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?