Reinventing Curriculum

Learnings from a Traumatic Professional Development Experience

Background: This week’s blog post is about how CN un-traumatized ES after his professional development “experience."  Without CN, he presided over a 50-minute session on how to use our Collabrify Apps in the K-12 classroom, at a one-day professional development event at a regional high school.  

Elliot <visibly rattled>: I am still quite upset at what I heard — well, what I didn’t hear — and what I didn’t see at the PD Event earlier today at <bleeped-out> School.

Cathie <smiling knowingly>: Yes, yes, we know, you are a delicate soul underneath all that hair. Breathe in, breathe out. So, calmly, tell me, what didn’t you hear and didn’t see?

Elliot <arms flailing; words tumbling out>: Well, I was walking down a typical school hallway where six or so 50-minute PD sessions — how to use iPads, how to create a video, how to use games to teach math and so forth — each in a room, were in process — and, except for the presider, standing at the front of the room showing power points, the hallway was library quiet! And the lights were even off in some of the rooms....

Cathie: So the projected power points would be more visible, probably.

Elliot <becoming agitated again>:  But I didn’t hear conversation! All I heard were monologues!  I didn’t see teachers using their computing devices!

Cathie:  Hmm.... Presiders telling teachers how to use technology…

Elliot: Yes, yes, yes!  The presiders were talking the talk, but they weren’t walking the walk.

Cathie <rolling her eyes>:   Interesting locution; let’s try for an English to English translation — in other words, instead of presiders modeling how teachers might employ technology in their classrooms by having the attendees actually use their computing devices, the presiders simply talked at the attendees for 50 minutes.... Sounds like traditional PD sessions, frankly.

Elliot: And at my session, one attendee — there were only six in total — came in without a computer or even a paper notebook!

Cathie: Well, the power points were probably posted online, and the attendee clearly had no expectation that there would be a need to use a computing device during the PD sessions…  Only six attendees, eh? Ouch....

Elliot <exasperated>: At the break on the hour, the hallways were noisy again with teachers moving from session to session.... The topics of the sessions were what one might expect for a PD on technology in the classroom. For example, there were several sessions about different aspects of using iPads and Chromebooks in the classroom; there were several about making and using videos; there was one about using games to teach math; and so forth.

Cathie: Just like school — students taking decontextualized subjects ... algebra, history, science....

Elliot <again, becoming visibly agitated>: Yes, yes, yes! The PD sessions at the event were similarly decontextualized — your earlier comment about how the even was traditional PD was spot on....

Cathie <slyly smiling>: “Spot on” — where are you from, London?

Elliot <feigning exasperation>: AHEM....

Cathie <with an “I knew that was going to happen” look>: Let’s get back to the fact that there were only six attendees at your session wanting to learn how to use our collabrified apps....

Elliot <exhaling a resigned sigh>: And that’s three more than attended the last two workshops we ran on our collabrified apps....

Cathie: It’s not that the teachers don’t like apps that support synchronous collaboration; it’s just that the teachers aren’t ready to use technology to support collaboration — they are just now understanding how to use technology to have the students work solo in creating artifacts.... Give the teachers time, they will come around.

Elliot: At least in my 50-minute session I had attendees using the apps immediately — I even lent the fella without a computer my extra Chromebook!  And I got three “That’s cool” and two “That’s very cool"s!

Cathie <with a teasing smile>: So, you talked the talk and walked the walk, eh?

Elliot <laughing>:  I think you are making fun of me....

Cathie <putting on her patented angelic smile>: Oh no, I would never do that....

About the Authors

Cathie Norris is a Regents Professor and Chair in the Department of Learning Technologies, School of Information at the University of North Texas. Visit her site at

Elliot Soloway is an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in the Department of CSE, College of Engineering, at the University of Michigan. Visit his site at

Find more from Elliot Soloway and Cathie Norris at their Reinventing Curriculum blog at

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