Data Use, Technology, and Educational Leadership
This morning, I came across Carol Skyring’s blog and its advice on developing one’s personal learning network. It suggests that Web 2.0 technologies offer educators all sorts of new (and potentially powerful ways) to collaborate and support each other around issues affecting their work. One of the questions that I’m beginning to examine is whether the picture ought to be made more complicated. What if the potential to be observed (by bosses, colleagues, strangers, or whoever) affects what one says and does online? More specifically, what if the public nature of Twitter means that there are “safe” topics or interactions — wouldn’t that limit what a PLN did (or didn’t) do for you? First I’ll give a sampler of what I’m finding in my study, then I’ll name some findings from other research that help provide some additional background to these questions.
Preliminary interview findings. Overwhelmingly, the administrators I’ve interviewed feel that PLNs (and Twitter) hold power to benefit their practices. I’ve also found, though, that the public nature of Twitter held weight in their thinking. For example, many spoke positively about the importance of managing one’s “digital footprint” and “promoting a professional identity.” This was described not only as part of contemporary life, but also something we needed to teach kids about. Others talked about ed admin “rock stars” on Twitter, about growing one’s audience, and about keeping PLN-related Twitter accounts separate from personal or school accounts.
Could this influence the topics that people actually Tweet (or interact) about? So far, I’ve only analyzed a small share of the Tweets collected, but the answer is “maybe.” To date, the most common tweet topic (27% of tweets) among my sample of administrators were related to technology. Examples might be stuff related to Web 2.0, iPads in the classroom, or personal productivity tools. Next up at 23% were tweets about instructional issues or schooling (e.g., common core standards, lesson ideas). Lagging behind in 3rd place (11%) are tweets that might be considered to be about leadership topics. These included beliefs about good leadership or links to articles about leadership. This is something I’ll keep an eye on as analysis progresses.
This idea isn’t new. Some scholars describe this terms of “impression management.” For example, Orlikowski (1996) reports how increased visibility afforded by one information system resulted workers self-censoring what they shared, working to promote a good image, and changing how they began to collaborate using technology. More recently, Marwick and boyd (2010) talk about the work that Twitter users put into building and responding to their “imagined audiences.” And an oldie but goodie (made famous by Foucault) is the idea of the panopticon: a jail that needs few jailers (if any), because the inmates have only the sense of being under surveillance. These are examples of readings, additional suggestions are welcome!
If trends hold up… The conclusion wouldn’t be that PLNs on Twitter don’t exist, but rather that they aren’t all powerful. The public nature of Twitter could narrow the areas in which one gets bang for the buck (the kinds of educational change or progress one might expect). Certainly, technological and instructional knowledge are important for administrators. Maybe administrators don’t need all that much online interaction about leadership issues; maybe Twitter helps edadmin connect, but the delicate or practice-related conversations happen offline (e.g., tweet-ups or school visits among tweeps). Also, some of my study participants mentioned the value of #satchat (which meets on Saturday mornings to discuss practical admin issues via Twitter)– and those tweets have yet to be accounted for. These are just a few examples of the things I’ll be teasing out and pondering over the next few months. Suggestions, questions, and feedback are appreciated greatly.