Wednesday, 19 June 2013

#ELTchat - teachers working outside the box/professional development

As my last class was cancelled at the last minute this evening - ongoing business meeting (again - what can be so important at 8pm?) I was able to join in a 'conversation' that I have missed for several weeks.

How can you have a 'conversation' on twitter? Sounds barmy, doesn't it? Well, frankly, yes, it does. But, if you use a regular schedule and use a consistent hastag (#), then you can achieve/join a forum to discuss pre-decided topics. You can lurk, ie just watch, without joining in/sharing...but if you are 'brave' and dip your toe in, you get an awful lot more out of the discussion.

So this evening I realised I was listening to the cricket (not accidentally - England are playing South Africa at The Oval!) and that I could participate in the #ELTchat "chat", that happens (for me) every Weds night. I usually can't, and although there is a summary written up aferwards, I feel I have missed a chance to get involved - you don't write to people after a party you didn't go to, do you? Reading about it later is not the same as chucking your hat on the ring! So, with my Tweetdeck still working (opinion about Tweetdeck being scuttled later) I joined in.

The thing about twitter is (at least with peers) that you are not 'at' nor obliged even to respond. Contrast that with, for example email. A very good definition I read lately of email is that it is a 'to do list drawn up by other people'. And I hate that. If I send an email, I am going to end up with xyz number of extra things to do that I do not want to do - at the very least acknowledge/write a reply. I don't know about you, but I need time to think about stuff like that - be in the right mood, have the time to find attachments, craft the thing in such a way that I don't end up with yet another inbox stressor to deal with...

A twitter discussion = a topic I have decided is relevant to me...or a discussion about a topic by a bunch of people who I think are relevant ( I don't know who they are in advance, but they will be using the same #hashtag to identify the topic/discussion) is very empowering. They shatter geographical boundaries, overcome local insularity, and flatten playing fields.

Twitter chats also happen at the speed you can type; usually any 'chat' will be over in an hour. I find I need a second device necessary (my iPhone to respond) while following on a primary device PC using Tweetdeck (I wanted to use Monitter) to keep an eye on the ongoing feed. Otherwise, my response speed (unconfident) can mean I have missed 5 minutes of 'chat' and have become irrelevant/late. Sometimes people reply to you directly, in mid-flow....great! You have been heard, your answer is valuable, your public - peers - await!

So, while I did not have dinner tonight with my dad - in Japan for a week (or my kids, as usual) - or actually have dinner at all (school owner syndrome?) I instead found myself having a very impromptu & high speed chat about teachers & managers. Given that you can only tweet 140 characters in one go, you have to be very concise. Given that you also only have one hour - and multiple participants with a time line moving on quickly - you also do not have time to 'consider'. And I love that. You really do get 'gut' reactions - not rants or ambushes. Imagine a phone conversation with your phone card running out - and you want to say something. I have yet to engage in a chat with 'my' people that has not been an enormously positive experience.

Caveat. I am engaged with a professional group - not a social one. I am an adult, and I do not take bait or react to bullying. That itself is something you have to be old enough/smart enough to recognise. I do not give a shit if somebody I cannot identify says something negative. I do not identify specific examples or people. I take a few sessions to take the temperature of the group - see how well it is moderated - and to check who the bigger fish are. Are they my actual peers (do they have public profiles? Do they have many followers? Do they 'rant'?), is the discussion fair, will it be useful for me?

Tonight I was engaged with a "tight" group of people. I have taken the time to check out my industry, build a list of teachers around the world I think have valid/valuable opinions, follow #ff links and read blogs. I have noticed which contributors are fair, respond to others, share extras eg links, respond by naming @person who said something, welcome newbies etc. And to get involved, I have replied to the @person and used the #hashtag and from there I am in the middle of a conversation...mine...I am being retweeted, favourited, replied to and asked follow up questions. That's OK - I am 'on my topic'. If the conversation has moved on (and it will!) re-join. Maybe you did not read the topic carefully enough or your first message 'missed'. Keep trying (and leave space for  retweets - only use 120 characters) & remember to include the #hashtag!

Tonight, I was in a very high speed conversation with teachers/managers working in Dubai, Greece, Australia, the UK, South Korea, Finland & Croatia. There was no 'you are the expert' or 'you are stupid', 'I have a PhD' or 'Who are you?'. Instead, I was asked to explain (my 'shorthand' not the same as everyone elses) or to give examples or to expand. Some people retweeted my tweets, others were 'favorited'....and others got no response at all! Relax - none of us can be the eternal font of all wisdom!

I learned a lot of useful things from my "one hour of free-time" tonight. I also came across a stack of people on twitter I would like to get to know/follow/pay attention to. I also started to realise who some of the 'big hitters' are. I started a conversation with somebody I never had any chance of talking to otherwise...

And that is the beauty of twitter. I don't get teachers who don't get twitter. I really don't! The next last most useful resource for EFL teachers was The Guardian Weekly...back in the steam age!