501: Three Articles on Professional Development Models

March 18, 2010 Justin Uncategorized

I evaluated a few different professional development models. Even though the district does a lot to train faculty and staff, there’s still a lot of improvement we can make to our district’s professional development opportunities. We could also gather better statistics on the effectiveness of our existing professional development.

There are four main venues of PD in our district. We have an online self-directed learning portal, two site-based PD programs — one for administrators, one for teachers, and an annual [site-based] summer conference where hundreds of our district’s teachers and administrators come for intensive workshop-based training on a variety of technology tools. I realize the value of ongoing professional development. Teachers should not simply learn something then not have it reinforced. While self-motivation is essential for any teacher’s PD, districts should also find ways to create learning opportunities that directly benefit their careers.

I don’t think our teachers have responded that well to our online inservice portal, though that’s largely because of a lack of summative evaluation and revision in the instructional material. This will need some revising before it gets to an acceptable state. I’d also like to explore more models of professional development and put them to use in our district. One particular PD model is almost completely unused: live web conferencing. The state provides everyone with free Wimba accounts, but no one I’m aware of even uses them. I’d like to start organizing weekly/biweekly live professional development sessions just for our employees, perhaps during prep hours or after school is released.

Three Professional Development Models

Duncan-Howell, J. (2010). Teachers making connections: Online communities as a source of professional learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(2), 324-340. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2009.00953.x

The author, Jennifer Duncan-Howell, discusses the benefits of online communities for professional development. Social networking is a valuable model for professional development, and has increased the depth of online learning available to teachers. This article shares the results of a study on three online learning communities, and demonstrates that teachers can benefit from engaging community-oriented learning environments, as 86.7% of the teachers surveyed considered their online communities a valuable form of professional learning.

There’s a few good things to think about in this article. My district could be doing a lot more to involve teachers in online communities. I set up a Moodle-based forum a couple years ago for all our district’s teachers and administrators, but there is only about one new post every other month. This seems unacceptable coming from a district with 1500+ teachers. A potential goldmine of collaborative information is sitting there, unused. Few will disagree that being connected to like-minded educators is absolutely invaluable for teachers. Being able to stay on top of emerging trends, and share resources, lesson plans, ideas for integrating technology into the classroom, inservice opportunities, and strategies for engaging students are important. The problem is, many teachers don’t realize they can establish a venue of collaboration outside the walls of their own school. Teachers should realize they don’t have to work inside a box, and that there’s a worldwide learning network out there waiting for them, filled with thousands of educators willing to step in and help them out.

Mushayikwa, E., & Lubben, F. (2009). Self-directed professional development: Hope for teachers working in deprived environments? Teaching and Teacher Education, 25(3), 375-382. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2008.12.003

This article explores self-directed learning in technologically underprivileged educational systems, specifically among teachers in Zimbabwe. I was particularly interested in the comments made by the teachers, as they share how they currently use technology for learning (e.g. using email because they lack travel funds to come together in groups, using the Internet to make lesson plan organization easier), and the concerns behind self-directed professional development. The model presented in the article is really a model of concerns. It first addresses the basic needs of feeling that professional learning and collaboration is worthwhile in the first place, followed by concerns over career development and content knowledge. When these are met, the teacher is guided toward professional efficacy and efficacy in their classroom, and finally becomes an effective teacher.

This article made me think about our own school district’s self-paced inservice site. It’s Moodle-based, and teachers can use it to earn state certification credit. I didn’t design any of the courses — one of our techs did — and now after several weeks in my instructional design class now I’m starting to notice that the courses could be developed much better. There were no needs or learner analyses conducted when the courses were created, and there’s no form of evaluation on the effectiveness of the learning. I’ll need to get more involved in the instructional design process for our online learning opportunities, and use what I’ve been learning about to benefit my district’s teachers. There is much more to professional development than simply providing a few training exercises and a printable, pixelated certificate they can hang on their wall.

Gerber, B. L., Brovey, A. J., & Price, C. B. (2001). Site-based professional development: Learning cycle and technology integration. Retrieved from http://www.eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED472987

This article intrigued me because it directly analyzes how professional development impacts not only teachers, but students as well. The authors approach the study from an empirical perspective: “Students learn most readily about things that are directly accessible to their senses – tactile, kinesthetic, visual, and auditory. Teaching should be consistent with the nature of scientific inquiry” (Gerber et al., 2001, p. 6). The authors also make a good point when they write, “Cognitive research strongly suggests students know less than we think they do following instruction. The quality of student understanding should be emphasized rather than the quantity of information presented” (Ibid).

Following this particular study, teachers reported that students were finding more ways to foster their own creativity, were more inquisitive in the learning process, and that their mutual relationships with their teachers improved significantly.I think more studies like this would be worthwhile, because sometimes we forget that the final intended beneficiary of any professional development opportunity is not the teacher, but ultimately the student. Professional development should help teachers become better at their job, and in return students should benefit from the extra skills and techniques the teacher has developed.

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