Programs Highlighted During the Workshop
Throughout the workshop, a series of online programs for teacher professional development was described and discussed to enable participants, many of whom had not personally partaken of such opportunities, to better appreciate the spectrum of possibilities that online learning technologies offer. A description of these programs is presented below.
The planning committee recruited examples of online technologies for professional development from both the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. The primary criterion for including a particular program or application was that it had been rigorously evaluated for its efficacy. Selection of these programs for inclusion in the workshop does not imply endorsement by the National Research Council.
EdTech Leaders Online
EdTech Leaders Online (ETLO) is an online resource designed to build the capacity of organizations to use online learning.1 ETLO works with educational organizations at all levels—including school districts, state departments of education, universities, regional consortia, and professional development providers—to help those organizations “figure out why they want to use online learning, what lessons it will address, and
Additional information is available at http://www.edtechleaders.org.
how they should do it based on their own needs and goals,” said presenter and planning committee member Barbara Treacy of the Education Development Center, Inc.,2 which supports ETLO through its Center for Online Professional Education.
Since its launch in 2000, the project has trained more than 1,400 online specialists, course developers, and online facilitators in more than 35 states. It offers two main types of capacity-building programs: how to be an online instructor and how to be an online course developer. About 50 online workshops are now offered in different subject areas and grade levels. The project also has created an online community of online instructors in which participants can discuss resources, share answers to questions, and reflect on the work they are doing. Many of these discussions are archived and available to new participants.
Because the emphasis of ETLO is on building capacity, it seeks to enlist participants as long-term partners in professional development. “It’s not just a course. People are getting involved for a long-term relationship,” said Treacy. “We are there both to train people and to make sure they and their participants are successful.” After they finish the course, participants develop a plan with their district or departmental leadership to run a series of workshops within their organizations based on identified goals and needs. These workshops result in projects that teachers can implement in their classrooms. Surveys show that of 2,500 teachers who have received training through ETLO, 98 percent are using the workshop projects in their classrooms.
An example of ETLO’s influence is its work with the Mississippi Department of Education. ETLO trained a cohort of 24 online facilitators who then offered online workshops to teachers across the state who were teaching on emergency certificates. “It became the only way those teachers on emergency certificates could get into the classroom,” Treacy said. The program was so successful that Mississippi made the training mandatory for online facilitators, and the approach has spread to other parts of the Mississippi education department.
“The course moved rapidly as research articles provided meat for discussions on topics relevant to online learning and facilitation. Attributes of adult learners, different teaching and learning styles, and developing plans to encourage high levels of participation provided content for lengthy discussions. These qualities and strategies not only enable online learners but students in classrooms as well. I cannot think of when I’ve enjoyed a course as much as I have this one, nor can I remember feeling any more comfortable, or gaining more applicable learning than in this course.” — online facilitator participating in ETLO workshop (as presented by workshop presenter Barbara Treacy)
Additional information is available at http://main.edc.org/.
Southern Regional Education Board
The Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) has an Educational Technology Cooperative that represents more than 3,300 school districts and nearly 800 colleges and universities in its 16 states.3 One initiative of the cooperative is the Multi-State Online Professional Development toolkit, which provides resources to promote and support the efforts of states and schools to deliver professional development online. According to SREB’s William Thomas, the overall objectives of the program are to improve the quality of teaching and learning and to provide equity of access to teachers regardless of where they are located.
From the cooperative’s initial experiences with online professional development, SREB discovered that it needed “to promote this idea with our state legislators and governors,” said Thomas. The result was a 6-page document called Online Professional Development: Why SREB States Should Use It.4 The publication emphasizes the advantages of online professional development in reaching all teachers, reducing travel time and expenses, avoiding the “one-time workshop,” providing “just-in-time” learning, and building a community of learners. “It was almost a sales pitch to our legislators and policy makers of why they have to start thinking in their states about a different way of going about doing professional development,” Thomas said.
Different states are using the resources provided by SREB in different ways. Arkansas, for example, is drawing on those resources as part of its $2 million Online Professional Development Initiative,5 whereas West Virginia is using online professional development to provide teachers with 21st-century skills. “Each state will do it its own way, but their ultimate goals are the important things,” said Thomas.
Technology-Enhanced Learning in Science
Technology-Enhanced Learning Science (TELS) is an instructional program for students in grades 6-12 that has a prominent professional development component.6 The program is organized around 18 instructional modules that help students learn difficult scientific concepts through hands-on, interactive classroom activities that feature scientific visualizations and simulations. “Our project is focused on how to take advantage
Additional information is available at http://www.sreb.org/programs/EdTech/edtechindex.asp.
Additional information is available at http://ideas.aetn.org/.
Additional information is available at http://telscenter.org.
of visualizations that make the unseen visible, or that bring to life scientific phenomena that might be difficult for students to understand,” said the director of the program, Marcia Linn of the University of California, Berkeley.
TELS works with more than 125 teachers in Arizona, California, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Virginia. Its approach is to offer a brief orientation to a given module before teachers use that module in their classes. The program then provides an opportunity for teachers to reflect on and discuss their experiences teaching the module with other teachers and with facilitators. Mentors and facilitators associated with TELS work with the teachers to improve and adapt both the module and their teaching of the revised module. In this way, the materials are continually customized to the needs of individual teachers and their students even as teachers gain experience with the modified material.
TELS offers several forms of support for teachers making use of their materials. When the materials are first being used, a technology support person is present at the school to make sure that computer problems are quickly addressed. The module materials are modified to satisfy learning standards in different states. TELS works with the principals at the participating schools, since it has found that more teachers participate in schools in which the principal is involved with the program. And an online community has been established to support the professional development of the teachers using the modules.
Teachers using the modules report that their practices in the classroom have changed, Linn stated. Instead of lecturing and giving out assignments, the teachers who have gone through this professional development experience are more likely to wander among students who are working on the modules. When teachers call for the attention of all the students, the things they say are different than if they were lecturing. Through their online community, then teachers have shared experiences and are creating an online database of ways to use the modules most effectively.
TELS researchers have measured student achievement in classes using the modules and have found significant improvements. And “the more experience the teacher had in inquiry and technology, the more effective the materials were for their students, which I think shows the benefits of professional development,” said Linn. “If you get more experience and learning on how to use [the materials] better, you can have a bigger impact on students’ learning.”
As teachers have engaged in the material more deeply, they have begun to think about integrating ideas across the curriculum. “Teachers want us to help think about the sequence of the curriculum,” said Linn. Teachers also want to “apply some of the issues from the modules to
strengthen the connections that students need to remember what they have been taught.”
Force Equals Mass Times Acceleration
A group at Lesley University has put together an online master’s degree program in science education that incorporates feedback from the teachers taking the courses. The second 13-week course developed by the group focuses entirely on the concept that force equals mass times acceleration (F = ma). “The goal we had was [to achieve] a rigorous qualitative understanding of this law,” said presenter Andee Rubin, a senior scientist at TERC.7 “We wanted teachers to know the shapes of curves, how they displayed characteristics of physics, something about numbers. … We wanted them to develop a physicist’s eye and the ability to see F = ma everywhere, in every instance of motion that they observed or experienced.”
A major focus of the course is the representation of scientific knowledge, since representations are important vehicles of understanding in science. These representations can take the form of text, diagrams, or mathematical symbols. They start with concrete representations that students and teachers can see with their own eyes and progress to the more abstract. Students then use these representations to construct models that serve as analogs to systems in the real world.
Because representations can move beyond text to graphs, equations, videos, and animations, they are particularly suited to online learning. For example, at one point in the course, teachers view a video of a ball rising and falling under the force of gravity. The speed of the video can be slowed down so that its movements in equal intervals of time can be measured. In this way, teachers create representations of the ball’s motion and relate those representations to the fundamental concepts of the course.
Another goal of the course, Rubin said, is to encourage the development of teacher communities analogous to those that scientists form when they engage in the practice of science. Like scientists, teachers should ask questions, make observations, generate evidence, search for patterns, and communicate and defend their findings and conclusions to a wider community so as to reach a common, consensual understanding.
Teachers who have taken the course report that “they began to ask very different questions of their students,” said Rubin. “They began to ask students to support their ideas with evidence. There was … more
Additional information about TERC is available at http://www.terc.edu/. Additional information about the program F = ma is available at http://scienceonline.terc.edu/demo/bb_demo/bb_frame.htm.
time for students to investigate and more time for students to talk about what happens.”
Wide World School Improvement Process
The Wide World School Improvement Process was developed at the Harvard School of Education to provide online professional development for K-12 teachers. Its goals are to develop more effective teachers, create more effective schools, and prepare students for 21st-century work.8
A prominent emphasis of the project is what its executive director, David Zarowin, calls “teaching for understanding.” This approach involves setting goals and undergoing assessments that measure progress toward those goals. “We use that process to help teachers identify what is going to be needed for students and to design lessons in ways that make the students engaged learners,” said Zarowin. “Out of that we expect will come improved classroom performance.”
An instructor leads these online courses and coaches facilitate them. The job of the coaches, said Zarowin, is “to draw out the participants in the study group, make sure they are doing their work, give them feedback on their work, and encourage dialogue among the participants. As the course goes on, the facilitation becomes less extensive, because the participants are talking more to each other. It is the coach’s job to catalyze.” To date, the Wide World project has worked with approximately 6,000 teachers from all over the world in about 190 school systems.
Typically, teachers enroll in the courses in teams of three or four people. They take turns being the person to go online and post the group’s assignment results to the coach, and they receive feedback from the coach on behalf of the team. These teams then become the leaders in their own schools. In this way, the kernel of a learning community is created in each participating school, rather than having an individual maverick who is trying to drive change.
In addition, the program offers a course called Leading for Understanding. This course helps school leaders understand their roles in fostering a community of learners. The intent, said Zarowin, is to “bring all those voices that are involved in the structural enterprise together to promote change.”
Other courses include Data Wise, which covers the use of student data to inform curriculum changes in schools, and a course for people interested in becoming coaches. “The first cohorts that come to our courses are typically the people who could become the online coaches for subsequent cohorts,” Zarowin said. “So they take a course like teaching for under-
Additional information is available at http://wideworld.gse.harvard.edu.
standing, and then they take a coach development course. They serve an apprenticeship, and then they become a coach, at which point they are ready to lead the study groups.”
Surveys done at the end of courses show that 97 percent of course participants report improvements in their teaching practices.9 As their primary focus, the Education Development Center studied 321 participants’ ability to integrate theoretical concepts learned in their Wide World course into their practical decisions as educators and found that teachers made robust use of ideas in classrooms after taking a single course.10
“[The World Wide project] helped us, not only in improving math instruction, but in proving that team work is a big part of the future for all educators for years to come. I know that we will never go back to ‘go it alone’ education.” — elementary school teacher course participant (as reported by workshop presenter David Zarowin)
As reported by James Pence at WGBH Television, Teachers’ Domain11 is an online multimedia resource with two related components. One is a library of free digital resources that includes streaming video clips and interactive lessons. It is searchable, aligned with individual state and national standards, and has more than a thousand offerings in science (a smaller collection provides resources on the civil rights movement).
Teachers’ Domain also offers professional development courses that are sold to districts through licensing agreements. Teams of science writers, expert advisers, and web developers develop these courses together. They draw on a set of video libraries and workshops created by WGBH. The professional development component also includes unscripted videos that capture teachers in the process of bringing life to the ideas and content of their courses.
Teachers can apply the multimedia content available through Teachers’ Domain in a wide variety of ways, said Pence. Teachers can use the resources in their classrooms, after which students can call up the same content at home or in a library. Teachers taking the professional development courses can engage in discussion groups or see examples of students’ work. According to Pence, the courses are also now available
More details on this study are available on the following website: http://learnweb.harvard.edu/wide/ri/impact/evaluation.cfm.
More details of this study are at the following web site: http://learnweb.harvard.edu/wide/ri/impact/oneyear.cfm.
Additional information is available at http://www.teachersdomain.org.
through PBS TeacherLine, a professional development resource that spans the PreK-12 curriculum.12
Virtual High School Global Consortium
The Virtual High School Global Consortium offers full-semester high school courses over the Internet to students at more than 400 high schools located in 30 states and 20 countries.13 The courses are project-based, collaborative endeavors that rely extensively on online communication and collaboration skills. According to workshop presenter Liz Pape, the chief executive of the consortium, “there is nothing like a student taking an environmental course with 24 others students from all over the world, so that when they start talking about air quality and water quality issues, they are talking about issues in Dubai and Malaysia and South Africa and Massachusetts.”
The professional development component of the consortium is directed toward preparing teachers to teach online. For example, online teachers need to know how to manage a class with students distributed around the world working both synchronously and asynchronously. High school teachers have developed all of the courses in the Virtual High School course catalog. Many of these developers have participated in annual teacher learning conferences and in a semester-long course for teachers focusing on methods for teaching online. “High school teachers become students in an online course so they can experience exactly what it is that they will be teaching to their students,” said Pape.
Online teachers can adapt the courses to their own students and circumstances. “We don’t believe that online courses should be teacherproofed,” said Pape. “We believe it is really important for teachers to be able to review their online course as they need to, rather than licensing content from a provider and not being able to touch that content to modify it for their students’ needs or having to wait two years for the content provider to modify that course for you.” (For additional discussion of this topic, see also the section “Lack of Time and Financial Support” in the main report.)
To provide online teachers with ongoing support and development, the consortium has developed a program called the Community of Virtual Educators. Some of the teachers have been with the program since its founding in 1996, and it has been one of the means used to keep their skills up to date.
Pape reported that a recent evaluation of the consortium and its professional development model found that teachers with online experience were focusing more on higher level skills, engaging everyone in a classroom, bringing more students into discussions, and asking better questions. They relied less on worksheet activities and more on understanding by design. According to the evaluation, three-quarters of the teacher said that the professional development they had received had positively affected their teaching.
Pape believes that the ultimate goal for online teacher professional development is to foster a blended approach in the classroom in which teachers seamlessly add online components to their teaching. “I believe that this is the killer app of what is going on in online education—blended learning and global virtual classrooms for students,” said Pape.
Los Angeles Unified School District
Martha Valencia was a language arts teacher who, in her words, “gradually drifted away from the classroom into the computer lab.” Now a specialist with the Instructional Technology Branch for the Los Angeles Unified School District, she serves as both an online facilitator for professional development and as a face-to-face facilitator to integrate technology into schools.
The district has been emphasizing online teacher professional development for both professional and practical reasons. Teachers take online courses both to satisfy the district’s requirements for professional growth and to take the next step in their career ladder. Valencia reported that they also take courses online to avoid Los Angeles’s notorious traffic. “What’s bringing people to the online environment is the fact that L.A. freeways are jam-packed right at the time when they need to go to these labs to take training,” said Valencia.
The online offerings include courses developed by outside developers and by the district. Participants, who are from a mix of content areas and grades, often coach each other, Valencia reported. The most popular courses involve project-based learning, Web-enhanced lessons, and integrating technology into the curriculum. A big challenge for the online facilitators is the mix of abilities and comfort levels the participants have with technology. “It becomes hard when you have a person who is just learning how to click the mouse and a person who has designed Web pages.”
The facilitators have found that teaching adults can be a different experience from teaching students. “Even our most seasoned teachers, coaches, or technology experts can fall apart in front of an adult audience,” said Valencia. “They are intimidated or afraid of being challenged.”
Surprisingly, good face-to-face presenters don’t always make the best online presenters. In addition, there is a constant challenge to recruit enough people for both the face-to-face and online professional development, especially in science and mathematics.
The program has not yet explored the link between online teacher professional development and student performance. But it has an extensive set of tools for gauging the effects of the course on teachers, including an online registration format that provides completion rates, no-show rates, online evaluations, and a report on how teachers liked a particular approach.
Currently, more than 1,000 teachers take online courses through the district each year, with 4,000 having taken at least one online course to date. In response to teacher requests, the district has begun diversifying the range of courses offered. To its traditional 16-hour courses it has added 2-hour courses with 2 hours of follow-up. The district also has been encouraging administrators to take courses, because “even though they are designated for teacher use, [administrators] need to learn and grow in their capacity to offer courses to their staff.”
Agile Mind is an education company founded in 2001 to support both equity and high achievement in challenging academic courses.14 In addition to its tools for students, Agile Mind has a prominent professional development component, according to the company’s chief executive Linda Chaput. “We try to focus on and shape what happens between teachers and students in the classroom,” she said. The company also works with school and district leaders to give them the “stable support that really ensures the improvement of instruction.”
In its fifth year of operation, the company is currently serving 290,000 students and 4,400 teachers in nearly 500 schools. Many are from underserved areas of California, Illinois, New York, Maine, and Texas, with incubator sites in New Jersey, Ohio, and Washington state.
A particular focus of Agile Mind, according to Chaput, is the generation of real-time student performance data and the information needed to act on those data. These data permit educators to make decisions based on their experiences, their students, and their teaching preferences. According to surveys of participating teachers, 90 percent wish to continue using the services once they have experience with the program.
Another important component of the program is that it is designed to make use of older computers and slow data transfer rates. With a dial-
Additional information is available at http://www.thinkfive.com/index_flash.html.
up speed of 28K, said Chaput, “it is a formidable challenge to optimize visualizations so that they load in less than a second. But we found that if you want a child or a teacher to be able to use this ubiquitously, the T1 line is in the district office, and the learning lab [at the school] does not have the throughput.” Thus, even with technical capacity in a school, access to that capacity often is unavailable to teachers and students.
Agile Mind is designed to support teachers rather than replace them. “We try very hard to design our technologies to make it convenient for the adults to make the right instructional decisions a higher percentage of the time,” said Chaput.
The site offers teacher resources, professional development, and rollout networks within states. It provides information for teachers as to how to get professional development credit for their participation in these programs.
Teachers’ Domain offers professional development courses in collaboration with the Public Broadcasting System and WGBH-TV. Teachers have access to NOVA videos and courses are research based, informative, and thought-provoking.
TeachScape is a research-based and data-driven site for teacher professional development. The main goal is to raise student achievement. It enables teachers to deliver differentiated instruction to students. It works with districts to provide systemic and outcome-based professional development to meet the needs of schools and districts.
Wide World is an outgrowth of the Harvard program Project Zero and is based on years of classroom-based research incorporating basic elements of professional development, including coaching, developing a shared language and communities of learners, thus building capacity for sustained long-term improvement programs.
Annenberg Media offers free professional development for teachers. The courses contain print, video, and web-based components and are designed for both pre-service and practicing teachers.
Started in 1988, this site consists of a large nonprofit global network that enables teachers and young people to use the Internet and other new technologies to collaborate on projects that both enhance learning and make a difference in the world.
The Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative, a program offered through the U.S. Department of Education, was designed by teachers for teachers in order to provide technical support, professional development opportunities, and recognition for teachers of all content areas and grade levels.
This site is dedicated to sharing the newer and emerging “learning tools” of science education—tools such as real-time data collection, simulations, inquiry based lessons, interactive web lessons, micro-worlds, and imaging, among others, which can help make teaching science an exciting and engaging endeavor.
Concept to Classroom features a series self-paced workshops covering a wide variety of hot topics in education. Some of the workshops are based in theory, some are based in methodology, and all of the workshops include tips and strategies for making classrooms work.
PBS TeacherLine offers professional development courses to individual PreK-12 teachers and districts. Its specially trained, certified facilitators lead over 100 standards-based courses that include mathematics, reading/language arts, science, instructional technology, and instructional strategies. Coursework can cover a complete sequence of study or address a specific requirement, depending on a teacher’s or a district’s needs.
EdTech Leaders Online based at Education Development Center provides capacity building online training for states and school districts to establish their own online professional development programs, offering online instructor and course developer training, a catalogue of 50 online workshops in the range of K-12 subject areas and grade levels, and a national forum for trained online specialists.