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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
In Smaller RFPs, more agility and smartass kids, Mike O’Donnell claims that overly prescriptive and complex tender documents in the IT sector discourage those best able to compete the work and actively encourage large companies to take on the work at grossly inflated prices.
I’ve seen similar problems in some large e-learning projects. Often the RFP documents are overly prescriptive in the process and governance requirements. That is, they include detailed criteria on how the successful tenderer must be organised and managed. Of course, those commissioning such projects need some security as to the viability of the contractor. But some RFPs are so prescriptive the effect is to discourage or even prevent smaller, more agile contractors from taking part.
In an environment where we need all the innovation we can encourage, I believe those looking to commission e-learning projects need to rethink their approach.
When I deliver professional development activities with teachers, I often need to point them to easy and effective online tools for working with media. Typically, they need to learn how to optimise images for the web (eg cropping and sizing), do some simple tweaks to correct exposure problems, or add some simple labels to images. Most don’t have the budget or inclination to commit to ‘proper’ image editing software such as Photoshop or Gimp.
Picnik has been a favourite since even those with limited skills and confidence find it an easy way to get started on working with images for the web. And since it is an online tool accessed with a browser, no installation is necessary. It was well-deserved recognition when Picnik was acquired and incorporated into Google+. Unfortunately Picnik has now announced it is closing its stand-alone site on 19 April 2012, so those without a Google+ account will be out of luck.
The good news is that in the last day or so, PicMonkey has become available. PicMonkey has a very similar interface and feature set to Picnik (see the screenshot) so those familiar with Picnik will find it easy to use. Like Picnik, PicMonkey has a set of free features and some which require registration for a premium account.
The really good news is that PicMonkey seems at first glance to be better than Picnik – it’s significantly faster to load and apply edits. From now on, I’ll be pointing teachers to PicMonkey as a fast and simple tool for editing and optimising images for the web.
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:
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.
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.
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