FARMINGTON — A Mt. Blue High School teacher is among an emerging group of educators using the social media network Twitter to reach beyond gossipy chats to exchanging new ideas about teaching students.
Dan Ryder, 37, has joined teachers across the country who are using the free microblogging service to exchange teaching ideas and network. They’re meeting up at hundreds of different scheduled online chats, from a Monday night meeting for sharing SMART board tips to a Wednesday night discussion on standards-based grading.
He said while tweeting to share teaching ideas enjoys limited but growing popularity in southern Maine, he hasn’t found any other teachers tweeting in Franklin County or neighboring Somerset and Kennebec counties.
“In Maine, it just hasn’t caught on yet, even though it could overcome some geographical boundaries,” he said.
About 1 in 4 advanced placement subject teachers such as Ryder, who teaches English, use Twitter, according to Pew Internet Research, though the research group doesn’t have numbers for teachers in general.
If there’s a subject, education trend or new technology that a teacher wants to discuss, odds are there’s hashtag for it that connects to a national online conversation on it, complete with links to resources.
“People now think of Twitter as something for gossip or humor and don’t remember that it was originally for collaboration and connecting,” said Ryder, who has taught for 15 years and has used Twitter enthusiastically since summer as a way to share teaching ideas.
Before the Internet meet-ups, Ryder said, teachers had to travel to conferences to share ideas with each other. Twitter allows for the same exchange of ideas and networking in a way that’s free and convenient, he said.
On Twitter, groups use hashtags (a pound sign followed by a word or phrase) to organize public conversations. People click on a hashtag and are linked to a feed, like a ticker on the bottom of a television news cast, which teachers can sort through for links to new teaching trends and ideas to explore.
Teachers who want to participate in one of the conversations can chime in by typing a 140-character post including a hashtag belonging to one of the particular groups.
The Maine teachers meet on Twitter at 4 p.m. on Thursdays, using the hashtag #edchatme.
There are hundreds of weekly Twitter chats for teachers, from general idea-sharing such as #edchat and #satchat to hundreds of group discussions of specifics that are sorted by region, subject, grade, technology or education trends.
Want to meet up online with teachers from Wyoming? Use the hashtag #wyoedchat from 8 to 9 p.m. Mountain time on Sunday.
Interested in ways to use iPads in education? Try #ipadchat from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday.
Need a new lesson plan for an Advanced Placement U.S. history class? Check out #apushchat 7 to 8 p.m. Tuesdays.
Ryder said one of his favorite meet-ups is at 9 p.m. Wednesdays. It’s #dtk12chat, where teachers share ways to use design thinking, or a teaching philosophy that emphasizes user-friendly solutions, in their lesson plans.
Ryder said he gets an idea about once a week from Twitter to either use immediately in the classroom or save for later.
For example, he has learned through Twitter about Kaizena, which is a free tool that lets him record comments for his students. They turn in work online through Google Drive, and he can use the tool to record feedback to return along with the graded work.
“I can record some comments on the end that would be hard to explain in writing, and the kids said they find it helpful,” he said.
Ryder said the social medium also is a way to share his students’ work with a broad audience. His school participated in a national event where they designed objects out of cardboard. Ryder said he tweeted a picture of a suit of armor styled after Star Wars storm troopers that was picked up by the online Star Wars community.
“It was shared with potentially 12,000 people, and that’s a lot cooler that the student just showing their friends,” he said.
The National Education Association, a teacher union, which holds its own weekly Twitter chat, said in a statement on its website that new teachers, who are usually comfortable in an online community, could use Twitter as a way to network and find mentorship.
The association said Twitter won’t revolutionize teaching, but there are ways in which it could lend a hand.
Through connections he made on Twitter, Ryder is going to be speaking on design thinking in the classroom at the upcoming South by Southwest EDU conference in Austin, where educators will share ideas about the latest teaching trends.
“And all because I tweet. It’s what you make of it,” he said.
Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252