Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Month: January 2012

Thinking about the Preservice teaching networking (#pstn) project

It appears that the planets have aligned to provide the opportunity to marry some of my teaching duties with the very interesting Pre-Service Teaching Networking (#pstn) project. The project’s about page gives a pretty good description and ther’s more detail in a related Google doc. There’s also more in the project’s outline.

The project will be getting underway really soon now, the following is a belated attempt to think about the project and how I can participate.


I should note that I feel “what” #pstn will be is still very much evolving. I imagine that it will evolve more as it gets started and we learn more about what works and what doesn’t. The following covers my interpretation of what it #pstn is now.

We’re trying to get a small bunch of pre-service teachers starting/expanding their professional learning network via various forms of social media and various support mechanisms. Support mechanisms are likely to include: mentors, a collection of quests and misc other scaffolds.


Much of the original spark for PSTN arises from this blog post from @lforner. Some of the points Lauren makes include:

  • “the complete removal of our university course from the realities of teaching”.
    A sentiment repeated in this DEST report from 10+ years ago and elsewhere.
  • Most of the answers to possible interview questions come from sharing on a PLN, rather than within formal university study.
  • Use of twitter/social media exists in technology subjects, but is not integrated into mainstream subjects.

These problems resonate with my experience of completing a Graduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching last year, though in different ways and at different levels.

Another factor could be the limited PLN problem faced by student teachers. The PLN a traditional student teacher has to draw upon is usually limited to their mentor teacher, any university academics vaguely approachable (perhaps few if any), and fellow students. If you get a great, innovative, out-going, connected mentor teacher you’re in luck. But otherwise you’re in trouble. The University academics are generally removed from the day-to-day current reality of teaching and your fellow students are likely to be really busy struggling with their own professional growth. Consequently there isn’t a really active network to draw upon.

So What?

What’s the relevance of this project. Isn’t this just another form of communities of practice, just with a different technology?

My initial response is that I think this can make a difference for some, if not all, of the PSTs. Hence from that perspective alone it’s got some value. Perhaps not in the broader scale of things, but if we help some PSTs I’m not sure I care a great deal.

On a more theoretical level, I’m thinking that there is a fundamental difference between the approach #pstn approach and CoP. For me, the CoP approach is based much more on a “systems” approach, whereas #pstn is going to be more a Complex Adaptive Systems approach.

A systems approach assumes that there is alignment. A common purpose, a singular goal that the group is working toward. A key requirement given for CoPs from the literature is a shared purpose. For me the point of #pstn is not that there is a shared purpose – except perhaps at a very high level such as “building our PLN” – everyone is doing their own thing in a way that suits them. In this way it connects with what is known about effective professional development, it’s participant driven, connected to their own teaching, involves sharing both inside and outside the setting.

I think there are resonances here with Stephen Downes argument in Groups vs Networks. CoPs are generally groups, where #pstn is more interested in creating networks.

I think there is some potentially interesting points to be made about the nature of collaboration on Twitter versus within a CoP. Points that might suggest that #pstn/twitter collaboration is a better fit for ad hoc, context appropriate sharing.

And you have to love Twitter. My twitter stream provided a link to this post about whether or not technology can change teacher practice. Not only does the post capture some of my response to the “its the pedagogy, not the technology” statements, but it also references from this John Seely-Brown article for a quote about learning environments

…an environment that is consistent with (not antagonistic to) how learners learn…an open system, dynamic, interdependent, diverse, partially self-organizing, adaptive, and fragile…

I’m not sure a CoP fits this description of a learning environment. I think PSTN can potentially provide this sort of environment, but it won’t be simple and it won’t automatically happen simply by putting folk on Twitter and appointing a mentor. Guiding/helping, with a very soft touch, people create their own learning environment seems to be the hard part of PSTN.

Is this sufficiently different to be valuable research? Time and a bit more examination will tell. Is this change likely to create better outcomes? Let’s try it and see.


The current plan from the Google doc goes something like this

  • Before start of semester/term gather volunteers: mentors and students
  • First week general set up and getting started.
    Have a simple set of tasks that participants use to get started using Twitter etc.

At this stage, we’re a bit less certain. There might be two or three options

  1. Free for all.
    Let people blaze their own path and get on with it.
  2. Quest log.
    Have a sequence of quests that folk pick and choose from and complete. A touch of gamification to offer a bit of scaffolding to encourage more effective outcomes. Again there’d be a fair bit of freedom here for participants to develop their own path.
  3. Course connections.
    A couple of us may be using PSTN in connection with formal university courses. The connection might be optional or required. For these courses there might be a specific set of quests designed to target the particular outcomes/assessment of the course. An initial attempt at an example is given below. @rellypops has another example described in this Google doc

How @ USQ

I’m going to be teaching into the course EDC3100 ICT and Pedagogy. With a couple of hundred 3rd year Bachelor of Education students doing a course helping them integrate ICTs in their teaching. The course includes a few weeks practical placement. The course is also getting a refresh in connection with the Teaching Teachers for the Future project.

@rellypops is having a specific assignment (with a pass/no-pass grade scheme) for her course connection. I can’t do this. Other folk are doing the assignments and I’m leaning toward making #pstn optional, but useful for the EDC3100 students.

However, the first assignment involves groups of 4 students designing an online learning experience for themselves. A learning experience that can involve guests and be used by other folk. This sounds like the type of assignment for which a well-functioning PLN would be really useful.

Which leads me to the idea of trying to come up with a sequence of quests for local PSTN participants that would complement the work they are doing each week.

Some questions

Unanswered questions

  • Are there some principles/theories that might inform the design of the different quest collections?
  • Are the How to play instructions sufficient for the less than technically literate?
  • What are the research questions we’re keen to investigate arising from this project?
    Do we stick with a simple descriptive case study type of research or perhaps explore #pstn as a better/different alternative to the CoP? Does it make a difference to student teachers’ ICT integration?

Models of Teacher PD for ICT integration

The following is a summary/reflection upon “Making better connections: Models of teacher professional development for the integration of information and communication technology into classroom practice“. A report funded by the Australian Federal Department of Education written by a range of folk, including a few names I recognise.

The following quote from page 23 of the report gives a good summary of its purpose

Stated briefly, the goal of this Report is to answer the question, ‘How can the professional development of teachers and educational leaders facilitate the integration of new technologies into classroom practice?’. More specifically, it asks ‘What models of teacher professional development exist, in Australia and around the world, to support the integration of information and communication technologies into classroom practice?’ and ‘What advice does the current research literature provide about which of these models are most effective for this purpose?’.

I’ve come to the report via the set text for the course I’ll be teaching. I’m interested in the report for what insight it might reveal for the course and in particular the PSTN project.

Misc. considerations

The following is an ad hoc list of considerations and implications reading this report generated for me, things for me to consider. The list includes:

  • What’s the connection between Communities of Practice (CoP) and PSTN?
    CoP have been a big thing in education over recent years, even Universities have tried to set up CoPs for academics to improve their teaching. This report looks at some of the CoP literature. Including the need for shared purpose. I wonder if PSTN is different from CoP? I wonder if PSTN can learn anything from the CoP work?
  • Yet Another Dead Website/Support Network.
    Oh dear, the second phase of this project was “the subsequent development of a support network”. I wonder how that went. I’m guessing it’s dead, but will have to ask around. I do wonder how PSTN avoids this problem of being yet another artificial website/support network that goes away once the project is dead. Or is this even a problem, the circle of life and all that.

    This project seems supportive, perhaps even connected to EdNA. Which I believe is now dead.

  • If Pre-Service Teachers (PSTs) continue to have exposure to ICTs in training but limited classroom use, then
    • Can/should teacher education aim to provide some level of experience?
    • Can the PSTN project, by broadening a PSTs network, enable greater levels of classroom use?
      Based on the proposition that at least one contributing factor to limited classroom use is that PSTs get paired up with mentor teachers that are somewhat leery of ICT integration.
  • Can the PSTN project help bridge the identified disconnect between pre-service teaching and continuing professional development? (chapter 5)
  • But will it bridge the gap not through top-down collaboration between schools and universities, but rather through the formation of bottom-up networks between people in both systems? Or, will it only work when it becomes officially recognised by both systems and consequently becomes one form of collaboration?
  • How does USQ evaluate the effectiveness of its teacher education programs? How do we evaluate the effectiveness of the ICT and pedagogy course?
  • If “a lack of linkages” is one of the principal barriers then can the PSTN project and its foundation in social networking/mentoring provide those linkages?
  • The “lack of linkages” identified in the report is between pre-service and in-service. The PSTN project is arguably trying to bridge that gap.
  • Funding – in terms of not having the money to keep up with technological change – is listed as one of the principal barriers. Is the increasing (but by no means complete) ubiquity of technology, especially in terms of mobile device, making this go away or at the very least change the nature of this barrier?
    i.e. increasingly there is no longer the need for institutions to provide all of the technology, increasingly the students and teachers have it.
  • The report seems to suggest that limited conceptions held by stakeholders around “pedagogy, curriculum and the profession” are barriers for PD. It seems obvious that different individuals come with different conceptions, the aim of PD is encourage and enable growth (and not necessarily towards a single accepted point, though that seems to be enshrined in certificates and standards). Which seems to suggest a challenge for the PSTN project is helping students engage in social networks that are in the right “zone”.
  • Online communities need to be linked with school-based teacher inquiry.
    This is a recommendation. I’d imagine the type of folk likely to volunteer as mentors for PSTN are also likely to be already engaged in such inquiry. I’d imagine that the student teachers that benefit from PSTN are doing similar.
  • lack of coordination is the greatest barrier to the effective use of ICTs for teaching and learning in schools.
    Mmmm, I’m reluctant to accept this, though it probably depends on definition of coordination. Attempts at coordination and alignment within a problem area that is complex doesn’t seem likely to be likely to happen. But who’s right? Is coordination the saviour? What are the alternatives?
  • The difficulty of finding mentors.
    On p. 17 the report talks about the problem Universities have with finding and paying for mentor teachers for practical placements for student teachers. As some within PSTN have observed this will be one of the barriers for the PSTN project. A question is whether the nature of Twitter etc. will reduce this somewhat, at least with smaller numbers. I can see potential problems in scaling, especially after a few years… Could PSTN become self-sustaining with previous mentees becoming mentors?
  • PSTN would fall into what the report calls the “messy” end of professional development. p. 18 of the report references research that suggests that while such approaches are “messy” they are also more effective, but because they are messy, they don’t fit well within “the system”.
    A challenge for PSTN to be aware of.
  • Systematically change the system, or the system will always suck.
    There is a reference to research/literature to suggest that PD needs to be integrated with comprehensive/systematic processes that are solving all the other problems teachers are having. While this is to be applauded it does tend to create the situation where people sit waiting for everything to happen, when it never will.

    An alternative perspective is that the system will always suck. Especially if the world is ever-changing. Since the system will always suck, the people within it are always battling against it. Rather than wait forlornly for the perfect system, PSTN aims to give student teachers the leg up to get started battling effectively against the system. Hopefully to better prepare them for when the system doesn’t suck.

  • Need to read more on this. (p. 19)

    There is a positive correlation between teacher professionalism (teacher as learner, teacher as researcher) and improved student learning outcomes (Coughlin & Lemke 1999; Davis 1999; Delannoy 2000; Groundwater-Smith 1998; Smith 1999).

  • Some literature/findings directly related to PSTN. (p. 20)

    In summary, it is noted at this point that professional learning communities are: easy to set up but difficult to sustain (Lieberman 2000); need particular conditions if they are to operate effectively (Hough & Paine 1997; Grossman 2000); work best at the local level (site-based communities); and are less likely to succeed when dispersed and virtual (Schlager 2000).

  • PSTN as symptom of increasing tendency for teachers/student teachers to be digital residents.
    On p. 22 there are references to support claims that PD around ICT integration should be “ongoing, intensive, and an integral part of a teacher’s regular work day”. i.e. for teacher ICT integration etc hasn’t been part of what they do, but as technology becomes more accepted, teachers are increasingly digital residents. Early PSTN participants are likely to be digital residents – technology and using technology is already part of their everyday life. If PSTN can help achieve this with student teachers, then I wonder if more than half the battle is won.

Some PSTN quotes

The following is a list of quotes that might be useful for PSTN

The very nature of the teaching profession as being practice ‘behind closed doors’ mitigates against moves to school-based collaborative teacher development

(p. 3) – PSTN aims to open up some of those doors/connect with folk that are already opening it up.

What’s in it

The report aims to examine teacher development via both pre-service teacher education and professional development.

Going by the executive summary

  • Metrics for measuring effectiveness of PD and pre-service models.
    Will be interesting to see how these can be applied to both PSTN and the course.
  • A map of PD and pre-service models.
  • List of barriers and critical success factors for ICT integration.
  • Recommendations for the future.

This is done via a number of chapters

  1. Definitions, background and methodology.
  2. Overview of teacher development.
  3. The framework for teacher PD and ICT integration.
    Identifies four types of ICT related activity.
  4. Models of pre-service teacher education.
    Draws on lit review and survey to argue that in Australia pre-service teachers do a lot with ICTs in their training but get limited experience using it in the classroom. i.e. there is a difference between what is learned in their training and what is possible in practice.
  5. Models of continuing PD.
    There is an apparent disconnect between pre-service training and continuing PD which brings difficulties raising the need for collaboration between school and university sectors.
  6. Measuring the effectiveness of teacher learning for ICT integration.
    Measuring this is hard. Consequently few do it. But the majority recognise the need.
  7. Barriers and critical success factors for teacher learning.
    Barriers: funding (linked to inability to keep up with technological change), time and a lack of linkages. Scarcity of time identified as the greatest challenge. Linkages is generally seen as between pre-service training and in-service PD.
  8. Advice and recommendations.
    • Teaching as practiced behind closed doors is a barrier to school-based collaborative teacher development.
    • Online communities and PD do not offer quick fixes for the complexities….rather they should be part of an attempt to sustain teacher inquiry and extending networks beyond school/district.
    • An 20 odd recommendations grouped in various ways, including, but not limited to
      • a national set of ICT standards (boo, hiss)
      • a national set of institutional and programme capabilities
      • a couple around ensuring faculties of education and their staff are preaching the ICT integration word.
      • funnily enough room in pre-service training for students to development, plan, implement and evaluate the use of ICTs in their teaching.
      • various partnerships.
      • I found this one strange, relic of an earlier age? regulatory processes to allow limited online teaching as valid parts of professional experience programmes
      • …many more…

Effective professional development

The recommendations reference CERI (1998) as suggesting effective PD needs to:

  • involve concrete tasks around learning and development.
  • based on inquiry, reflection and experimentation that are participant-driven.
  • involve sharing of knowledge with support from both inside and outside of setting.
  • connected to/derived from teachers’ work.
  • Sustained, ongoing and intensive etc. around specific problems of practice.
  • and some bits about integration and comprehensive (which I’m not so sure about).

Chapter 1

Some overview of current situation, changing nature of society due to ICTs etc…(some of this isn’t too bad). Describes what has been done, including talking about the now dead EdNA.

At the very least there is mention of the need for “a radical re-appraisal of its fundmental goals and modes of operation”.

Chapter 2


  • some references and a brief summary of the history of teacher education in Australia.
  • teacher standards.
  • The importance of professional experience in teacher education and some of the problems in providing it.
  • The importance of partnerships, including universities becoming full partners in school reform.
  • Current approaches to professional development
    • ..”system-level resource allocation tend to favour a training model over alternative models that the literature argues or demonstrates are more effective in the long term”…and goes on to argue that “messy” models are more effective, but difficult to account for
    • new pedagogies don’t work is modelled in non-specific and decontextualised ways.
    • a lot of stuff on PD and ICT integration

Chapter 3

Aim of this chapter is to

establish a framework that provides a more substantial approach to goal-setting and programme evaluation

  • Revisit the four reasons/purposes for ICT integration. Talk about difficulty faced when attempting latter reasons, especially perceptions of parents, government etc.
  • Mention literature covering each of the four goals of ICT integration.

Chapter 4

Outline various approaches to pre-service teacher education, especially around ICT integration, and report on literature around +/- of the approaches. Including looking at some international projects.

Results of an Australian survey presented.

Repeat the problems identified earlier

However, the surveys also reported that a great deal of difficulty was encountered in presenting student teachers with valid and meaningful examples of ICT classroom use as part of their school experience. In the survey, course coordinators commented upon the large difference between what was learned about classroom applications of ICT in the university setting and what was practised in field placements. Such comments reflect the learn on campus, practice in field placement approach to student teacher learning.

Chapter 5

  • Uses literature to classify 5 processes used by individual teachers for PD.
  • Project developed a systemic model of PD programs.
  • Discussion of PD from various nations.
  • Discussion of strategies used for PD
    • Sponsorship programmes for self-directed, formal, PD
    • School-based programs.
    • Single even programs.
    • Serial courses
    • Curriculum development or teaching projects.
    • Professional learning communities.
      Somewhat related to PSTN, but more the CoP area.
    • Sustained inquiry through teacher research projects.
      The least common approach in Oz. Some useful quotes

      The research literature continually affirms that teachers learn best by focusing their attention on their own practices, trying new techniques, getting feedback, and observing and talking with fellow teachers in a supportive school environment (CERI 1998; Lewis 1998; Miller 1998; NFIE 1996). Teacher inquiry is an extended form of this type of ‘reflective practice’ in that it involves teachers in investigating questions immediately relevant to their practice, honours teachers’ knowledge, and involves teachers in ‘within-school’ or ‘outside-school’ networks that provide new ideas and support (Check 1998, p. 17). Check (1998) argued that teachers have found that small working groups and larger networks are essential aspects of teacher inquiry

      This seems to be approaching the PSTN sweet spot

  • PD infrastructure: central and regional based support services; lighthouse schools; provision of hardware for teachers; recognition and certification of skills and prior learning.

Chapter 6 – Measuring effectiveness

  • Difficult for pre-service education to measure outcomes after students enter schools.
  • Mention how it is done.
  • Describe various international projects.
  • Similar for PD.

Chapter 7 – Barriers and critical success factors

  • Absence of conditions for “effective, ongoing professional development built into the daily working lives of teachers”. Specified as: time; flexibility; remuneration and recognition; sustained staff development, link between technology and educational objectives; intellectual and professional stimulation; clear systemic message. And: timely support.
  • FUnding.
  • Time.
  • Links between PST and education systems.

Chapter 8 – Advice and recommendations

Interesting quote (p. 79)

. Furthermore, the degree of complexity and the required time for lasting development to occur will always make the systemic implementation of effective practice difficult.

Interesting because at the same time the suggestion is that systemic change is almost a requirement to bring about change.

There is also the argument that online communities/professional development is not enough. Instead it must be an integral part of “the sustained school-based teacher inquiry approach where their special contribution is to support and extend the local networks by offering connections and resources from outside the school or district”.

Another big point

The final important understanding to come from the literature and the consultations is the pressing need for significant collaboration and coordination between pre-service teacher education, continuing professional development and systemic and school reform. The lack of coordination is the greatest barrier to the effective use of ICTs for teaching and learning in schools.

The specific recommendations are repeated.

References to get

Email for communication between student teachers and university mentors. Not quite PSTN, but approaching the ball park.

Le Cornu, R. & White, B. (2000). E-mail supervision in the practicum: What do students teachers think? Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Cardiff University, 7–10 September, 2000.

Teacher professionalism and student outcomes
(Coughlin & Lemke 1999; Davis 1999; Delannoy 2000; Groundwater-Smith 1998; Smith 1999).

The role and difficulties of communities: In summary, easy to set up but difficult to sustain (Lieberman 2000); need particular conditions if they are to operate effectively (Hough & Paine 1997; Grossman 2000); work best at the local level (site-based communities); and are less likely to succeed when dispersed and virtual (Schlager 2000).

Schlager, M.S., Fusco, J. & Schank, P. (2000). Evolution of an On-line Education Community of Practice. In K.A. Renninger & W. Shumar. (Eds). Building Virtual Communities: Learning and Change in Cyberspace. New York: Cambridge University Press

Understanding trends around ICTs

And so it’s onto chapter 2 of the set text for the ICTs and Pedagogy courses I’m going to be teaching.

To be honest, I have some reservations about the text. Not because it is bad, but because it clashes with the approach I would have taken. That may say more about the limitations of trying to write a generic textbook than the limitations of this specific book. For example, it’s the end of chapter 2 of the text and there’s been no move to get students to actively use ICTs or get them to use ICTs for learning and teaching.

Instead the aim has been on somewhat theoretical perspectives on keys questions and themes around ICTs and the current trends and challenges. For example, the second chapter has lots of material about various government policies and frameworks. While this is useful material, it does strike me as likely to prevent students worried about the upcoming prac-teaching from seeing the relevance.

Changing world and fixed curriculum

The chapter starts off with the de rigueur observation that the world is changing and will continue to change. But at the same time there seems, at least in parts, to remain an acceptance of the place of having a fixed curriculum set at the state or national level that drives what is being learned.

Surely a fixed curriculum, especially one set at a national level, is to difficult to modify in response to a dynamically changing world. Especially one where student-centered learning is seen as a key component of good learning.

The need for design theories

My thesis contribution was the formulation of a design theory. A type of theory increasingly accepted within the Information Systems discipline, in no small part due to the work my PhD supervisor on the nature of theory (Gregor, 2006). A design theory is described as giving explicit prescriptions in terms of methods, techniques, principles of form and function. i.e. a design theory says how to do something. This is seen as important in information systems (IS) as IS is largely about building systems. Knowing how to do it is important.

I have some interest in thinking about Shirley’s taxonomy of theory types (Gregor, 2006) and how it applies to education. After all, from one perspective education is about how to build learning environments, experiences etc. With the rise of ICTs and the “new digital world” it seems that “how” questions are becoming increasingly important. The text reinforces that perspective by continually repeating that it’s no longer a question of whether or not ICTs should be used in learning and teaching, but rather how to do it effectively.

Design theories seem to be a useful tool for figuring this out.

Of course, education is a very different discipline.

The focus isn’t technology, except it is

In both chapters the text has repeated the mantra that the incorporation of ICTs in learning and teaching should not be done simply because the technology is there. In a case study in chapter 2 the text examines work on teachers with laptops in New Zealand schools (Cowie, Jones and Harlow, 2005) and suggests that

responses to an innovation are shaped by a system that consists of people, tools and organisational structures operating at the level of the classroom, subject department, school and the policy

I generally agree to some level with these perspectives and remain somewhat confused why most research and implementation projects fail to engage with these suggestions. Instead most of these projects are driven by a particular technology. Whether it be a new LMS, an e-learning tool, a mobile device, or a new literacy program most of these projects are focused on the evaluation or implementation of that new project with only very limited regard for the specific context.

This problem seems to me to be a major contributor to complaint made by the text (p. 45)

This resonates with the life of many ICT initiatives and projects. There is often early excitement, injection of funding, a proposed research or evaluation model (or in some cases no accompanying research), but this is mounted without considerations of developing sustainable, long-term structures. Some anecdotal comments from school leaders refer to this as a ‘scorched earth’ strategy, where people are attracted to a project and obtain their funding for that specific project, ‘scorch that patch of earth’, and then move to the next project or piece of earth. The result is small events occurring in disparate ways and, when the funding or project life is complete, energe moves elsewhere

It seems to me that the very nature of research projects and government interventions in research projects are inherently focused on a particular technology or outcome. I think there is some benefit in breaking this approach, but remain unsure about just how to do this within a system that is so focused on the ‘scorched earth’ approach.

Top-down or bottom-up sharing?

One of the government reports mentioned in the chapter talks about “substantial momentum had built in Australia between 1998 and 2002 in terms of:” various bits and pieces including “development of national collaboration, strategic planning, sharing of information and projects in the use of ICT in education”. I have a rather large suspicion about the long term effectiveness and sustainability of top-down projects aiming to encourage collaboration and sharing. In part because they often take a ‘scorched earth’ approach, but also because of the nature of people. i.e. people like to share with people they know, often in a context of need. Conditions which top-down projects are unlikely to create.

Surely someone in the education field has worked on this. Even done some comparison studies between these top-down approaches and more bottom-up approaches. Especially given recent developments around social-media which lend themselves towards supporting more bottom-up collaboration.

This is getting into my area of interest around the Pre-Service Teacher Network (PSTN) project. Along these lines the book mentions a report
from DEST (2002) titled Making better connections something to follow up in terms of #PSTN.

So what knowledge do student teachers need?

The chapter also quotes a 2005 government report that mentions the need for

ensuring university teacher training courses equip new teachers with required ICT knowledge and skills

The obvious question from this is what are the required ICT knowledge and skills? One simple answer would be the learning outcomes of the ICT and pedagogy course I’ll be teaching, at least if its been designed appropriately. The other obvious solution is the various sets of competencies and standards being proposed and required by various government agencies.

But don’t these suffer the same problem as national curriculum? If ICTs and the new digital world are dynamically changing, aren’t the required ICT knowledge and skills also dynamically changing? Doesn’t this make the act of creating by committee, promulgating, and testing these compentecies a long-winded way of enshrining what was required a couple of years ago? Doesn’t creation by committee tend to ignore the important of respondingn appropriately to the local context?

Questions to ponder.


Cowie, B. Jones, A. Harlow, A. (2005). Teachers with laptops in New Zealand: impacts on teachers and their practice. paper presented at AERA 2005, Montreal, 11-15 April

DEST (2002). Making better connections: models of teacher professional development for the integration of information and communication technology into classroom practice. DEST, Canberra

Gregor, S. (2006). The nature of theory in information systems. MIS Quarterly, 30(3), 611-642.

Reflections on understanding context

After a couple of weeks off-line, I’m slowly catching up on making public some writing. This post is a follow up to a previous post with some initial thoughts on the ICT and Pedagogy course I’m teaching this term. There were some great comments on that post which I need to think and write about, but later. This post is a collection of some impressions and reactions to the first chapter of the set text for the course.

Knowing where you are going

Page 3 of the text leads off with this quote from Forcier and Descy (2002, pp. 15-16) – I’ve added some emphasis

Any lasting changes and reforms will need to be preceded by a vision of what future learning environments will be like. What expectations will be placed on the learner? What will the role of the teacher be? What will the physical structure of the learning environment be?

The book’s argument is that “the most exciting use of technology by the students of the future will be an enhanced ability to produce authentic, meaningful work”. i.e. what we now know about education (i.e. a constructivist view of learning) provides the vision for lasting changes and reforms.

I have a lot of time for authentic learning, but I am troubled by this idea that we start with a vision of what the future holds. In part it takes me back to the false/pointless argument about whether how technology is used to transform learning and teaching should be driven by the technology or by education. For me this false argument assumes we can know, it assumes that this process of change is knowable. Instead, I prefer Markus and Robey’s (1988) view where technology is just one of a number of components of an emergent process of change where the outcomes are indeterminate because they are situationally and dynamically contingent.

Sure, there is some value in informing applications of ICT in education with knowledge of what works in education. But there is also value in critically exploring new technologies and ways of doing to see what happens. Terms such as emergence, exaptation (Gould, 1991), and bricolage (Ciborra, 1992) spring to mind.

Implication: How could a course in ICT and pedagogy effectively marry both perspectives? Having students show how their knowledge of education informs their use of ICT in pedagogy and get them to engage in emergence/bricolage.

Technochoice and the death spiral of defining definitions

After a few pages the book does mention its adoption of the technochoice approach suggested by Sachs, Russell and Chataway (1990). An approach which

accommodates the process of evolution and continual selection from a spectrum of technological alternatives; the selecting creates tension and leads to opportunities for exploring and experimenting with alternative institutional and organising forms of education

There are good noises about rejecting a linear perspective on process, but in the end the argument is that thinking about ICTs need to be informed by educational rationales. I’m not suggesting that this should be totally removed, but there needs to be some room for uncertainty.

Are our current educational rationales – rationales that evolved in a pre-digital world – the best we can do or will the digital world require the development of new educational rationales/theories? It would appear that the connectivism folk, at least some of them, are arguing this.

Even this early into my career as an University education academic I am finding myself slowly drawn into the “death spiral of defining definitions”. i.e. the situation where each education academic has their very own, very nuanced, definition of common terms. The death spiral where 99% of argument is about those individual definitions.

Linear stage models, incremental and radical innovation, and complexity

Having briefly claimed some problems with “linear”, the book then seems to reference a lot of models that are linear. e.g. Newhouse, Clarkson and Trinidad’s (2005) “Stages of teacher development”, a five stage model

  1. Inaction – no interest in using ICTs in pedagogy.
  2. Investigation – initial actions arising from an interest in using ICTs in pedagogy.
  3. Application – regular, competent, and confident use of ICTs in pedagogy.
  4. Integration – ICT in pedagogy has become critical to learning.
  5. Transformation – teacher takes on leadership roles around ICTs in pedagogy and knowledgeably reflects on its integration.

Using something as simple and linear as this to explain something as complex as figuring out how to use ICTs in your L&T always gives me pause.

Barriers to ICT integration

First, the question of what ICT curriculum integration is presented as problematic. Then a list of barriers is given apparently from Shelly et al

  • Lack of teacher training and professional development.
  • Lack of curriculum, technical and administration support.
  • Limited time for teacher planning.
  • The difficulty of computer access.
  • Budget constraints.
  • Resistance to change by many educators.

The course I’m teaching can really only hope to address two of these, the first and last. With the last being somewhat questionable.

For student teachers – based on my own experience – I would guess that limited planning time would be the major problem. A student teacher is still developing their knowledge of the content and pedagogy they need to use and struggling with time to harness this. Add in technology….

The solution to all this is proposed as strategic planning. I don’t believe that strategic planning within the confines of an existing formal education system is sufficient for the type of transformative change people are talking about. The nature of the people responsible for strategic planning are not likely to have the mindsets ready for such change.

The need for authentic experience

The first chapter closes with an interview with Michelle Williams an experience ICT teacher and teacher education. Michelle also happens to be one of the USQ TTF folk working on this course. The interview closes with an important point that resonated with me.

Teachers who do not have opportunities to use smart and complex digital systems and networks do not see the imperative to duplicate these information and workflow processes in curriculum tasks. They are unlikely to believe such processes are authentic because they are not aware of their existence, let alone have experienced how such processes and thinking change work practices, and community and society culture.

Increasingly I have a desire for this course to provide student teachers with that experience. However, I hestitate somewhat at the thought that the standard University LMS could be claimed as providing experience with using “smart and complex digital systems and networks”.

I’m currently wondering about this sort of structure for the course

  1. Spend the first week or two or three running the course fairly traditionally with a focus on students thinking about whether their experience with ICTs
    in their Unviersity study and their own prac teaching is transformative or not.
  2. Use increasingly different approaches as the term progresses to illustrate what might be considered transformative. Initially have some of this connected with “lessons plans”. i.e. change the course via mechanisms they are expected to use in teaching.
  3. By the end the students have been led to use of a variety of technologies
    targetted at producing something different. i.e. it’s the students job to use ICTs to design something transformative around ICTs and pedagogy. Probably aim to keep this fairly broad and open, but require demonstration of significant use of
    “smart and complex digital systems and networks” and the production of
    some public output/contribution.

In essence, the underlying aim is to provide an environment in which student teachers can become, or at least make progress toward becoming, digital residents through applying the theories and technologies to their own experience studying this course and teaching in schools.

This by Cathy Davidson and her work better captures what I’m learning toward.


Ciborra, C. (1992). From thinking to tinkering: The grassroots of strategic information systems. The Information Society, 8(4), 297-309.

Gould, S.J. (1991). Exaptation: a crucial tool for evolutionary psychology.
Journal of Social Issues 47, 43–65.

Markus, M. L., & Robey, D. (1988). Information technology and organizational change: causal structure in theory and research. Management Science, 34(5), 583-598.

To get

Forcier, R.C. & Descy, D.E. (2002). The computer as an educational tool: productivity and problem solving. 3rd edn, Merrirll Prentice Hall, Columbus, OH.

Newhouse, P., Clarkson, B. & Trinidad, S. (2005). A framework for leading school change in using ICT, in Using ICT in education: leadership, change and models of best practice, S. Trinidad and J. Pearson (eds), Pearson Education Asia, Singapore, pp. 148-64

Sachs, J., Russell, N. & Chataway, G. (1990). Technology and education: forging links with business and industry, Dupe M (ed), Making the links: technology and science, industry and education, Australian Government Publishing Service, Canberra, pp. 49-60.

Shelly, G.B., Cashman, T.J., Gunter, R.E., & Gunter, G.A. (2004). Integrating technology in the classroom, 3rd edition, Thomson, Boston.

Initial thoughts on an ICT and Pedagogy course

In a little under a month’s time I am meant to be in charge of the course EDC3100 ICT and Pedagogy at the University of Southern Queensland. The first time I’ve taught a course since in almost 6 years, should be fun. This is one of the responsibilities of the new job that I haven’t quite yet started. For various reasons, however, I can’t help be start thinking about the course.

As part of my thinking, I’m going to try and blog. To some extent as an attempt to model what I preach. The following is a quick overview of the little I know about the course, the direction the course appears to be taking and some questions I have for you and for reflection.

The course

The course is taken in the third year of a four year Bachelor of Education. The students have a 2 or 3 week stint of prac-teaching towards the end of the course. To some extent the course is the fairly standard “how to teach with ICTs” course found in many education degrees.

The course is offered a couple of times a year. The largest offering has up to a couple of hundred students spread across three different physical campuses and studying via online/distance education. It appears that each cohort gets the equivalent of lectures and tutorials (more on this in the questions).

The key sentence from the course synopsis seems to be this one

Students will engage with the design and delivery of learning experiences for individuals and groups employing a range of developmentally appropriate and flexible teaching, learning and assessment strategies and resources in ICT enriched environments.

The other point made is that students will be able to qualify for the Queensland Department of Education’s ICT certificate.

I’m yet to see a weekly schedule. That and getting access to previous resources, course sites etc is a priority.

Course objectives

The following is my summary/revision of the course objectives. Feel free to insert the appropriate higher level Bloom’s verbs and other verbiage.

  1. past and present (inter)national policies around ICTs in education.
  2. theories and frameworks that inform ICT pedagogies.
  3. ideas about knowledge generation and the knowledge economy and implications for curriculum and pedagogy
  4. role of ICTs in curriculum, learning, and teaching
  5. personal beliefs and practices that impact on the use of ICTs in L&T
  6. design worthwhile student experiences where ICTs are integral to the curriculum and where learners use ICT for higher order thinking
  7. students develop strategic pathways to continue their learning journey and professional recognition.
  8. spell good and use grammar good etc.

If one applies Bigg’s (1996) concept of constructive alignment, then the last outcome would seem to suggest that the course provides students the opportunity to learn about good spelling, grammar, referencing etc.

I wonder if you can read anything into the fact that actually teaching with technology is left until objective 6.

No changes…yet

My plan was (and still is) to essentially teach the course as it stands. Mostly because there are only four or so weeks between when I start work at a new University in a new discipline and when the term starts. This potentially creates three problems:

  1. Not allowed to make changes?.
    I didn’t think University policy would allow me to change anything this close to the start of term. A course this complex usually has lead times for the production of materials, assessment etc. I expect USQ – as an institution with a history in industrial distance education – to have policies preventing willy-nilly changes to courses in the last four weeks before the start of term.
  2. Ignorance.
    USQ is a new university for me. I’ve never taught within a Faculty of Education before. This combination does not provide a firm foundation of informed insight upon which to make changes. I want to know a lot more about the students, the course etc before making changes.
  3. Laziness.
    I’ve just moved town. My kids are settling into new schools. My wife is preparing for a career change. We’re still playing around with real estate and I’m trying to make my way in a new job. I don’t want to complicate that with the task of radically changing a course.

The TTF changes

As it happens, USQ’s Faculty of Education – like all the other Australian university Faculties of Education – are using Teaching Teachers for the Future (TTF) funds to examine and improve the use of ICTs within their teacher education programs. As part of this the USQ TTF project folk are keen to make some changes to EDC3100 before it’s next offering.

One of the rationales for these changes is influenced by one of my broader questions below about the role of ICTs in education (not to mention more generally). i.e. it is expected that the use of ICTs should become embedded throughout the courses taken by student teachers. If this is the case, why then have a separate course like EDC3100 that teaches ICT and pedagogy? Haven’t the students gotten this already? What does/should EDC3100 add?

The folk pushing these changes are good people with a lot of experience. It’s a great opportunity to listen and observe. Even if the situation challenges my ignorance and laziness explained above.


The brief discussions I’ve had with a couple of USQ staff and the TTF project staff and some skimming of the set text for the course are starting to raise a few questions and remind me of a few others. These are the types of questions I’m keen to engage with when I eventually get around to making some changes to the course.

An initial list includes

  1. Engaging the students.
    Apparently this course and other Faculty of Ed courses suffer the traditional attendance/engagement cycle. i.e. everyone attends the first week, no-one attends subsequent weeks, except for the odd week where an assignment is due. I’m not sure this is a problem I can solve, but it certainly seems to indicate a mismatch somewhere between the course and students.
  2. Treating it more like a design course and less like a theory course.
    The first chapter of the set text focuses on topics more related to the first three or four learning outcomes described above. I can see how this could seem to students to not help them with the main crux of the course. How to use ICTs to teach.

    If the aim is to get students designing effective learning experiences with ICTs, then I’d want them doing lots of designing, examining and critiquing lots of different learning designs with ICTs. Starting from the very start. This experience can then be used to talk about national policies etc.

  3. Modelling good practice.
    One way to do this is to make the design of this course and its various learning experiences transparent and use those designs as part of the critiquing process. One of the aims here would to show that the course doesn’t always model good practice and provide students with the ability to offer modifications. But also for them to be aware of and reflect upon the constraints and different perspectives that influence the idea of what “good” practice actually is.

    One of the barriers to this approach would appear to be the significant difference between the context/practice within a University course and within a school setting. One has lectures/tutorials, the other has 40/50/70 minute lessons. At least one (in theory) expects pre-prepared lessons plans while the other doesn’t. I do wonder whether having parts of this course (or even the whole course) outlines in a set of lesson plans that students can examine and modify as part of the assessment might offer some interesting possibilities (and difficulties).

  4. The question of transformation.
    The set text talks about the transformation of learning enabled by ICTs and yet discussion of lectures and tutorials feature heavily when talking about the course. The course doesn’t seem to show much evidence of transformation.
  5. The need to know more about the nature of technology?
    It appears that there isn’t much talk about the nature of technology and its impact on society. This sort of thing could quickly become boringly theoretically pointless, but could be useful. Wonder if this would be revisiting a previous version of the course?
  6. Making it public and authentic.
    The course seems to have a bit of group work. But it’s all presented within the virtual or physical class. I’m keen to see this go outside the class. What can these students do for assessment that would be valued by their mentor teachers, other student teachers and the broader
  7. Why is ICT and pedagogy still separate?
    I’m escaping the information systems (IS) discipline and moving into education. In part, because it appears that information systems is shrinking due to ICT becoming part of everyday life. Instead of there being a separate discipline (IS) examining the integration of technology and organisational/social life, the organisational and social sciences are examining technology.

    I can see echoes of this in this course, as mentioned above. If technology is part of every day learning and teaching, why have a separate ICT in pedagogy course? Shouldn’t it be part of all the courses?

    The obvious answer at the moment is that it really isn’t embedded in many of the other courses and there may remain some useful experiences to provide in this sort of course.

  8. How can I get the Pre-Service Teacher Networking (PSTN) project connected with this course.
    There are some good folk trying to get an interesting project up and going. I’m keen for this course, or at least some of the students within it, to engage with the project. I need to figure out how/if this can be done.
  9. Read more about the TTF.
    It’s a big thing in the sector/discipline at the moment.


Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32(3), 347-364.

Teaching computer science considered harmful?

This is interesting (hat tip to @timbuckteeth). English schools will no longer be teaching Information and Communications Technology (ICT) study – a situation where students are bored out of their minds learning Word and Excel by bored teachers – and instead will be taught “more rigorous computer science and programming”.

While the fundamental idea can be seen as worthy, its implementation will be difficult to impossible. I hope they can pull it off.

But for all the reasons expressed below and others, I can’t but think that this move is going to be somewhat harmful.


I have a double major in Computer Science and a PhD in Information Systems. I taught Information Technology for about 10 years at a University level. I have just spent the last year as a trainee high school teacher. One of my teaching areas was IPT. i.e. the “computer science” course taken by senior high school students.

Problems facing England

Some of the problems England’s school system will face include

  1. Intro computer science at University is troubled.
    Do a quick literature search in the area of computer science education – especially around the first year and programming – and you will find some problems. In this paper I reference a range of literature quoting failure figures of 30/40/50% in first year programming courses. Remember, the cohort in these first year University programming courses is significantly more selective than what you are going to find in high school.
  2. IPT at Queensland high schools is failing the relevance test.
    In this post I references research that shows that Australian students are finding high school “computer science” courses boring and irrelevant.

    Now both this and the previous problem could be ascribed to poor quality courses. The English are suggesting they’ll take a better approach. But that better approach is still going to have to be implemented in a large number of schools and overcome existing student beliefs. This is going to be hard. I hope they do it well.

  3. Where are the teachers going to come from?
    If English schools are anything like Australian schools, then I would suggests that one of the reasons why current students are bored with the current ICT training is that many teachers are recipe followers and not chefs when it comes to using computers. i.e. they can follow the 10 step process to create an Excel spreadsheet that does X, but problem solving and creative applications of the technology is beyond them. If teachers are struggling to do this with Word/Excel, are they going to be better placed with programming? This is a point made by some of the experts quoted in the article.

    While students can learn quite well without teachers. The teachers will influence the roll out of this exciting new curriculum.

It’s still separate

This curriculum appears to still create programming/computer science as a separate discipline distinct from the rest of the curricula. The suggestion is that the change will help produce students “able to work at the forefront of technological change”. This assumes that technological change is the most important spot.

The trouble is that what’s important is how to harness technology effectively within existing disciplines. Rather than making every student a computer scientist or games programmer. How about placing the ability to manipulate computers within the existing school subjects and creating students who are able to effectively marry “technological change” with the everyday problems of the world?

Not many people I know are enthused about technology for technology’s sake. They are engaged and enthused about seeing how technology – and from their the ability to manipulate and program technology – can be applied to their problems and interests.

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