Even without the results of more comprehensive research on teacher professional development, workshop participants suggested that plenty of steps can be taken to enhance the use and effectiveness of online teacher professional development (OTPD).
PROVIDING TEACHERS, ADMINISTRATORS, AND POLICY MAKERS WITH INFORMATION
According to workshop participants, perhaps the most straightforward step would be to make teachers, administrators, and policy makers aware of what is currently available. If an online listing were available of existing programs, individuals and organizations could easily find and compare options. Even more useful, suggested David Vannier of the National Institutes of Health, would be a Consumer Reports type of guide that describes the features of programs and offers evaluations. Such a guide could include costs, the experiences of previous users, any available research results, and perhaps independent evaluations. An online guide would have many potential users, said Vannier. “It’s important for everyone involved to know what [an online professional development] program is, whether that’s the teacher taking the course, the administrator who approves the course, the parents whose district is adopting the course, or the students who might be affected.” Such a guide would also make it easier to identify gaps in content areas, grades, or ranges of teacher experience.
BUILDING SUPPORT AMONG ADMINISTRATORS AND POLICY MAKERS
Administrators and policy makers especially need to be convinced of the value or potential of online professional development. Involving administrators in online communities was suggested by Deborah Smith, who asked, “How can we get principals and administrators into an online professional development program that would help them build a vision that would be shared and collaborative?” “If you can’t get past the building principal and the downtown administrator, this is not going to happen. … You absolutely need someone who not only values but understands what you are doing.”
Beyond administrators, policy makers need to be aware of the potential for online professional development to make a difference in the professional lives of teachers. Barnet Berry asked, “How can teachers, especially our very best teachers across the country, provide a huge important bridge to the policy world to bring their expertise and voice to the deliberations about their profession?”
“We would like policy makers to set up mechanisms to more effectively listen to teachers’ voices and choices about online professional development,” said California Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) member Juliana Jones, a middle school teacher in Berkeley, California. In particular, if policy makers were able to experience an engaging online course, they would be more likely to provide teachers with the time and resources needed for online learning.
Embracing OTPD means that policy makers and administrators must give up some measure of control over professional development decisions, said Sherri Andrews of the North Carolina School of the Arts in Thomasville. “Administrators have to be able to give up the fact that they want to tell us what we need to do and when we need to do it.” Also, the technology is changing so quickly that administrators and policy makers will need to involve teachers in making strategic decisions about the best possible uses of what is available. For example, although the Internet is the source of most online courses today, new technologies, such as immersive learning environments that are now part of online video gaming technologies, may someday supersede today’s offerings.
PROVIDING TEACHERS WITH ACCESS TO ONLINE TECHNOLOGIES
Teachers need appropriate, modern tools to take advantage of online programs. Administrators cannot assume that teachers will have the necessary computer equipment and Internet connections at their homes, nor should teachers be expected to engage in online professional development
entirely on their own time and away from school. Technology policies and purchases of computers and networking equipment in schools should take into account the use of that equipment for learning by teachers as well as students.
Federal and state policy makers have an important responsibility to promote equal access to technology. “There is a disparity in those who have technology and those who don’t,” said National Academies TAC member Ford Morishita of Clackamas High School in Portland, Oregon. “This is going to be absolutely critical, not just for online professional development, but for all use of technology.”
Access implies that all teachers should be able to use online technologies, not just those with special expertise or training. As noted above, workshop participants agreed that OTPD cannot be just for “techies.” In addition, access for all users often must involve captioning or translation of text, which can benefit many teachers and is essential for some. Captioning is also required if federal funds are being spent to develop products. “Captioning helps everybody,” said Raymond Rose.
FOSTERING DEVELOPMENT OF GOOD MATERIALS
Teachers need the ability to become more involved and proactive in customizing online learning for their own schools. “I really like trying to keep teachers in the loop as designers, evaluators, and intellectual participants,” said Smith. “[But] we have seen a movement away from that in a lot of schools in districts and states, where teachers are told what to teach, what time to teach it, and how much to teach.” Even little things can make a difference, Smith noted. On the websites for professional development, there ought to be a suggestion box in which teachers could say, “We really need some professional development on this.”
It’s important not to let discussions of OTPD get sidetracked into either/or dichotomies, said workshop participant Ellen Hershey of the Stuart Foundation in San Francisco.1 “It is very important to talk about more high-quality professional development for all teachers,” she said. According to Liz Pape, “The purpose of any type of professional development is to try to move teachers and administrators forward as a community of practice to impact the learning of the entire student body.” Online programs should be part of a continuum of learning opportunities in schools for students and teachers. “It’s not the online program here and the other stuff over there,” added Barbara Treacy.
The federal government and foundations have an important role to play by supporting the development, evaluation, and revision of OTPD,
said workshop participant Jean Treiman of the California Subject Matter Projects.2 Online materials and technologies are changing quickly, and a mix of public and private support can help the developers create better materials and stronger markets. “The tools that are available are paltry by comparison to the visions that exist,” said Louis Gomez.
CHANGING TEACHERS’ BELIEFS AND PRACTICES
Much more could be done to make teachers aware of the many potential benefits of online professional development. Some teachers may have had poor early experiences with computers, and their skepticism will need to be addressed. Teachers need to learn how to use new technologies both for their own teaching and for professional development, in part to acquaint them with the world in which their students now live. As new people continually enter the profession, online professional development needs to be marketed and promoted.
Standards for OTPD could establish expectations for teachers, schools, districts, and state governments, and to help change attitudes. The Southern Regional Education Board has published “Standards for Online Professional Development” that encompass “E-Learning Context Standards,” “E-Learning Process Standards,” and “E-Learning Content Standards.”3 For example, the context standard for resources states that “schools and states provide adequate and ongoing funding for the online program as part of the overall professional development plan” and “schools and states provide adequate resources of time, personnel and support systems for online professional development.”
INVOLVING TEACHERS AS ACTIVE PARTICIPANTS IN PLANNING AND IMPLEMENTATION
The theme that emerged most strongly from the workshop was the need to have teachers involved in all stages of online professional development, from its design and development to its implementation, assessment, and ongoing revision. According to Bruce Alberts, “we will never have a better education system than we have now unless we change the dynamics of how teachers’ voices are heard, at the national level, at the state level, and at the district level.”
Teachers have a strong incentive to be involved in this process. Many
Additional information is available at http://csmp.ucop.edu/.
Southern Regional Education Board, “Standards for Online Professional Development: Guidelines for Planning and Evaluating Online Professional Development Courses and Programs” http://www.sreb.org/programs/EdTech/toolkit/Standards).
are dissatisfied with current forms of professional development and would welcome an opportunity to shape new approaches. Many are using information technologies more intensively in their classrooms and recognize the potential of online approaches for learning. “If you give teachers a tool that makes their job better, they will do everything to knock down the door and get it,” said Janet English. “If you try to take it away, you had better watch out. They want to learn. They want to be the best teachers possible. They want their kids to learn.”
Teachers currently have a unique opportunity to gain a new role in decisions about professional development, said California TAC chair Stan Hitomi of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District in Danville. “Looking at the latest reports that have been coming out, this is a very special time. The country’s attention has turned to science and math and what needs to be done. It is the work of groups like this one today that will inform policy makers on the type of data that will be important…. Teachers are engaged in a dialogue with people who can make a difference.” As Valdine McLean put it, “professional development needs to make science teachers exciting, so that they can make their students very excited about science, so that they can come and fill our shoes, so that our nation won’t be left behind.”
Traditional approaches to professional development need to change. The advent of online learning has presented teachers with a chance to gain a direct voice in the planning and organization of professional development. “In too many districts, it’s someone in the central office who decides what it’s going to be,” said National Academies TAC member Elizabeth Carvellas of Essex High School in Essex Junction, Vermont. “If you involve the teachers, you are going to get the buy-in, and you are going to get what you need for professional development, whether it’s online or face-to-face. Please involve the teachers.”