Many opportunities exist for professional development, especially for K-12 educators, corporate employees, government workers and higher education personnel. Let's look at a few examples:
K-12. It is recognized that staff development, especially in the area of technology, is essential and has resulted in better teaching and learning. Government agencies, the U.S. Education Department, the state departments of Education, school districts, private foundations, corporations and education associations are all promoting professional development for K-12 teachers and administrators. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation distributed $100 million in its State Challenge Grants for Leadership Development program to provide superintendents and principals with professional development focused on creating an optimal professional learning environment through technology integration.
Corporate. Companies are providing more education to their workers, to fill specific gaps and to offer employees upward mobility. J.B. Hunt Transport Services Inc., a transportation logistics company based in Lowell, Ark., enrolls candidates for advanced positions at the University of Arkansas, paying for their tuition and books. It is also interesting to note that a recent report in Information Week showed that "skills development" was by far the most frequent action taken by 55% of 250 executives to boost company morale.
Government. The use of technology within government agencies is ahead of much of corporate America. For example, the U.S. Army is one of the largest users of e-learning and the Federal Aviation Administration has been using computer-based training for more than 20 years. But, established success in the use of learning technology is not confined to only the federal government. Washington state has been recognized for its eLearning Network, which includes about 1,200 courses in IT skills and certifications, as well as covers topics such as accounting, sexual harassment and diversity in the workplace. The network serves as a centralized e-learning provider for 83 state agencies and more than 76,000 employees.
Higher education. Although many educational institutions have slashed spending in technology, several important trends are emerging. These include the growth of e-learning course management software providers like Blackboard, eCollege and WebCT, as well as the use of wireless and PDA applications. However, while an abundance of resources exist for K-12 professional development, these resources are considerably less for university faculty. Reasons given for this difference in resources include fear of change, lack of time, lack of resources, hard to maintain advances in hardware and software, little or no monetary reward or recognition, and low priority among administrators. At a UNESCO World Conference on Higher Education in 1998, the following areas for professional development were emphasized:
- Connectivity - telecommunications and computer hardware and software
- Community - focusing on group areas, not just individual ownership
- Capacity - building human skills
- Content - putting local views, news, culture and courseware on the Web
- Cash - finding innovative ways to fund the knowledge society
Some of the above have happened, but what is often lacking is the enthusiasm and leadership needed to build an information infrastructure. The administrator who is supposed to provide direction and vision must understand the role of technology in campus life. Professional development is often lacking when others in the faculty take to leadership and try to influence the decision-maker. Administrators cannot micromanage their technological projects, but they should be working with their organization to understand the long-term trends and plan accordingly.
This article originally appeared in the 06/01/2003 issue of THE Journal.