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“Not everything that is tweeted counts, and not everything that counts can be tweeted.”

More and more teachers are using social media to find out about the latest education research, but are they getting the full picture from Twitter and Facebook, or are they falling prey to the ‘edu-twitterati’, a new breed of tech-savvy practitioners and organisations who have come to dominate the newsfeeds of the teaching profession?

Dr Susan Graves, Senior Research Fellow in the Faculty of Education, believes that the rise of social media has had an impact on the way Head Teachers, in particular, engage with research. As part of Edge Hill’s Research Centre for Schools, Colleges and Teacher Education (SCATE), she looked at the ways in which Head Teachers access and use academic research. Through interviews with senior teaching staff she found that, while social media is a popular way of accessing research, much of what is being implemented in schools came from flicking through Twitter – and it is often those tweeters with the loudest voices, or the biggest following, who are the most influential.

“Advances in mobile technology are putting information literally at people’s fingertips,” she says. “It’s undoubtedly an exciting innovation which brings huge benefits in terms of quick and easy access to research from across the globe, and breaking down physical and hierarchical barriers that may prevent people talking to each other in real life.

“However, the government’s drive to promote evidence-based practice in teaching means that senior staff are having to integrate research into their working lives,” says Susan.

For many Head Teachers, a quick five-minute scroll through Twitter at home is often as much as they can do, and this raises a number of concerns about which research is being used and why.”

Susan’s research found that teachers tended to be influenced by other practitioners whose opinions they trusted, so they would look at who they were following or what they had retweeted and prioritise those people or ideas.

“You find the same people and organisations are shared again and again,” says Susan, “while lesser known voices or people with dissenting or alternative views don’t get heard. Because of this, important ideas or practice might get missed. There is also the problem of misinterpretation. If you’re scrolling through Twitter late at night, what depth of understanding are you getting? There is the potential to misinterpret ideas and make practice decisions based on inaccurate information.”

Susan presented her research at the British Educational Leadership, Management and Administration (BELMAS) conference earlier this year, and the concept of an ‘edu-twitterati’ has since been featured in the Times Higher Education Supplement and on the National Association of Head Teachers website.

“There are many positives to social media,” adds Susan. “We found lots of examples of Head Teachers spotting something on Twitter, investigating it further then sharing it with colleagues.

However, there is a danger that prominence and ease of access are the parameters by which professional knowledge is judged rather than by the strength and depth of the ideas. If the ability to successfully market ideas becomes the touchstone for eminence within the academic world, then the possibility of the rise of an ‘edu-twitterati’, whose influence exceeds the quality of their ideas, is a real possibility.”