Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Solving the PD Puzzle: From Video Lessons to Full Courses, There's an Enormous Amount of Professional Development Available Online. but Where Does It Fit in with Districts' Existing Delivery Methods?

Academic journal article T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)

Solving the PD Puzzle: From Video Lessons to Full Courses, There's an Enormous Amount of Professional Development Available Online. but Where Does It Fit in with Districts' Existing Delivery Methods?

Article excerpt

As US classrooms increasingly become hubs of 21st century learning, professional development remains firmly rooted in the last century. With the "anytime, anywhere, any way" learning model provided by online professional development content providers, why hasn't online PD become the norm--or at least more mainstream? T.H.E. Journal recently engaged a panel of thought leaders from PD providers, including:

* David Hargis, director of content development for ASCD

* Valda Valbrun, director of professional development for ASCD

* MC Desrosiers, chief of program development for ASCD

* Mark Atkinson, founder and chief strategist for Teachscape.

Here, they discuss the barriers that have prevented online PD from taking off, the current state of online PD, and what to expect in the near future.

We know how effective online courses can be for K-12 students. They allow teachers to personalize and differentiate learning; they enable collaboration; and they allow schools to offer courses that they couldn't offer in a brick-and-mortar setting, due to a lack of resources or funding. Yet, district- or school-wide online professional development initiatives are still a rare bird. From your perspective, where are we at in the acceptance of online PD as a mainstream option for professional learning?

VALBRUN: I think that people in general are more digitally savvy than they were four years ago, and I think that increased comfort level with technology is helping us out. Things like iPads, personal mobile devices--the culture is changing and it's so much easier to have access to the internet. Five years ago, broadband was not where it is today, and add to that the fact that you can now access online content from anywhere with a cell phone signal, and that all definitely contributes to the increased adoption of online material.

Are you talking about teachers' willingness to adopt or districts' adoption?

HARGIS: We monitor usage of our online courses very carefully, and since 2009, there's been a vast increase in the number of enrollments of those courses. I think there's a snowball effect to the growth, where it started out slow, but as time passed the growth became exponential, and I think that's due to both word of mouth and just an increase in people's general comfort with technology. Traditionally, it was individual teachers seeking out these technologies, but in the past six months we've had several large districts adopt PD Online and PD In Focus [ASCD online professional courses], and that represents a real change toward wide-scale initiatives in the market.

So, there are a few things--ubiquitous broadband, mobile devices, better apps, and content delivery systems--converging to create this shift?

ATKINSON: Well, I also think it's important to look at the cultural shift in regards to our perception of the quality of teaching in the classroom. At some level there's been this gut feeling that the quality of teaching is not where it needs to be, and yet the way in which teachers are evaluated would lead you to believe that every teacher is above average. There's no need to provide personalized, differentiated PD when everybody's doing great, according to the data.

How does this shift in perception of teacher quality play into the increased adoption of districtwide online PD initiatives? And how does a district ensure that teachers are getting the professional instruction that they need as individuals?

ATKINSON: Well, I think that one of the reasons why there's optimism around online PD is the value of differentiation. But in order to provide effective differentiated learning for teachers, you need a valid and effective instrument for objectively evaluating teachers and looking critically at the skills that they have. For the first time for the adults in the system, there's actually a tool for differentiating teachers' strengths and weaknesses. …

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