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Professional Development in the Wild: Using Social Media for Personal Learning

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Participate and share : Poster
Poster presentation

Monday, November 30, 1:30–2:30 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Dr. Antha Holt  
Research shows that educators are often dissatisfied with the PD offered them. Social media has become a place for many teachers who desire answers, resources and help exactly when needed. Explore research on how teachers are using social media to personalize their professional learning.

Audience: Chief technology officers/superintendents/school board members, Professional developers, Technology coordinators/facilitators
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Participant accounts, software and other materials: None needed.
Topic: Professional learning
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Pursue professional interests by creating and actively participating in local and global learning networks.
For Education Leaders:
Connected Learner
  • Participate regularly in online professional learning networks to collaboratively learn with and mentor other professionals.

Proposal summary


The theoretical framework focused on a brief history of professional development, beginning with changes brought about by "A Nation at Risk", progressing through the growing need for training in technology integration. It followed Shulman, Mishra, and Kohler's, as well as others, work in developing the TPACK framework and the need to move beyond integration of technology for integration sake, but rather to make the best instructional decisions based on technological, pedagogical, and academic content knowledge. Along with this, research studies on the experiences and thoughts of teachers on current forms of professional development were studied. The logical progression through this history and examination of professional development was to review the use of various forms of social media for professional learning and collaboration. This framework aligns with the ISTE standards for teachers as educators take charge of their own learning, and seek ways to fulfill their desire to find innovative approaches to engaging students in their learning. The use of social media for professional learning provides just in time learning opportunities for teachers that is personalized, ongoing, content related, collaborative, and sustainable.


This study employs a developmental evaluation research design. Developmental evaluation is a way to understand activities of a group or program in a unique or novel setting. The focus is centered more on innovation and planned learning while reflecting on programs in a particular setting and relevant responses from the community (Norman, 2011). This type of design serves the research questions by setting the frame for exploring social media activity of the BEDU Facebook group: to better understand how educators are using these groups to improve their professional practice. Turning to social media is an innovative approach to a common teacher problem of needing more personalized professional development.

Developmental evaluation falls within the greater context of utilization-focused evaluation, which is “done for and with specific primary intended users for specific, intended uses” (Patton, 2008, p. 37), in this case teacher professional development through social media (Patton, McKegg, & Wehipeihana, 2016). A strength of developmental evaluation that can also be considered challenging is that results do not necessarily paint a clear picture, but rather provide researchers as well as stakeholders with information that can lead to further considerations in decision making (Leonard, Fitzgerald, & Riordan, 2016).In the case of this study, the findings inform pathways for adopting new, technologically savvy approaches to deepening professional learning and collaboration in ways that support teachers' just-in-time information and resource needs.

The data source was members of the Breakout EDU Facebook General Discussion group. A mixed methods approach was utilized by capturing qualitative data from eighteen months of Facebook posts, as well as inviting group members to take an anonymous, voluntary survey providing quantitative data. Approximately fifty-five members completed the survey.

The merging of the two datasets allowed a more comprehensive analysis of the resulting data (Creswell, 2013, p. 15). Gray (2018) points to the need for a pragmatic approach when gathering discourse data as pragmatists view the combined use of both qualitative and quantitative methods together in a study as a means to apply the strengths of both approaches. This involved a three step process.

Multiple approaches were used to assist in achieving the most accurate finding from the qualitative data attained from the Facebook posts. After coding the posts, the researcher found that it was more effective to use key words from the word frequency results to point to conversations that were relevant to the research questions. Ultimately, through the analysis process, the researcher identified thirty-two conversations that were related to teacher practice and could be considered as indicative of professional development occurring, as opposed to, for example, problems with locks or how to set up a breakout. From the thirty-two conversations, twelve were selected as most representative of qualities of effective professional development.

Quantitative data was classified using frequency distribution. These frequencies of responses provided an organized method of summarizing results. Open-ended questions resulted in qualitative data. The researcher exported data directly from Qualtrics to NVivo, she also downloaded to Excel spreadsheets. The codes from the BEDU Facebook posts were used to analyze the qualitative survey. After reviewing results using multiple approaches, the researcher ultimately found the analysis was best approached through the use of spreadsheets for analysis of survey results and drawn upon as they were most relevant to addressing each research question.

The third and final step was to integrate the survey data with the Facebook posting data. The researcher triangulated the BEDU Facebook conversations and survey data through repeated comparative analysis determining relevancy to the central guiding research question and sub-questions. This allowed for comparison with and between the two datasets allowing for more accurate, comprehensive results (Creswell, 2013).


The study shows teachers are actively sharing resources, asking questions, even discussing pedagogical strategies. Educational social media groups such as BEDU are providing “just in time” learning that fit within identified characteristics of effective PD: choice, collaborative, ongoing, active learning, content-specific.

These findings led to 4 key conclusions. First, social media is a viable form of PD for teachers. Second, teachers are utilizing social media groups to provide ongoing professional learning. Third, characteristics of professional learning within educator social media groups can be applied to TPACK framed professional development. Finally, providers and planners of district PD can be improved by adopting innovative, creative approaches that include the characteristics of effective professional development, including learning on social media.

The BEDU Facebook postings occur in a supportive, positive environment. These teachers become each other's cheerleader. They can access the group 24/7, making this resource available whenever they need it. As we look at ways to incorporate aspects of educational social media groups into PD, technological knowledge means more than just integrating technology. Today's students need the four C's – Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, and Critical Thinking. Students acquire these skills as teachers move into the TPACK framework and create student-centered instruction incorporating their technological, pedagogical, and academic content knowledge appropriately for the content area and grade level. They need collaborators and mentors to do so. This study demonstrates the importance of finding effective ways to orchestrate positive support and collaboration.

Teachers are lifelong learners; they are passionate about their students – planning instruction, advocating for them, working to provide what their students need. They will seek out the resources and ideas they desire as demonstrated by their growing use of social media for learning. By applying essential elements discovered in the BEDU Facebook group to TPACK oriented forms of PD, as well as continuing studies of VLCs and PLNs, it is possible to provide the meaningful professional development so desired by teachers.


High quality, engaging instruction is critical for student success. Students naturally desire more control over their learning, and the ability to see its relevance to their world outside of school. Evidence demonstrates that disengaged learners begin to fall behind as they advance through the grade levels, resulting in decreased graduation rates, which can have a significant impact on their future as well as the economy of the United States (High School Graduation Facts: Ending the Dropout Crisis, 2017). According to the Alliance for Education, the graduating class of 2015 had a graduation rate of 83.2%. They project that if the US graduation rate reached 90%, there would be an additional $3.1 billion additional income annually, resulting in $664 million more in taxes paid into federal, state, and local coffers. This income increase could result in $2.5 billion more in spending, $534 million additional car sales, $7.8 billion home sale increase, resulting in $5.7 billion economic growth and 14,260 new jobs (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2017).
Each teacher has his or her unique approach to instruction, with an ongoing search for new strategies and practices to engage their learners. Formal professional development aids in this process, yet too often it is one size fits all with little modeling of how to integrate technology effectively. For far too many years, teachers have been dissatisfied with professional development offered by their institutions. Teachers have begun to utilize the many social media sites to expand their repertoire of instructional approaches. To compete in today's global society, students need instruction that promotes critical thinking, creativity, and problem-solving skills while learning content from the different subject areas. They need to be able to make the connections that exist between what they are learning and real-world experiences. As teachers search for learning activities on social media sites, they have discovered a wealth of information from peers around the world, interacting, collaborating, and sharing resources to a greater depth than previously existed. By exploring and joining groups such as Facebook BEDU, teachers are taking control of their professional growth, yet traditionally, this is not recognized as professional development. As the use of social media by educators for resources, collaboration with peers, and professional growth is a relatively new phenomenon; there is little research pertaining to this topic. It is time to Breakout of the typical definition of professional development and to consider new approaches through research.


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Dr. Antha Holt, Tumwater School District

Dr. Antha Holt is an Instructional Technology Specialist at Tumwater School District, Tumwater, Washington with 25 years of experience in education from teaching band in Texas and Washington, to Technology Director of a small, rural K-8 district. As an early adopter, Antha has been an educational technology adjunct at Seattle Pacific University, St. Martin's University, and Educational Service District 113 in Olympia, WA. She received her doctorate in Instructional Technology from Pepperdine University and serves on the Washington State Network Advisory Committee. She has presented at ISTE, NCCE, and AWSP.

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