Professional Development and Digital Learning

I have now completed two years of teaching computer science at the post-secondary level.  I started this journey with no formal education background.  This made professional development (PD) particularly important for me.  My first professional development opportunity was about how to use the Learning Management System (LMS) used at my school.  This PD course is delivered in the LMS itself and allowed new teachers like myself to take the course wherever I wanted at the pace that best fit my needs.  The PD course covered the fundamentals of setting up a course, defining the modules, adding assignments, taking attendance, etc.  The course did not cover things like building quizzes or grading.  I assumed that there would be other courses in the LMS that would cover these missing topics.  Actually, I thought that all PD courses would be delivered in this same format, providing all the benefits from a digital age learning environment described in the ISTE Standard for Coaches.  This first experience had me excited about the next course in my professional development journey.

Education professional development experience

“PDS2014-145”by PMI Toronto Chapter is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

My next professional development course was a very different experience.  The course was delivered in one of the larger rooms on the school campus during the day.  The classroom was half full of fellow educators.  The instructor stood at the front of the room and delivered a Powerpoint presentation for the entire session – much like the presentation shown in the image above.  Although the instructor was very knowledgeable about the course topic, the mode of presentation did not make me want to take another PD course.  I asked the people around me if this mode of presentation was typical of other professional development courses, and I got a sad, affirmative nod of the head from both neighbors.

We rarely accept “sit and get” instruction as ideal for our students. So why is it still the most common form of professional development for teachers across the country? (Johnson, 2016)

Many of my fellow educators are much more forgiving than me – stating that it was a one hour presentation, and may not be worth the amount of work to create a course in our LMS.  However, this view did not hold true for my next professional development experience that ran over multiple days with multiple hours of presentation.  The course used the same ‘sit and get’ mode of presentation as the previous course.  The course was about how to better connect with students.  On the first day, the instructor recommended that teachers ask their students to put their preferred name on a name tag that is visible both to the teacher and other students.  I do agree with the premise that addressing students by a preferred name provides a much more personal learning experience.  However, the instructor never provided us with any name tags to put this suggestion into action for any of the four days of our instruction.

This led me to research the current state of professional development in education.  Is my experience unique?  Do I want/need things from professional development that are different from what other educators want?  I found several resources that confirmed that my needs are not unique.

[…] professional learning must reflect the kind of learning we want to see for our students. We are moving toward true learning cultures, which are personalized, relevant, and empowering. To that end, the antiquated ideas around teacher training and development will fade out, and a new era of professional learning experiences that support and push educators can come out into the sun.

In order to support teachers’ growth along the learning line, it’s important for administrators to consider four things when designing learning experiences for teachers:

      1. Set a vision to speak to people’s passion
      2. Provide whole learning experiences (rather than trainings)
      3. Focus on instructional practices, led by the right practitioners
      4. Empower teachers to be innovative and take risks with their learning

(Dorr, 2015)

In a nutshell, [teachers and administrators] want professional learning opportunities that are:

      1. Relevant
      2. Interactive
      3. Delivered by someone who understands their experience
      4. Sustained over time
      5. Treats teachers like professionals

[…] Fewer than seven percent of teachers said their schools fit these descriptions. For too many teachers, PD is still seen as a compliance activity that’s little better than sit and get. “Can do better at home in my living room,” one said.

(Johnson, 2016)

So, how do we start the transformation of professional development for educators?  We need to provide the same metrics for PD that we use for any educational experience.  The Community of Inquiry (CoI) model provides a great way to measure the success of PD courses on three different axis: social presence, cognitive presence, and teaching presence (Garrison et al., 2000).

Model for Community of Inquiry

  • Social Presence is the ability of participants to project their individual personalities in order to identify and communicate with the community and develop inter-personal relationships.
  • Cognitive Presence is the extent to which learners are able to construct and confirm meaning through sustained reflection and discourse.
  • Teaching Presence is the design, facilitation, and direction of the social and cognitive processes for the purpose of realizing the relevant learning outcomes.

I am very interested in using a blended learning experience in my classrooms.  As such, I would like PD courses that are implemented as a blended experience.  Many of my colleagues have curriculum that simply presents the content of a text book, chapter by chapter.  For my blended approach, I would like to spend classroom time on problem-solving and let students read the text book on their own time, at their own speed.  I am not alone in this approach, as two other instructors in my department have adopted an interactive textbook that can be used by students both inside and outside of the classroom.  I have realized that I can get a much more useful professional development experience by collaborating with these fellow instructors on curriculum design.

Faculty Learning Communities (FLCs) are designated groups of interdisciplinary faculty with similar levels of expertise in the area that work together on a yearlong collaborative project around a specific topic related to teaching and learning. (Wicks et al, 2014, p. 53-54)

I plan on building a faculty learning community in the coming months on this topic as part of my community engagement project.  I hope to have results from this interaction that I can use in courses for this coming Fall quarter of instruction.


3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Nat,
    I had the same experiences of typical PD which reduced my passions. I like Col model which can evaluate and measure the success of PD from three key factors. I like the idea of building a faculty learning community which will be the platform for teachers to create collaborative teaching from different subjects and enhance student learning. I am looking forward to your community project.

  2. I am excited for you to lead the development of at Faculty Learning Community! It is so true that often, how we want educators to teach students is not consistent with how we are being taught as educators…strange, indeed, the interactive piece seems especially desired by all learners but often left out! The Community of Inquiry model is a great way to keep at the forefront the many aspects of what makes an educational experience successful – for students and professionals…excited to see how this develops from your personal experience as you use it to improve PD experiences.

  3. I love the way you compared how students learn best to how educators learn best. It is human nature to want to learn and be engaged by the process of learning, which makes it surprising that many professional development opportunities continue to use the “sit and get” strategy. I believe each educator comes with a different background of knowledge/experience and being able to share with one another what we have learned in the classroom and collaborate with one another is ten times more helpful to me as a teacher than simply sitting and getting information. We stress to students that collaboration and communication is extremely important within their learning, yet our professional development opportunities are lacking these elements. I appreciate the research you did and the way you presented the information was very well thought out. You presented an issue many sweep under the rug and I am happy to see other educators wanting the same out of their PD as I do.

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