Leveraging Technology to Change the Professional Development Landscape

My question related to ISTE Coaching standard 4b is “how do we provide technology rich professional learning programs” for teachers. Just as things have been slow to change in education, it’s been equally slow to change in professional development. We often still model traditional lecture style models that don’t embrace available technology tools or don’t utilize them in ways that mirror the blended, personalized, transformative learning environments that we want for our students.

In the conclusion of The National Educational Technology Plan there is a call for the following changes to Professional Development for Teachers:

  1. Provide pre-service and in-service educators with professional learning experiences powered by technology to increase their digital literacy and enable them to create compelling learning activities that improve learning and teaching, assessment, and instructional practices.
  2. Use technology to provide all learners with online access to effective teaching and better learning opportunities with options in places where they are not otherwise available.
  3. Develop a teaching force skilled in online and blended instruction.
  4. Develop a common set of technology competency expectations for university professors and candidates exiting teacher preparation programs for teaching in technologically enabled schools and post-secondary education institutions.

Each of these items require changing the structure of our Professional Development  toward, mastery and evidence based learning as well a providing teachers with the tools to personalize their learning and experience technology rich learning environments as a student. As the saying goes, “you teach the way you are taught”. We won’t develop new teachers who naturally think and teach differently until we produce a generation of students who had the chance to learn differently. The first step will be to shift the experiences our current teachers have in pre-service and inservice trainings so that they know what it looks and feels like to be part of a transformative, tech infused learning experience.

Transforming teaching practice is bigger than just including technology. There are certainly larger questions about pedagogy and what we can learn from the learning sciences research that will have a huge impact on teaching and learning in the future.  Jennifer Graff suggests in her paper Technology-Rich Innovative Learning Environments (Graff 2013) that there are three drivers that technology brings to the change process. First, it can open up opportunities to improve teaching and learning that weren’t available before. We don’t have to rely on just the experts in our districts for learning. Webinars, MOOCs and video conferencing and online learning can provide teachers with access to amazing experiences from experts in their fields. Secondly, adults without digital literacy skills will be at a disadvantage and she suggests will “suffer from a new digital divide” of adults who can function in a digital world and those that can’t. Finally, technology is an integral part of functioning and accessing “higher order competencies” that make it possible to be productive in today’s society.

She used ‘Morel’s Matrix” to evaluate technology in education based on the four stages (emerging, applying, integrating, and transforming) to look at a number of areas but the one that stuck out to me was the one on Professional Development. Transformational PD involves integration, innovation, self-management on the part of the learners and involves a personal vision and plan (Graff 2013).   

When you put that together with the recommendations of the National Technology Plan it seems like there are four main things that an Technology-Rich professional learning environment needs to have:

  1. Clarity of Professional Competencies and Expectations – It’s difficult to develop personal vision and plans as a teacher if the overall direction is not clear. If organizations can develop professional competencies, teachers (both pre-service and inservice) would be able to set achievable goals and work towards mastery. Once mastery is achieved, it would be easier to set more innovative goals with the confidence of having the skills and abilities to meet them.
  2. Teach skills the same way they’ll be used; integrated into content areas and using blended and personalized delivery methods. Teach to the ’why’ first. Model professional development that teaches content and best instructional practice with the inclusion of technology to support and enhance the learning so that teachers understand why it’s useful. If it’s something that they’ve experienced that makes a powerful difference in their learning they will be motivated to learn how to do it so they can offer the same experience to their students.
  3. Use technology to provide choice, learning flexibility (i.e. time, place, duration, learning styles) and access to quality learning opportunities.
  4. Make use of professional networks and learning communities to expand learning opportunities outside the classroom or school and to access innovative ideas and resources.

 

References

Conclusion – Office of Educational Technology. (2016). Office of Educational Technology. Retrieved 17 March 2018, from https://tech.ed.gov/netp/conclusion/

Groff, J. (2013). Technology-Rich Innovative Learning Environments. Oecd.org. Retrieved 17 March 2018, from http://www.oecd.org/education/ceri/Technology-Rich%20Innovative%20Learning%20Environments%20by%20Jennifer%20Groff.pdf

 

What does it Mean to Advocate for Technology?

As coaches and administrators we are aware that technology skills are important for our students. Computers are everywhere…in our pockets, on our desks, on our laps, in our clothing, cars, airplanes, farms, factories, restaurants, and doctor’s offices… you get the picture. We want our students to be competitive in the world, and be “college and career ready” when they leave our schools which, most would agree, takes at least some fundamental familiarity with computers. Why is it then, that in spite of 1:1 computer initiatives in our schools, better wifi access in more places and more tech savvy teachers than ever before, we still aren’t producing enough computer science graduates to fill the available jobs nor have we seen student achievement rise to the levels we’d hoped. I had hoped it was as easy as a cry for more advocacy for technology, support and training for teachers. As I was researching, however, I realized that the real answer is not necessarily more people advocating for more of those things, although it can’t hurt, but in advocating for the right things…changes in teaching practice and changes in attitude.

In the early years of computers in the classroom we thought technology was the answer to our education woes. It was going to change everything about how we teach and how students learn. They were “set to revolutionize the traditional teacher-centric lecturing style and to unleash the potential for improvements in teaching quality and efficiency.” (Falck, Mang, Woessmann 2017)  Unfortunately, the promises of technology to revolutionize teaching and to increase student achievement have largely fallen flat. This same study Virtually No Effect? Different Uses of Classroom Computers and their Effect on Student Achievement (Falck, Mang, Woessmann, 2017) posits that the “null’ effects on student achievement could be caused by “a combination of using computers for activities that are more productive than traditional teaching methods, thus improving student outcomes, and using computers in ways that substitute more effective traditional practices, thus lowering student outcomes.”

In the study they talk about the “opportunity costs of time”. Each day teachers are given a certain amount of time and they have to make decisions about how each of those minutes is spent. If they spend minutes on technology in ways that enhance learning and provide opportunities for exploration and creativity that aren’t  possible with traditional teaching methods then they are spending in ways that will likely increase student outcomes. If, however, they choose to spend technology minutes on things like drill and kill practice or electronic worksheets that are not as effective as other teaching strategies such as collaborative work, discussion, design thinking, communication, etc. the use of technology is actually lowering student outcomes because the opportunity for deeper or more effective learning is being lost. It all comes down to purpose. Why is the technology being used the way it is?

I’ve been advocating for years for technology to be used to “transform” teaching and felt that we will never really be able to change student outcomes for the better until we stop doing the same ineffective teaching that we’ve held onto for years and started to fundamentally rethink how we teach and what we expect students to do as learners. But I’ve been advocating for technology use in a broad way and have been happy with the low expectations we have of teachers using technology in our classrooms because “at least they are using it.” Maybe true advocacy is not allowing it to be ok that time being spent with technology is having a negative effect on student learning because it’s replacing good teaching strategies. Although I’d want to focus obviously on the transformative ways technology can impact student learning our schools need to have bigger discussions about the things that don’t work as instructional practices and help teachers make the connection that those same ineffective practices are equally ineffective when you add technology.

It think advocacy for the transformative power of technology will have to come through in the passion I bring to my communication with teachers and administrators, by modeling change and a growth mindset but most of all, by being a part of the bigger discussion around ensuring all teachers are using the best, research based, instructional practices to teach kids. If technology is the right tool to support those practices then I’ll be there to support, teach and guide teachers. But we have to be ready to let go of technology time and instructional practices that are not effective in helping our students learn.

References

  • Falck, O., Mang, C., & Woessmann, L. (2018). Virtually No Effect? Different Uses of Classroom Computers and their Effect on Student Achievement. Oxford Bulletin Of Economics And Statistics, 80(1), 1-38. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/obes.12192