Professional development is a cornerstone of effective teaching. As an exercise in continuing education, it gives teachers access to the most up-to-date pedagogies and methods, educational technologies, and ongoing support to apply this learning in the classroom. It is not without its challenges, however. From classroom disruptions to funding and tracking costs, there are many factors that can impact the quality of a professional development program. Fluid and responsive, blended learning PD is able to redefine these roadblocks as inspiration for platform design.
Time & duration
Professional development requires time to plan, deliver, implement, and evaluate. Some districts allocate time during the regular school year for PD, holding in-service days, or providing substitutes for teachers attending conferences or workshops. Professional development represents a significant time commitment--especially considering that duration is one of the most critical components of a successful PD program.
Enter blended learning professional development. Online and computer-based programs are flexible, so teachers can devote as much time as is required by their administrators, or go above the minimum outside of school. These platforms allow teachers to take their PD into their own hands, choosing when and how long they spend on a learning objective.
Blended learning can also account for ability. A teacher who may only need to spend thirty minutes completing a task only has to spend thirty minutes, rather then sitting through a four-hour seminar after they've absorbed the information. Conversely, it allows teachers to revisit material, or spend more time on topics that interest them, and can act as a supplement to information learned in real-time.
Check out "Professional Learning Takes Time" from Education Week.
Accessibility to high-quality PD resources can be impacted by a district's location and funding. A rural school may have a harder time finding a local engaging speaker or workshop leader. A low-income school district may not be able to fund tech training for their staff, or be able to afford the necessary classroom equipment for implementation.
These real-life, tangible learning opportunities are invaluable, but sometimes they're simply inaccessible. Many teachers in these situations take advantage of virtual coaching, PLNs or other online resources to improve their teaching practice. Blended learning has innovated this online collaboration and accessibility, retooling these relationships to build comprehensive platforms that allow teachers and administrators to learn, share, and evaluate progress.
Teachers are thinking deeply about their practice and their profession. They're rewriting curricula, drafting new lesson plans, and sharing lessons online. Technology is expanding access to knowledge, innovation, instruction, and professional development in unprecedented ways. Technology is driving both greater equity and an increased focus on excellence. [...] I believe that geographic location should not dictate results. In America, poverty is not destiny—and neither is geography." -Arne Duncan, 2013
Imagine: Two hundred teachers attend an offsite, two-day workshop on effective classroom models. The following year, they take a course on social media and education. In the interim, administrators occasionally reinforce the learning by providing a link to a relevant article, or include the learning objective on teacher evaluations at the end of the year. Outside of that, the teachers may or may not engage in the material in their own time. In the end, how many of those educators were able to consistently implement what they learned in the classroom? How many of them were given the opportunity to demonstrate learning, or to ask the kinds of questions that inevitably arise when you delve further into uncharted territory?
Giving our imaginary district the benefit of the doubt, they did the best they could to expose their teachers to up-to-date research and tools. Or, maybe they simply book workshops to 'check the PD box' for the school year. Without evaluation, their intention is moot, because they'll never know if the time and resources invested in these workshops was worthwhile for teachers or student achievement.
The ability to evaluate progress is of the most significant inherent improvements of blended-learning PD. Platforms like Chrome Warrior give teachers and administrators the tools to evaluate learning: a gamified, evidence based system; the ability to assign peer reviewers who can provide feedback; and a forum for discussion and collaboration on missions and sorties. Learning is tracked, validated and visual with badging, and accessible by colleagues and administrators. So rather than saying, "I attended a conference on social media and education," teachers can point to concrete evidence of their engagement with the learning materials. So not only is blended learning ideal for administrators evaluating PD outcomes, but it builds a sort of "professional portfolio" for teachers as they learn.
Site: flickr.com [Image 1]