The ideal professional development for computer science instruction

I am fortunate to be enrolled in the Digital Education Leadership (DEL) program at Seattle Pacific University (SPU).  In our current quarter of study, we are examining the use of digital age best practices in professional development and program evaluation.  This is in support of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) coaches standard.  In this post, I want to explore an ideal, technology-rich program of professional development for computer science instruction.

Over the course of the SPU DEL program, I have introduced several new technologies in my computer science classrooms.  I have adopted an interactive textbook (ZyBooks) for two of my classes, an online discussion tool (Piazza) that better supports computer programming questions in all five of my classes, and an open source code management tool for education (GitHub Classroom) to manage group projects in two of my classes.  My first thought about an ideal, technology-rich program of professional development involved learning about similar tools with the entire computer science faculty.  However, after more thought, I realized that I needed to step back and take a look at the bigger picture of technology and professional development.

In another post, one of my  SPU DEL classmates described the culture shift needed to better enable technology in our learning institutions.  I have been acting as a ‘free agent’ by introducing the tools mentioned above into my classrooms.  While these tools may serve my needs and perhaps a few others in my department, a better approach to developing professional development is to involve the entire computer science faculty and department administration on what makes an ideal, technology-rich program of professional development.

When educators are involved in designing effective professional learning as a priority in their district, this may create a more positive culture. […] Involving teachers in making decisions and implementing professional learning provides an important sense of “agency” that enables and empowers them.  (Bishop et. al., 2016)

One may be tempted dismiss the positive culture goal as being an insignificant achievement in this process.  However, in order to reach an ‘ideal’ of professional development, the most important goal is to make the program sustainable.  Educators have to be both engaged and excited about a technology-rich professional development program.  This will get educators not only enthusiastic about participating in the next professional development opportunity, but even willing to contribute to the professional development of other educators.

[Using technology to transform learning] will require more than sharing tips in the faculty lounge or after-school professional development for educators. It also will require systemic change on the part of teacher preparation providers so their faculty and programming reflect more closely the standards and settings for which they are preparing teacher candidates.  (NETP, 2017)

The ideal part of this program is made possible when a positive culture builds a sustainable program defined by administrators, educators, and students that results in a virtuous cycle of professional and student learning.  Educators have a large role to play in this virtuous cycle.  To keep the cycle alive, educators must be constantly looking for technology and tools that may improve the learning experience.  A great resource that I learned about from another SPU DEL student is the Learning Professional journal found on the LearningForward web site.LeaningForward web site

The journal has monthly publications that range from topics such as student voice, coaching, resilient leadership, and personalized learning.  It is a incredibly valuable resource to help educators stay current on technology used in education as well as other education topics.

Another requirement of an ideal, technology-rich program of professional development is the need to make all instruction content specific.  My current professional development training has not been content specific, and is offered to all faculty across all departments at my school.  A better use of this training time is to have each department focus on content that is specific to their subject area.  For computer science, this would be working with my fellow faculty and department administrators on topics such as how to integrate interactive textbooks in the classroom, how to improve online discussions about computer programming assignments with students, how to better manage group programming assignments, and how to automate the grading process of programming assignments.

The timing of this particular professional development topic is a bit surreal for me, as the country is experiencing a pandemic at the time of the writing of this article.  This has forced many schools to move from a face-to-face model of instruction to remote learning.  My school is going about this by giving all of the instructors a license to the Zoom video conferencing software and asking instructors to move the last two weeks of the current quarter to an online format.  Instructors are offered a quick tutorial on how to create and run an online meeting with Zoom.  One can kind of understand the administrator’s thought process.  “Let’s just give instructors the Zoom software, with some training, so they can do online the same thing they do in the classroom.”  While this might be a great topic to research and iterate on before the start of the quarter, it is quite naive to put in practice in the last two weeks of an eleven week quarter.

Online delivery involves extensive planning and attention to details that are often overlooked in typical classroom settings.  (Hinson & LaPrairie, 2005)

Even though this process is clumsy and unrealistic, there is the possibility of a positive outcome.  Administrators at my school will begin to realize the need and importance of using technology to improve the learning experience.  The starting point makes me grimace, but if we can use this event to kick start a virtuous cycle of technology-rich, professional development, it’ll be worth the pain!

The timing has never been better for using technology to enable and improve learning at all levels, in all places, and for people of all backgrounds.  (NETP, 2017)

References

  • Bishop, D, Lumpe, A., Henrikson, R, & Crane, C. (2016). Transforming Professional Learning in Washington State – Project Evaluation Report. Seattle Pacific University: Seattle, WA.  Conclusions, Strengths, Challenges, and Recommendations.  
  • Hinson, J., LaPrairie, K. (2005): Learning to Teach Online: Promoting Success through Professional Development, Community College Journal of Research and Practice, 29:6, 483-493. 
  • ISTE. ISTE Standards for Coaches. (n.d.). Retrieved October 20, 2019 from https://www.iste.org/standards/for-coaches. 
  • NETP. (2017). National Education Technology Plan.  Conclusion section.  Retrieved January 24, 2020 from https://tech.ed.gov/netp/conclusion/.  

3 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I strongly agree with your point that the ideal professional development should be sustainable and content-specific in a positive culture. Educators are not only enthusiastic about participating in the next professional development but willing to contribute to the professional development of other educators. Content-specific is important for different subject teachers to provide the opportunity to focus on their needs. It will be a painful journey to have every teacher to be positive and engaged in technology-rich professional development. But you are right, we are experiencing a pandemic, instructors start to know the pain is worthy. I hope you are doing well in the pandemic period and be strong.

  2. Nat you have mentioned in this post and in other comments how instructors want and need content-specific professional development – they don’t want to waste their time on topics that don’t apply to them. Suddenly online learning, though not exactly content-specific, applies to everyone. I agree that our current situation may be the thing that drags everyone into technology enhanced (dependent!) learning. I am witnessing teachers who never would have dreamed they’d be doing online teaching take deep breaths and jump in. The work you have done in your department in finding online tools will undoubtedly be very helpful to the instructors you work with.

  3. Nat, thank you for a timely post that highlights how technology-rich professional development can occur outside of the content learning space. I agree with you that we have had multiple opportunities to learn in action over the past couple of weeks. As I pause to look at clumsy and unrealistic I know we will learn from this and continue to grow. Who knows, maybe some solutions will come of this current space?

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