Just in Time: Web Delivered Professional Development

Back in the early days of Classroom Connect (a mere five years ago), we were breathlessly reporting the remarkable events of 1994, '95 and '96. The technology was improving dramatically, often from month to month, and it was difficult to fully understand the changes taking place. Since then, we have seen the Internet, which used to be viewed as just another arrow available in the educational quiver, go through an incredible evolution. No longer viewed as a hi-tech add-on, it is now viewed as a profound resource with the power to fundamentally change the way instruction is delivered.

Historically, however, using technology in the classroom has often only added to the burden of educators. The difficulties associated with training and scheduling, compared with the benefits of using new technologies, have made the integration of technology less than rewarding. Since the installation of microcomputers in the schools, professional development on technology has primarily focused on how to use the new hardware and software. Most companies who trained educators to use their products did so without a clear instructional focus. This emphasis on equipment over instruction has left many teachers questioning the value of computers in the classroom.

With the advent of the World Wide Web, for the first time technology can live up to its potential to revolutionize instruction. Educators around the world are discovering, as have their counterparts in business, that the Internet, with its incredible ability to provide almost any information needed, is changing our world forever. Access to up-to-the-minute, real-time data is suddenly available to anyone with a computer and a modem, and yet in many facilities the computers are still drastically underutilized. Integrating the vast resources online with existing curriculum goals is not an intuitive leap that many educators can make alone.

We simply have not done a good job yet of demonstrating a compelling reason for teachers to use technology. For their part, most educators believe they will use the technology sooner or later, they are just waiting for the later to happen. Yet if we look at predictions by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in our not so distant future 70 percent of jobs available will be knowledge jobs. By the year 2010, 90 percent of those jobs will go unfilled. If we don't make this leap of faith in teaching and preparing our students, we put the future at risk. Clearly, the need for quality professional development has never been greater.

Unfortunately, the existing drive-by models for inservice are inadequate, and one-size-fits-all training d'esn't work. Teachers are, obviously, in different stages on the technology adoption curve. Add to this the difficulty in finding, scheduling and training substitutes, and finding a new way to deliver staff development becomes a necessity.

Just in Time Training: Web-Delivered Staff Development

Unlike the current staff development models, the Web allows teachers to log on and participate in high-quality professional learning at the time of day that is best for them, and at a pace that is comfortable for them. The usual issues surrounding staff development are eliminated: no need for substitutes, travel costs, catering costs or scheduling nightmares.

Web-delivered staff development is a relatively new way to bring high-quality staff development to every educator in the district. It is available 24/7, at the best time for the teacher, and in a location that best serves the teacher. While the number of Web-delivered staff development programs is growing, a review of the currently available online learning courses found them to consist of less than compelling content re-purposed for the Web. Dr. Sue Talley of Pepperdine University has found that online professional development courses can be designed to give educators a fulfilling experience. Components should include posted online lectures from instructors anywhere in the world, the ability to communicate in real time or chat, time for reflection and thought using asynchronous message boards, tutorials and database resources online and available 24 hours a day, video components for modeling, and, when possible, face-to-face meetings.

Clearly, the traditional approaches aren't working, and using powerful technologies to enable educators to take the steps necessary to prepare students for a technology-rich future is a vital first step to insuring our nation's multi-billion dollar investment in computers and technology is not wasted.


Rem Jackson is Vice-President of Professional Development for Classroom Connect, a California-based company that enables teachers to integrate the Internet into their curriculum. Classroom Connect has used the work done by Dr. Talley to create Connected University: Online Staff Development for Teachers. Visit www.classroom.com or call (800) 638-1639 for more information on the Connected University.

Scott Noon, director of the Connected University at Classroom Connect, has created the following four-stage model for technology adoption. Staff development programs that utilize this approach establish clear objectives for each of the stages and employ training programs aimed at making the transitions through the successive stages.

Stage One: The Pre-Literate End User

Educators in this stage are unfamiliar with technology. They typically have either never had an opportunity to adopt new technology or are uninterested in learning how to use it. The goal in this stage is to demonstrate what technology can do for them and to alleviate their fears.

Stage Two: The Software Technician

The second stage finds educators who are adept in several software programs and use them frequently for their own personal use. Word processing, Internet searching and e-mail are examples of applications they understand and use. The goal in this stage is to expand their applications skills and introduce the concepts of curriculum integration, such as using the Internet in lesson plans, online projects, and team teaching with educators worldwide.

Stage Three: The Electronic Traditionalist

The stage three educator enjoys technology, but work with students is limited to adding technology to traditional methods. The goal in this stage is to build upon the previous successes while modeling the new approaches to instruction that technology enables. Project based learning, team teaching and modeling advanced uses of technology are featured.

Stage Four: The Techno-Constructivist

The real goal for technology integration is an entirely new approach to teaching. Educators who are true techno-constructivists become coaches and models for the first three stages.

This article originally appeared in the 03/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.