University of Vermont

Share this: How educational outreach programs are using social media to build an online (and ongoing) dialogue

The Asian Studies Outreach program asks visiting teachers to blog about their experiences in Vermont

In a quiet office on the second floor of Mann Hall, Audrey Homan, administrator for the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education types away at her laptop with an expression of bemused concentration. She’s tweeting. In the lingua franca of the online world, it means that with 140 characters, she’s started a whole new conversation on iclickers with educators across Vermont.

“I’m letting everyone on Twitter who's interested in technology or middle level education know about our upcoming workshop,” explains Homan. “We’ll also announce it on the technology educators’ list-serv and post a link on the Vita-Learn and VAMLE websites. Basically, wherever online we think we’ll find folks who’d be interested in attending.”

During the events themselves, Homan frequently tweets on notable quotes or activities as they occur, then uploads the presentations to the Tarrant website as well as distributing a slideshow of event photos via flickr.

As part of a recent federal grant project, the Tarrant Institute created, a communal blog where middle school teachers from around Vermont contributed artefacts from their classroom work and blogged about them. The website features videos, photos and curriculum units on digital storytelling, learning through gaming, 1:1 laptop integration and a host of other topics. The educators themselves presented the website at May's Dynamic Landscapes conference at Champlain College.

Across the hall, in the Asian Studies Outreach Program (ASOP), Jacqueline Drouin just uploaded new pictures on the program's Facebook page.

“We Facebook, we tweet, we blog,” says Drouin. "Our blog for our Visiting Scholars has allowed us to share with a larger audience the positive impact the teachers from Thailand and China having in the schools." The Visiting Scholar program invites teachers from Thailand and China to spend six months to a year in Vermont. During that time, the teachers contribute weekly posts and pictures, documenting their life abroad for their families and students back home.

On the third floor, at the Center on Disability and Community Inclusion (CDCI), Michaella Collins uses the UVM News Tool to announce the hiring of the new Vermont State I-Team director. "Once the story is published on our webpage via the newstool, I have the option to share the article with twitter, Facebook, blogger, and even LinkedIn." Michaela says, referring to the 300+ social media options the NewsTool story is automatically linked up to. "We're able to communicate with a larger audience."

Getting everyone to tweet has been made easier by the ability for faculty and staff to tweet from their phones, another facet of the social media revolution. Being able to contribute items to twitter feeds and the program websites while out doing field work in Vermont has made staff, faculty and students enthusiastic adopters. "Everyone tweets," says Tarrant Institute director and Education Department professor Penny Bishop. "It's a wide reaching and accessible medium for sharing information. We come across a compelling story, a promising strategy, or intriguing new tool and voila! We can share it instantaneously with our school partners and others."

Everyone at both the Tarrant Institute and ASOP has their own twitter account and tweets automatically feed to the program websites.

The urge to use social media is itself viral: “I didn’t really start using social media until the Tarrant Institute moved in across the hall," Drouin said. "Then it was like, ‘How do you use diigo? How are you using Facebook? What’s that website you’re using?’ At that point, a whole world of outreach possibilities opened up.” Because both programs are active in Vermont's social media community, according to Drouin, it's made the learning process easier and, to some extent, helped keep up momentum. The collaborative environment feeds itself, and has recently spread to the rest of the college: at the Dean’s request, the CESS Communications Committee has recently undertaken to increase social media use among its departments. At monthly meetings, staff train each other on new tools and brainstorm ways to use social media to further the missions of each individual unit.

But for Jacqueline Drouin, it’s simple: “Social media is creating a global community and is bringing our CESS community closer together. We can share more easily our accomplishments and support for our missions.”