Category Archives: Professional development

Blogging in the classroom: a professional development scenario

Classroom photoProfessional development of teachers, especially in relation to integrating learning technology into the curriculum, is problematic. This scenario is intended to initiate discussion of some key issues and principles involved – what can go wrong? How do we ensure that professional development is effective?

Q: Mary, tell us about your school’s learning technology project…

Mary: Well, we’re meant to be using blogs in the classroom as part of our learning units. So if we’re doing a unit on families and communities, say, there’s a blog where what we find out is recorded on the blog with words and pictures, maybe even some videos of interviews. I guess the purpose is to make sure students develop some skills in using the technology…

Q: You say you are ‘meant to be using blogs’ – how is it working for you?

Mary: To be honest, I haven’t got started with it. I know some of the other teachers are probably doing great things – they’re very confident with using the technology but I’m a bit out of my depth. Sometimes I think the kids know a lot more than I do – scary! And I’m not sure how I’d manage the whole process, whether I’d need to upload everything into the blog or just let the kids do it.

Q: What professional development have you had?

Mary: We had a training session at the end of last year. Someone came in and did a demo of what you can do with a blog – I think it was a high school they had worked with, amazing stuff. They were obviously a real expert but some of it went over my head a bit, and I couldn’t really see how it would work in my classroom.

Since then I haven’t had a chance to get started with using blogs – the start of the year is very busy and stressful. But now the term is underway I’ll give it a go – maybe this weekend if I can remember what she showed us. It’s just a matter of sitting down and putting in some serious time – maybe I could check out the public library to see if they have any books on blogging. It’s all a bit daunting but I need to get started before my performance review at the end of term!

Professional development for teaching with technology

Photo: U.S. Census Bureau

MOOCs, sustainability and the business model

A MOOC is more than just a free sample!

Anyone with a Moodle site can offer a MOOC: two fundamental questions we need to ask are How do we make it effective for learners? and How do we make it a meaningful and worthwhile activity for the organiser / provider? This post focuses on the second question, which relates to the need for educational offerings to be sustainable for the provider.

If the provider is a large institution such as a university, sustainability is ‘cushioned’ by the existing staff and other resources. That is, the costs of developing and delivering it can be subsidised by the university’s other income-generating activities. A MOOC can be justified in rather the same way that a business may offer free stuff online as a way of gaining other benefits such as raising their profile. It’s similar to handing out free samples of new products in the supermarket. But taking the same approach for an educational institution is risky, because its core activity cannot be reduced to such a simplistic model.

Of course, a MOOC may be justified not in business terms but in philosophical or ethical terms such as a commitment to open learning and overcoming barriers to education. But as Jeff Haywood points out in No such thing as a free MOOC, there are always costs associated. These may be direct or indirect, such as taking teaching staff away from other activities.

So it’s essential to ask, as Hayward does, How will we sustain it? He goes on to state that his institution plans to impose a ‘modest charge for the ‘certificates of completion’, and we will use that income to pay for our support for learners, offered in the light-touch form that these types of MOOC use.‘ Since he does not mention the cost of assessment, I assume that these ‘certificates of completion’ are similar to what used to be called in face to face courses ‘certificates of attendance’. That is, they confirm only that the participants took part in the MOOC, not that they necessarily learned or achieved anything. Indeed, ‘light-touch support’ is perhaps only going to be appropriate where assessment is not rigorous!

Hayward also acknowledges that there is a lot that still needs to be learned about delivering MOOCs, including ‘Is the experience helpful to learners, and do they get value from their certificates of completion?‘ In my experience, a certificate of participation is often seen as having little relevance since it is not based on any rigorous assessment of achievement. Professional development activities in institutions many years ago often used to incorporate such as certificates but over time there was a move away from them as they provided little real value.

I fully support MOOCs as a worthwhile professional development activity. But because they are unlikely to incorporate a high level of learner support and rigorous assessment, they will not be appropriate for all students in all contexts. They may used to provide a ‘taster’ as a marketing exercise, but this involves applying a business model which may not be appropriate. It’s essential to find a model of resourcing their development and delivery which is sustainable and which enhances rather than undermines the institution’s existing programmes.

Professional development for teaching with technology

Teacher workshop

Teacher workshop

Integrating technology into learning and teaching is a complex and demanding process.

Teachers and lecturers need effective professional development in order to transform learning and teaching with technology. Ineffective professional development is a waste of resources and may even have a negative effect by de-motivating and discouraging teachers. This narrative illustrates some of the issues and problems experienced by teachers.

What is good practice in this area? Professional development for teaching with learning technologies should be sustained, collaborative, experiential, relevant, situated, and evaluated.

Sustained

  • Professional development  should be sustained over time – one-off work shops may provide for training in technical skills but do not allow teachers to effectively change their practice.
  • It should be incremental, allowing teachers to build on their skills and experience over time.
  • It should incorporate long-term strategies in addition to workshops – for example mentoring, coaching and other forms of support over time to allow teachers to incrementally develop skills and expertise in incorporating the technology into teaching and learning.

Collaborative

  • Professional development should be closely integrated with collaborative planning of how technology is incorporated into teaching and learning. It should also involve collaborative planning of the professional development process itself: this will help ensure its relevance for the range of needs.
  • It should involve sharing of good practice in the organisation or teaching team to allow those who are advanced in incorporating technology into learning to share their expertise with the rest of the team.
  • Many schools around the world have made very effective use of expert students as technical support providers to teachers . This allows the teachers to focus on the educational use of technology.

Experiential

  • Professional development should be experiential and provide direct hands-on experience in using the technology.
  • Experiential professional development also depends on reflection: teachers need to reflect on the their hands-on experience and their developing skills and expertise.

Relevant

  • Professional development  should be curriculum focused, with strong links to the curriculum and how teachers can incorporate the technology in meeting the needs of students
  • It should be focused on outcomes – ie focused on what specifically the teachers will be able to do achieve in terms of enhancing learning and supporting the needs of learners.
  • it should be targeted and allow for the diverse range of skills and expertise amongst the teaching staff. For example, there will be teachers who are early adopters as well as teachers who are resistors or technophobes.
  • It should be realistic and avoid hype: it needs to acknowledge limitations and potential issues as well as the benefits.

Situated

  • Professional development  should be located within the organisation rather than externally. External people can be engaged as consultants and advisors but as collaborators rather than ‘outside experts’.
  • External organisations can be useful as exemplars, but need to be understood from inside and at ‘ground level’, not just as a high-level or impressionistic aspirational model.

Evaluated

  • Professional development  should be evaluated effectively. While it’s useful to get feedback from workshop participants on their immediate impressions, it’s essential to also evaluate the overall effectiveness of the professional development in transforming practice. Evaluation at levels 3 and 4 of Kirkpatrick’s evaluation model should be considered.

References

Kolvoord, R (no date). What Happens After the Professional Development: Case Studies on Implementing GIS in the Classroom. Retrieved from http://spatiallearning.org/publications_pdfs/kolvoord_GISbook.pdf

Left, P (2011). PD Scenario. Retrieved from http://www.verso.co.nz/mw/index.php?title=Stories/5

Unknown authors (no date). Donald Kirkpatrick. Retireved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Kirkpatrick

Vrasidas, C (2010). Why Don’t Teachers Adopt Technology? Retrieved from http://elearnmag.acm.org/featured.cfm?aid=1785590

Image: Jasonspera

Connectivism: why I’m a skeptic

Is connectivism a theory? I guess. But when considering its usefulness to my own teaching and learning, I have reservations.

Here are 3 reasons I still have doubts about the value of connectivism as a theoretical construct:

  1. Yes, at a micro level the neurological processes of thinking and learning involve connections within networks. And yes, at a macro level as individuals we are connected to a variety of networks for sharing information. These are useful and informative parallels but there is no evidence that one is more than an analogy for the other. Because network connections are required at the micro level does not mean that they are necessarily a pre-requisite of learning at the macro level. There is a temptation to use one as an analogy of the other, but this seems likely to be an over-simplification.
  2. Connectivism is overly focused on learning as managing information: ‘… connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks.’ (‘Connectivism’ and Connective Knowledge) If we visualise this at the macro level, the successful learner would appear to be little more than an effective navigator of information networks. For learning in a purely theoretical context, that might be fine. But as a professional developer, I’m more concerned with developing capability than knowledge.
  3. Connectivism does not adequately build on the theoretical constructs I have found useful in my own teaching and learning. It’s not that every theory has to explain every event, but connectivism seems to have inadequate room for concepts such as reflective practice or higher levels of thinking inherent in models such as Bloom’s taxonomy.

Image: Tyramide filled neurons from the cingulate cortex of mouse brain by Neurollero

Open teaching: sharing responsibility for the learning process

Some years ago I worked in the professional development centre of a university. One of my roles was to run a series of short workshops for new lecturing staff. One of these was focused on developing interactive lectures where learners were more actively engaged than in a traditional lecture.

It was during a later workshop that a participant said to me “I’ve started using some of the things I learned in that session and it’s changed the way I teach. And the students think it’s great.”

I was keen to know exactly what she had changed that was working so well. I thought maybe there was one simple teaching technique she had used which had made a lot of a difference, and that maybe I could pass this on to others.

But what she told me was unexpected: the key thing was that she had gone to her next lecture and talked to the students about some of the ideas raised in our session. So she and her students had discussed some ideas about effective teaching and learning and agreed to give some of the strategies a go.

I had long thought that classrooms needed to be more open and democratic, and that the rationale for choosing and using specific approaches to teaching and learning should be made more explicit. But this lecturer had gone beyond that: she didn’t just say “here’s what I plan to do and why”, she said “here are some ideas about teaching and learning, I’d like to try some of these approaches, what do you think?” And then she engaged in discussion with the learners about how they could go about it. I was more used to lecturers saying to me “that’s all very well, but it wouldn’t work with my students/in my situation/in my subject area…”

So this person’s approach seemed simultaneously quite sophisticated and quite naive:

Sophisticated, because it required a level of trust and confidence that I wasn’t used to seeing, along with a willingness to explore new ideas and approaches.

Naive, because it seemed this lecturer had not yet been ‘inducted’ into the accepted ways of working wherein the responsibility for choosing learning activities lies solely with the teacher. This accepted way of working seems to place more power in the hands of the teacher, and yet can serve to make teaching a more anxious and isolated profession.

Perhaps if there is one change that would benefit our higher education system more than others it is this: not a new technology, not a new technique, but an approach based on making teaching and learning processes more explicit and a greater degree of shared responsibility for teaching and learning processes.

Photo of Sorbonnne University courtesy of the photographic service of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs