What is Effective Technology Professional Development?

“A leader in ed. tech. is a person who knows how to make those  connections.”
WOW2 Show 108 podcast with MaryFriend Shepard
March 15, 2009

MaryFriend goes on to explain that Dewey’s theory of constructivist learning is the only learning theory that explains how integrating technology into today’s schools will work. This requires that a solid and shared understanding of the principles of constructivism and social constructivism, so educators are prepared to meet learners where/how they learn in today’s ever increasing technological society.

The barriers to successful professional development (PD) are significant. We know from Chao-Hsiu Chen’s work and writing in  Why do teachers not practice what they believe regarding technology integration? that some teachers’ lack or inconsistent understanding of this theoretical understanding hinders effective integration of technology into curriculum. External factors including pressure for students to achieve well in standardized exams and fears that content won’t be covered are two  external barriers that Chen identified.

Any PD initiative should begin by helping teachers make connections between their perceived need to cover curriculum and the sometimes conflicting demands of 21st century literacies.  It requires much more than the simple knowledge of how to use the tools. It requires an in depth understanding of good pedagogy in a supportive school climate conducive to inquiry learning and collaboration. Scott McLeod has developed some excellent guidelines for school leaders to set the stage for effective 21st century PD in Professional Development for Leaders.

In An Absence of Leadership, Scott suggests a good place to start is the ISTE’s NETS for Students and NETS for Teachers. I would then add an introduction to Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy is  familiar tool all teachers use when trying to infuse higher level thinking into their lessons and this is a great way to allow teachers to connect to what they already know. Andrew Churches has shown how it applies to technology integration – including the new Web 2.0 tools.  Illustration by Andrew Churches – from Bloom’s Digital Taxonomy V 3.0:

andrew-churches3

Then I’d re-introduce Manitoba Education’s Literacy with ICT continuum and the 21st Century Skills Map developed by the National Council of English Teachers which goes even further to illustrate how the tools can be integrated to meet curriculum standards. Teachers can then be asked to identify for themselves what they really need to be doing in this area.

Effective integration of technology requires time to meet, plan, and research – lots of time!  Judi Harris wrote an excellent 4 part series of articles for the ISTE online journal Leading and Learning with Technology entitled “One Size Doesn’t Fit All”. She asserts in  Part 1 (February 2008) that “30 hours of focused PD is required to change teachers professional practice.” Anyone who has tried to implement a successful technology professional development program for staff knows the extreme range of proficiency of use and range of successful integration that exists within any school staff – young and old. Judi Harris has developed a model that describes how the goals of PD can be addressed to meet the needs of each teacher.  Judi Harris gives some concrete ideas of how to combine goals and models to find the most effective and specific approaches given individual teacher’s differences. Teachers are described as innovators, early adoptors, early majority, late majority or laggards.

Kimberly Ketterer in “Coach, Nurture or Nudge” (Learning & Leading with Technology, May 2007)  provides a brief and insightful description of 3 groups of teachers in need of either coaching, nurturing or nudging, along with some suggestions on how best to work with each group. No longer can it be said: “You can’t hope to reach every teacher”.

Camilla Gagliolo identifies several structures by which teachers can help mentor one another in “Help Teachers Mentor One Another” (Learning & Leading with Technology, Sept./Oct 2008).

Yet Sandra Kay Plair’s assertion in Revamping Professional Development for Technology Integration and Fluency resonates the strongest:

Despite a steady wave of how-to workshops and some longer-duration seminars, infusing technology into curriculum and teaching practices remains elusive for many teachers. The existing format for technology-related professional development lacks the continuity that teachers need to develop the confidence and efficacy leading to technology fluency. Teachers crave a constant support person, in close proximity and available to fill in the gaps that arise with the rapid changes associated with technology.

She goes on to advocate for a “knowledge broker” or a staff member identified as the educational technology mentor: someone that knows how to use technology tools to enhance teaching and learning.

I know from working for 12 years as an in-school technology support teacher that this is true. I worked with each teacher on planning and integrating technology.  The classroom teacher was recognized as the curriculum specialist and I as the technology specialist. Everyone was armed with knowledge of good teaching strategies employed school-wide. Why is this model of in-school support not more widespread? Part of this answer is the reality of dwindling resources for staff allocation. So in the absence of sufficient staffing for full-time technology mentors, the teacher-librarian is in a unique position to provide  collaborative support, or to help set up formal mentoring structures to integrate technology, even with those teachers needing the most nudging.

School-wide access to some standard software helps build a shared understanding of the tools which can be used to integrate technology. For example every school should have concept-mapping software, word processors, spreadsheet, database and graphic creation and editing software available school-wide on all computers. If the same software is used division-wide, then even more sharing between colleagues is possible.

No discussion of professional development for integrating educational technology would be complete without including the many opportunities afforded by online learning. There are also many opportunities for growing a personal learning network online as well as enrolling in a formal online course. Although it’s not for every teacher, in many ways it can be the best professional development available for learning the new tools, how to use them and how to assess in today’s schools. In “Online Professional (Leading and Learning with Technology, May 2007) Jim Vanides describes how it  can allow students to be deeply reflective and participate fully instead of the 2-3 vocal students as in a traditional classroom.

Personally I can attest that online learning, through formal courses and using the web 2.0 technologies,  is the best I’ve ever experienced.

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