I Blame Twitter

As part of my job as a Campus Recreation Facilities Director, I supervise four graduate assistants who are responsible for night and weekend supervision of our student recreation center. They also share responsibility for staff training and development, hiring and scheduling, equipment inventory, and risk management. For the last several years I have required my graduate assistants to submit monthly summaries stating what they did well that month, what they would have done differently, etc. At the end of their 2-year assistantship I review all of their summaries and write my own evaluation of their professional growth during their time as a Facilities Graduate Assistant. Until this month, summaries were submitted as Word documents. That is about to change.
This past fall semester I attended a professional development session on my campus entitled “Social Media and Student Reflection”, taught by Christopher Rice. Among other ideas, he explained how he uses Twitterin the classroom to engage students, creating specific hashtags so that everyone can follow the discussion. Instead of asking students to put away their cell phones, he requires them to pull them out. As I listened to him explain how this worked, I could feel his passion. Here was a person who was willing to step outside of tradition to engage students in a way that they found familiar and exciting. He also spoke of other digital avenues that allowed students to organize class information in meaningful ways, collaborate with classmates, and actually be participants in their own learning by using websites such as Paper.li, Prezi, Google Docs, Google Hangouts, and Pinterest, to name only a few.
Not everyone in the room was buying into the ideas behind Chris’ presentation. Participants expressed privacy concerns associated with using social media. There was overall skepticism concerning the true value of using Twitter as an educational forum. At one point during a Q and A session, Chris was accused of being “glib”, a comment which reflects the opinion of the majority of faculty on this campus who refuse to change their teaching styles to reach students who define themselves, in large part, through their electronic devices. But for me, it was my first peek into what could be. At the time, I didn’t use Twitter, and I didn’t know how it could possibly work as a tool for student engagement in my job, but I knew I had to find out. As Dr. John Schuhprofessor and chair of educational leadership and policy studies at Iowa State University, explained in a previous professional development session: It’s not important to understand everything before you begin; the important thing is to just take the first step.
After the “Social Media” session, I logged into Twitter for the first time in months. Using my new-found knowledge of how hashtags work, I searched #highered and found a world of Student Affairs professionals who routinely used Twitter to share helpful tips, discuss educational trends, and present new ideas on student engagement and learning. I created a Diigo in Education account and started receiving daily updates of websites that could help educators use technology to connect with students. I found a surprising world of helpful suggestions, creative ideas, and encouragement that I never knew existed. And it all started with—of all things—Twitter.
Which brings me back to the beginning of this post. Over the past few months, my exploration into the world of educational technology has included reading blogs from colleagues worldwide. I have bought into the idea of continuous reflection as a form of professional development. So beginning this month, my graduate students have been challenged (code word for “required”) to set up their own blogs using Google Blogger, and to subscribe to at least two blogs within their graduate program area of interest. They will be encouraged to not only complete monthly reflections, but also to use the blog as an opportunity to discuss other thoughts and ideas on a more regular basis. 
I am very excited about having extended this challenge. I am also nervous, because I have included myself in this challenge. In my efforts towards continuous growth, how can I not make the same requirement of myself as I do of young professionals? So this is for all those GAs who have gone before, to those who are currently here, and to those yet to come. You inspire me to find ways to challenge you, and it’s because of you that I continue to reach for more. This blog’s for you.

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