Introduction Findings

The purpose of this study is to investigate how teachers can benefit from Twitter in their professional practice. This chapter will outline my findings during the stages of data gathering and categories emerging, and how they relate to one another.

As mentioned in the methodology section, the participants received a pre-interview assignment. The entries of the wordcloud were created by themselves arbitrarily, they were not generated from their Twitter feeds - which could have been an interesting exercise but I wanted to gauge their perceived values. So they selected the words for the wordclouds themselves. Although I realise that this can lead to misinterpretations of concepts such as inspiration, I have reasonable confidence in the analysis of the word clouds that ‘inspiration’ was emerging as an important category.

Six from twelve wordclouds explicitly mentioned inspiration as a keyword. All other six wordclouds made reference to inspiration in some kind of concretized or indirect way. A little caution has to be expressed here. A misinterpretation of the concept inspiration is possible. Not every teacher involved might interpret the notion of inspiration in the same way. What is inspiring to X might differ from Y. Yet, analysis of the nature of inspiration points into the direction of a shared meaning of this notion in the wordclouds. 

  • Wordcloud 1: source of information, news;
  • wordcloud 2: new learning materials, lesson ideas, educational news;
  • wordcloud 5: quickly informed;
  • wordcloud 8: the world nearby;
  • wordcloud 11: educational news;
  • wordcloud 12: cross-fertilization.

I share the twelve wordclouds in this Google Drive directory. The participants also tweeted their wordclouds, they are summarised in the following Storify-Appendix.

So, all of the Wordcloud data mentioned the experience of ‘inspiration’ in one way or another. Secondly, since every individual interview also made reference of ‘inspiration’ - see Nvivo screenshot below - my main category was found: inspiration.

So far the easy part … Because this will not come as a surprise to you. Logically, diving into the Twitter stream of information provides numerous opportunities for picking up new information. The massive amount of educational tweets leads to new articles, blogposts, lesson ideas, etc. As you can see in the following Nvivo screenshot, the data of the participants were grouped into a subnode 'information' of parent node ‘inspiration’.

But apparently this is only one part of the Twitter experience, namely an analysis of the Twitter stream of information. This does insufficiently explain why participants were talking about ‘satisfaction’, about ‘fun' and 'joy’, about ‘high levels of curiosity’, ‘finding meaning’ etc.

As some of the participants put it:
“I’ve learnt more from Twitter than all of my professional development sessions together”
“Twitter is an extension of my mind”
“Twitter is a virtual teacher staff room of the “likeminded”, and I love it.”
“Twitter is one big training session.”
“It is a platform for launching professional bubbles.”
“Twitter makes me feel comfortingly calm, I feel at ease.”
“I get feelings of satisfaction and appreciation by being on Twitter.”
“Twitter feeds my broader view on education; I love those broader perspectives.”
Clearly, Twitter is an educational experience that goes beyond only sharing (massive amounts of) information. After this first phase of analysis I had the impression that “there is more to it, and I’m not finding it”. I’m missing links and connections between all of this. The result of the first phase of data analysis lead to a group of emerging categories. (see version 20th Sept. ’15 on page Reflexive process).

These early emerging categories were:
  • peripheral knowledge - a container notion for the types of information teachers are picking up on twitter. Knowledge that goes beyond the more traditional types of knowledge (knowledge for practic, knowledge in practice, knowledge of practice. Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999.);
  • Twitter = non-linear: it is a medium that enriches the professional identity of the teacher but most often does not provide immediate solutions to practice related problems;
  • growth mindset: Twitter feeds the curiosity of teachers and leads to professional growth;
  • Twitter allows cross-fertilising between different contexts, educational and non-educational;
  • blurred boundaries: it is not clear where the professional growth starts and where it ends, it is a “blurry” medium;
  • CPD = emotional: Twitter evokes feelings of joy, fun, satisfaction and appreciation.
But I was not able to build a theory from these categories, they were a kind of isolated characteristics. Researcher ambiguity. After a couple of weeks, I decided to sleep on it, talk about it to people (thx @jufTania and @NinahMarie), I got help from Richard, Ian and Kieran, I reflected on the process some more and read more literature on the nature of inspiration. Charmaz (2006 pp.104-105) describes this phase as
‘grappling with analytic problems is part of the research process. Feeling confused and uncertain – but learning to tolerate the ambiguity – shows your growth as a researcher. Researchers who treat the analytic process as transparent often have superficial analyses.’ (See videolog 20th Nov. '15)
How do these first emerging categories relate then? Three notions form my theory.

1. The emerging categories are rooted in the experience of  inspiration. Inspiration is a psychological construct, it represents a form of knowing. We consider inspiration as a kind of experience we all know or have encountered, but actually inspiration can be considered as “a specific epistemic event, as an activity of knowing”. (Hart, 2000, p. 1)

2. The non-linear nature of Twitter reflects the direction of the CPD of teachers: the professional development of teachers through a Network of Practice (Twitter) is not substantially problem-centered but approaches CPD from a more inspirational process of knowing.

3. The CPD through Twitter is inextricably linked to the use of mobile devices (smartphones and/or tablets).

The final version of my memo's provides a visual overview of how the data is grounded in the psychological construct of inspiration.

Before elaborating and giving evidence of these three main findings in my research, I address the nature of inspiration. Gaining insight in the experience of inspiration is relevant to understand better how Twitter contributes to an inspirational type of CPD through a Network of Practice.