2010 was an interesting year for me. After almost two decades as a University academic, first within Information Technology and then in e-learning support, I started a one-year pre-service teacher qualification with the intent being to become a high-school Information Technology and Mathematics teacher. Even before I started the qualification I started reconstructing my PLN to better suit my new career. Like @laurenforner, I learned more of direct value to me learning from my PLN and the broader Internet than through my formal studies. That said, my formal studies did provide the motivation and a foundation for my PLN-based learnings. I was sold on the benefits of a project like #pstn.
By the end of 2010 the wheel had turned and I was set to return to life as a University academic. This time within a Faculty of Education teaching a 3rd year course “ICTs and Pedagogy”. Around this time I became aware of @sthcrft’s and @laurenforner’s plans for #pstn and saw benefits for the students (120 studying online, and 25, 52, and 57 students at different campuses) in my course. On the down side, timing prevented any significant modification of the existing course meaning that the use of #pstn/Twitter, blogs, and social bookmarking (Diigo) were introduced as optional activities. As the term draws to an end, Diigo has been by far the most widely adopted with 100+ students joining the course Diigo group. Only a small handful of students have started using Twitter, with a similar number starting an individual blog. Participation in #pstn has been very limited.
Sometime ago, Geoghegan (1994) – drawing on the work of Moore (2002) – suggested that instructional technology’s limited uptake within higher education was due to a significant difference between the promoters/innovators of technology and the pragmatic majority and an ignorance of that divide. This divide seems to exist between the creators of #pstn and our target audience, see the following table which combines characteristics from Geoghegan (1994) with observation of my students.
|Social media experience||Long-term users of Twitter||If any experience with social media, regular user of Facebook and generally for personal use, not professional.|
|Focus||Helping PSTs build networks to aid their transition into the workforce||Pass their current courses for which #pstn and other social media is not a requirement.|
|Risk taking||Willing to take risks||Averse to taking risks|
|Experimentation||Willing and keen to experiment||Prefer proven and known applications|
|Need for assistance||Self-sufficient||Require support|
It could be argued that where #pstn and the use of Twitter has worked in this project has been in those instances where the chasm has been small to non-existent (e.g. students already using Twitter having more in common with the #pstn developers), or has been more effectively bridged (e.g. @rellypops experience). At USQ the chasm wasn’t bridged well. A perception somewhat reported by the odd message of confusion tweeted by #pstn participants. The above discussion hasn’t considered the other people involved with #pstn, the mentors. Typically the mentors would have much more in common with the #pstn developers, but participation remained low. Perhaps due to the limited student participation or a sense of confusion about how to effectively participate.
Another contributing factor arises from the nature of the formal education context. A major factor is the accepted nature of university study. Lectures, tutorials, assignments etc. are common, accepted practices. The use of Twitter and social media, however, is not familiar and for some is an example of formal education encroaching into the personal realm. But technical factors also play a role. A fail whale during a tutorial introducing on-campus students to Twitter does not create a good first impression. Nor does a University filtering system that blocks the Twitter URL shortener, drastically limiting the value of Twitter to on-campus students.
At USQ, the plan is to bridge this chasm by embedding #pstn into the course, the assessment, and the course support structures. The formation and engagement with a PLN will become an assessable component of at least one assignment and explained as a major source of inspiration for students as they start planning ICT-rich lessons they will be required to teach later in the term. The intent is that this will provide students with what Geoghegan (1994) describes as “a compelling reason to adopt”. As @rellypops experience shows, this type of approach can achieve widespread adoption. This will be supplemented with a range of weekly activities that marry the #pstn and course experiences with appropriate levels of support. Particular thought, however, needs to be given to how (and if) PSTs can be encouraged and enabled to make various transitions. The transition from a user of Facebook for personal reasons to a user of Twitter and other social media for learning and professional reasons. The transition from a user of Twitter for assessment reasons to Twitter use for reasons of value to the student.
An obvious further extension of #pstn is to actively give voice to the experience and perceptions of the #pstn participants.