Why Educators and Students Should Learn in the Same Sandbox

Contributed By

John Hendron

Director of Innovation and Strategy for Goochland County Public Schools

Why Educators and Students Should Learn in the Same Sandbox

Posted in Evolving Ed | October 13, 2016

As an education administrator, I’ve always believed that the tools we use and the behaviors and culture that define our leadership collectively have an impact on the what learning looks like in classrooms with students. For instance, you would not necessarily expect successful adoption of a tool like Google Apps in classrooms to support deep student collaboration, when teachers and school administration were not already collaborating via Google Apps.

I’m not here to say behind a successful teacher getting the most out of a tool has to be a principal modeling the same, but modeling through values and effective use of today’s technology outside the classroom can accelerate its adoption by students. We want to be living in ways that are congruent with learning.

It was this sentiment—of teachers working in the same “sandbox” where students learn—that began our use of Schoology for professional development. We already believed Schoology was a very easy learning management system (LMS) to set up, but just because the tool was easy to use did not necessarily translate into deeper learning.

By setting up adult learning experiences in Schoology, we knew our teachers would have the benefit of experiencing this tool as a learner. In turn, we hoped that their experience as learners led teachers toward becoming more successful using the same tool we made available for students.

We are currently offering three courses for teachers this semester as options for online professional development. Traditionally, we have offered between 35-45 face-to-face workshops throughout the year for teachers focused on various ways to integrate technology into learning. As important as blended learning approaches are to today’s student, we wanted to extend that brand of learning to our teachers.

Our current courses include a short one on Schoology basics, and intermediate-length course on developing electronic books with iBooks Author on the Mac, and the extended course we’re offering is focused on approaches in planning and executing project based learning.

When we polled our teachers, some did not request a virtual learning experience. We knew a lot of educators had been through mediocre experiences with virtual learning. Our goals were to provide teachers with a high-quality learning experience, while at the same time catering to those who might like the flexibility of learning on their own schedule, without a firm time commitment for when they could be engaged with learning.

4 Considerations When Designing Online Professional Development

We have some advice for those of you designing online professional development based on teacher feedback, and we believe Schoology is an ideal platform because it’s the same system our teachers are using with students, in grades 3–12 here in Goochland.

#1 Encourage Learners to Extend their Exploration and Discovery on the Open Web

The ability to search for answers online is not always evident to all of our adult learners. In our iBooks Author course, I include links to Apple’s help pages to extend learning beyond the videos we produced for the course.

#2 Offer Multiple Modes of Information Delivery

We really like video for explaining and demonstrating new information. But some learners also feel comfortable with text. You may not need to develop both yourself, but providing access to different types of media helps everyone feel more comfortable in having a match to the ways they like to experience new information.

#3 Model What You Want in Instruction for Students with Your Adults

Our face-to-face workshops begin and end within a 2-hour block of time. Online, we can extend the experience to better match what’s required to master new learning. We like including, where appropriate, mini or full-length projects as part of the learning. Through the experience of a project, learners get to apply new information in context, and at the same time, personalize their product that you will later evaluate. Projects help us tap the creativity and interest in learners.

#4 Provide a Roadmap for the Learning Experience

While personally I sometimes prepare visual diagrams, any roadmap—even a bulleted list—may help learners feel comfortable about what the virtual learning experience will be like. When planning our larger PBL course, I made the diagram first to plan out my instructional design for the learning experience. I then tailored this diagram for communicating what would take place each week. Teachers praised us for letting them see the entire course “at a glance,” so they knew what was coming up, and so they didn’t encounter any surprises.


About the Author

John studied music (composition, conducting) before finding his niche in the field of educational technology. He's the author of RSS for Educators (2008, ISTE Press) and along with his colleagues, was a recipient of the CPED Dissertation in Practice Award for their work, Ubiquitous Computing in Schools: A Multi-case Study of 1:1 Districts which has been published as a free iBook via the iTunes book store (2014).

Read more great tips and best practices on John's blog.

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