Tag Archives: Professional development

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

Getting started with PBWorks wiki

To my surprise, I’m still recommending PBWorks to teachers as a good way to get started using a wiki. That’s because the Moodle wiki is still not a very effective tool, and PBWorks is easy-to-use and provides some good features for developing and formatting content. It’s proprietary, of course, so it has to be used with caution, but it’s a good way to get started.

When I’m introducing teachers to the potential of wikis and other web tools, I naturally start by getting them to set up and work with wikis themselves. It seems to me like a set of core skills – how to plan and put together a collection of linked pages. This can be applied in reflective individual writing or as a collaborative exercise.

Here’s a 3-page PDF document on how to get started with PBWorks. It’s covered by the by-nc-sa licence so you are welcome to download and use it as you see fit provided it’s not used commercially and my authorship is attributed.

If you modify or adapt it, please add a comment to this post with a link to the new version.

Image: Andjam79

Collaborative learning: It’s how you use a wiki that counts

wiki matrixMary Bennet at eScholars says:

Wikis are excellent tools for collaboration. When wikis are used students learn to collect and share information as well as publish and negotiate.

I agree with the first statement, but the second appears to confuse the tool with how it is used. It seems to suggest that the learning identified will happen because a wiki is used. That’s not the case – it’s the collaborative activities the teacher sets up based around a wiki that will (if successful) enable students to learn to ‘collect and share information as well as publish and negotiate’.

Use of a wiki does not automatically lead to learning to collaborate. Likewise, not using a wiki does not prevent such learning from occurring: other tools such as Google Docs can be used in learning to collaborate. So it’s how the tool is used that leads to the desired learning.

As I’ve described elsewhere, wikis are useful for more than just collaboration: they are also a very useful tool for non-collaborative learning such as personal reflection. So the thoughtful application of the tool is crucial to achieving success. Those of us working in professional development in education have seen poorly-planned incorporation of wikis and other technology tools lead to disappointment and disillusionment.

The use of a wiki as a learning tool within a course is more complex than a straightforward collaboration between a small group of co-workers working on a shared project. So how the wiki is applied in the learning context requires more careful planning. If this were not so, learning design would cease to be a productive activity, and solving the technical issues of incorporating a wiki and training teachers and students in its use would be all that’s required. The limited uptake of tools such as wikis in education suggests this is not the case.

Why I am not (yet) using virtual worlds in my work

There’s an interesting discussion going on at the moment over at Stephen’s Web about Second Life. It centres around the observation that delivering a lecture in SL is still just a lecture – ‘We know how to bore you in a classroom, and now we know how to bore you online’. A key point for me is that it’s not enough to rely on novelty of delivery to get learners interested and engaged, the process and the learning itself needs to be engaging.

It’s also interesting to compare assumptions about how SL would be used in education – some see it as a simulation, others as a tool for constructing a highly specific virtual environment, others as a replacement for a learning management system. My take is that it will do some of these rather well, others quite poorly!

Me in Small WorldsAs a Mac user, I’d never had much fun with SL, but when I saw that Small Worlds was now public, I was keen to try it out. Part of my interest was that it’s based here in New Zealand, but also I hoped it might provide a lower threshold environment I could incorporate into my professional development activities. The picture here of my avatar is as far as I got – Small World’s suggestion that before I did anything I should ‘go shopping’ was like a bucket of cold water to my motivation! I already spend enough time shopping in the real world without having to do it in the virtual one as well. And I think I know enough about my learners, their technical skills and access to technology to know it would never work.

In his article A New Virtual World Winter?, Bruce Damer says:

Is interaction in a VW that much more enriching and valuable than the simpler modalities available in other platforms? Will VWs ever really go mainstream? I continuously hear complaints about VWs not being worth the trouble, especially from people much younger and hipper than me (I am 46) who prefer much lighter weight forms of interaction.

While I don’t think we should necessarily see youth and hipness as the sole qualification to speak on learning, I think this quote holds a lot of truth. We already expect learners to jump over lots of hurdles – eg learning to use a new LMS and other IT systems – without making them clear the greater barriers in using virtual worlds. Some already have the skills and the online presence, but a great many more don’t.

In general, I can see specific applications of virtual worlds such as Dante’s Inferno as having huge potential, but the generic application as some kind of ‘pimped-up’ learning management system doesn’t seem realistic at this point in time. I prefer software tools which liberate me from the constraints and humdrum details of everyday life rather than replicate them, which remove barriers for my learners rather than impose new ones. If I want to share ideas, I use low-threshold tools (such as WordPress) which allow me to focus on the ideas rather than the interface. Virtual worlds such as Second Life or Croquet pose too high a threshold to be used in my professional development activities in the immediate future.