The internet has changed the way in which professional development (PD) for teachers can and should be delivered. Internet technologies allow for PD to be delivered anywhere and anytime, as long as one has a functioning computer and an internet connection.
The Problem with PD
The problem with traditional PD is that it is a one-shot deal. Show up at a specific time, listen to someone spout off about a particular topic, and walk away with a bunch of handouts that often confuse you more than help you. It simply does not work because it does not allow you to master the subject matter. The best type of professional development must be continuous and have the intent of allowing participants to master the topic at hand, so that it can then be implemented into one’s teaching practice in stages.
What Does Good Online PD Look Like?
Good PD embraces the following components:
- Rich Content
- Relevant Training
- Continuous Training.
It can be argued that all three of these components should always be incorporated into traditional PD sessions. However, this is not always the case. Teachers are often frustrated by PD sessions because they feel that the sessions are a waste of their time. Why? Simply put, most PD is nothing more than a ‘dog and pony show’. Presenters rush through the content because time is of the essence in these sessions. The material is often not covered in-depth enough for teachers to get a good grasp of the subject at hand.
The internet allows for PD creators to address the time constraint issue through proper instructional design techniques. Best practices in instructional design suggest that learning material should be ‘chunked’ into bite-sized morsels and learners should be encouraged to learn at their own pace.
What does that mean to you? Imagine learning a new educational technology application at your own rate through a series of short video tutorials (an example of chunking), and exercise files that are designed to lead you through a step-by-step process so that you can master the topic at your own speed. Imagine having the ability to review the video and the exercises, as often as you need, until you grasp the concept at hand. Imagine having access to a discussion forum where your questions can be answered by the instructor or other students. That is how the internet can solve the problems that are associated with traditional PD.
At the risk of stating the obvious, PD has to be relevant to the participant’s teaching practice. This is often contrary to some PD being offered, especially those sessions being offered by product vendors. Too often, software vendors assume that what works in the business world can be applied to the field of education.
Let’s look at one of the most common and easiest pieces of software to use in the classroom: Microsoft PowerPoint. PowerPoint, as it is used in business presentations, often attempts to motivate or entertain the audience. The purpose of PowerPoint in the classroom is to help the student to learn from the presentation. Obviously, both types of presentations require different approaches and skill sets. Teaching teachers how to create business-type presentations would be a complete waste of time for both the presenter and the teachers. Teachers need to learn how to create presentations that enhance their teaching skills, not how to create presentations that one would see in the business world.
Let’s look at what relevant PD would look like if we were to create an online PowerPoint PD course:
- A series of short videos that teach the teacher the basics of how to create PowerPoint presentations (slide creation, adding images, etc.).
- Several short videos that teach the teacher basic PowerPoint design skills (enhancing images, fonts, using SmartArt, etc.).
- A series of short videos and exercises that teach the teacher PowerPoint presentation skills.
- Exercise files for both the teacher and students.
One could say that the PD designer has killed two birds with one stone. Not only are these videos relevant to the teacher’s teaching practice, they can be used in the classroom as learning tools to help the students learn the basics of PowerPoint.
Continuing with the previous example, let’s address the issue of continuous training. Learning through ‘chunking’ encourages the learner to progress to more advanced and difficult topics at his/her own pace. Dividing the PowerPoint PD into three sections – the basics, design, and learning/teaching how to present – encourages the teacher to master the topic at hand through continuous learning. These topics cannot be mastered in your traditional two-hour PD presentation. Properly designed, online PD encourages the teacher to continue to hone his or her craft.
Imagine the Power of Online PD
Imagine what PD would look like if the best were allowed to happen. Imagine:
- going home after a rough day in the classroom and relaxing, because you can access PD online
- access to online PD material 24/7
- accessing PD from the comfort of your home on a Saturday morning in your comfy pyjamas, with coffee in hand
- having the ability to review sections of online PD so that you can fully grasp the concepts presented
- accessing the PD site in the classroom so that you clarify a point that you or your students do not understand.
Imagine doing that in a traditional PD session – you cannot!
A Message to School Districts
It might be time to rethink your approach to PD if you have not embraced online PD within your school district:
- Consider how internet technologies allow us to connect with experts from around the world. Imagine how beneficial it would be to your organisation if your teachers could participate in online PD with some of the leading experts in education.
- Consider letting your teachers put together online PD for the teachers in your school district. There must be a shining star or two in your organisation that would be willing to share their expertise with fellow teachers.
- Have you considered marketing your organisation’s expertise to other school districts through the power of online PD?
A Special Message to Teachers
Let’s face it, asking teachers to attend PD sessions after a hard day at school can be taxing at the best of times. Online PD might just be the answer to your professional development. If you are not sure where to start, Google the term ‘professional development for [insert your subject area/topic]’. This should point you in the right direction.
The internet and its related technologies have presented us with the tools to improve how professional development is delivered. Improvements in PD design and delivery can only lead to better professional growth for teaching professionals.
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