Social Media & Professional Educator Associations – Enemies Or Friends?

Well, my talk at the CEASA Spotlight Seminar the other night seemed to go OK, although I'm not sure that I really addressed the question of how social media can be utilised by professional associations. A quick look at the CEASA website shows that even in this comparatively small state, there are over 50 associations under their umbrella. I belong to one - CEGSA - but I'm a relative newcomer to being a member, only joining a little over five years ago. So, I don't have this ingrained history of having a particular professional stake in the continued prosperity of an association. However, if my short stint on the CEGSA Committee is anything to go by, all associations have similar issues in terms of maintaining membership, maintaining a viable financial base and offering support to its members in their particular field of interest.

I use social media as an individual. Associations are about a community. I wasn't really sure where to look to find an association that was leveraging social media for its members until I remembered that Jo McLeay is now working for VITTA. Their approach is to offer an extremely resource rich website and add the social media in on the platforms where they are found out on the wild web. There's a blog and a Twitter account. The Twitter account is interesting in that it's not necessarily a collection of VITTA members on the following list but a carefully curated collection chosen for their potential value to the membership. A quick look at that collection shows a significant number of individuals, all obviously putting out tweets of significant interest for their own network, of which VITTA has now become a node. But as for how many VITTA members are availing themselves of this social media feed, well,  I couldn't tell.

Professional educator organisations cater for interest groups within the education community. They provide Professional Development sessions, run conferences, maintain websites and newletters with the aim of equipping their members with the latest resources and offering information and opportunities to improve their members' professional practice. This has worked well for quite a long time and many organisations have embraced the use of technology to improve outcomes for their membership base. But in the same way that the internet is a disruptive force starting to rumble through educational institutions, the web and in particular, social media services threaten the status quo. Online events like the K12 Online Conference show that membership to an organisation is no longer a requirement to hold or participate in Professional Learning of the highest quality. The ever popular TED Talks provides keynote quality out of the budget range of any South Australian organisation.

Professional associations are a way of pooling talent and resources for the common good of a larger group. But they have to provide value for their annual subscriptions or potential members are less enthused about joining. At the Seminar, two SLASA members showed an online referencing tool that their organisation had developed, pointing out that this had the potential to be a positive drawcard for their organisation and that licensed access to this tool could be an income generator for SLASA. But in my mind, there is a danger in this. My experiences and interactions with many educators online indicate that the days of hording an idea behind a locked web portal and charging for access are over. People will just search for another free tool online. That doesn't mean that talented members should not develop these useful tools. Just don't expect them to be a money spinner.

As I wrote before, professional associations are a way of pooling talent and resources for the common good of a larger group. Prior to the internet, this was a way of connecting locally as time and distance prevented the easy exchange of ideas between states and other countries. An annual conference of sister associations across the nation provided important cross-pollinating opportunities as key members travelled to an interstate venue and brought back new ideas and initiatives for the local group. Social media throws the need for most of that out the window. If I'm a Maths teacher, why would I restrict myself to only the ideas within my state association when increasingly, many of the best and most innovative ideas are being published and discussed across digital networks in various corners of the world? Now, it could be that many associations serve a niche demographic where educators of similar ilk world wide are not blogging, tweeting, YouTubing or pooling ideas and practices on a wiki. But there is a definite trend occurring. You could see the edtech community as being an innovator, with early adopters in other educational fields starting to multiply until all areas of the education spectrum have networked individuals sharing and benefitting via the web.

So, if professional associations are to stay vibrant, healthy and relevant, they must work out how to leverage the tools social media offer and look at the trends towards openness and sharing in order to redefine themselves for the years ahead. I'm not at all sure what that could look like but like the education system itself, professional associations must continue to evolve to attract membership and then meet that membership's needs in an era where professional learning is ubiquitous as information itself.

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6 thoughts on “Social Media & Professional Educator Associations – Enemies Or Friends?

  1. Sarah Stewart

    Thanks for this post, Graham….I have been thinking about how I can advise a midwifery organisation that I am consulting with, so you’ve giving me food for thought.

    But the point I wanted to pick up with you is…if we are only engaging with free stuff these days, how can anyone make money…ie if I develop an online course & I need funding to cover my time etc, how can I recoup that? Is the move to ‘free stuff’ a good thing or not? The reason I ask is because I am about to start a research project that looks at models of funding for open access education.

  2. David Brown

    Social media is a big part of peoples lives and will be more so in the future, so I think it’s very important we as educators use it now and incorporate it into the classroom. There is so much free content on the web now that people can easily get by without paying for lesson plans or ideas, and if people have to pay then they better be getting outstanding resources. It will be interesting to see how this unfolds, I can see a few sites that provide amazing resources being able to charge a membership fee and be sustainable but I think the little sites might get looked over as soon as any kind of payment is mentioned. If it’s worth paying for however people will pay.

  3. Lori Skurka

    Great post, I share many of these views. David Brown, you raise a fair question about the revenue model for educational resource sites which, understandably, can’t persist indefinitely on a free model. To me, an even more provocative question would be what would happen to Facebook or Twitter if they attempted to move onto a revenue (fee) model. I know the standard response is that by aggregating so many eyeballs in one place, they can live off of their advertisers. But, personally speaking, I can also tell you with the highest confidence that I am an expert at completely ignoring whatever ads those sites are throwing at me. I simply do NOT see them. So I would argue that the advertisers hawking their wares via those sites are wasting their money. Maybe someday they’ll come to the same realization and withdraw their underwriting of the FB/Twitter experiment. At that time Facebook and Twitter would presumably look to their members for revenue.

    That’s when the rubber will hit the road. If my prediction is correct, then those companies can only survive if they make themselves completely irreplacable in the lives of their users. I do not currently fall into that camp. I would not pay for their services, but I am happy to continue experimenting with them on a free “trial” basis (as I happily ignore whatever ads they display).

    That is why I think Google has a superior model. I don’t go to Google looking for my friends. I go to Google looking for information, and as such I am more than willing to look at the paid advertisements as they are generally on-topic for whatever I went looking for in the first place. In other words, I am willing to be “advertised to” on Google. Furthermore, Google’s depth of access to information is so superior to any other source, I *would* actually be willing to pay for ongoing access to it.

    Two completely different ballgames, at least for now. Just my two cents’ worth.

    Lori Skurka
    EleMental Learning

  4. Sandy Fivecoat

    Great food for thought. Professional associations are a mainstay in education. While teachers continue to be ‘joiners,’ it is becoming increasingly difficult for teachers to find the resources to travel to conferences, pay dues, etc. Social media may make ‘associations’ as we know them today somewhat obsolete — unless these associations find a way to use technology to reach a broader audience and reduce cost of engagement. The big win is if social media can be a tool to create virtual organizations that demonstrate real value. This will happen best, I believe, when teachers are engaged in creating content all teachers find valuable, with application right in the classroom. We’ve tried to accommodate that sharing at WeAreTeachers (disclosure — I am a former teacher, and the founder and CEO of WeAreTeachers), by creating resources and grants for teachers that result in the creation and sharing of teaching ideas.

  5. Sue

    An educator needs to be a good consumer with organizations and technology. There is so much information available, it is important to do your research and share what information is useful.

  6. Phil H

    Nice article !

    I truly believe that great educators are the educators that keep updated. Being aware of what is going on in their field is a must be to keep going in the right way. Social media is a great way to keep being updated, It’s great to see the development of social media can also help development of educators interactivity. Everybody will benefit from it, either educators and students !


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