Using Social Media For Academic Staff As A Component Of Continued Professional Development

A tweet of mine from Social Media for Learning in Higher Education 2016 conference, for which the tweet was well-received across the academic community, sums up a change with the potential to benefit academic staff appraisal processes for those involved with teaching and learning work.

Taken out of context, as short tweets so often can be, the tweet doesn’t fully capture the detail from a rewarding presentation on the weekly #LTHEchat Twitter chat. These weekly Wednesday evening sessions have now grown into essential activities for many in the higher education teaching and learning space.

I often follow #LTHEchat live (or catch up on the Storify summary afterwards) as the chats are interesting and wide-ranging. I also try and add to the chats when I have something useful to share, although my direct teaching and learning role is now rather diminished compared to the classroom activity I was involved with a few years ago. The timeslot also doesn’t always work for me, although participating during the scheduled live hour doesn’t seem to matter, as many of the tweets chats continue well beyond the official 21:00 at Wednesday finish time.

The tweet I quoted from #SocMedHE16 reflects that some attendees of the weekly #LTHEchat said that they had asked for this social engagement to be included in their annual appraisals as part of their Continued Professional Development (CPD) activities. There was no indication that this is yet a widespread activity, but perhaps pushing this as an extension of current and recommended CPD best practice is a way forward?

In my experience, current expectations of CPD for staff appraisal processes tend to focus on tangible activities with training elements. This can include attendance at internal or external staff development and training courses, including those taken online. They can include presenting at and attending suitable conferences. Other closely related areas, such as gaining professional certifications or fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, are also often included.

I believe that an important part of staff appraisal processes is to ensure that teaching active staff are thinking of themselves as reflective practitioners. Activities like #LTHEchat fit the bill for this for me.

The #LTHEchat allows people to share teaching and learning approaches that they have tried, as well as to discuss and question ideas and approaches in a safe and communal environment. Much localised good practice is shared, which would otherwise not be officially published. Chat topics can also push attendees to consider aspects of teaching and learning that would not otherwise form part of the their CPD. For instance, a previous #LTHEchat looked at contract cheating, an area close to my heart. I would like to think that this led a new group of academics to consider their assessment design and to think about how they could verify student involvement during the assessment completion process.

In these days where budgets for traditional forms of CPD can be limited, I do encourage those managers and peer reviewers involved with staff appraisal to consider alternatives to the traditional approaches. I wonder which universities will be brave enough to more formally list engagement with social media based teaching and learning activities such as #LTHEchat as part of the official metrics that can be considered during staff Continued Professional Development reviews?

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Article by Thomas Lancaster

My name is Dr. Thomas Lancaster, and I am a Associate Dean in Recruitment at Staffordshire University in the United Kingdom and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. My background is in the Computer Science discipline. My best known academic research relates to student plagiarism and contract cheating. Please browse around the blog and the links, and feel free to leave your thoughts.
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