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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

Planning online learning activities: problems with technology

In my work with educators who are new to planning and facilitating online learning community events, I often see activities which disappoint participants because of simple problems with the technology. Some community members are positive and accepting, others are not so forgiving and lose interest if the facilitator doesn’t seem well prepared.

Make sure the technology will work

In my experience, most of the technical problems that new facilitators encounter are avoidable. Many can be avoided if you:

  • Check and check again that the technology works before a synchronous event. First, before you publish the activity details so you know that what you have planned is feasible. And again just before the event – with enough time to repair or work around any fault that occurs.
  • Before the event, tell participants clearly what they need to have and do to be ready. eg will they need a headset with microphone? And advise them to check beforehand it’s all working. Establish a fallback position – eg if their webcam doesn’t work, can they just use audio?
  • Do a test drive to make sure that participants can access the event – but be aware that what you can see and do with a ‘teacher’ account is not always the same as what ‘student’ or guest account can. Log in using a dummy student or guest account and check that what you planned is possible.

Have a contingency plan

No matter how well you are prepared, technology can still cause problems, especially with synchronous activities. So you need to be prepared:

  • Have a plan B on what you will do if the technology goes wrong. How will you facilitate the event if the chosen technology fails?
  • Have a plan B for participants who can’t take part. If it’s an asynchronous forum they can access it later, but if it’s a synchronous activity you should create an archive for those who missed the synchronous event. eg in Wimba, click on the archive button as soon as the discussion gets underway. In a Skype chat, you can save the transcript as an HTML file and upload it to a web page.

Effective online facilitators:

  • Avoid many technology problems by making sure it works beforehand
  • Have a plan on how to continue when unavoidable problems do arise

Image source: Wikimedia Foundation

Exploring the assumptions underlying learning technologies

Teachers don’t always find it easy to analyse the assumptions about learning that underpin specific examples of learning technology. A simple scenario can be used in a professional development setting as a trigger for discussion of these assumptions and the links between technology and education theory.

In my professional development work with teachers, I love seeing them learn how to use the new tools and develop an enthusiasm for using these tools with learners. But skills and enthusiasm are not quite enough – to decide how and when to integrate technology tools, teachers also need to be able to understand the educational models on which the technology is based.

Even when a teacher ‘knows’ some education theory, it is not always easy for them to integrate theory and practice. So the theory often remains as ‘book learning’ and doesn’t fully inform their decision-making about planning and using technology.

I recently developed a simple scenario as an attempt to deal with this:

I incorporated the scenario into the session and used it to generate discussion around a few simple questions. On their own, the small groups touched on a few links to education theory, but the payoff came when reporting back – as a group, we identified lots of ideas about the sorts of assumptions about learning and the links with theory.

The fact that it was only a scenario and not hands-on I believe helped the participants because there was no ‘seduction’ factor – there was no possibility of being distracted by the technology and the fun of exploring its features. And it reinforced the concept that every application of technology in learning is based on implicit assumptions and theories about learning, and that informed teachers can make these explicit through dialogue and collaboration.