The Internet is awash with tantalising treasures and imaginative ideas that teachers can use to immerse their classes in a perpetual voyage of discovery. Ideas proliferate from thousands of educational professionals who have tried, failed, improved and succeeded using an array of lesson ideas and techniques. But the trouble is locating this treasure when it is needed.
Teachers currently spend hours pouring over search engine results looking for the perfect resource. But this is beginning to change as a growing number of educators discover that they can connect with other teachers, and that someone has already found that interactive quiz about Brunel that they have been looking for. Thousands of educators have turned to Twitter to build a network of educators to share, debate and help improve their teaching. The focal point of this network for teachers in the UK is UKedchat.
UKedchat is a weekly discussion which takes place at 8pm on Thursday evenings. The topics of discussion focus on education, schools and what it means to be a 21st century educator. A volunteer host guides the discussion and keeps the conversation moving. The host also chooses which topics are polled and chosen by the community. The conversation is open and visible to everyone and anyone can add they comments and opinions to the debate. To take part in the conversation, participants will need to have a free Twitter account and to include the #ukedchat label or ‘hashtag’ to their message so they can be found by others. The messages are archived and the host writes a summary of the dialogue soon after the discussion has finished. These summaries are posted to http://ukedchat.com.
The weekly Twitter discussion was founded in July 2010 by Colin Hill. He saw the potential of the American EDchat and the difference it was making for teachers and students by educators exchanging teaching ideas and resources during the hour long discussion. Colin adapted the concept and imported it for the UK. More than two years on, UKedchat is one of the main hubs for UK teachers online both during and between the weekly discussions. For every major educational event in the UK the #UKedchat hashtag is used to inform other educators about what is happening.
There are a number of other specialist discussion forums on Twitter which allow educators to find other teachers with similar responsibilities or subject areas. #SLTchat focuses on the needs of school senior leadership teams and takes place every Sunday night at 8pm. #DLchat shares ideas and successes about how to improve the digital skills of pupils to raise the standards of everyone in a school. #EngChatUK and #SENchat look specifically at English and SEN topics. The #battt hashtag or ‘Bring a Teacher To Twitter’ helps educators new to Twitter find great resources and people to follow and tips for encouraging colleagues to join and share. The recently launched #planningpanic hashtag from the TES allows teachers to talk to TES staff directly to point them in the direction of suitable resources.
These discussion hashtags are more than a label. They are the symbol of a paradigm shift that is taking place in the UK education system as teachers begin to catch up with their students in realising the vast opportunities the digital world and social media present. Teachers are using Twitter to improve their teaching with the help of a community of dedicated educators who are sharing their wealth of experience, resources and advice one hundred and forty characters at a time.