Why is it that despite having a plethora of electronic devices, apps and software at our disposal to facilitate global communication, our communication skills seem to have deteriorated considerably? Research claims that instant messaging (IM) and texting are responsible for poor literacy skills amongst the screenager net-generation due to shorthand and extensive use of emojis (Verheijen, 2013), so there seems little worth in suggesting using IM for professional development purposes.
Despite this, I believe that Instant Messaging and cloud–based collaboration have a role to play in supporting teachers’ ongoing development.
Professional development is something that all teaching professionals are aware they should dedicate time to. However, the reality is that busy teachers often have little time or motivation to engage in continuing professional development (CPD). Why would a teacher want to give up their precious free time in the evening or at weekends to attend a webinar, seminar, workshop or conference, or find a spare hour to read an academic journal? There are, however, many ways of exploiting IM to improve communication in closed group contexts.
Using collaboration tools
While attending a seminar myself last year, I met a group of teachers who encountered problems motivating teenagers preparing for the Cambridge English: First Writing exam. In order to share ideas and strategies we set up a WhatsApp group called ‘motivation’ where we post and share ideas from time to time. I haven’t seen the group of teachers since, but the IM group is still active and provides very useful support. This interaction and sharing of ideas is a quick and practical form of teacher development that can easily be implemented into any teaching context.
For teacher training purposes, I use Slack, a free cross-platform, cloud-based team collaboration tool that can be downloaded as an app on all devices, or used from tablets, laptops and desktop computers. I set up a discussion group and added different discussion threads, or channels as they’re known on Slack, so the teachers I am working with are able to take advantage of idle moments, check their phones and interact in a more fluid and fun way than logging into the usual online learning platform.
Example interaction using Slack includes discussions about teacher training content. I divided the discussions into specific topic areas and set up questions for the teachers to discuss. Feedback from course participants was that by accessing a collaborative tool on their phones, they had more freedom and time to interact with each other. Some participants said they had Slack active and open on their laptops and were able to respond to new comments while they were working on assignments.
As the user rate of instant messaging continues to increase internationally, it is evident that there are many ways of harnessing this quick and effortless way of increasing teacher interaction and sharing of ideas. I have provided one example, but Slack is versatile and can be used in any context.
Verheijen, L (2013) The effects of text messaging and instant messaging on literacy, English Studies, August 2013.