By Chloë Hynes on behalf of the UKFEchat team
A Little Background
#UKFEchat is entering its 10th year of bringing educators from right across the FE and skills sector together. It would not be overstating its popularity to say that it is an institution that is widely known, respected by the sector it seeks to represent and is loved by practitioners from all corners of FE.
The original weekly Twitter chat for post-16 educators was founded by the inimitable Sarah Simons @MrsSarahSimons and is still going strong after almost a decade. No other forum has done so much to bring practitioners from across an incredibly diverse sector together to discuss the hot topics and challenges faced by educators and learners alike. It has been a pivotal place to share ideas and experiences as well as learn from your peers.
At 9pm every Thursday during term time diverse groups of educators gather to discuss a topic of the day; anything from curriculum planning to inclusion to the impact of new Innovations such as AI. Topics are proposed by the community for the community in an egalitarian and collegial environment.
The chats are free to join and happen openly on Twitter. A real strength of the community is that hosts self-nominate bringing along their expertise on a subject and proposing questions which are then answered by the community. For some, leading a chat is an empowering exercise while for others it has helped garner ideas or responses for their own research. Infact two members of the current volunteer team have conducted research in informal professional learning on online platforms using UKFEchat as a source of inspiration (see the work of Dr. Diana Tremayne and Dr. Lynne Taylerson).
As well as the weekly chats and ad hoc posts every week’s chat is archived via a Wakelet collection which means that the chats are viewable outside of Twitter for those who are not on that platform. The diversity and breadth of the chats mean that busy sector practitioners can dip into them for one hour each week, asynchronously (often Friday AM) or via the wakelet curations. This means that in an extremely busy working life, practitioners are able to get bite-sized CPD on dozens of topics chosen by the community, hosted by the community and populated by the community.
More than a Bit of Chit-Chat
As well as a powerful discussion forum for all FE professionals the chat has proved to be a valuable supportive social space particularly in recent years during lockdown where educators can openly discuss their challenges in an entirely safe space and receive support from colleagues whilst doing so.
A true strength of the chat is how it has brought together practitioners from right across a diverse sector. Hosts and participants have come from large general FE colleges, independent training providers, work-based learning, adult and community education, charity based provision, as well as more under-represented parts of the sector such as offender learning.
Over the years, #UKFEchat has nurtured a vibrant and altruistic community which has enabled, for example, ESOL practitioners from right across the UK and in some cases beyond to come together and share challenges, and discuss expertise. The chat community is a long-standing and valuable professional network which has walked alongside sector practitioners through some very difficult days recently, as well as giving them more light-hearted moments such as relaxing end-of-term chats, which might be centered around movies and television related to education.
The incredible success of the chat has led to several full-day in-person conferences, bringing together professionals from different organisations, sparking conversations in classrooms and staffrooms alike as well as pointing trainee teachers towards the chat as a valuable source of professional networking and industry knowledge.
Interlude: A Personal Note
I joined Twitter about 5 years ago because I had been told that it was a good place to connect with other FE practitioners. I had just left my job in ACL where I was quite isolated as a teacher in the sector. I didn’t post on any of the #UKFEchat questions for a long time, but I read all the posts of the weekly chat and was inspired by my peers and the work they were doing. Over time I made connections with practitioners via the chats because it was a hub of FE activity! I learned a lot about myself as a practitioner in FE and grew an appreciation of how vast and diverse the sector is. I eventually took the plunge and began posting my own replies and felt a confidence buzz when the host replied and engaged with me. From this experience, I eventually led on a few of my own chats following encouragement from my peers. I am proud to now be on the #UKFEchat team encouraging other practitioners to give it a go, too.
UKFEchat (and social media in general) has successfully brought many FE folks together over the years. Diana Tremayne (another member of the current UKFEchat team) has written a blog in a similar vein, called Reflecting on the future of #UKFEchat, Twitter and online spaces.
Why the Pivot?
About two years ago, Sarah asked a group of volunteers to take the mantle of UKFEchat and we have worked hard to keep the legacy of UKFEchat alive and well dependent on the need we see across the sector. But times have changed (so has Twitter or X or Y) and we feel a breeze from the south encouraging us to move on so we’re listening to the sector and the communities who utilise the chat to learn what they need from us.
As such going forward we have decided to trial a new time and regularity. UKFEchat will now take place on the third Thursday of every month in term time between 8 and 9pm. This will give us time to organise hosts and promote the chat via various channels (on and away from Twitter) throughout the month. The first chat of the year will be hosted by the UKFEchat team. The dates for term one will be:
21st September 2023
19th October 2023
16th November 2023
21st December 2023
The #UKFEchat ‘wrangler’ team provide a supportive space for new hosts and have welcomed on board dozens of new chat hosts in the past few years. This experience has boosted people’s confidence and raised their professional profiles in their organisation and beyond. UKFEchat is a pioneer within FE and has led to many other chats over the years, mirroring the format. We, like many see the value in it and we don’t want to loose it but we need you to help us keep it alive.
Please put these dates in your diary and let us know if you would like to host. Everyone is invited to come and host but we’d particularly like to support folks who have never hosted a chat before.