Professional Learning Community Using Social Media: Yea or Nay?
Collaboration is compulsory in this digital era to learn and grow together. Notably, educators are expected to be long-life learners to comply with cutting-edge issues and trends.
Through collaboration, educators can improve their knowledge, skills, and experience to solve problems. Collaboration allows teachers to work together and learn from others (Englert & Tarrant, 1995, cited in Scott, 2015). Proper practices then increase student achievement scores and school culture resulting in data-driven improvement. I believe that collaboration among educators, colleagues, and students is getting more accessible by leveraging digital technologies through an Online or Virtual Professional Learning Community. This fact aligns with the ISTE Standards for Educators, particularly an educator as a collaborator (ISTE, 2022). Educators dedicate time to collaborate with both colleagues and students to improve practice, discover and share resources and ideas, and solve problems. Therefore this article addresses how educators dedicate planning time to collaborating with colleagues to create authentic learning experiences that leverage technology (Point 2.4.a.) and use collaborative tools to expand students’ authentic, real-world learning experiences by engaging virtually with experts, teams, and students, locally and globally (Point 2.4.c.).
What is a Professional Learning Community (PLC)?
For over a decade, practitioners have promoted professional learning communities (PLCs) as an effective structure for providing teachers with professional development (Chappuis, Chappuis, & Stiggins, 2009; DuFour, Eaker, & DuFour, 2005, cited in Blitz, 2013). PLC is sometimes used interchangeably with Personal Learning Networks (PLNs). Let us see what makes them different from each other. As seen in Scott (2015), PLCs are a group of teachers with a shared focus on student learning that consistently collaborates for continued school improvement (Dexter, Seashore, & Anderson, 2002; Jackl, 2009; Reichstetter, 2006). Whereas PLNs are networked individuals with shared interests that interact virtually for collaboration, creation, contribution, and information consumption for personal learning and development (Bauer, 2010; Warlick, 2010).
Three main factors that distinguish a PLC from team meetings are (a) commitment, (b) conditions, and (c) collaboration. As cited in Scott (2015), teacher commitment to student learning and school improvement is supported by a shared vision, purpose, and goals (Hord & Sommers, 2008; Jackl, 2009; Strahan, 2003). Human and structural conditions set the foundation for successful meetings and a positive learning environment (Kruse, Louis, & Bryk, 1994; Reichstetter, 2006). Collaboration occurs through shared personal practice, reflective dialogue, and pedagogical content and knowledge (Andrews & Lewis, 2002; Vescio, Ross, & Adams, 2006). On the other side, through PLN, educators can share and interact anytime, anywhere, and active learning (Bauer, 2010; Warlick, 2009; Way, 2012, cited in Scott, 2015).
Moreover, the State Government of Victoria (2021) found ten principles that bring together the best available research on school improvement to create effective PLCs are:
- Student learning focus: School improvement starts with an unwavering focus on student learning.
- Collective responsibility: For every child to achieve, every adult must take responsibility for their learning.
- Instructional leadership: Effective school leaders focus on teaching and learning.
- Collective efficacy: Teachers make better instructional decisions together.
- Adult learning: Teachers learn best with others on the job.
- Privileged time: Effective schools provide time and forums for teacher conversations about student learning.
- Continuous improvement: Effective teams improve through recurring cycles of diagnosing student learning needs, and planning, implementing, and evaluating teaching responses to them.
- Evidence is driven: Effective professional learning and practice are evidence-based and data-driven.
- System focus: The most effective school leaders contribute to the success of other schools.
- Integrated regional support: Schools in improving systems are supported by teams of experts who know the communities they work in.
Online or Virtual Professional Learning Community
Combining PLC and PLN will allow the design of an Online Professional Learning Community (OPLC) to enable teachers in small schools to build social capital and professional development opportunities to impact student learning and overall school improvement positively (Scott, 2015). Notably, the rise in technological advancement has shifted the PLC into online or virtual PLC.
Ford, Branch, and Moore’s (2008) description of the VPLC, cited in Bedford (2019), further clarifies this definition by stating that it uses Internet technology to facilitate engagement and interaction among faculty for relationship building and learning. As the knowledge is experienced digitally, the VPLC has the potential to mitigate biases and limitations that may exist in face-to-face or synchronous settings (Trust, Carpenter, & Krutka, 2017, cited in Bedford, 2019).
Some advantages commonly asserted for online PLCs over traditional PLCs, Blitz (2013) summarized that online PLCs:
- Provide more time and space for teachers to learn and collaborate (Reading, 2010; Tsai, Laffey, & Hanuscin, 2010).
- Lower the cost and time demand that traditional professional development activities place on busy teachers (Beach, 2012; Cirillo & Shay, 2007; Duncan-Howell, 2010; Hodes, Foster, Pritz, & Kelley, 2011).
- Create opportunities to satisfy personal learning interests and goals better because participants have more freedom than in a face-to-face group meeting to connect closely with members who share the same goods without disturbing the group dynamics (Chalmers & Keown, 2006; Curwood, 2011; Fasso, 2010; Forsyth & Schaverien, 2005).
- It can serve a broad range of education improvement goals (content-, skill-, or student-focused), pursued individually or together (Lieberman & Mace, 2010).
- Provide opportunities to scale educators’ interactions broadly and efficiently because online PLCs do not limit group size and allow busy educators to participate and contribute meaningfully to the group (Lieberman & Mace, 2010; Sorensen, Takle, & Moser, 2006).
- Enable complete and timely access to valuable internal resources, such as archival data, and resources not available locally, such as expert knowledge (Nistor, Baltes, & Schustek, 2012; Pijanowski, 2010).
- Can provide daily guidance for teachers in applying novel curricula or pedagogies (Vavasseur & MacGregor, 2008).
- Can provide professional mentoring for entry-level teachers (Dorner & Karpati, 2010).
- Enable PLC designers to collect rich, real-time assessment data on participants’ engagement and learning, including longitudinal data (Schlager, Farooq, Fusco, Schank, & Dwyer, 2009).
Fostering Online or Virtual Professional Learning Community Using Social Media
VPLCs draw on various technology tools to provide social and dispersed learning opportunities, as described by Atkins, Koroluk, and Stranach (2017, cited in Bedford, 2019). Some empirical studies reveal that many VPLC delivery models use online blogs or discussion board features supported by email and document sharing to facilitate conversation among colleagues using an asynchronous design (Bedford & Rossow, 2017). Also, synchronous VPLCs can be designed using videoconferencing software, such as Skype or Google Hangouts. In addition, these platforms can be combined for a blended format, offering flexible delivery of content and conversation (Hodes & Cady, 2013; Matzat, 2013).
Turning to some advantages of social media as a platform for professional learning, Bedford (2019) explore some critical points. Social media supports learners in being producers of information rather than passive consumers, promotes learning through understanding others’ experiences, and embraces a desire to continue learning with a social community of peers (Sullivan, Neu, & Yang, 2018). Next, building features into the social media environment that capitalizes on the diverse engagement preferences and communication styles is one example of how the individual can be nurtured within the social media learning environment (Constantinides, 2012). Recent contributions to the literature offer other suggestions to address situational and design features that may inhibit participation. Kind and Evans (2015) recommend embedding features into the social media site that include opportunities for participants to respond, question, and contribute and be easily updated to provide interactive, time-sensitive information. Participants in social media for learning report enhanced self-improvement through purposeful design, such as building a platform embedded into the user’s regular work routine (Donelan, 2016). Participants also appreciate being able to draw on shared beliefs and find this can create a sense of community. According to Belange, Bluvshtein, and Haugen (2015), these shared beliefs can include understanding the importance of connectedness in all aspects of life, including learning that cannot easily be supported in other modes.
On the other hand, the social media drawbacks for PLC are still rare as researchers still focus on the disadvantages of social media in teaching-learning. For instance, Greenhow and Robelia (2009, cited in Rios et al., 2010) offer a long list of potential risks when using social software in adult education. These include workload concerns for educators and students, lack of trust in peer feedback, ownership issues regarding public and collaborative spaces, difficulty adapting publicly available tools, and difficulty in protecting anonymity. Furthermore, practitioners adult educators (Zascerinska, 2010) indicate the crucial actions that a trainer must undertake in applying social media as a learning environment to achieve educational success. The most frequent methods mentioned are staying in touch with the participants, discussing moderation, including group tasks, creating an active learning environment, providing constant and accurate feedback, and respecting the diversity of participants’ work styles. These drawbacks might occur in different contexts, particularly in online or virtual PLC.
To sum up, it is inevitable to find benefits and drawbacks from leveraging technologies in PLC, including using social media. Knowing digital technologies is highly recommended to promote teacher-teacher collaboration and teacher-student collaboration. Exploring various platforms will be beneficial for educators to comply with the rapid advancement of technology and upgrade their digital competencies. So, keep learning and exploring!
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ISTE. (2022). ISTE Standards: Students. https://www.iste.org/standards/iste-standards-for-students
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Scott, K. (2015). Identifying the Perceptions and Preferences of Teachers in Small Schools toward Online Professional Learning Communities. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. (Issue May 2015) [Texas Tech University]. https://ttu-ir.tdl.org/bitstream/handle/2346/62339/SCOTT-DISSERTATION-2015.pdf?sequence=1
State Government of Victoria. (2021). Professional Learning Communities. Education and Training. https://www.education.vic.gov.au/school/teachers/management/improvement/plc/Pages/default.aspx?Redirect=1
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