educator for over thirty years. He and I recently spoke about the importance of Twitter and #edchat in education and how it is one of the best professional development models that educators can use because it offers a variety of resources at your finger tips.

PD: Why did you start #edchat?

TW: When I first seriously involved myself with Twitter to collect sources to use in my profession as an educator, things were not so simple on Twitter. There were no Follow lists. People had to find educators to follow one person at a time. I would engage people in discussions in order to determine if I wanted to follow them. I was fortunate to connect with two really great people to follow. Shelly Terrell, @Shellterrell, and Steve Anderson, @web20classroom.

The three of us would often engage in discussions on Twitter, 140 characters at a time. I always pushed the discussions beyond just gathering sources and into the area of examination and reflection of education in general. Our conversations began to attract more and more educators who were on Twitter at the time. It was sporadic. Hashtag use was limited to the few veterans who understood it. A problem was that unless people spotted the conversation in progress, they would not know that the discussions existed.

I suggested that we should do a specific topic at a specific time to get more people involved. Shelly came up with the #Edchat Hashtag and Steve came up with the idea for the Poll. Jerry Swaitek, @jswiatek , an avid participant, began archiving the chats for us on his own. We immediately grew from several hundred educators to several thousand. We recruited moderators to help guide participants; Kyle Pace, @kylepace, Mary Beth Hertz, @mbteach. Later we added Jerry Blumengarten, @Cybraryman1, and Nancy Blair, @Blairteach.

It was then that Educators in Europe requested a more Time-zone-friendly Chat time. That was when we added the Noon Chat to accommodate those educators in Europe. We were very fortunate to have Berni Wall, @liberni from England step up as a weekly moderator for the noon chat.

PD: How do you think #edchat is changing professional development for educators?

TW: I know many educators say that #Edchat is the best Professional Development they have ever gotten in their career. I see that as an indictment of a system that is failing to provide what should be an essential requirement for educators.

#Edchat provides few answers, but it does promote discussion of issues. It creates awareness and relevance to educators who are often isolated in their own profession. It arms educators with the questions they need to pose to others. It prompts reflection. All of this is reflected in Blog Posts and Tweets after each of the #Edchats (End of Interview).

Educators are busy balancing family and their career. Joining Twitter can seem daunting because of all the symbols to get used to and the constant stream of information. Educators should take small steps and create a username and password and find a few people they admire and follow them.

It's intimidating putting words in a message and blasting it out to everyone. Many people take a lot of time to craft e-mails to make sure they say the right thing, so saying the right thing in 140 characters or less is scary. However, I encourage you to try it because you may just meet a bunch of incredible educators who have important things to say. I know I did when I joined and came across a guy named Tom Whitby and a group called #edchat.


Follow Peter on Twitter.

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