Twitter, pre-service teachers and creating networks

Tomorrow morning I have the opportunity to participate in a Skype session around a nascent project looking at how pre-service teachers might be aided and abetted in the creation of professional networks and subsequently learning more about their new profession. It’s likely that my description of the project doesn’t capture the full diversity of views, as mentioned the project is still in its formative stages. The following is an attempt to gather some of my thoughts about the project.


The initial spark was this blog post from @laurenforner. One of the comments on the post was from @sthcrft and the first I heard of it was a few tweets, including one that pointed to Google doc for gathering comments.

And through the beauty of the tools it seems @acourous is doing something similar, even down to the Google doc.


It was this sentence from Lauren’s blog post that sparked my interest

I think Twitter (and social networking with other professionals in general) needs to become a compulsory part of any education course in order to get pre service teachers into the habit of sharing resources with others, seeking assistance, and constantly innovating and being inspired to try new things and take risks with their students.

Like Lauren, I spent this year as a pre-service teacher and many of the insights and resources that informed my practice as a high school teacher arose from the collection of folk I follow on various forms of social media. Beyond that, I believe that it is the ability to grow, navigate and harness just such a network that forms one of, if not, the primary skill necessary for learners at the moment.

A belief that is obviously influenced by connectivism and similar perspectives. It’s not all that new a belief which does tend to beg the question why the people teaching pre-service teachers haven’t embedded appropriate tools and practices into the courses taken by pre-service teachers. This is my interest. In theory, next year will find me taking on the responsibility for University courses being taken by pre-service teachers. From the start I’ve been thinking of how to embed twitter, blogs etc into these courses so that pre-service teachers feel it beneficial to adopt these practices.

What better way to introduce thee practices and tools than via a project initiated and developed using those tools and practices?


The following is a mish-mash of reflections on some of the material within the project’s Google planning doc and subsequent reading.


Lauren asked the question about measures. How do you know if a pre-service teacher has “done well”? What does “done well” mean when using social media?

The value of my network to me as a pre-service teacher, was much like what Lauren reported. It gave me knowledge that was useful. When faced with a particular situation or question, I often had various ideas for actions/responses based on what my network.


Someone suggested that the mentors should get some external recognition for their participation. Or at least that’s my interpretation, and I can see some value in having specific mentor and the potential need to give them some level of reward. But I do wonder if there is a different way?

Having a mentor for each participant strikes me as a very centralised solution being applied to a very de-centralised purpose. The purpose of this project, as I see it, is for each pre-service teacher to develop and start using their very own, highly individualised network. Sure some assistance is needed, but then isn’t that the point of having a PLN in the first place? To provide insight and assistance?

Then again, I’ve observed some of my fellow pre-service teachers struggle getting started with ICTs. A familiar, friendly face/avatar could be useful. The questions of should/how/if you can avoid a “centralised” mentor for this type of project seems somewhat interesting.

Avoiding YACW

YACW - Yet Another Community or Website

+1 for Sarah’s suggestion not to fall into the mistake of creating YACW (Yet Another Community or Website). It seems just about every government or research project around professional development has as its starting point the creation of a brand-new website or new community.

Isn’t YACW simply another form of centralisation? Just like the idea of each pre-service teacher having a mentor?

Should the project adopt the Downes/Siemens MOOC approach? i.e. come up with a unique tag and encourage participants to add that tag to their contributions and to look for that tag when trying to connect to others?

Community and communities of practice

Perhaps it is the anti-social introvert in me, but I tend to shudder when CoP is mentioned. Perhaps it’s the negative experiences of badly organised CoPs? Given the prevalence of CoP within the teacher education community, this should make things interesting over coming years. Especially given the strong resonance that the idea of CoP has with this project.

The other concern I have here is that, at least in my head, the idea wasn’t to set up a single community. Instead the aim was to help students find their own community. This was especially important to me as a pre-service high school teacher, as distinct from a pre-service primary school teacher. At least in Australia, high school teachers specialise in a couple of disciplines. The networks/communities I connected to as a IT/Maths pre-service teacher were very different from what would be useful for an English/History teacher.

A post from Dave Snowden on communities of practice outlines his argument about how to design CoP.

Initial thoughts

At the moment, it seems my interest is in methods/a community to help pre-service teachers start the process of creating and maintaining their own networks through social media in ways that are appropriate to them. This would seem to involve the provision of encouragement and scaffolds, and then letting them loose and responding as time progresses.

Porting BIM to Moodle 2 – Step 1

The wife’s out for some culture so I find myself late on a Saturday night taking the initial steps in the second attempt to port BIM to Moodle 2. Started reading Mike Churchward’s blog series on porting modules to Moodle 2.

Time moves on, and almost a week later I’m putting the finishing touches on this post/development journal entry. It gives a brief summary (mostly for my records) of what I’ve done to get a version of BIM that is being recognised by Moodle 2.1. Not sure how well it is working, but Moodle 2.1 is creating tables and recognising the plugin as being available for use in courses.

The next step will involve experimenting with just how well BIM is working with Moodle 2.1 and fixing what needs to be done. This will involve finishing some of the following.

Upgrading Moodle

Of course, it’s a good 6/7 months since I touched Moodle. So I should probably start by upgrading to the latest version of Moodle, which seems to be 2.1.2.

It is going to take sometime to get back into this.

Oh look at that, Moodle 2.1 requires the next version of PHP. Thankfully some kind soul has produced a dmg file with Xampp and Moodle 2.1 for Mac OSX. Let’s install that.

That was relatively painless. Moodle 2.1 up and going.

The plan for git

The source code for BIM is hosted on BIM. The previous attempt at BIM2 is also hosted there, need to figure out what to do with this new version…..yes folks, I’m that out of it as a developer.

Ohh, there’s a GUI client for Mac OSX now. Looks okay.

This seems to be the approach. More on this tomorrow.

The plan is

  • Tag the existing bim code as 1.0 (and v1.0 just for good measure – i.e. re-learning git).
  • Create a bim2 branch and then a develop branch from there.
    git checkout -b bim2
  • Convert the Moodle 2 branch into a Moodle 2 module.
    This will be the step-by-step process I start from now, with a vague set of steps something like
    • Do minimum to get Moodle 2 to recognise bim.
    • Comment out everything that creates errors.
    • Gradually bring bits back and convert them to Moodle 2 “format”.

    Be interesting to see how long that plan lasts.

Get Moodle 2.1 to recognise the bim module

With the code in place (~/mod), when I login as admin to the local Moodle installation, there is the notice that bim is ready to install. Now’s when we find out what is missing. There’s the error

Plugin “mod_bim” is defective or outdated, can not continue, sorry.

The error causing this is

Missing mandatory en language pack.

If I go looking for the code, it’s looking for the file $fullmod/lang/en/$mod.php. More information here and this checklist

I’d gotten a fair bit of the way through this conversion process when errors were causing me concern. After a few more side tracks I discovered the following.

Oh dear, simply syntax errors. Need to check those. Using this little bit of shell
[code lang=”sh”]
for name in *.php
php -d display_errors=1 -l $name

Fixed up all of those and now have a bit of success, good news this late on a Saturday afternoon, bim is being recognised by Moodle 2.1

Language strings

From the the checklist

  • DONE rename language folder (en_utf8 to en)
  • DONE Change $a to {$a}
  • Change popup help files to _help lang strings and shorten.
    Need to run up Moodle 1.9 so I can double check where the help strings are going etc.

    Some of these are quite long, I can see some Moodle docs in my future, including:

    • Manage marking help “manageMarking.html”
    • yourStudents.html
    • opml.html
    • unregisteredDetails.html
    • registeredDetails.html
    • changingosts.html
    • mods.html
  • DONE Add $string[‘pluginname’] to lang file
  • DONE Add $string[‘pluginadministration’] to lang file

So, does that change the Moodle 2.1 complaints about BIM?

Yes it does. A big green tick and success. You know it’s not going to be that easy. Ahh, internal server error. Have to remove the bim code entirely to get Moodle to start up again. Will remove it via Moodle, stick the code back in to see if the problem was due to a time out issue.

Time to go through the rest of the checklist.


Also drawing on the DB layer 2.0 migration docs

  • DONELeave empty db/update.php file
  • DONENew $DB global objects with functions replace old db functions
    There is a PHP script that checks for functions.
  • $DB parameters swapped to ?
  • DONEAdd and strip slashes no longer required
  • DONERemove use of ENUM and ENUMVALUES in install.xml file
  • DONERemove STATEMENTS section in install.xml file, use db/install.php or db/log.php instead.
  • DONE not used..check use of sql_substr()
  • Get_records() etc now always returning arrays, empty array in case of no records found.
  • Db functions throw errors not return false on error
  • DB functions offer strictness parameters e.g MUST_EXIST
  • DONE Update version.php numbers (esp required)
  • DONEIn version.php add $module->requires = 2010080300; // Requires this Moodle version

More insights from page on upgrading plugin tables

Page display

  • New $OUTPUT header and footer functions
    Done the basics at the top level. Need to do more work on this.
  • Navigation links need to use $PAGE->navbar
  • Make sure that you instantiate the moodle form before any call to $OUTPUT->header()
  • Create a renderer
  • DONE (not used) Change the way image urls are displayed (not $CFG->pixpath any more)
  • CSS changes
    • DONE (not used) Change styles.php to styles.css
    • Change page id to new structure e.g. course-format-studyplan to page-course-view-studyplan


  • Param_clean parameter type removed
  • type required parameter for optional_and required_param
  • Replace file form elements with new filepicker
  • Replace htmleditor with editor form field type
  • Change setHelpButton to addHelpButton. (You need to change the arguments, but the new ones are simpler.)

Roles and permissions

  • DONE array name to $capabilities in access.php
  • DONE Remove references to admin in access.php
  • DONE Rename legacy to archetypes in access.php
  • DONE Add manager archetype in access.php
  • Ensure require_login as well as require_capability checks
  • DONE (not used) isguest() is depreicated, use !isloggedin() || isguestuser() instead


Somewhere in all of that, things got a bit much. Need to do this differently, for now.

Empty slate and slowly copy stuff in, starting with index.php. index.php requires a valid course id with a bim activity to work directly. But bim is showing up in Moodle 2.1 okay.

Do any universities know what's happening with their LMS?

Just over two years ago some colleagues and I wrote up some initial exploration of the logs from the different Learning Management Systems (LMS) used by a university. The initial explorations included:

  • An initial examination of feature adoption.
    Between the two LMS there were broadly different adoption patterns which appeared to be tied to the nature of the systems and how they were developed. One of the systems had adoption levels well above levels reported elsewhere.
  • Looking to see if there was a link between the level of student activity on the LMS and final grades.
    We found that for one class of students the link existed. The more they used the LMS, the higher their grade. But for another class of students, this relationship did not hold.
  • A quick look to see if factors such as academic staff participation or curriculum design effected student participation.
    For example, if academic staff participation (number of posts on forum) was high then the link between student activity and final grade existed. However, if academic staff participation was very low, then the top ranked students (based on final grade) did not use the LMS.

We were simply trying to explore the vast volumes of data generated by LMS usage to see if any useful information could be generated. Mainly because it seemed that the institution simply wasn’t using this information in anyway. Instead decisions were being made with little idea of how the LMS was actually being used.

I left the institution not long after that work. My understanding is that it hasn’t improved its use of the LMS data (I guess there remains a question about whether or not the information stored in the LMS can be used effectively). This is in spite of the increase work around academic analytics.

I’m wondering, are there any universities that are actively using LMS data to improve decisions? If so, what information are they using and how?

I’m particularly interested in feature adoption. Are there any universities that are looking at what features of their lovely integrated system are being used?

Why is this important?

Some folk want the LMS to die, I am perhaps amongst that number. However, it appears that almost all University management assume that “e-learning == LMS”. They remain widely used and hence I am interested in seeing how they are used and what that means.

Not to ment that if most university management and IT folk ascribe to the idea of strategic/rational/corporate management – as most do these days – then obviously they are already collecting this information in order to inform their data informed decision making. How else can they make effective judgements about the value of their selection of the LMS and subsequent strategies to encourage its effective use? (Apart from the standard “we made the decision, the decision is good” approach).

Some short-term R&D plans

And the first day of my transition back into Academia commences. What follows is an initial list of my short-term plans for research and development. I had pondered coming up with some grand vision for my academic career, but I really detest visions and mission statements as ways to enshrine your current limited understanding in such a way as to ignore everything else that happens in the world.

So I’ll stick with a motto that I’ve used before and which pretty much sums up my approach to research, teaching and education.

It’s not how bad you start, but how quickly you get better

Shall be interesting to see how much of this I get done. Suggestions and comments welcome.

Open scholarship – reading, working and connecting

The plan is to blog, tweet etc quite a bit more. Get back into the habit I had a couple of years ago of doing scholarship in the open. When I read a paper, blog a summary and any vague ideas. When I start thinking about papers, break them up into chunks and blog that. Blog the ideas about the papers. Actively search out interesting folk doing interesting work and connect.

It also means that I’m going to avoid IGI Global and similar closed publishers. Open Access journals etc. will be my publishing venues of choice (if they’ll have me). While ERA journal rankings have gone, publishing in journals is still a necessity.

There’s already an interesting potential project around the use of Twitter by pre-service teachers happening because of Twitter connections (@laurnForner @sthcrft @rellypops).

Reading and connecting, especially with folk at USQ and education in general, remains one of my biggest tasks.

BIM 2.0 – quick and dirty

Poor old BIM – the Moodle module for managing individual student blogs – has been my neglected child. The only attention it has gotten recently is from the good folk at Netspot who tidied up some of the uglier, more problematic bits of code. BIM needs porting to Moodle 2.0.

Earlier this year I started an abortive attempt to both port BIM and redesign the code base. A mistake. So the current plan is to do a quick and dirty conversion of BIM to Moodle 2. i.e. ensure that the current functionality works in Moodle 2.

Then next year think about the longer term. Perhaps a redesign of the code base and extension of the functionality with some current ideas.

I’m somewhat interested to see whether BIM is installed at USQ, and if not, what the process/likelihood is of getting it added to USQ’s Moodle setup.

Paper #1 – Indicators journal paper

The first paper I’ll work on is from the Indicators Project. Probably do a refined and expanded version of the 2009 ASCILITE paper. Refine, add more recent data, including data from Moodle, and do the stats.

One of the ideas of this paper was to identify potential future work.

Paper #2 – The story of BIM

In 2010 I presenting BIM at the MoodleMoot’AU. The idea behind that presentation didn’t get covered in the MoodleMoot’AU presentation. Doing a demo of BIM seemed more appropriate. To this day, I think that the story of BIM can be used to identify some of the important limitations of universities that are holding back the quality of learning and teaching. Need to make this argument.

Paper #3 – Something from the PhD

And probably #4 etc. I do need to get some papers out of the PhD

Turning point 2.0

Almost a year ago I blogged about a turning point in my formal work life. I’d finished a draft of the PhD and had been accepted into a pre-service teacher graduate diploma. A year on and there is another turning point. Tomorrow is the last day of my teaching internship, if my eportfolio passes I will become eligible for provisional registration with the Queensland College of Teachers to teach high school Information Technology and Mathematics. But I won’t be teaching in high schools next year.

A few weeks ago I was offered a position within the Faculty of Education at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). I start in late January 2012. Much remains uncertain about exactly what I’ll be doing, but it will likely involve teaching courses being taken by pre-service teachers. Most likely something around e-learning/ICTs and perhaps some mathematics, will find out over coming months. In terms of research, I’m hoping/planing to do a lot more around e-learning and much more. I’m looking forward to the challenge. A lot to read, think and do.

In between organising the task of relocating the family to Toowoomba, I am hoping to have the opportunity to blog, tweet, follow, etc a lot more.