The teacherprenuer: Why teachers seek out social media.
We all like to belong. Belonging to a group whether virtual or real is important for humans. These online groups are called affinity spaces. It is a place where people with similar interests can go to connect and share ideas.
Instagram is one form of social media which educators are beginning to use more. It is interesting as Instagram does no come to mind as a text-based social platform for the exchange of ideas. Instagram is primarily for imagery, however, as with all things on the internet and social media, its use can change or diversify over time.
There are benefits and drawbacks to using social media. Indeed, many stories about social media are about the problems associated with it. Social media, for all its benefits also creates challenges for those using it.
Instagram’s visual nature distinguishes it from many other social platforms. So it’s interesting that educators are using Instagram more as a meeting place. Social media can provide a neutral platform for discussions, but social media through their algorithms can also shape the content and direction of experiences for many users. Interestingly, the visual nature of Instagram has the appearance of being a more credible and trustworthy source when compared to text-only social platforms such as twitter (Pittman and Reich, 2016).
What is an affinity space?
An affinity space is an online or offline location where people can convene due to a shared interest. This is nothing new, although social media and the internet has made much easier for individuals to find like-minded others. In many cases, affinity spaces are related to avocations (a minor hobby or occupation) rather than professional vocations. The benefit of online affinity spaces is the ability for large groups of people to connect and create new audiences for user-generated content. For example, teachers can use social media to share ideas and resources related to their subject area.
The online affinity space can be a great resource but it can also be a place of challenge. Online affinity spaces are often open to anyone so its community can become diverse. Norms and cultures can develop in affinity spaces which may differ from the original conception. This can cause friction among community members. For example, teacher affinity spaces could result in socialisation which reverts to traditional or ineffective teaching practices (Little, 2003).
Teachers can join an affinity space due to their shared interest in education. Other teachers join an affinity space for the purpose of seeking to influence beyond their own classroom (Berry et al, 2013). Teacherpreneurs use social media to advertise products, resources and to pursue individual financial interests. This distinguishes them from other community members in that they seek memberships to share information for financial gain. This can affect the character and culture of an online affinity space. For some, this type of information is valuable and useful and for others, it is spam and a nuisance (Carpenter et al, 2018).
Benefits in the use of social media for educators.
Educators can use social media to fulfil needs related to professional identity, community, and support. These can evolve into learning networks and communities of practice. This is a welcome online phenomena as many teachers work in isolation. Social media is ofen used to build momentum for social movements and ideas. This is a valuable resource for educators and offers a platform and meeting place which is often not afforded in work environments. Social media allows educators to take initiative in areas they cannot do at the workplace due to constraints.
Challenges of social media for educators.
Online communities are absent of the traditional gatekeepers commonly found in social groups. The absence of gatekeepers means more diverse voices can appear in online communities. The participant can become the voice. The absence of gatekeepers means quality of content can be questionable. Who is vetting the content? In the online space, educators need to develop critical skills in analysing social posts to ensure material is of quality and beneficial.
There are also challenges of discourse. Unlike a referred journal, online spaces tend not to have quality robust and productive discussions. There is the trend towards polite talk. The openly public nature of discourse on social media may in fact restrain content and dialogue rather than pursue controversial and probing discussions. Furthermore, online affinity spaces can also tend towards homophilly where users will gravitate to more like-minded others and thus remain from pushing them to consider the points of view.
Research on teacher’s instagram use.
This is a very understudied area of social media use. There is a significant gap in knowledge surrounding how and why teachers use social media, and in particular Instagram. Carpenter et al (2020) explored educator use of Instagram. The results found that many educators mix personal and professional lives in their instagram use and posts. Much of the professional content related to advice, instructional examples, and examples of curriculum and organisational materials.
In the study, educators reported they used Instagram for ideas and resources. Learning from others was rated most highly in responses. Collaboration with others the next more cited reason for Instagram use. Less than 10% of participants reported using Instagram to sell products related to education.
Many (62%) of the research participants reported that they commented on posts. The comments mostly related to showing that they liked or agreed with the post content an ideas. Asking questions and advice was another popular reasons for commenting on posts. Liking and agreeing is commonplace, so little evidence was found of teachers using Instagram to disagree or have a debate. The idea of support was the prime motivator in reasons given for likes and commenting on Instagram.
Overall, Instagram allows educators to facilitate exchange of ideas, resources, and receiving support. The desire to help others was a common theme. Additionally, social media was used as a way of deal with professional isolation.
Highly curated Instagram Accounts
Interestingly, some educators found that the very curated Instagram accounts of other teachers (teacherpreneurs) to be off-putting, as these teachers reported feelings of inadequacy when viewing posts from these accounts. Professional Instagram accounts often have a team of people behind them and produce very high quality material. This is seen by some educators as setting unrealistic expectations in the education community.
There was an acknowledgement from some that Instagram use allows teachers to make things ”look pretty” rather than have any real meaningful and educative value. One example is the comment that the poplar teachers on Twitter are just making a “prettier worksheet”, alluding to the fact that there is no real substance to their content. This is the kind of critical eye that is needed to be cast over the content of educators on social media.
Teacher Lifestyle Content
The visual nature of Instagram and the mixing of personal and professional content by educators could well be a form of teacher lifestyle content. However, not all teachers users of Instagram shared the same experience. Some teachers reported making unhealthy comparisons when the standards seen in the highly curated content on social media are so high, that they felt they failed to meet these expectations. More research is needed to understand the complexities surrounding social media use by educators and how social media can be utilised for the betterment of education in general.
Additionally, the mix of professional and private posts by some educators in a teacher lifestyle portrayal, may make them seem more authentic and trustworthy and should receive further attention. The use of social media for professional exploration is commendable. There is great potential for educators to exchange ideas and provide support to others through social platforms.