Education students boost internship success with Twitter

By: Mallory Metheny, ISU Communications and Marketing Staff
May 7, 2012

Education professors at Indiana State University are emboldening students to use the social media site Twitter to their advantage by exchanging teaching tips and "following" the nation's leaders in education.

"I'm starting to learn that there's more opportunities [with Twitter]," said Wesley Thomson, a senior elementary and special education major from Terre Haute. "It can be used as a professional growth tool."

Todd and Beth Whitaker, a husband and wife team of education professors in educational leadership and elementary and special education, first developed the idea of Indiana State's TOTAL (Teachers of Tomorrow Advancing Learning) internship program using Twitter to create an online community of exchanging ideas and networking with education professionals.

Elementary and special education majors complete the TOTAL internship a semester before student teaching to get them acquainted with the school setting. The hashtag ‘#isutotal' allows students, professors and education leaders to post teaching ideas, articles and other resources in a central and accessible location.

"There are so few programs in the country doing this," said Todd. It put us as one of the leading programs in the country in terms of thinking about how to integrate social media with our programs in education."

Senior Brittany Parrett, an elementary and special education major from Michigan City, spent her internship in a second-grade classroom at DeVaney Elementary School. She plans to use Twitter to keep her connected to ISU while student teaching.

"It will just be a really good way for me to link back to ISU and to my professors and other students that will be going through the same thing as I will," Parrett said. "That will be helpful to bounce off ideas, and also just to professionally grow because you have all these top people in education and their ideas are right there for me."

Parrett has experienced firsthand the helpfulness of Twitter, as earlier in the semester, she wanted to develop an innovative way to teach her second-graders about inventions. Parrett put out a request for advice on the ISU TOTAL Twitter page.

"Within a couple hours, I had six different ideas on different things that I could do, so I was able to beef up my lesson and make it better through Twitter," she said.

Fellow senior Sara Pfister, an elementary education major from Brazil, had a similar experience while searching for ideas on how to teach a unit on the Titanic. She ‘tweeted' her questions to Todd Whitaker, who Pfister called the "king of Twitter."

"He re-tweeted it to his followers, who are education superstars, and within an hour I just had so many responses, links and ideas," Pfister said. "I was able to just run with that, and it was great."

Pfister described the social media tool as a "complete web of giving and taking" and Thomson agreed whole-heartedly.

"It's like a chain. It just connects you so much from person to person," Thomson said.

The seniors, who will complete their student teaching in the fall, realize the importance of connecting a traditional classroom education with an international piece of technology.

"I feel like we are in such a transitional state with education as a whole," Pfister said. "If we're going to be good teachers and do as well for our kids as teachers as we can, we need to be checking everything; we need to learn about everything."

"I think it's really important to keep you ahead of the game," echoed Parrett. "When I go out to interviews, I want to be that innovative teacher that is receptive to change."

Todd thinks that as a professor, he too can benefit from Twitter's instant network of information in a "selfish" way.

"It is easy, as a professor, to be out of the loop related to changes in education, what's currently happening. If you're not directly in the field, you could easily get behind," he said. "On Twitter, I interact with thousands, literally thousands, of educators [all over the world] who are in the trenches every single day. So not only do I know what are the latest, current things taking place in North Dakota, I know the latest, current things taking place in Japan."

Thomson thinks that if used appropriately, Twitter can help her develop a professional network.

"It's what you do with the social media. It's just a catalyst," she said.

Pfister added, "I consider it as an online portfolio almost, a documentation of things I've done and how I've grown."

Beth Whitaker taught her students about the opportunities waiting for them on the social media site.

"There is a whole world of professional development going on right in front of our eyes," she said.

The ISU TOTAL page also features quotes and encouraging comments to motivate the future teachers, an aspect that Pfister appreciates.

"You see all the things that are going on, legal battles over teaching right now, and it can be very frustrating wondering, ‘Am I going in already fighting a losing battle?'" Pfister said, "Then you can get on and see things that people have written, people who are already teachers, people who are going through it right now. It's uplifting because it makes you think, ‘You know, I am going in fighting a battle, but I'm fighting the battle for a good reason.'"

Todd is confident that connections made on Twitter benefit not just the ISU students, but also those who learn from Indiana State's teaching methods.

"Other people around the world see our program and they're going ‘Look at what they're doing here.' There's nobody else doing this kind of stuff," he said. "It lets us have access to the world, but it also lets the world have access to us."

The seniors agree that Indiana State gives education students an advantage by encouraging them to explore social media and other teaching technologies.

"There's a reason why our program is so innovative. There's a reason it's so well-known. There's a reason our professors are pretty much drooled over by everyone else because they do think of things like this," Pfister said. "I would never have known or thought to use Twitter as a way to make myself better at what I do. It says a lot for our professors to take time to learn to use it themselves and then take time to teach us about it."

"I think that we kind of have an edge. Being an ISU TOTAL student, I have an edge on my competition when I go out and apply for those jobs because I've been exposed to so much more beyond the traditional methods of teaching," Parrett said. "I feel like I'm really prepared to use all kinds of different strategies in my classes because of what I've learned."

Thomson concluded, "Other people just don't get what we get here."

Contact: Beth Whitaker, professor, elementary, early and special education, Bayh College of Education, Indiana State University at 812-237-2855 or beth.whitaker@indstate.edu

Writer: Mallory Metheny, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University at 812-237-3773