Enhancing Professional Development for Teachers Potential Uses of Information Technology
REPORT OF A WORKSHOP
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NOTICE: The project that is the subject of this report was approved by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, whose members are drawn from the councils of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The members of the committee responsible for the report were chosen for their special competences and with regard for appropriate balance.
This study was supported by the National Science Foundation under Award # ESI0639136 and the National Academies. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the persons identified in the report and do not necessarily reflect the views of the agencies that provided support for this project.
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Suggested citation: National Research Council. (2007). Enhancing Professional Development for Teachers: Potential Uses of Information Technology. Report of a Workshop. Committee on Enhancing Professional Development for Teachers, National Academies Teacher Advisory Council. Center for Education, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press.
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COMMITTEE ON ENHANCING PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT FOR TEACHERS
Lyn Le Countryman (Cochair),*
Malcolm Price Lab School, University of Northern Iowa
Chris Dede (Cochair),
Harvard Graduate School of Education
Vinton G. Cerf,
Google, Inc., Herndon, Virginia
Susan J. Doubler,
TERC, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Serrano Intermediate School, Lake Forest, California
Pioneer High School, Whittier, California
Will Tad Johnston,
Department of Education, Augusta, Maine
Pershing County High School, Lovelock, Nevada
Education Development Center, Newton, Massachusetts
Barbara Schulz,† Teacher Leader
Jay B. Labov,† Senior Advisor for Education and Communication and Staff Director
Terry K. Holmer,† Senior Administrative Assistant
Steve Olson, Writer/Consultant
Donna Gerardi Reardon, Staff Director
Stacey Kyle, ††
NATIONAL ACADEMIES TEACHER ADVISORY COUNCIL
Wanda Bussey (Chair),
Rufus King High School, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Robert Frost Elementary School, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Bruce Alberts* (ex officio),
University of California, San Francisco, California
Elizabeth A. Carvellas,
Essex High School, Essex Junction, Vermont
Mario A. Godoy-Gonzalez,
Royal High School, Royal City, Washington
Blue Valley North High School, Overland Park, Kansas
C. Ford Morishita,
Clackamas High School, Portland, Oregon
Woodcreek Magnet School, Lansing, Michigan
Frank W. Ballou High School, Washington, DC
Barbara Schulz, Teacher Leader
Jay B. Labov, Senior Advisor for Education and Communication and Staff Director
Terry K. Holmer, Senior Administrative Assistant
This report is a comprehensive overview of a unique workshop, held to explore a vision of the potential of online teacher professional development, its challenges, and the research needed to understand and advance this rapidly emerging area. In the workshop presentations and discussions, master classroom teachers joined with researchers, curriculum and information technology developers, professional development experts, state-level policy makers, principals, and foundation representatives. It is to all of the audiences represented by these participants that this report is addressed.
The journey to this workshop began in November 2002 when Bruce Alberts, then president of the National Academies, convened the first Teacher Advisory Council. This council was formed to enable classroom teachers to bring the wisdom of their practice into the Academies’ work in education. That opportunity brought outstanding teachers together, empowering them as a community to “make a difference.” The current members of the Teacher Advisory Council include teachers of science, mathematics, technology, reading, and English as a second language across the elementary, middle, and secondary grades. They teach in innercity, rural, and suburban schools. Many are recipients of the Presidential Award for Mathematics or Science Teaching. At least one member from each educational level (elementary, middle, secondary) is certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. A primary criterion for serving on the council is that each member must spend at least 50 percent of her or his time in the classroom working directly with students.
Over the past five years, the members of the council have spent substantial time in meetings providing advice to staff from across the National Academies who work on many aspects of education. The council was initially established for three years, after which an evaluation of its efficacy was undertaken. The Governing Board of the National Research Council (NRC) deemed the work of the council important enough to the education mission of the Academies that in 2005 it designated the Teacher Advisory Council as a standing board in the Center for Education of the NRC’s Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education.1
The teachers on the council also have sought to make a difference through designing and hosting two workshops, each on a different aspect of professional development, a topic that has direct relevance and impact, both positive and negative, on all teachers’ professional growth, their willingness to remain in classrooms, and ultimately their ability to improve student learning. Teachers too often have experienced a “one-size-fits-all” professional development model, in which someone else decides what they need to learn. And too often experiences with professional development focus primarily on improvement (i.e., remediation) rather than professional growth and exploration of new ideas, cutting-edge developments in a teacher’s field of expertise, or promising new pedagogies. This conventional model seldom meets the particular needs of teachers in specific fields and disciplines, such as mathematics, science, and technology. Recognizing ineffective professional development as a critical issue, the Teacher Advisory Council convened a workshop in October 2004 and issued a report called Linking Mandatory Professional Development with High-Quality Teaching and Learning (National Research Council, 2006).
At the same time, the council members sought to find organizations that might be willing to develop and sponsor state-level councils for teachers that would be modeled after the council at the National Academies. The first state council was established in California2 under the sponsorship of the California Council on Science and Technology.3 Javier Gonzalez, a founding member of the Teacher Advisory Council, worked with leaders at the California Council on Science and Technology to establish the California Teacher Advisory Council, becoming one of its charter members.
In an effort to build on the knowledge gained at the first workshop on linking mandatory professional development, the Teacher Advisory Council began to explore emerging opportunities in professional develop-
ment. Council members saw the potential for online learning technologies to provide professional development that could be far more tailored to the needs of science, mathematics, and technology teachers, to all teachers at different stages of their professional careers, and to teachers who are located in places where access to high-quality face-to-face professional development experiences to their schools is difficult.
Because so much of the information technology economy is centered in California, the Teacher Advisory Council began discussions with the California Teacher Advisory Council to organize the February 2007 workshop that serves as the basis for this report. According to the rules of the NRC, workshop planning committees must be comprised of experts in the areas on which the workshop will focus. Thus, a planning committee consisting of teachers from both councils and other outside experts was appointed by the chair of the NRC (biographical sketches of the planning committee members are found in Appendix D).
Flexibility is of primary concern for teacher professional development. Workshop participant Leah O’Donnell provided a clear statement about the potential of online learning technologies to transform professional development for teachers: “Different teachers have different needs, depending on such factors as the schools in which they teach, the students in their classes, their career stage, their previous experiences, and their individual preferences and learning styles.” Information technology through online courses can deliver what teachers need, when they need it, and where they need it. This flexibility can make the same opportunities available to teachers everywhere, from the rural schools of Iowa, to the inner city of Boston, to the suburban schools of California—and beyond. At the same time, unless careful planning and budgeting are taken into account, these new technologies also could exacerbate inequities in hardware, speed, and dependability of connections to the Internet and technological training for teachers. It will be a challenge to provide equal access to all and not expand the “technology divide.”
The workshop participants made clear that online professional development has the potential to alleviate many professional development concerns through flexibility, versatility, and leveling the playing field for teachers. For example, many workshop participants emphasized the versatility of information technology in teacher professional development. Online courses can be developed to address individual teachers’ needs to increase their content knowledge, learn new pedagogies, and in the process build a common professional language. Online professional development also has the ability to expand learning communities beyond the boundaries of individual districts, states, and even nations, tying teachers together worldwide in their desire for personal improvement. The ability of information technology to expand the boundaries of professional learn-
ing communities brings the world to the fingertips and minds of teachers, improving the experience for all.
One of the challenges of online professional development is a general dearth of research on its effectiveness, combined with the facts that many teachers are unaware of these new technologies and are not included in discussions about their future uses. Bruce Alberts addressed both of these issues during the workshop:
More broadly, the role of teachers in shaping online professional development needs to be a focus of research…. One thing we badly need research on, which I don’t think has been directly addressed here, is exactly how to give teachers a voice, an appropriate voice, at school district levels, in what professional development they get. I would like to encourage a variety of different approaches in different school districts, associated with some evaluation of how those work…. If we can’t give teachers a voice in their professional development, I don’t think we are going to solve this problem.
It is our hope that, through this report, readers will discover the potential for expanded opportunities in professional development for all teachers that can be enhanced by information technology, as well as learn about the challenges that teachers face when expanding their own learning and the learning of students in their classrooms. Above all, we hope everyone who reads this report will better understand the benefits of empowering teachers to express their “wisdom of practice” and consider that wisdom to be an integral component of decisions about future research, products, and implementation strategies in what could be a new era for teacher professional development.
Lyn Le Countryman and Chris Dede
Cochairs, Committee on Enhancing
Professional Development for Teachers
The project has been supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Teacher Professional Continuum Initiative and by an award from the National Academies to hold a workshop at the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Center in Irvine, California. The Teacher Advisory Council is supported by the Presidents’ Committee of the National Academies.
This report has been formally reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise, in accordance with procedures approved by the Report Review Committee of the National Research Council. The purpose of this independent review was to provide candid and critical comments to assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the process.
We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Martha A. Darling, Consultant, Ann Arbor, MI; Robert G. Dean, Department of Coastal and Oceanographic Engineering, University of Florida; Jerry P. Gollub, Department of Physics, Haverford College; Joellen Killion, Office of Special Projects, National Staff Development Council, Arvada, CO; Michael Koehler, Department of Mathematics, Blue Valley North High School, Overland Park, KS; and Michelle Williams, Department of Science Education, Michigan State University.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the content of the report nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release.
The review of this report was overseen by Melvin D. George, president emeritus, University of Missouri, Columbia. He was responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authors and the institution.
Model programs described in this report are those that were presented by workshop participants. Their inclusion in this report does not necessarily imply endorsement of any kind by the National Research Council. All web addresses listed in this report were operational as of April 2, 2007.