Professional Development | Feature

iPads Aren't Just for Students

Districts are using the tablets to deliver iOS-based professional development to instructors and administrators.

A few years ago, districts across the country shared a simple goal: get iPads into the hands of as many students as possible. With the rollouts complete, early adopters are finding new uses for the tablets, chief among them professional development. Here, we look at how three districts are using the Apple ecosystem to help keep their educators up to speed on technology and teaching.

Flipping and Blending
Charleston County School District in South Carolina uses iPads to administer flipped PD to its teachers. Kristen Brittingham, the district's director of personal mastery learning, said, "We give them the content knowledge in advance and then take the PD to a higher level at the face-to-face sessions."

Brittingham said that her district also uses iPads to deliver blended learning for teachers who are taking recertification and graduate courses. Using Edmodo as a content platform, the district holds face-to-face sessions and supports them with iPad-based learning materials. "We'll work with teachers for two to three days over the summer," said Brittingham, "knowing that that they won't be able to retain everything they've learned and/or fully understand it."

To fill in that gap, Charleston County gathers all of the modules covered during the intensive, multiday sessions and breaks the content down into "mini courses." For a course on how to create a shared vision, for example, the district has developed an iTunes U course on a dedicated channel it has been using for two years. The course includes pictures of 10 different shared visions, an explanation of the differences among them and the steps required to develop such visions.

Brittingham said that being able to deliver the supporting materials via iOS lets her department take the education deeper, while also providing a refresher lesson for participants who need it. "It helps us deliver larger chunks of PD that our teachers can go back and review as needed," she said. Over time, she added, the iTunes U channel has morphed from being a district-led initiative to one that's largely individualized by the teachers who use it. "Once they download the courses to their iPads," said Brittingham, "they can pick and choose the handouts, videos, audio, presentations and templates that they need and focus on what's important to them as individuals."

Although there was a period of adjustment to iOS-based PD, Brittingham said that now, "Being able to provide electronic resources in a systemic manner has become part of our ongoing support for our school system." She has seen good results and heard positive feedback from teachers who now have a support mechanism for their PD. "They're not just sitting in sessions and then walking away and never hearing about the content again," she said. "Instead, teachers now have the takeaways and materials right at their fingertips when they need them."

24/7 Support for Teachers
Professional development delivered via iOS isn't limited to the flipped or blended learning environment. In Castle Rock, CO, Douglas County School District  deploys on-site PD professionals to come up with innovative ways to deliver instruction to the district's teachers.

According to Elizabeth Walhof, the district's professional development coordinator, one such effort found teachers using iPads to create differentiated tasks for the classroom. They shot videos, created iMovie trailers and used other mechanisms to create tasks that allow different students to follow different learning paths. "Teachers loved being able to use technology [tools] within the PD just like they use those tools with their own students," said Walhof. "They can put themselves in the student's role and use technology in a similar fashion."

At Encinitas School District in California, iPads are playing an increasingly large role in both student and teacher instruction, according to Timothy Baird, superintendent of schools for the K-6 district. Baird said that the district is still in the early stages of adopting the tablets, but asserted that they are already proving useful on both fronts. Right now, for example, the district offers a number of online, cloud-based PD resources that instructors can access, download to their iPads and share with other teachers.

Encinitas School District also offers asynchronous PD and has plans to use webinar-based training in the future. "It's an area we're moving into," said Baird, but for now, the focus is on helping teachers use iPads effectively in the classroom as teaching tools. Baird said that tech support for teachers has been uploaded to the "district cloud," and includes live training, documentation and all follow-up materials. If a teacher wants to know more about a specific software program or app, for example, he or she can access screenshots, FAQs and other informational sources in the district cloud. "We see this as a good first step," said Baird, who has received positive feedback from educators about the resources.

"Some of our principals, teachers and grade-level teams have accessed the information in an on-demand learning format," said Baird, "and others are downloading the materials to their iPads to access at a later date, share with one another and share with students. There are a lot of options available that we're only just beginning to explore in the professional development realm."

Personalizing PD 
As Encinitas School District progresses out of the "hand-holding" stage and into using more teacher-defined learning, Baird said it will likely combine face-to-face professional development with iOS-based resources that teachers can use to reinforce the PD sessions. "Technology is a great tool for individualizing learning in a way that face-to-face staff development can't," said Baird, noting that iOS-based PD is not a one-size-fits-all mechanism for delivering instruction to adults.

Brittingham concurs, counseling districts that are looking to get the most out of their iOS-centered PD to include some type of "splash" that hooks the learner and keeps him or her engaged. And, she noted, don't forget that veteran teachers probably aren't digital natives and therefore won't necessarily be compelled to whip out their iPads to study up on professional development topics. "Make sure you're building the foundational, tech-oriented skills face-to-face," said Brittingham, "and not just assuming that all of your teachers have them."

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