What are the most relevant technologies available to teachers today? How are educators using those tools in and out of the classroom? And what is the impact on student learning, and teachers’ own professional development?

These are the questions Jeff Carpenter, associate professor of education and director of the Teaching Fellows program, seeks to answer through a wide range of research projects. He studies the role of collaboration and collaborative technologies in student learning and in K-12 educators’ professional learning.

Much of his recent scholarship has focused on the educational applications of Twitter. The impetus for this work was his EDU 355 course, Teaching in 21st Century Classrooms. He teaches his students about some of the most recent developments in education, but those techniques often outpace books and journal articles because of the lengthy nature of the publication process. A colleague suggested Carpenter explore Twitter to research these topics, and through education-themed hashtags he found a treasure trove of blogs, podcasts, articles and insights from other teachers about current trends in education.

Carpenter realized teachers across the country were using the social media platform to expand their professional networks beyond their districts, a topic that dovetailed perfectly with his research on teacher collaboration. He surveyed more than 700 teachers about how and why they use Twitter, and he found they not only used the platform to enhance their own learning, but to collaborate with other educators across the globe. It was a gateway to expose their students to a breadth of information and voices beyond the walls of their own classrooms.

That initial Twitter study led to several other strands of related research. Carpenter recently completed a study on how teachers use Voxer, a private messaging app, in conjunction with public platforms like Twitter to collaborate with other educators. He and Assistant Professor of Education Scott Morrison are gathering data on the effectiveness of the #ElonEd hashtag on Twitter, which promotes interaction among School of Education students and alumni.

He is exploring the impact of Edcamps, loosely-structured educator gatherings in which the participants set the schedule and drive the discussion, in contrast to a conference with formal presentations. He and Assistant Professor of Education Julie Justice are researching the Global Read Aloud, a program in which classes in schools around the world read the same book and discuss it via platforms like Twitter and Skype. He is also studying the use of Pinterest in education with some of his students.

The Teaching in 21st Century Classrooms course is the course I’ve taught the most at Elon. The class is better for the students because of the research I do, and the research I do is better because of the experience I have teaching that course.

The common thread among Carpenter’s studies is voluntary collaboration driven by teachers – not mandated by principals or districts – and how technology empowers educators to accomplish this. His work contributes to the literature in a relatively new area of scholarship, and offers practical strategies to help teachers enhance their students’ learning and their own professional development.

Carpenter has authored or co-authored 20 peer-reviewed journal articles on the use of social media in K-12 and higher education contexts, and he has six manuscripts in various stages of development.