Thursday, May 19, 2016

Guest Post: A District Goes Digital with Online Professional Learning



By Dr. Will Deyamport, III

Professional development is the means for improving one’s professional knowledge-base, skill-set, and/or practice. It is an ongoing process. That said, just like Video killed the radio star, a reference to an eighties pop song from the The Buggles, school districts have killed professional development with mandates and a one-size fits all approach to meeting the instructional needs of teachers.

Identifying the Problem and the Opportunity


As someone whose job it is to help teachers utilize technology and reimagine the learning experiences of their students, I have to balance the wishes of the district with the personal learning goals of teachers. Throw in the time crunch of having to deliver professional development during a 45 minute time frame (teachers’ planning periods) and sessions become driven by an agenda, not designed by the teachers. That’s where blending online modules into professional development comes into play.

Before, I would email teachers a cheat sheet after each session. The sheet would be a short “click here, click there” one pager with picture directions similar to those included for assembling a piece of furniture or installing a piece of software. I have since moved beyond the cheat sheet and have moved towards designing self-directed online learning modules.

These modules provide teachers access to a step by step breakdown of how a tool works, but do so in a more purposeful and interactive way. The modules include discussions and opportunities for teachers to obtain the counsel and guidance of their colleagues.

Transforming the old cheat sheet into an online module gives teachers the freedom to take on the units they want when they want them, and they can review the material as many times as they need. This frees me from having to cover how a tool works and to focus our face-to-face time on classroom implementation. I have more time to answer teachers’ questions. I’ve begun to shift how I work with teachers.

Building the Courses and Creating Teacher Buy-In


Traditionally schools and districts have used websites to house teacher resources. The issue with websites is they are a stagnant one-way form of communication. While we still have a website as a home base, we have used Schoology to design and deliver online professional development courses. In addition to courses, I created a group for teachers to share best practices and lead the discussion about what they are doing in this classes. There are benefits to using a platform like Schoology instead of a website for online professional learning:
  • Courses can be designed, delivered, and targeted to specific teachers.
  • The platform allows for both communication and collaboration between teachers and administrators, regardless of school site or grade-level.
  • Teachers can seek out professional learning within the PLC’s that already exist on the platform.
  • Schoology has both an Android and iOS applications, which means the professional development we provide is mobile. 
Since we were introducing something different to the district, I didn’t want to overwhelm teachers. I wanted the digital space to be embraced as a helpmate and not just another thing to do. In the course I designed for the 9th grade, I uploaded a few modules. I knew they needed to know how the tools worked, but didn’t want teachers to get lost in the content or become confused with the purpose of blending professional development. The focus of this experiment was not to inundate teachers with tools but to give more meaning to our face-to-face time.

To create teacher buy-in, I have started to make the course their first stop before they can ask me a “button pushing question.” So if a teacher asks me how to do add a rubric to a short essay question, my response is “Did you go through the unit in the Schoology course?” Granted, not every teacher has responded well to the move. I continue to spend some time with one teacher, in particular, who prefers that I walk him through how a tool works. However, more teachers see the course as a resource and our time together as an opportunity to dive deeper into the classroom implications for implementing the tool.

Making Significant Progress


Instead of being referred to as “the technology guy,” I have become a coach and sounding board for new ideas. Our sessions are now filled with discussion and serve as the launching point for in-depth conversations about student outcomes and professional goals using technology in the classroom. With my cohort of teachers, we have moved beyond the tools and towards the practice of redefining what a modern classroom looks like.


District Goals and Future Plans


Blending professional development is another step in our district goal to go digital. We have been a GAFE district for several years, our 1:1 Chromebook locations are expanding, and our current group of 1:1 teachers have already been engaged in blended professional development. Further, we have seen success when district-level leadership working with teachers in Schoology. For example, Dr. Stokes has a group in Schoology in which she works with new teachers. In her group, she offers tips, provides resources and teacher feedback, and collects artifacts such as lesson plans.

The district professional development coordinator is already in the midst of developing an online vocabulary course for teachers district-wide. The course will cover vocabulary that students should know by the end of next school year and is a part of the district’s plan in improving the literacy skills of students. Additionally, the instructional technologists will be providing two online modules during our summer program for teachers in our 1:1 locations, with plans of rolling out several modules throughout the year.

Conclusion 

Blending online and face-to-face professional development offers teachers the opportunity and space to learn and grow with their colleagues on their own time at their own pace. It also provides the means by which to offer differentiated professional learning experiences for teachers. As more devices arrive and as the varying needs of our teachers increase, blending professional development will be more of a necessity than a luxury.


About the Author
Dr. Will Deyamport, III is a District Instructional Technologist for Hattiesburg Public School District, consultant, and host of The Dr. Will Show. Motivated by his passions for education and digital media, he has been able to leverage the use of social technologies in the classroom to connect learners with worldwide. While his efforts are primarily targeted towards teachers, it is his research in this specific field that has helped him to create an innovative, interactive and integrated classroom experience for students and teachers alike.

Dr. Will is an alumnus of Capella University, where he earned his Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) in Educational Leadership and Management.