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.

Origins

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.

Resonance

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?

Reflections

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

Measures

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.

Mentors?

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.

3 thoughts on “Twitter, pre-service teachers and creating networks

  1. I’d suggest that the three Palchinsky Principles are worth thinking about: first: seek out new ideas and try new things;
    second: when trying something new, do it on a scale that is survivable;
    third: seek out feedback and learn from your mistakes as you go along.
    But you know all that. :) Diversity, variety is what counts and making mistakes is the biggy, i.e. a good thing – not a lot of fun but the only way to move forward. Suggest they might have a peek at Tim Harford’s book: Adapt.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks for the reference to Palchinsky and the book Adapt. Resonates strongly with my views. Always interesting to see similar and reassuring (and somewhat frustrating) that nothing is new and we’re still making the same mistakes.

    2. Yeah. I worry about biological metaphors to think about this but the stuff Harford has dug up is pretty compelling. If folk did think a little more like a virtual life sim…. :) — we might get a bit of progress. Adapt btw is the best crit of any kind of standardised approach to things like Ed etc – as I’ve tried to argue (lamely) for a long time – need lots and lots of experiments in doin school differently, so the KPS stuff. Ta for the Palchinsky link :) One smart guy, one of a zillion the maddies killed. Harford’s book is a great take on how to run a university – sadly, hard to find any that are not afflicted with the ‘let’s not do any experiments’ mindset. Might be a good book to get your beginning teachers to read :)

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