SETDA: Professional Development for Professional Developers

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During the last year, SETDA tackled the question, "How do you provide professional development to those who typically develop and/or provide the opportunities to others?" Although providing professional development opportunities for administrators and teachers is a primary responsibility of many SETDA members, many state educational technology directors rarely have the opportunity to engage in their own meaningful professional development opportunities.

SETDA's Professional Growth Committee teamed with the Education Development Center (EDC), with funding from the AT&T Foundation, to develop an online course tailored specifically to the needs of SETDA members. The committee was adamant that SETDA members needed a chance to explore their own professional growth beyond job-embedded training. The "Leading in Technology" (LIT) course focused specifically on leadership. It is important to note that these individuals did not need credits or hours to meet a state or professional requirement; rather, the 30 individuals who decided to take this course did so solely for their own personal and professional growth.

SETDA and EDC utilized a model that included characteristics such as:

  • The six-month course included a face-to-face kickoff meeting in December, six online modules, and a face-to face celebratory meeting in June.
  • Two case studies, consisting of in-depth interviews recorded and distributed via CD, were used to begin discussion around issues with implementing educational technology programs. Bette Manchester from the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (see article on Page 14) and Julie Young from Florida Virtual School were interviewed. They also participated in online discussion threads.
  • Many participants had the opportunity to utilize loaner tablet PCs from Gateway, both to learn a new technology and to provide increased flexibility for the online portions of the course.

As the course neared the end, SETDA and the participants acknowledged many benefits and lessons learned from the course. An initial goal that appears to have been achieved is the development of a community of learners. Although many of the participants had met previously, the opportunity to explore leadership issues and discuss challenges has created a cohesive group built around a common experience. SETDA will work to foster the continuation of this community. SETDA also has seen an increase in participation from these individuals in other SETDA initiatives - an outgrowth of the sense of community developed through the course.

With the first LIT course concluded and SETDA preparing to plan another, the participants and developers have learned several lessons that will augment the success of future courses:

  • The face-to-face component helps to quickly engage participants in the community and facilitates meaningful discussion in the online portion of the course.
  • SETDA members are busy people. The number and duration of modules must be shorter and self-contained, allowing people to actively participate whenever possible without feeling out of the loop.
  • Participants respond to the connection with a particular person around a topic of interest. The recorded interviews and case studies sparked hundreds of entries on the discussion board. The direct involvement of Manchester and Young motivated and inspired the members to ponder and discuss the issues.
  • Several of the most important outcomes may go beyond the actual course. For instance, the development of the community of learners and the cohesiveness of the group continues to grow and make a difference for the individuals and SETDA.

Providing professional development to busy people who are responsible for the professional development of others is a tremendous, but worthwhile, challenge. In the end, the key lessons are consistent with learning in general: People like to learn about things that are meaningful to them, and they like to explore these topics in an environment in which they are safe to ask questions and explore ideas.

This article originally appeared in the 07/01/2004 issue of THE Journal.

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