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Sputnik to Pixies – an example of an online professional community

The Physics Community in Scotland has evolved a network which bridges the enthusiasm and currency of recently qualified physics teachers with the experience and wisdom of the mandarins of Scottish Physics. The online network is in two parts: the first is a text-based emailing list set up and maintained by the Institute of Physics, known as SPUTNIK. The acronym comes from the list’s original name, the Scottish PTNC. PTNC is the English equivalent, the Physics Teachers Network and Comments (list). Sputnik is itself a part of the network of support for teachers operated by the IoP across the UK and Ireland.

The advantages of SPUTNIK and similar lists include lightweight and rapid communication, allowing the collective wisdom of list members to be accessed very quickly. No attachments or embedded images mean no risk of viruses, no bloated inboxes and no problems with delivery. It just works. One measure of success for SPUTNIK is that a significant percentage of active physics teachers in Scotland are members. A recent commentator observed:

“…to me Sputnik is very cool and I don’t see anything nearly as wonderful for chemists and biologists. The Sputnik atmosphere of generous and ready sharing of an individuals efforts, for the good of the cause is inspiring (not seen everywhere, I think physicists are saner and kinder than most). The wisdom of the hive mind and SSERC’s constant input must all be making a difference to physics. And it’s funny!”

SSERC is an organisation which provides research, technical support and professional development for educators in science and technology in Scotland.

The second part of the online professional network is an online resource store, hosted on the independent website sptr.net. “Official” mechanisms have been tried but these have not been popular with physics teachers in Scotland. SPTR.net has evolved through various front-end architectures and is currently built upon a WordPress front end with DropBox for back-up storage and redundancy. The website at sptr.net features regular posts and articles of interest and offers members access to several gigabytes of teaching and assessment resources. These resources are freely shared by the community of teachers in Scotland to be hosted on the site. SPTR.net also promotes STEM activities, CPD, and even has a regular cryptic crossword!

At the time of writing, sptr.net has over 3,300 files and has served an average of 6,000 downloads per month this year to a membership of over 800 users.

Nick Hood

About Fearghal Kelly

Biology Teacher in East Lothian, Scotland.


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