Taking Your Professional Development to the Cloud
The digital era we currently live in is a fast changing one. In order to stay relevant, experts stress that professionals across fields must continue to learn and grow in their respective fields but also acquire digital skills in the process. It’s no secret that today’s digital landscape is transforming the way professionals learn. With the access to technology, professionals no longer have to rely on traditional face-to-face methods of learning, but instead gravitate towards more mobile options when it comes to professional learning.
Further, Padhi and Kuruvilla argue that keeping up with today’s global workforce means that professional development must encompass the following characteristics:
- Be accessible.
- Be able to deliver more with less resources.
- Be able to deliver customized learning opportunities and support on a regular basis.
Educators are taking note and online professional development is rapidly growing among both in-service and practicing teachers. And just as online learning has appealed to students’ in the classroom, it has equally drawn interest among educators as a viable option for professional learning and growth.
The Current Status of Professional Development in Education
As we’ve learned over the years, professional development can be hit or miss in the field of education. While many districts take pride in what they provide for their teachers, others lack in both quality and quantity when it comes to learning. Many times, professional development centers around the goals set by district leaders which then turns into blanket workshops and trainings. Other professional development opportunities focus on areas for growth such as preparing teachers for a new curricular initiative or program.
These two approaches to professional development leave out one main component that is essential in its success: the teachers. And as you add on challenges such as time, money, and resources, professional development may not be as effective as we hope for it to be. Moreover, it is unrealistic to expect traditional professional development to meet the needs of all involved.
So how can we design professional development that caters to the different needs within a district, its teachers, and its learners? ILet’s explore a model that helps you see how taking your professional development to the cloud can transform both the effectiveness and reach of professional development within your school district.
The Pain Point for Digital Professional Development
It is common to see school districts utilize websites to host resources for their teachers that promote professional learning and development. Some districts have started to use Google Classroom. What is lacking with this approach is that these platforms tend to be static warehouses where information is transactional and not transformational.
Blended professional learning has the potential to transform professional development from a one-size-fits-all approach to one that can align district goals to more personalized teacher goals. As the instructional technologist for my district I am charged with delivering trainings that align with the district’s mission. That said, if professional development is going to ever be transformative, teachers need to feel ownership in how and what they learn.
My job is to both satisfy the district as well as the teachers’ needs in usually a limited time and space, since most schools allocate anywhere from 45-50 minutes of planning time. For this reason, I have designed a series of blended courses for our teachers ro access via Schoology. These courses are self-paced and take participants through a series of modules where they learn and apply different technology skills.
For example, most modules begin with exploring a topic via videos and scholarly articles to build background knowledge and then progress to challenging teachers to use the skills and concepts that they have learned in their own classrooms. Discussions are also embedded throughout the modules to allow teachers to share and explore ideas with their colleagues. So now instead of relying solely on face-to-face training, our teachers can go more in depth as well as have opportunities to apply what they have learned through the blended courses.
Another advantage of online modules is that they provide immediate access to resources for teachers that they can use now and for future reference. And as a trainer, the blended courses have provided me the opportunity to see how teachers apply what they have learned in their own classroom settings and be available to answer any questions. Furthermore, the blended learning environment has shifted how I deliver trainings and ultimately work with teachers.
Switching to a blended learning model through Schoology, has changed how I interact with teachers. My goal for these Schoology courses was to provide professional development that was available at teachers’ fingertips. I started small with a few courses at a time to avoid overwhelming teachers.
Little by little, I also encouraged them to utilize the courses and modules to guide themselves through learning basic technology skills and tools all while hopefully answering any basic level technology related questions. This way, if I interacted with a teacher face-to-face, our discussions would be more meaningful and in-depth. Although I still spend time with those teachers who need and request more reinforcement, our time spent also focuses on how to implement new technology tools and skills learned within the context of their classroom.
I am currently working on building a professional development library for our district. The goal is to compile two types of videos: webinar style videos and model teaching lessons with students in the classroom. With the webinar style videos, I have teachers explain how they design and deliver instruction over a presentation. These videos go into depth on how they deliver direct instruction, implement centers or stations in their classrooms, and what technology looks like in their classroom. The classroom recordings show master teachers in action. With the model teaching lesson videos, viewers get a front row seat into how instruction is delivered, what students do in each station or center, and how the teacher transitions between activities.
The professional development library was started to give teachers access to the genius within our very own district. Normally teachers do not get to interact with other teachers outside their school. And at every school there is great teaching and learning happening. These videos will allow other teachers throughout the district to see what other teachers are doing. These videos will also serve as exemplar for new teachers who join our district.
If you are concerned about the technology behind recording and editing the videos, don’t be. For our recordings we use Zoom, a swivel, an iPhone, and iMovie. This goes to show that expensive equipment and tools are not necessary to create something great.
The Future of Professional Development
To expand the idea of the professional development library, we will be hosting live webinars during after school hours. These webinars will be led by teachers, content specialists, and guests from outside the district. This goes into the mindset of making professional development mobile, accessible, and available to teachers across the district. It is imperative that professional development is not seen as a sit-and-get, one-time experience, but rather as a dynamic, collaborative, learning opportunity that transcends the isolation of brick and mortar school buildings. If we can agree that professional development is an ongoing process, then it must be agile and adaptive to the growing needs of our teachers.
The face of learning and development is quickly changing and professionals across fields are quickly adapting to new forms of learning and growing in their fields. Traditional forms of professional development are no longer the only viable options for those who wish to acquire additional certifications, learn new skills, and grow in their careers. In fact, mobile applications, Learning Management Systems, as well as social networking sites have opened new doors to differentiated professional learning experiences for educators across the world. By taking your professional development to the cloud, you can provide your teachers with numerous opportunities for them to develop and monitor their own growth plans.
What benefits have you seen from taking your professional development to the cloud? Let us know on Twitter @Schoology