What is Effective Technology Professional Development?

March 29, 2009

“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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What is Effective Technology Integration?

March 22, 2009

The Technology Integration page at Edutopia.org provides a good explanation:

Effective Technology Instruction is when its use supports curricular goals. It must support four key components of learning:

  1. active engagement
  2. participation in groups
  3. frequent interaction and feedback
  4. connection to real-world experts

This site also has some excellent exemplary videos and descriptions of effective technology integration in different schools. Keri Hem’s TeacherTube video is another exemplary video: Effective Technology Integration.  Keri  stresses  that the focus be on the learning, not the technology, and that the learning activity needs to be difficult or impossible without the technology.

WAIT! Don’t click the back button yet This is a good starting point to help answer the question, but far from a complete answer.

Effective technology integration also requires a solid understanding of good pedagogy well grounded in solid educational learning theory and principles, such as the supporting principles for Manitoba Education’s Literacy with ICT developmental continuum:

• inquiry
• constructivist learning
• higher-level critical and creative thinking
• reaching deeper understanding
• gradual release of responsibility
• digital citizenship
• multiple literacies for the 21st century

In Avoiding the Digital Abyss: Getting Started in the Classroom with YouTube, Digital Stories, and Blogs – Mullen & Wedwick (2008) wisely recommend that when using digital storytelling, it is important for students to focus on the story first and the digital medium second, otherwise the stories can be weak and overpowered by the technology” (p.68) A similar message is delivered by Jason Ohler inthe March 2009 issue of  Educational Leadership in Orchestrating the Media Collage: “Focus on expression first and technology second and everything will fall into place”.  He also recommends teachers “be the guide on the side rather than the technician magician” (p. 13).

Yet the transformative changes required to allow that shift from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side” have shown to cause confusion and conflict in teacher belief systems as outlined by Chao-Hsiu Chen in Why do teachers not practice what they believe regarding technology integration? “Educational reform may encourage teachers to integrate technology to engage students in activities of problem-solving, critical thinking and collaborative learning, but a culture emphasizing competition and a high-stakes assessment system can strongly discourage teachers from undertaking such innovative initiatives.” (p. 73)

Perhaps this  helps  explain why of the 55  industry sectors recently ranked by their level of IT intensiveness, education was ranked 55:

This suggests that intensive technology integration is not going to happen due to the efforts of a few innovative school leaders. This is going to take extensive education reform and  include all the stakeholders: parents, students, educators, administrators, school board members, ministry and elected officials.

Has this reformation begun? Yes. Some schools would even report that it’s already happened. In my school I see the beginnings of some crucial components coming together, including division and school administrator support. Shifts are being made in how we assess students and how we work together in a school-wide and global culture of collaboration and inquiry.

And many resources are available for those ready to make the shift. In All Aboard and School-wide Technology Integration a focus on collaborative planning between teachers, teacher-librarian and other school specialists to plan and implement 21st century skill adoption is demonstrated and explained.

Resource lists like those available at www.futurekids.org & Technology Integration Made Easy have some good tips, but do little to move towards the transformative changes needed to fully integrate the 20th century skills and attitudes.  One excellent resource and example to fully integrate those skills and attitudes is laid out in the grade 4, 8 & 12 21st century skills Map by Dave Nagel, Partnership for 21st Century Skills Debuts ’21st Century Skills and English Map, from T.H.E. Journal ( November 2008).

Can the efforts of a few  innovative school leaders make a difference? Yes! Teacher-librarians and IT specialists are in a  unique position to work with others in the learning community and all the educators in a school towards a common vision grounded in good pedagogy.

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Rhonda Morrissette, Mike Friesen, Jo-Anne Gibson and Heather Eby sharing ideas for integrating Web 2.0 tools at a recent Manitoba School Library Association Literacy and Information Technology Forum

I’ve jotted down a few ideas below that I either have or would like to demonstrate how technology will assist student learning in all stages of the inquiry process:

Planning

  • Concept mapping
  • create assessment criteria using a spreadsheet or desktop publisher

Retrieving

  • Best searching strategies including paid subscription sites and newspaper, magazine and journal databases
  • Social bookmarking & RSS feeds
  • iTunes podcasts
  • Collecting Primary Data  using digital cameras, e-mail, videoconferencing, GPS, online surveys and online artifacts.

Processing

Creating

  • wikis to gather information, collaborate & demonstrate learning & synthesize
  • create reports, maps, spreadsheets & charts
  • presentation software like PowerPoint/Slideshare
  • multimedia software like MovieMaker or PhotoStory
  • web pages
  • blog – analysis, reflection and exchanging views
  • Citation software/tools – Citation Maker/Reference Tools in Microsoft Office 2007

Sharing

  • demonstrate learning in a wiki, podcast, videocast, website,
  • mashup, movie, blog, animation, comic book format (using Comic Life software), or essay

Evaluating

  • Blog comments
  • Flow chart

And all the while with teachers assessing, and students reflecting on the process using blogs, electronic journals, e-mail, podcasts, video or digital photograph portfolios. (Focus on Inquiry: Alberta Learning, Alberta, Canada, 2004 & Manitoba Education’s Literacy with ICT developmental continuum).

So what makes effective technology integration? The important thing to know is that no educator is alone in this. To integrate technology effectively requires a full team effort. It recognizes and honours the strengths and gifts that each student, staff and community member can bring to student learning. It allows students to learn and  demonstrate understanding of their learning using the best tools and resources available.

More on this next week . . . . .