Online Teacher Communities I hope this brief guide into Online Teacher Communities helps to give you a brief insight into what they are, how to join them and how to make them work for you. Teacher Online Communities have been around for over 20 years but only recently, in the last 18 months, have they really come to the fore. The reason for this is the use of "Smart Phones"; phones that are internet-enabled; that have screens and that use applications that join people together. The main things that teachers use to facilitate their online communities, I guess, are Twitter and from that something called #Edchats and then another thing called #TeachMeets and fourthly blogs. And underlying, underpinning all this is a special tagging system called hashtags. Twitter is an application that you can download off the internet and put on your smartphone. You have to have a name which you have to call yourself that begins with the '@' symbol followed by the name you want; mine is "@eyebeams' and I twitter out (Tweet) or push out small messages of a 140 characters on a daily basis. Now I'm a consultant and I'm also an ICT practitioner working within ICT, Computer Science, Digital Culture and I'm interested in all those different aspects of the various teacher communities involved in this. So I have followed this for about 5 years and I've also filmed and archived a lot of resources to do with online teacher communities; so I use Twitter as my main social glue to keep in touch with other people on a daily basis. Twitter is a tool to use on a daily basis; how you use it depends on how focused you are. It can be either an extremely useful tool or it can be a massive time sink. You have to bear this in mind. Coming out of this is #Edchats. #Edchats are when teachers come together online at a particular time and place. And they use something called a hashtag (#) to notify each other of when they are going to be there and also to document and to demarcate, notify and track real-life or online events. So to track a group set of tweets you would put in a hashtag and to have an #Edchat you would put # edchat. The biggest one for the UK is #UKedchat which is held every thursday night between 8 o'clock and 9 o'clock and everyone discusses a set topic they have voted for online which is then marked in each Twitter message with a hashtag. And the hashtag says #Ukdedchat and then you put your message into the discussion stream that happens on twitter. Now you can either put a URL, an internet address, of a resource; you could put an opinion or you could put a very pragmatic way of how you would do something within the defined topic. So hashtags are like little noughts and crosses' symbols and they are the American sign for number, really, and they can be used in several different ways. They are often just used for banter and the problem with #edchats is they can become 'echo
chambers' where people just echo what each other person thinks and there is no challenging, or professional moving on from that discussion; so you've got to watch that. The hashtag, is a marker, as I've said, to demarcate, notify and track real-life or online events. It's also used to group a set of tweets or resources or users and it could be used for playing with language. Or it can be used as a specific professional resource for archival purposes and this is the best use I've seen so far. Now, number 3. Teachers like to meet up; they are very social so they use twitter and they use hashtags to demarcate a time and a place where they will meet up and hold an event and this event is a TeachMeet. Now if you go along to your favourite search engine and you put in the word TeachMeet it will bring up what's called the TeachMeet Wiki. On the TeachMeet Wiki are the TeachMeets that are happening this week or last week or the week to come and they're all there, one after the other and you can click on them and see who's going to them; they will have Twitter names but you will meet them at a specific time and a place in Real-Life; where people will give either presentations or hold discussions face to face. So it's a use of the internet to demarcate a move from virtual to real space and this is where the true value comes in because people then start to meet up, socialise, and then discuss and reflect on practice. And that's where the true value lies in the use of Online Teacher Communities; it's where it moves from the networking online to offline; face to face. But not only that, when TeachMeets are being held, people often look at the activities that are going on at the TeachMeet because some kind soul, usually me, or someone else, has put up a live video stream over the internet so you could be sitting in your front room watching the TeachMeet presentations or discussions happening in Real_Time with audio and video and you could be commenting on what is happening with other teachers, with the community, using the hashtag and usually it's #™ whatever the TeachMeet is. The most recent successful one I could point to is TeachMeet Bolton, so that would be '#TMBolton' and there you will see the whole timeline of hashtag comments and resources and other things talked about. What was interesting recently was that I was able to watch the video of the TeachMeet Bolton; I could then mark up and put into the timeline, of Twitter, all the different people coming up and what they were doing and the resources they were showing. And as other people came in and put up their hashtags in the timeline I was then able to go and find those resources, archive the whole session using something called Storify, 'Storify.com'. And Storify.com allows you to put in a hashtag and it will then pull up all the resources that people have talked about using that hashtag in that time period. Why is that so important? Well it's important because in Twitter, all those comments, all those insights, all those discussions will disappear after time, probably 2 to 3
weeks; you'll never see them again, the disappear into what is called the Twitter 'Firehose' then you cannot archive and you cannot search for them so there is one way to capture them and that is to put the hashtag into Storify on the date of the event and archive it for other people if they are looking to see what happened there. So I've archived the storify and put in links to the videos, links to the people who have talked about the TeachMeet afterwards and this is where the 4th or 5th resource comes in and that's the blog. And the blog is probably the most useful thing a teacher can do. It's an online record or reflection where people talk about either having gone to TeachMeets or they talk about what they're doing in their class or they talk about in-depth lesson practice and this is the most useful resource of all and it is becoming far more common. But a lot of people use their blogs to reflect on the TeachMeet evening they have just been at or to reflect on one aspect of the meet up that people have had. For example at TeachMeet Bolton a lot of people started to talk about SOLO; the SOLO technique. So I was able to go and look at all the resources (online), put them in the timeline in the Storify and learn a little bit more about that. But then as I started to find out more about this I discovered more and more practitioners that were using tho technique and the way that I discovered them was they had put a hashtag in and a link to their own blog. So then you start to build up a nice little resource of about 20 or 30 people, practitioner communities, who are actually using this resource in different ways in their classroom and that starts to amount to Action Research and then you are starting to get a very viable, interesting and precise look into teacher practice which you wouldn't get in any other field because it is distributed all over the UK or all over the world and it is harnessed by the use of teacher networks joining together. So, if you want to join a teacher network, get a smart phone or an iPad or an Android or similar device; one that's able to link to the internet. Put Twitter on there; find yourself a Twitter name; put in the hashtag for an #Edchat - there will be some at the end of this broadcast to show you where they are; put in'TeachMeet' into a search engine and go along and 'lurk'. What that means is, you look at the activity online and when you feel comfortable enough you can join the discussion or even go along to a TeachMeet and meet people face to face. Good luck with that and I hope this has been a useful quick, ten minute insight into online teacher communities. I wish you the best of luck; look forward to seeing you online and face to face.