National PEN Symposium Building Success Through Network Connections

It was great to meet the other representatives and get a better picture of how the other state PENs operate and share in their success.

Professor Alison Sheridan,
Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic) UNE

Symposium Communique: the power of the PEN

November 2014 saw forty members of Office for Learning and Teaching (OLT) state-based promoting excellence networks (PENs), representing all PENs across Australia, gather at the University of New England Parramatta FutureCampus to celebrate the success of the OLT’s networks initiative. PENs are charged with consolidating existing connections in the higher education sector and helping to foster new collegial and cross-institutional links to generate high-level collaborative approaches to teaching and learning issues.

Professor Alison SheridanProfessor Alison Sheridan

Professor Alison Sheridan, University of New England (UNE) Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic), welcomed us to the Symposium by highlighting the value for UNE of membership of the NSW/ACT PEN. Membership led to the reintroduction of teaching awards at UNE.

We were then challenged in the keynote address to imagine our networks as the “New Normal”, that is, sustainable networks of practice powered by leveraging the social capital of our networks through knowledge brokering. This address, presented by Professor Sally Kift, ALTC Senior Fellow, OLT Discipline Scholar (Law) and DVC (Academic) James Cook University, set the scene for the lively discussion that continued across the following sessions.

"Sally Kift's presentation showed how 'one person' can be the embodiment of a network approach to forging relationships... a professional model is great to see in living action."

The morning concluded with an update of the key directions for the OLT in Woman speaking at the symposium2015 presented by Ms Di Weddell, Branch Manager, Office for Learning and Teaching and Ms Natalie Laifer, Director, Grants and Fellowships, Office for Teaching and Learning.

Our afternoon discussion continued from where Professor Kift’s presentation left off by taking up the challenge to unpack the meaning of “powered”. Participants suggested that the power of the PEN is derived from:

  • Connection that is more than knowing each other
  • Collective advocacy for learning and teaching
  • Collaboration that is more than sharing content
  • Capacity building within and beyond PENs
  • Common purpose, different processes, similar benefits
  • Processes is as valuable as any outcomes
  • Practice as knowledge in action
  • PENs as a dissemination strategy

"It was a very good idea to get people working together…I think some key learnings came out of the work. Particularly, strategising our future connections and sustainability was excellent and has provided the foundation for future conversations."

The seven key messages we took home were:Symposium participants

  1. There is high quality, scholarly and interesting work being undertaken by the PENs.
  2. PENs are efficient; they use limited funding to reach many.
  3. To maintain this efficiency continuance of a social model of interaction is essential.
  4. Sustainability is promoted by distributed leadership and a ‘train the trainer’ model of professional development.
  5. The strength of PENs is their diversity. There is no ‘one size fits all’ model of an effectively functioning PEN.
  6. A national network of PENs would increase cross-PEN connections and collaborations for even greater efficiency and sustainability of support for OLT programs.
  7. An annual PEN symposium is an essential communication channel between PENs and the OLT.

Resources from the Symposium

To find out more about the symposium Building success through network connections contact Dr Coralie McCormack .

To find out more about PENs visit the Office for Learning and Teaching networks website or go to:

New South Wales/ACT Promoting Excellence Network

Queensland Promoting Excellence Network

South Australian Northern Territory Promoting Excellence Network

Victorian/Tasmanian Promoting Excellence Network

West Australian Network for Dissemination