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Using social media can foster your professional development but must be used with care, says CSP adviser Gwyn Owen

Becoming a CPD cybernaut

If you’re familiar with using Facebook to share your holiday snaps, or use Twitter to organise next week’s social event, you’re one of the growing number of people using social media as part of their daily lives.

But even if you communicate with friends and family by letter or phone, social media can still be useful. In situations where access to continuing professional development (CPD) appears to be shrinking, is it time to think differently about social media sites?

This article aims to help you become a CPD cybernaut. It explores four types of social media to help you think about their potential value as a tool for supporting CPD.  

What are social media?

Social media are the online and mobile tools that people use to share information, ideas and experiences.

The mushrooming of social media means we have access to information and online communities all day and every day, in ways that suit our personal interests, needs and preferences.

From a CPD perspective, social media can be divided into four broad categories. 

Blogs

A blog is short for web log – an online space in which an individual, group or organisation can publish ideas and information in a sequenced and chronological order. Blogs can offer an informal, personalised account of current events and situations.

Depending on the authors and the platform they’re using, blog-posts can be hidden, published as ‘read-only’ or be interactive.

That means that they’re potentially useful for knowledge sharing, reflection and discussion.

Blogs are becoming increasingly popular. We only have to look at the growing popularity of blogging platforms such as Blogger and WordPress, or sites such as Facebook, MySpace or Twitter.

Blogs are often used to run a commentary on a particular theme – such CSP director Lesley Mercer’s blog on our website.  As well as potentially being a useful space to visit for gathering information and discussing ideas, the process of writing a blog can also be a learning opportunity.

Some people keep a blog to run alongside a piece of project work.

Doing that allows people to keep their thoughts and critical reflections about the project process in one place – separate from the project work itself.

Evidence from the blog could be used to justify a change in the project plan, or to critically evaluate the project outcomes for example.

Other people choose to use a blog as an online alternative to a reflective journal.

This sort of blog provides a highly personalised account of an individual’s responses to situations.

The content of this sort of blog could be used to stimulate critical reflection on practice, and evidence the learning processes underpinning development of personal and professional practice over time.

Social networking sites

Social networking sites are all about bringing people together to interact online – via discussion-boards, email, ebulletins and events.

Social networking sites come in all shapes and sizes, and offer different levels of formality and functionality – depending on the platform and the communities the network wants to support.

So, a social networking space, such as iCSP, for example, is a member-only space that allows us to participate in networks focused on specific areas of practice, occupational role, and geographical region.

Overall, it is quite formal in its presentation and provides a clear structure for supporting peer-to-peer networking across the CSP membership.

Other social networking sites, such as Facebook, MySpace and Twitter, are less formal.

They offer opportunities for creating social and professional networks, but also allow the user to keep a blog (or a micro-blog of 140 characters in the case of Twitter).

The interactive element of social networking sites means that they are potentially rich spaces for learning through discussion and feedback. 

Webinar

A webinar is an interactive presentation or seminar that is presented and delivered online.

It’s a bit like being in a virtual classroom or lecture hall.

Depending on how it’s organised, participants may be able to submit questions or comments before or during the presentation – via their computer or mobile device. 

Wiki

‘Wiki’ is the Hawaiian for ‘quick’. A wiki can be described a group blog-site.

It’s a space where people who have registered to the site can add or edit the information published on the site. Wikipedia is an example of how wikis are written and presented.

Wikis can be a very useful way of working collaboratively with people who may not be easily accessible – because of geographical location or a time difference, for example.

A wiki could be used to work on a joint report with a group of colleagues, or to plan a series of workshops with a colleague who is working overseas. 

Think before you click ‘submit’   

While social media can support collaborative learning and CPD, they do need handling with care.

Because they can seem quite personal spaces, it can be easy to forget that our contribution or posting to a space is potentially public and permanent.

It’s the potential permeability of the boundary between personal and public that makes social media such a powerful tool.

So if that’s got you thinking differently about blogs, social networks, webinars and wikis, why not become a CPD cybernaut by visiting some of the spaces listed in the panel below. fl

Practical guidance

  • On message: exploring social media.

Learning through experience: examples of social media spaces

Follow the links to get a sense of how different social media can be used to present a variety of learning opportunities and resources.

As you move from space to space, think critically about your experience.
Remember to keep a record of the learning you have taken from your visits for storing in your portfolio.

Blogs

Webinars

Why not watch?

Wikis

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Article Information

Author(s)

Gwyn Owen

Issue date

4 September 2013

Volume number

19

Issue number

15

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