eLearning and Professional Development

As schools move from early adoption to a rich 1 to 1 laptop environment, the professional development needs of the school must change.  Schools therefore need to think very carefully about the way that they support teachers with eLearning professional development. The support provided will allow teachers to integrate digital approaches into the classroom to improve learning and develop 21st century thinking skills. I have become the eLearning coordinator at ISS International School in Singapore. Professional development and the shape of delivery is one of my biggest focuses. Our school is a full 1 to 1 Apple school from Grade 8 – 12 and is in the second year of implementation.

If a school has chosen to move to a 1 to 1 programme, then for at least the first two years, professional development should be a focus for staff. A colleague once remarked that unless something was moved from his desk, or de-prioritized, then he has no room for anything else. Schools are horrendously busy places at times, so management need to clearly articulate to staff the relative importance of the eLearning initiative in relation to other school projects.

  • Why is a 1 to 1 programme is part of our school vision and future?
  • How is our school going to reshuffle the available time, to provide teachers with professional development support?
  • Can our school outline the relative priorities of different school objectives? (ESL strategies, curriculum reviews, literacy strategies etc)

Like many other school initiatives, many of them are forgotten about in a years time as we move on to the next fad. Laptops in the classroom, is a different type of change in my opinion. They require a shift in teaching pedagogy to make the best use of the technology and require ongoing professional development, guidance, time and leadership.

“Teacher professional development can be the largest cost in implementing effective one-to-one computing, so its goals and strategies must be carefully planned in advance. Concentrating on teaching and avoiding overemphasizing technology can reduce teacher professional development costs.

From One-to-One Computing In Support Of Science and mathematics Education Recommendations for Large-scale Implementations, Robert Tinker, Alvaro Galvis, and Andrew Zucker, February 2007

To achieve the best uses of educational technology in support of learning at a school it is likely its teachers will need opportunities and support for learning (Zong, pugh, Sheldon & Byers, 2002)… Bransford, Brown and Cocking (1999) synthesize the last 10 years of research on learning and suggest four elements for effective learning environments, which can be applied to teachers’ learning environments.

  • They should be learner-centered, taking individual learner needs into account;
  • knowledge-centered, directed toward developing deep understanding;
  • assessment-centered, using assessment mechanisms to guide the learner;
  • and community-centered, allowing for social processing of information.
From Leadership practices that Facilitate Effective Teacher Learning Environments, Sara Dexter, University of Virginia, Nov. 11, 2006

In this, and subsequent posts, I will explain my ideas about what is means to develop an effective professional learning environment. This is part of my reflection about what works, and what might be worth trying in a 1 to 1 laptop school.

Element One:

Learner-centered, taking individual learner needs into account;

Individual teachers have varying levels of skill and confidence relating to technology. Therefore the professional development programme needs to cater to these important skill differences. The other important dimension is the subject differences. Technology can support learning in different subjects in different ways. An eLearning coordinator will not generally know the fit between technology and each subject but can gain feed back from subject specialists or other lead teachers.

Schools will struggle to achieve change without giving staff a chance to personalize their learning. There are numerious possible ways to acheive this. Here are three possible scenarios

Workshops and skill development

These are the most common method of professional development in schools. Sometimes these are adhoc sessions, run either internally or by external experts. In my opinion there needs to be significant planning on how these types of workshops operate. The risk of no planning is fragmentation, loss of direction and a move away from the learning that occurs in the classroom.

Optional workshops, where teachers design a course which fits their needs are an good option in my opinion. In my role at Queen Margaret College in Wellington we developed a system of workshops that ran throughout the year. These were run by a series of IT Lead Teachers. As part of the appraisal process, staff had to chose and attend three, two hour workshops. The options included a mandatory session about being an efficient teacher (using email, online calendars, document storage) and several other workshops. Options included skill development in the school’s Online Learning Environment, sessions on wikis and blogs, podcasting, interactive whiteboards, online games, movie making etc. In reflection, the downside of the workshops was that teachers developed the skills, but were less able to embed these activities into their classroom practice. For effective change, teachers need time to develop an understanding and then find more time to implement and then evaluate the change in learning.

Focus groups – cafe style professional development

I worked in collaboration with another school in Wellington, Newlands College which developed a model of focus groups for professional development. The schools senior management team identified several areas or themes where they would like to improve the schools professional capacity. They identified five leaders to run focus groups that met weekly for most of the year. Several of the focus groups looked at interesting themes such as boys education and aspects of the updated New Zealand curriculum. The group looked at specific learning needs for boys education then researched digital approaches that might engage boys more, or develop reading skills in boys. The positive aspect of this approach is that their is an authentic context for integrating technology. Each focus group used the context as a lens to think about using technology in the classroom A shift away from pure skill development is important. If time is available, cross disciplinary groups are a good model of distributed leadership. Staff members decide to join a group which reflected their passions and the leaders of each group were given freedom to develop and design a programme, which works with their peers.

This approach is based on the research outlined here by Jennifer Arns – see here

Differentiated workshops

A skill-based workshop which challenges and differentiates seems like a impossible utopia. I spied this approach on a fellow eFacilitators blog. See the website here for a full overview. http://connectingeast.pbworks.com/ Keri-Lee Beasley and Katie Day are eLearning facilitators at United World College of South East Asia. The programme that they developed is a mixture of the workshop approach we trialed at Queen Margaret. This seems to focus on a group of Primary Years teachers. See background here for more information. The most amazing element of this programme is the built in differentiation questions, which challenge each member of the workshop. Simultaneously you ensure that teachers develop the baseline skills, but also ensure that the innovators get a chance to trial the more advanced applications. The other important element is the informality. Teachers are keen to learn, but often when it is on thier own terms and in a collegial supportive environemnt. Morning breakfast clubs, or after school coffee clubs are strategies that have been successful at several international schools.

I am keen to see how the teachers will pull these skills across and into their classrooms. An important professional development step is seeing another teacher model how this might work in a classroom. Getting staff to trial digital approaches and then feedback a month after the workshop would be a good trial and an informal way for other colleagues to appraise the integration.

According to the the organisers “the idea was inspired by the 23 Things movement, which originated in the library world.   The first one, The Learning 2.0 program, was loosely based upon Stephen Abram’s article, 43 Things I (or You) might want to do this year (Information Outlook – Feb 2006) and the website 43Things.”

see the Connecting East overview for more information

eLearning Goals

At my current 1 to 1 school, students have been bringing laptops to classes for about 18 months. Therefore we are beginning to see some positive changes in the classroom and teachers are becoming confident practitioners. Therefore I felt that the professional development and learning need to be more subject and teacher specific. Therefore my current role as eLearning coordinator is to help teachers develop mini action research projects or eLearning goals in their classes. These goals are tightly linked to the staff goal setting and appraisal system. My time is spent working one on one with teachers and largely disseminating information and ideas out to teachers.

At the beginning of the school year staff are introduced to the concept of setting an eLearning goal. For some staff this process was easy as they have ideas of digital approaches that they would like to trial. Other staff required more guidance, but this is fine as it gives teachers time to think about the potential options. Staff submit goals through a Google Survey Form so that the coordinator has an overview of what everyone is working towards. Other workshops and professional development opportunities are available throughout the year, but it allow our school to tweak these workshops to the needs of the teachers as outlined in the eLearning goals. We also ask staff to present their completed work back to the wider staff, as this is an empowering factor to teachers who have successfully completed their goals.

We have adopted this approach as it will hopefully help use bridge the gap between workshop to what happens in the classroom. We are also mindful that pedagogical change is very incremental and that setting goals is just one way to achieve this.

ISS eLearning Goals – template

eLearning PD at ISS – overview

(part of this document is an eLearning Framework – this concept is based on Blooms Digital Taxonomy and on the work by Andrew Church,  http://edorigami.wikispaces.com/)

The following are the next three elements in developing a professional development environment. I will share my thoughts on these when I get a chance.

  1. Teachers need formal opportunities to learn that are appropriate for their starting point yet in-depth on what effective technology uses look like in their subject area:
  2. They should receive feedback on their integration efforts:
  3. Informal learning and support from a community of peers:
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