Up Close and Virtual
By adding web-based offerings to traditional in-person sessions, school districts
can continue to provide support to teachers when face-to-face visits aren't possible.
ON DEMAND PD 360 offers
educators nearly 1,000 video
titles to help with classroom
NO ONE ARGUES THAT every
student's needs are the same, so why
would we presume that of teachers?
A one-size-fits-all package works no
better for administering professional
development instruction than it does for
delivering classroom curriculum.
Lynn Heady recognizes this, and is
using technology to diversify the learning
opportunities provided to teachers in her
district. Heady is the director of teaching,
learning, and assessment at Williamson
County Schools (TN). "We've got teachers
coming in who are very young, right out
of college, and we've got experienced
teachers," she says. "We've got a
tremendous continuum of needs for
meeting their professional development
goals. No one strategy can work."
That reality, coupled with the understanding that teachers
are saddled with so many other concerns driven by No Child
Left Behind and have little time for afternoon-long face-to-face
sessions, has led administrators such as Heady to supplement
the traditional workshops and seminars that make up
their professional development programs with web-based
instruction that is more conducive to a teacher's schedule.
One of the new tools Heady has put in place is an online
video library from the School Improvement Network (SINET) called PD 360. Teachers and
administrators are given access to the ever-growing, nearly
1,000-item library. Heady says the videos cover "everything
from broad topics like assessment, instructional strategies,
and time management to more specific things like reading or
math content. Principals, teachers themselves-- anybody--
can go in and look up the materials that they need."
Included with the videos are segment-specific facilitator
guides that contain discussion guides, journaling activities,
and team-building activities, providing direction to a school's
professional learning communities. For teachers viewing
videos outside a group-learning setting, each segment comes
with three questions to help them process the content, questions
that challenge their understanding of how to put what
they've learned into practice. A week later, follow-up questions
are automatically e-mailed to them, and their answers are then
sent to their professional development adviser, usually, according
to Heady, the principal.
Chet Linton, CEO of SINET, believes the facilitator guides
and follow-up questions are key. "We've learned that if
teachers are able to think about what they've learned and
how it applies to them, there is a greater chance they're
going to try the material in their classroom," he says.
Heady says another important addition to the district's
professional development program has been Peer Connection
from PBS TeacherLine, a provider
of online courses for educators. To tend to a faculty of
2,300, Heady enlists the work of 23 reading coaches, seven
technology coaches, six curriculum specialists, and three
new-teacher mentors. Peer Connection gives those coaches
and mentors access to all the content TeacherLine has to
offer, which they can then pass along to individual teachers
to support them in improving their classroom practices.
"Our coaches go observe
teachers in the classroom or do
some joint teaching with them,
and get a feel for what their individual
needs are," says Heady.
"Then they can go to Peer Connection's
database, search for
materials, and e-mail their teachers examples of exemplary
lesson plans, or perhaps a video, enabling them to continue
helping those teachers even when they're not there."
Mastering Digital Media
WILKES UNIVERSITY AND DISCOVERY
EDUCATION have teamed up to offer an online-based
master's degree in instructional media. Michael
Speziale, dean of graduate studies for Wilkes University, says
it is the most rapidly growing graduate program the school has
ever had, with nearly 300 students enrolled in the program's first year.
"Discovery knows a great deal about media and its use in the classrooms,"
Speziale says. "They've provided us with abundant levels of expertise in helping
us design courses around digital media." The company has also provided
some of the content for those courses, with resources such as the deep well
of video titles available through Discovery Education Streaming.
Students in the 10-course master's program take classes such as Digital
Storytelling, Digital Media in the Classroom, and Using Technology to Support
Creativity, all completed in an online setting in less than two years. The courses
incorporate consumer-level camcorders, cameras, and software, exposing the
graduate students to the best ways to use-- and teach their own students to
use-- technology that is commonly available in their classrooms.
The majority of the students in the program, Speziale says, are veteran
teachers who see that "the technology curve has finally caught them, and they
need to be able to speak on par with their students who use this stuff outside
the classroom all the time. There are some new teachers who know what
digital media can do, and are excited about learning more and then applying
it in their classrooms. There are also teachers who are not currently employed
and who are looking to enhance their resumes. So it's a variety of people."
For more information, visit here.
Peer Connection has a discussion venue where the teacher
receives notes and instructions from the coach, with links to
the appropriate material in the tool's database. Heady says
the coach can also share a suggestion or link with a whole
group: "If I've seen three teachers who need something, I'm
going to send it to all of them and form a little group, and they
can talk amongst themselves as well as with me." The tool
ensures that new ideas and suggestions are implemented
successfully during the two weeks between face-to-face visits.
"This is a way to keep that professional development flowing,"
Heady says. "It basically extends time and space."
Making web-based professional development opportunities
available to their faculty, however, creates a new dilemma for
districts: how to verify whether a teacher grasped the material.
"It has to be done independently of any workshop facilitator
or session presenter, because that person is not there to
check for understanding," says Miguel Guhlin, director of
instructional technology services for the San Antonio Independent
School District. "That process has to happen online."
It's an issue that Guhlin says his district handles with swift
effectiveness through its use of Avatar, a learning management
system from Alchemy Systems. The LMS disposes both ends of a professional development
program: It enables administrators to deliver and host
learning opportunities for teachers as well as monitor all of
a teacher's work within those activities. "I can check to see
how many people have taken a course, how many people completed
it successfully, how many haven't completed it successfully,
how many are in progress right now," Guhlin says.
"All of that tracking is handled by the technology itself."
say teachers are
the primary participants in their districts'
online courses. To drill down deeper on
professional development, see page 58.
For an LMS to perform these functions, Guhlin explains
that the content a district pours into it has comply with
SCORM (shareable content object reference module). In the
plainest terms, SCORM is a set of standards and specifications
for e-learning content; SCORM compliancy allows online
content to be embedded into a learning management system.
A SCORM content package includes multiple choice or true/
false assessment checkpoints that teachers complete as
they advance through the content. An administrator can then
review the results of those assessments via the LMS.
"Without SCORM-compliant content, you lose what makes
the learning management system so powerful," Guhlin says.
Guhlin suggests districts buy just one course from a provider
before committing to its entire library, with the stipulation that
if the course is not compatible with the district's LMS, the
district will not be charged. "If the vendor
takes forever to adjust its content so that it
meets the standards of your learning management
system, you're wasting money."
Guhlin says his teachers welcome Avatar's
flexibility. "Instead of going to a lecture hall
or cafeteria and sitting there listening, or
falling asleep," he says, "they can go online and start as soon
as they get home from work, 3 o'clock in the morning-- whenever--
work through maybe 10 minutes of the content listening
to the presentation, answer some questions at the end of
each section, then hit save and come back later."
At Williamson County Schools, Heady has received similar
positive feedback. "The most-heard comment has been,
'Thank you for respecting the fact that I don't have time to go
to workshops,'" she says. "Teachers really do have an awful lot
to do that isn't just the classroom teaching piece. We try to
find the kinds of tools that are respectful of the fact that this
is happening, and technology is a great way to do it."
Jennifer Demski is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles, CA.
This article originally appeared in the 04/01/2009 issue of THE Journal.