Lights...Camera…PD!

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As the online delivery of technology training expands, weekly live web showsare being used to demonstrate to teachers how to apply the latest tools.

IS IT POSSIBLE THAT face-to-facetechnology training for teachers is goingthe way of the mimeograph machine? Notso fast. The classroom environment willprobably never grow obsolete, but onlineforms of professional development aremaking inroads.

Lights... Camera... PD!

TRAINING DAY The Utah
Education Network's weekly
webcast, Faculty Lounge, is
available live to teachers through
the use of Adobe's web
conferencing tools, as shown in
this screen print.

So-called "blended" forms of training-in which some course material is delivered via traditional methods and settings, and some by software, web conferencing, or other tech tools-are serving as a proving ground for the new mode of continuing education.

What accounts for this move toward online delivery of professional development? For starters, web content can often be accessed on the fly, and that's crucial to teachers, whose time is consumed by tight class schedules, lesson planning, committee meetings, school plays, talks with parents, and so on.

Besides that, the benefits of web conferencing and professional development software-such as automating assessment and recordkeeping, and speeding up the rate of information transfer-just can't be duplicated by traditional methods.

One organization that's keeping teachers on the cutting edge by combining conventional classes and today's tech tools is the Utah Education Network. A state-sponsored resource serving K-12 and higher education instructors, UEN focuses on helping educators learn new technologies. It offers training via labs at its home office and website, and through coaches who travel to schools throughout the year.

The delivery options don't end there. Teachers can initiate a web conference with a UEN service person whenever they need help-to ask a question between classes, or to ask the tech to view their screen in order to solve a software problem in real time. To participate, all the equipment a teacher needs is an web-connected computer with speakers or headphones and the free and ubiquitous Adobe Flash Player-or Adobe Acrobat Connect Professional software, a tool that enables organizations to deliver online communications such as training.

Additionally, UEN uses Acrobat Connect Professional to reach teachers in the state through a half-hour web show, Faculty Lounge, on Thursday afternoons. The show features mini-lectures from experts on new technologies such as blogs and podcasting. Teachers can join the live show from their classrooms or from their home computers. And for those who miss the live feed, the show is recorded and archived.

"Within our department we discussed what a successful 'just-in-time' training session would look like," says Victoria Rasmussen, UEN professional development department manager. "We felt it needed to target our more advanced participants because most of our in-person classes were geared toward the novices in the group. We agreed it needed to be short and very focused so that participants could leave with a little 'how-to'-something they could implement immediately."

Tim Stack, web academy coordinator and trainer at UEN, hosts Faculty Lounge. He says the show is critical to showing teachers the many benefits of new tech tools, and how they can be easily integrated into lesson plans. He says the overall success of UEN's programs is due to the organization's commitment to making the content available to teachers when and where they need it.

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Topics taken up on the Palm Breeze Café webcast haveincluded Google Picasa 2, Cool Science Tools, CareerEducation Resources, and AirSet.

Across the country, in Florida, the School District of Palm Beach County also offers weekly, half-hour online training sessions on instructional technology using Acrobat Connect Professional.

Teachers log on to the Palm Breeze Café web show after school, direct from their classrooms, says Kim Cavanaugh, cofounder of the broadcast and ed tech specialist for Palm Beach County. He says that in 30 minutes of training, followed by perhaps 30 minutes of online interaction with peers, teachers can achieve what might have taken half a day with a traditional off-site session. Each web session provides a demonstration of a technology tool. A chat function allows for live discussion among participants, and between participants and presenters.

As with UEN's webcast, Palm Beach County teachers joining from home need only a computer with speakers or headphones, an internet connection, and the Flash player. Lee Keller, who created Palm Breeze Café with Cavanaugh and also co-hosts most of the broadcasts with him, was surprised to find that 10 times the number of viewers watch the recordings compared to how many see the live Wednesday shows. "I've had busy administrators tell me they watch our shows on Sunday mornings," he says.

Teachers and administrators at Palm Beach, like those associated with UEN, use web conferencing to conduct virtual meetings between scheduled sessions. Keller says some educators include the shows as part of in-service training on teacher development days. District trainers also incorporate session content into other professional development programs. Repurposing elearning materials in these ways represents further savings.

"We see a huge savings in time and costs by providing dynamic online communications and training," says Cavanaugh. And that's no small matter for a district that has 12,000 teachers.

"One example of the impact we believe the show has is the incredibly high usage rates we have in our district for web-based tools such as BrainPOP and Thomson/Gale databases," Cavanaugh says. "Both of those products have been almost exclusively trained in our live Palm Breeze sessions, but the vendors report that we have some of the highest usage rates for their products of any school district in the US."

Online interaction is well suited for continuing education, but teachers also appreciate the options afforded by blended training programs. Consider the strategy developed by Rob Nelson, the Pennsylvania Classrooms for the Future professional development coach at Springfield High School. Nelson oversees Embedded Learning, which is a component of the Classrooms for the Future grant. He sees that participants complete a minimum of 30 hours of online courses, have the option of attending summer workshops, and can tap in to professional development opportunities as needed.

In 30 minutes of training, followed by perhaps 30 minutes of onlineinteraction with peers, teachers can achieve what mighthave taken half a day with a traditional off-site session.

"We encourage teachers to use online tools such as Google Docs to increase their efficiency," says Nelson. "Also, Springfield recently released a professional development Moodle site that allows teachers to access tutorials, RSS feeds to popular ed tech blogs, examples of colleagues' work, and discussion forums; to seek advice; and to find resources specific to their individual content areas."

Though hard data isn't in yet, Nelson says anecdotal evidence provided by teachers indicates that this anytime access to professional development not only increases educators' comfort level in implementing challenging strategies into their classrooms, but also increases student engagement.

Sometimes the impetus behind a virtual professional development program can be a state mandate. Such was the case with Paul Kelly, assistant superintendent for business and technology at Park Hill School District in Kansas City, MO. Kelly first faced the challenge of meeting Missouri's requirements for teacher training in 2004. The district needed to provide its 1,100 staff members with courses on traditional subjects-math, science, social studies-as well as instruction in technology use, from basic typing to complex software applications. In addition, the district was charged with providing training in children's health. The traditional train-the-trainer model could not deliver the training, assessment, and reporting requirements in time.

With Kelly at the helm, Park Hill used Adobe Breeze Education Edition to create its first set of 10 online courses, storing them on the district's password-protected intranet and internet. Having access to the courses at any time and from anywhere with a web connection, teachers completed the work during breaks or from home, staying on course and meeting state mandates.

Kelly says teachers welcomed the flexibility and the interactive elements of the courses. Administrators appreciated how the system automatically tracks activity, making reporting a snap.

Most importantly, the numbers confirmed that the process worked. Drilling down to the details, Kelly gleaned stats such as this one: In just two weeks, the district trained 400 teachers on the use of an electronic grade book for standards-based assessment, which is why he can say confidently, "Online training has been a huge success."

Christina C. Schaller is a freelance writer based near Boston.

This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2008 issue of THE Journal.

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